Since I’ve begun to write about video games, I’ve learned many lessons very quickly. Some were taught to me by the wonderful people I’ve been lucky enough to meet via this amazing community. However, the one that always sticks out most to me is something I learned through an experience with FortressCraft developer, DJ Arcas.
Like most of the collective gaming world, I’d become obsessed with Minecraft – I recognized this. The game was strangely beautiful and addictive. I’d even written about it in my article, “The Cult of Minecraft,” which both subtly poked fun at the crazy fandom the game had attracted, but also praised it for the phenomenon it is. I respect it for what it has done and respect the man behind it, Notch.
Thus when FortressCraft arrived on the Xbox Indie Game market, my reaction was the same as many-a-gamer – righteous indignation and dismissal. Did I play it? Pfft. Of course not! I’d seen all I needed to in the videos that had been posted on YouTube. I wrote FortressCraft off as a clone and labeled Arcas as skeevy, morally bankrupt, and as good as a thief taking money out of Notch’s pockets. The marketing of this clone had appalled me to no end. Therefore, I went on my podcast, The Third Chair, and let my thoughts be known loud and clear, as all good Jersey girls are known to do.
The reaction I received from indie developers was not one I expected. Their arguments made excellent points in favor of Arcas’s “clone” and I relished in the debate. These arguments soon drew in Arcas himself and we began to speak. He gave me a code for FortressCraft and, after actually playing the game, I realized some of the things I had originally said about the game were off-base.
For one thing, FortressCraft is not as much a game as it is a toy. When I played it, it was an elaborate block building set on the 360 that had plans to strive for more in the future. There were amusing flourishes such as the lack of fall damage (which my clumsy gamer feet appreciated), the trampolines, the rayguns, and the trampolines. More importantly, it provided a modifiable stage for wannabe machinima directors on the XBOX platform and that was what really sold me on the game’s worth.
I welcomed Arcas onto my show where we spoke, at length, about my viewpoints and concerns about FortressCraft. My opinion did not change completely – the marketing of the game has always been its greatest blessing and hindrance – but we had our debate. Discussion was given to what I had seen as a one-sided issue and at the end, I learned a lesson – never look at games based solely on video presentation. Always play before you speak.
Why does any of this matter? A few days ago, Notch broke his silence to Ars Technica of Re-Logic in regards to two games that had been labeled as clones of Minecraft (Terraria, FortressCraft). He said:
“I strongly believe that true greatness comes from being influenced by other people’s work and improving it, making your own version of it, by mixing and matching your best influences and a few original ideas of your own,” Persson told Ars.
“Both FortressCraft and Terraria appear to be inspired by Minecraft, which in turn was inspired by many other games, including Infiniminer, Dwarf Fortress, and Dungeon Keeper. However, I do not believe you can achieve something great or interesting by merely attempting to emulate something successful. It becomes especially embarrassing if you publicly deny any inspiration when it’s painfully clear how much of a copy it is.
“Terraria is an amazing game, and if Minecraft is any inspiration for it, I feel proud to be part of its lineage. I play it frequently, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for it. FortressCraft is an obvious attempt to just take something popular and clone it as closely as possible. I still think it’s important that people are allowed and able to do things like that, but it’s hardly graceful.”
The remarks from Notch saddened me. For someone who has gained acclaim and fortune from a game that was inspired by others, he is essentially saying, “I can, but you can’t.” The hypocrisy is dripping off his words.
Though I cannot blame him outright because, as I’ve already explained, I did the exact same thing not too long ago. It’s easy to say FortressCraft is a clone without grace if you’re judging it based on videos (something Notch has admitted to), but if you play before you comment, your opinion may alter significantly.
Still, out of all this, one thing can’t help but bug me. While Terraria gets a pass in Notch’s book, the game he will soon be directly competing with on the 360 is the one he goes on the blast against … After so much silence, the timing of this attack is suspicious.
I suspect pickaxes have just been furiously swung as to launch a new kind of Console War.
[ Read DJ Arcas’s response here. ]
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