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 Post subject: AGDI mentioned in Danish magazine and on
PostPosted: Fri Dec 24, 2004 3:53 pm 
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As the title mentions, our group has been mentioned in an article on (along with Maniac Mansion Deluxe) and in addition to that, we've also conducted an interview with a Danish magazine called PC Player. The reporter interviewing us was so kind as to send us a PDF-file of the article, which also mentions several other fangames and sports some big pics of KQ9. By error, it mentioned one of the KQ9-pics as QFG2VGA, but that will be cleared up in the next issue. (please don't hate us, Cesar and co. :p)

Since most people around here most likely don't speak Danish, the translation (courtesy of Pidgeot. thanks for that :) ) is posted here, along with the answers as we submitted them.

In addition to all this, AGD1 received word that all steps for incorporation of AGDI have been completed. Even though AGDI was already mentioned on the Himalaya site as AGDI, LLC it wasn't until a few days ago that all the paperwork has finally been processed, the Articles of Organization published and we've been declared an official company/legal entity.

We received a scan of the article in PDF-format, but since publishing it now might detract from their sales, we'll have to keep it to ourselves for the moment until their next issue comes out. We'll post the PDF-version within a month or so, so stay tuned.

What it says:

When the cat is out...
Are you annoyed that there never was a sequel to Zak McKraken, or do you miss a new King's Quest? Where companies like LucasArts and Sierra give up on known and loved game series, their committed fans take over - we take a dive into the fan-game environment and look at the consequences for the business.

The term "Fan fiction" existed long before the home computer. In the early '70s, the first fanzines started appearing - publications in a small, often photocopied, number of issues; written by and for fans of a TV series, a movie genre, or a certain actor. A regular ingredient was short stories that continued the stories from television or the big screen. With the Internet, fan-authors received a new forum, and ever since the very beginning, newsgroups like alt.startrek.creative buzzed with activity. Huge online archives (e.g. testify to the viewer-production that series like Star Trek, X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer still spawn; from epic adventures to obscene erotica. But fan fiction is no longer limited to the written word: We find fan-made short films, online comic books - even computer games.
3D-shooters like Doom, Quake and Duke Nukem 3D gave the user the tools to build their own courses, add new graphics and new sounds. Many of the first modifications recreated universes from popular movies: Star Wars Doom and Alien Doom modelled their environments after the movie and added new weapons and enemies that fit the theme. They looked like completely new games, but the underlying gameplay mechanics were unchanged, and many of the games mostly felt like Duke Nukem being on a visit to The Shining, Starship Troopers, or Platoon.

The first wave on non-MOD-based fan games came around 1998-99, most of them produced with tools such as Klik & Play, The Games Factory, or Flash. And often, the model was not movies or TV, but other games. The adventure genre became popular because the primitive technology allowed for it, but also because there was a lot to draw on from the old game series, which the companies had dumped in favor of shooters and simulators. In that regard, game-based fan games are more of a nostalgic phenomenon than fan fictions and MODs.
Other than the dedicated remakes, which correspond to remakes in the movie business and update the classic with pretty graphics and a new interface, we find sequels, prequels (which take place before the existing games) and spin-offs (where e.g. secondary characters from the original game appear as main characters). A special category are parodies, that distance themselves from the model and makes fun of its conventions - occasionally disrespectful, but always lovingly. The personal engagement of the developers is exactly what made end users live with the terrible graphics and interface errors in the early fan games. But as the amateur-environment develop sophisticated adventure engines; the fan games of today easily surpass the role models they're trying to live up to.

