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TxK Developer Says Atari Applying Legal Pressure Over Tempest Similarities

by Mike Futter on Mar 18, 2015 at 10:11 AM

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Earlier today, allegations were levied by Tempest 2000 developer Jeff Minter that Atari was applying legal pressure to kill his game, TxK. Minter’s Llamasoft released the Vita title in February 2014, with intentions for the title to appear PlayStation 4, PC, and VR platforms.

Minter took to Twitter today to accuse Atari of blocking those versions, calling them “copyright trolls.” In a follow-up blog post (copied to Pastebin because of excessive traffic on his own site), Minter states that Atari is now applying legal pressure after discussions fell apart.

“They never gave an inch and just continued with threats and bullying,” Minter writes. “Specifically they had their lawyers present a number of legal accusations about a variety of things; we consulted a lawyer who told us that if we wanted to fight against it then it'd be expensive because we'd need to address separately each of the things they were accusing me of.”

Minter says that Atari’s specific allegations state that he had access to and stole source code, the presence of an AI droid in TxK, and that the player ship can jump. Minter says that he called upon his experience in creating titles like Tempest 2000, that all of his games (even those that pre-date Tempest 2000) include an AI droid, and that the jumping ship shouldn’t be a mechanic that Atari owns.

Further, he claims that Atari’s legal assertions include TxK’s soundtrack, which Minter says is wholly original. Minter also alleges that Atari named one of its later titles “Tempest X” rather than simply calling it a port of Tempest 2000 to specifically avoid paying him royalties for his work. 

When reached for comment this afternoon, Atari denies that legal action has been pursued against Minter or his company. However, Atari does suggest that TxK is extremely similar to Tempest 2000 and other iterations of that franchise.

“Atari values and protects its intellectual property and expects others to respect its copyrights and trademarks,” an Atari representative told us via email. “When Llamasoft launched TxK in early 2014, Atari was surprised and dismayed by the very close similarities between TxK and the Tempest franchise. Atari was not alone in noticing the incredible likeness between the titles. Several major gaming outlets also remarked at the similarity of features and overall appearance of TxK to Tempest; one stated of TxK, ‘This is essentially Tempest.’ There is no lawsuit. Atari has been in continuous contact with the developer since the game launched in hopes that the matter would be resolved.”

In addition, Atari cites stories from three outlets that call out the stark resemblance to Tempest games. An IGN story says, “This is essentially Tempest.” A citation from Gaming Nexus says, “It doesn't just look and control like Tempest, but it actually uses many of the same power-ups, a few of the level designs and a similar bonus stage.”

We asked the Atari representative specifically about Minter’s allegations regarding attempts to remove the Vita version from sale. The company declined to comment, referring us to the statement (above).

When presented with Atari's response, Minter refuted Atari's claim that it has been in "continuous contact" with Llamasoft. "There has been no contact between Atari and Llamasoft," Minter told us via email. "The only contact they have made with us has been through lawyers. We did try to approach them via a non-lawyer route (someone I knew from my time at Atari knew someone inside fake-Atari and offered to see if he could find out what the hell was going on; the internal fake-Atari contact reported back that as soon as the subject was raised he had been told forcefully to "back off" and everything left to the lawyers)."

Minter tells us that he believes he's being singled out, while Atari allows direct clones of Tempest 2000 to exist in the mobile app stores. "I can only think that I am being singled out for hostile treatment precisely because I am the original creator of Tempest 2000," he says. "To be turned on by a bunch of strangers bearing the name of a company I once loved, and to have my own seminal work used as a weapon against me, is beyond sickening. These people are despicable."

He also reiterates a point made in his blog post, that the correspondence he says he's received from Atari attempts to minimize his role in the development of Tempest 2000. 

"The lawyers' letter is also comedically disingenuous and is bizarrely couched in terms which seek to imply that I had only a minor role in the creation of a game that I coded and designed entirely myself and which is known as one of my seminal works," Minter says. "Given such a bizarre and blatant attempt to diminish my role in the creation of my own game I do not feel inclined to trust or deal with such people as representatives of fake-Atari. I do not consider threatening letters from lawyers to be 'contact with the developer' by fake-Atari. Let them speak to me face to face."

Update: Shortly after publication, Minter contacted us to share one of the letters he has received from Atari's legal counsel.

[Source: Llamasoft, Pastebin via MCV]


Our Take
This situation is likely to get messier before it's resolved. What's clear here is that there is a dispute over whether TxK actually infringes on the Tempest brand or if it is an homage created by someone who once worked on that series. Unfortunately, Llamasoft is facing a difficult choice: publish on additional platforms and risk a suit from Atari or back off and give Atari a bloodless victory. Neither are appealing results for a small developer.