I was pondering writing about Abandonia, a site that covers old games (primarily DOS games), lets you know if they’re abandonware or not, and if they are, provides downloads of them, or if they’re for sale on somewhere like GOG, provide links to there.
But, as it’s been rather a while since I browsed Abandonia, and I don’t think I’ve even opened DOSBox since installing Windows 10 (and often played stuff I still own when I did, and abandonware downloads surprisingly little), I’m not sure I really have much to say on that front.
From back in the day, I do recall a trend of the same game coming out on many different platforms (which you still see today in the console market, just with less platforms generally supported). And, of course, games that were only available on one system.
But there was another trend, which seems like an oddity now: clones. A game released, that is basically a copy of another game.
This was a thing, and you wonder how they got away with it. I mean, to borrow a movie example, it’s more than just Armageddon and Deep Impact coming out not-too-distant from each other.
I mean, how many different versions of Breakout, or Space Invaders, could there be? (answer: lots).
I recently watched, with my wife, a series of short YouTube videos about graphics in videogames, and one game they highlighted was an arcade game from 1981 called Defender. I had up to that point never seen the game, and so not played it either. But I had played a C64 game called Dropzone, I seem to recall hearing it referred to as a “Defender clone”, though it does seem to have its differences. Looking up Defender on Wikipedia, it lists Dropzone in the “Remakes and Sequels” section.
But it gets more interesting. Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia’s Defender page: “Defender was Williams Electronics’ first attempt at developing a new video game; the company’s earlier game was a Pong clone.”
For those of you not familiar with the videogame industry of the ’80s and early ’90s, the era was mostly not games that were copies of other games, and there were some very creative uses of the limited power of machines of the time. That being said, there were an incredible amount of games, so a certain amount of games-that-were-similar should not be surprising.
Through all of this, I only heard of one instance where similarity led to trouble: the infamous Great Giana Sisters was very very close to Super Mario Brothers (the similar titles going some way to suggest just how similar), the first level was apparently almost identical. It’s commonly understood that Nintendo brought legal action, but according to Wikipedia that’s not quite correct: Nintendo was apparently responsible for the game disappearing from the shelves, however. The article suggests that’s not the only game Nintendo sabotaged (though I don’t think such sabotage was entirely unfair, it does suggest that Nintendo had a different ethos than other companies of the time).
In fact, thinking about other media, books, movies and so on, the only industry that I’ve really noticed multiple high-profile cases of litigation for copying, is the music industry.
The game clone concept hasn’t entirely gone away: I’ve seen quite a few versions of 2048.