Not everything is peace and quiet in the fan environment. Game titles, ideas and characters constitute intellectual property, which the companies defend. Many fan-developers live in constant fear of receiving a cease and desist-letter, where the company demands that they immediately cease all unauthorized use of the company's property, and sign a document where they promise it won't repeat itself. Particularly LucasArts and their lawyers have made themselves unpopular with this technique. The common counter-argument from the amateur developers is that they don't make any money off the games, and as such don't pose a threat. But the case is not as simple as that. A bad fan-game might scare new customers away, and on the other hand, good, free alternatives can hurt the sales of official continuations. Additionally, the lack of clarity regarding the source can lead to unnecessary inquiries to the company's support division.
But more importantly, American law dictates that companies can lose their copyrights and particularly trademarks if they do not defend them actively. If LucasArts ignore a seemingly harmless fan-project, they might form precedence for further abuse. There is also a clear pattern in the titles they protect - several Monkey Island-inspired fan projects, for example, Fate of Monkey Island 2 and Legends of LeChuck were shut down in 2000, shortly before the release of the official Escape from Monkey Island. Several Zak McKraken2-projects have been under development for a long time - likely because LucasArts themselves have no intention of continuing the 16-year old game. Contrary, Sierra/Vivendi, who normally takes a very passive stance regarding the many projects based on their games, has just shut down the parody Quest for Orgy: So You Want to be a Pornstar. Maybe because the "adult" content goes against the family-friendly image of the company - or maybe because of the similar developer name Xierra.

The creative fan-environment hides plenty of pitfalls. Even if you avoid George Lucas and his fierce lawyers, very few games are completed, in spite, or possibly due to, enormous teams of 20-30 developers on certain projects. On the other hand, a certain success is AGD Interactive, formerly known as Tierra, the developers that won the complete respect of the adventure-environment with two dazzling King's Quest remakes. With great professionalism, they updated two of Sierra's most primitive games to beautiful VGA graphics with digital sound and music, and Josh Mandel, who played King Graham in Sierra's own King's Quest V, on the soundtrack. We take a chat with the people who actually increased the sale of Sierra's six-year old King's Quest: Mask of Eternity with their phenomenal remakes.

How/why did you decide to make games based on the intellectual property of others rather than your own material?

AGDI was founded around the idea of the creation of a dark-humored parody of King's Quest 1, called Royal Quest. Since it was intended to poke fun at an existing game, this automatically involved the protagonist, realm and characters that featured in KQ1. King's Quest 1 VGA started off as a side project to Royal Quest, intended to re-introduce people to the world of Daventry we recreated and as a compromise to those who wouldn't feel comfortable playing Royal Quest. King's Quest 1 VGA was released before Royal Quest was completed and became a big success. Before the finalization of RQ, we came to re-evaluate our position and what kind of entertainment we wanted to represent, resulting in us putting Royal Quest on permanent hold. The game contained a large amount of questionable content and eventually would have done us more harm than good. (a cease & desist letter from Sierra/Vivendi among the possible consequences; parody is not a waterproof umbrella to hide under and it's tough to prove to an angry Intellectual Property holder, accusing you of harming the goodwill of their products, that the inclusion of profane content in a parody is absolutely necessary to parody the KQ storyline, which Sierra always marketed towards the family-audience). In short, by diverting away from Royal Quest, we drifted towards creating direct remakes of Sierra classics instead. This is how we started creating games based on their intellectual property.

Did you ask Sierra/Vivendi for permission before creating/releasing the KQ1 remake?

No, we didn't.

Have you heard anything at all from Sierra/Vivendi (positive or negative) regarding your use of their trademarks and concepts?

This may surprise you, but the answer is yes. As stated in the full legal disclaimer on our site, we have received a license to make use of Sierra's/VU's intellectual property for non-profit remaking purposes. While there's a large amount of guidelines, quid pro quo's and other details attached to this license, none of these are to be disclosed in public. We are, however, allowed to confirm that we are legally in the clear.

While working on the Tierra/AGDI games, you credited yourself as Anonymous Game Developers. Was this to any degree an attempt to hide from possible lawsuits?

Reasons vary. It wasn't so much the fear of lawsuits...corporate giants probably have the resources to track down people online anyway. The official reason was that we wanted the focus to be on the games and not on the people remaking them. We still adhere to the AGD-pseudonyms at AGDI even though the legal difficulties have been sorted out. At Himalaya Studios, we DO use our own names. An interesting second reason for remaining anonymous was the mystery that came with the personas. People are known to be fascinated by the unknown and there's been a fair share of rumors that we were supposed former employees of Sierra. (which is not true, btw)

What's your opinion on some other companies' crackdown on fan projects derived from their intellectual property? Do you think these companies are in some ways harming themselves by alienating their fans?

