I saw an article header for a Zelda fan game getting shut down and I don't feel like working on anything else right now before bed... so instead of going to bed, I'm blogging.
A fan game is where a team of people (or sometimes in today's age, just one person) takes intellectual properties from a previously published source and uses it to create something fairly new. Like the whole "fair use" clause that we have seen thrown around on YouTube lately, it is kind of a gray area. This is a blog where I share a lot of personal opinions on a wide array of stuff, so if you are wondering if I have a problem with fan games, I say no. Are you kidding? I still think they should make a Digimon vs. Pokemon crossover fighting game, Kingdom Hearts fighting game, or a Sega x Capcom (Project Cross Zone doesn't count). If I had the time and knowledge now in my 20's to create something like that and two-twenty other people wanted to join me unpaid, I would work on it as much as possible without going homeless! Alas, I can only observe from the distance.
Nintendo has been pretty big on shutting down fan games recently, and as a game enthusiast and supporter of indie games, I guess it is expected that I am supposed to say "boooo! Fuck you, Nintendo! Leave AM2R alone!" I both am and am not that guy here, and that's what I want to get across in this blog post. I think a bit of reflection should be taken by both independent fan game developers and whoever pulls the trigger to their skulls over at Nintendo.
Fan games get a bad rep sometimes because of the Newgrounds prime era where a fan game could be something as impressive as a Sonic Advance 2 fan port or as dumb as a seven-year-old with a shitty mic moving Mario and Kirby sprites around on the screen while you frantically shoot things with your mouse. Every once in a while you have your Super Smash Bros. Crusade, Super Smash Flash, Super Flash Bros., League of Fighters, Sonic Utopia, that one I can't think of right now that was essentially multiplayer Super Mario World or something... Those are cool. They are different concepts based on already existing formulas, and that's not inherently bad. When you go to school for game design, art, music composition, programming, they don't start you off going "alright, freshman project is to make a rough draft of your magnum opus. If you don't make your life's calling right here and now, you're expelled!" They start you off with something that has already been done a million times over, and hell if you were passionate about the subject you are studying before you went to college then you have probably done this hypothetical thing at least a few hundred times yourself. I can say this from experience, it's why I dropped out of music education, among other reasons. Over here in America, or at least where I grew up, game design isn't something that everyone is/was throwing around as a glorious career or even as a viable option in some areas (like the one I grew up in). Notice I said game design. The thought of working for a video game in the environment I was raised in was a few steps short of witchcraft. Ripping previously existing material may seem lowbrow to those who create new characters or story premises when they brush their teeth every morning, but to those presented with less support in this field, an independent, grassroots fan game is the only way into this field.
Let's also be honest with ourselves here for a bit longer and realize that everything has been done. This is a tried and true mentality. Want to start a fictional religion in a screenplay? Probably based on some form of Christianity. Want to write any joke at all into a screenplay for say... television? Simpsons did it. Want to make anything creative? Look back on several thousands years of recorded art. You were beaten to the punch. So if I want to make a PC game that plays like Star Fox but has updated anime-inspired graphics, maybe I should just make it Star Fox rather than an obvious rip-off of the characters and story from Star Fox. At least then I can reel in more people who are also interested in Star Fox. Star Fox, just as an ongoing example here, is a pretty popular series, so people who don't have your gift of game creativity may be wanting something similar to what you have dreamt up. Look on a wider scale: you have a Star Fox fan game that was played by a couple thousand people, or maybe even shut down by Nintendo because so many people were downloading it. Congratulations: you have something on your resume that you made with a limited team, little-to-no budget, and it got a following! You already look just as good if not better than other people looking for the same kinds of work you are that just graduated with their respective degrees. This is the good that fan games can bring, with the obvious point I left out. The point being that fan games like the hypothetical I mentioned or even games like Super Flash Bros. were probably created because the original developers weren't doing it themselves. I think companies like Sonic Team see this good and leave it be. Notice you don't really see a whole lot of Sonic fan games get shut down. Just Mario, Metroid, Pokemon, and Zelda ones. At the end of the day, these companies still own the franchises, so you could, albeit evil to do so, use the idea and polish it up. I heard that something like this happened with Super Mario Maker actually but I haven't been able to dig up much on the story since I first heard it, but supposedly Nintendo shut down some guy that made a custom Mario stage builder game, non-profit mind you, and then coincidentally released Super Mario Maker on Wii U shortly after. Hmmm. Which leads me to my next stance, and this is where a lot of people might hate me a little.
That guy didn't make Mario. He's not Shigeru Miyamoto. Not Satoru Iwata. Just a fan making a fan game. There's nothing wrong with that and I think shutting the game down completely was a little extreme, but on the other hand, fans know now more than ever that these companies are able and within legal right to do so. So why play with that fire? Am I crazy? Am I an asshole for thinking this? I don't think I am. Let's go back to Super Flash Bros. This Smash clone specifically seems to impersonate a GameBoy Color OS using sprites representing a select few Smash characters (and also Vaporeon). Another notable aspect beyond its retro gimmick was that it had smooth, intricate, and complex maneuvers emulating that of later Super Smash Bros. installments, especially Melee. The guy who made that game? Dan Fornace? If that name rings a bell, it means you probably played the recently fully released Steam game known as Rivals of Aether. This game, which I really like by the way, is a Melee clone consulting pro Melee players and fans to create a balanced fighting game based on the intricacies of Super Smash Bros. while still giving it a fun atmosphere. This atmosphere despite being based on older graphics is original and even comes with a story mode now to bring more life to the original cast of characters. A lot of them mechanically still share moves similar to those in the Smash Bros. series, but the game rules and whatnot are, by copyright law, fair game to use. You just can't name the main character Pikachu. This is understandable, and the crossroads I think must be had between fan game makers and the big corporations that the fans are trying to pay homage to.
Final Fantasy was inspired by Dragon Quest, and the company that made that game ended up buying Dragon Quest out. Sonic was inspired by the running in Mario and Sonic ended up closely competing with the Italian plumber that saved console gaming. Imitation doesn't have to be cheap, so long as you are trying to do something wholly original and new with the mechanics of the game to offer a new experience to the consumer. Weird to call them consumers in the case of free fan games but whatever. Experimenting with what is already there is what allows us to grow creatively as individuals and as a species, otherwise, we would be driving with stone wheels still.
The only thing that eludes this topic in this blog post is when companies shut down people putting their assets in a different engine. You know, like those "Zelda Ocarina of Time in Unreal 4" videos on YouTube that Nintendo still doesn't like? Yeah, in that case, the companies can chill out.
I have said this on this blog before, and I will say it again: I think you should do whatever makes you happy in this life. If that is making a game where Pikachu and Sonic kiss each other and then fight Bowser while he does the fusion dance with Batman, then have at it, but you kind of don't have room to bitch about DC, Nintendo, and Sega all putting the hammer down on you at once when you post it everywhere online.