Yes. Nobody ever gets popular by issuing cease & desist letters to their fans. One thing we've learned, however, is that a certain degree of nuance is in order. From the point of view of fan game designers, the matter is quite simple. No legal action = good; legal action = bad. From the side of the trademark owner, things are not so black and white. Shutting down fan projects results in infuriation from the portion of the company's audience who support that particular franchise, that much is clear. On the other hand, copyright law states that trademarks can lose their commercial value (why pay the IP owner for a supposedly exclusive 3rd party developer license when any Joe can use the trademarks for free and get away with it?) or even be lost when not defended by the owner. For companies, it's a matter of picking the lesser of the two evils, whatever that option may be. We're happy that in our case, Sierra/VU was willing to explore a road where the interests of both sides were served.

In your opinion, what/how can fan games add to the game community? In what ways do you think fan games can benefit the commercial game market? Do you feel any special responsibilities as fan game creators?

In order to fully revive a franchise, a commercial title is needed. Fan games mostly appeal to gamers who played the original. But even though not every gamer is still playing the classics daily, many gamers either grew up with those games or played them at a friend's house. Fan games can mobilize that partly inactive audience, showing the IP owners that the franchises are still worthy of receiving attention. From an audience standpoint, fan games also keep interest levels maintained in the genre and prevent it from simply going extinct. Fan games sustain a community that forms a crucial foundation of supporters who will ultimately be essential for any future revival of the adventure game genre.

As Tierra, you've been working solely on remakes (although KQ2VGA added considerably to the original). What's your opinion on sequels, prequels and other fan games that expand greatly on the stories, characters and universes of the original games? Do you think fans have the right to take this much authorial control of another designers work?

From a moral point of view, that greatly depends on the original designer's opinion. Certain designers are not comfortable with other people altering their creations as they see fit while others don't mind additions being made to the universe they created. We don't share the opinion of many adventure fans that a project that doesn't have the original designer on board is destined to be mediocre at best...KQ2VGA's success obviously counters this assumption. However, game designers who wish to create a game based upon elements against the original designer's will should ask themselves if they'd appreciate it if someone in turn made a sequel/spin-off based on their game that collided with their vision.

Legally speaking, those kinds of games are viewed by Vivendi Universal as something that hampers their ability to continue the franchise themselves at some point or sell/license the intellectual property commercially to another developer showing interests. Therefore, there's a certain amount of risk involved in their creation.

What advice would you give other people who'd like to create their own games based on games, movies or other existing intellectual property?

That's a tough question, considering the situation as it is. The most useful advice we can give is to base your creation on a solid and independent plot. Make certain to have a contingency plan ready in case the intellectual property holder protests and is unwilling to allow you to use those elements they own. If a designer simply throws every character and location of the copyrighted games/movies into his own project and the IP-owner objects, then the project is left in very little pieces which are too small to be glued back together. With a strong and independent foundation, at least not the entire rug gets pulled out from under the project's feet at once.

The fans attracted to fan projects are no doubt fans of the franchise that the project is based on, but since not every announced fan project is met with enthusiasm and interest, it's obvious at the same time, the visitors are fans of the game designer's individual artistic, composing, programming and writing skills as well. If one has an escape route ready, then most of the game can be changed into an original project with original character, and the fans will at least get to experience the result of his individual talents, should a worse case scenario take place.

With Himalaya Studios, you turn from fan games to original games. Is this merely a matter of finally being able to actually sell your products, or is this move from derived to original games in any way part of "growing up" creatively?

Both. Fan projects provide good training ground to hone one's individual skills, as well as one's abilities to work as part of a team. We greatly enjoy game making, but at the same time non-profit work doesn't pay the rent. If we'd be able to turn our hobby into a job, that would be a great alternative to either having to stop making games or having to live in the middle of the desert with only a solar-powered laptop as company.

The Wired article mentioning MMD and (to lesser extent) AGDI is here.


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