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Derivative Design: When is a “rip-off” not a “rip-off?”

There’s a term I see far too often used in gamer culture… hell, nerd culture in general, whenever a genre is forming or design elements start being used in multiple places. That term, of course, is “rip-off”.

We have other terms for it of course.
“Clone.”
“Copy.”
But what if it’s merely “coincidence”?
What if something you thought was original wasn’t as original as you thought?

To bring up what started this whole thing in the first place, let’s take a look at “Dragomon Hunter” and in turn, the game most comments cried foul for when they saw the debut trailer, “Monster Hunter”.

First off, there’s plenty you can claim was taken and/or stolen from Monster. There’s a bank available at the beginning of each “hunt”.
You have a small cute creature to follow you around.
You collect parts of monsters to create better gear.
But the differences far outweigh those similarities, even though people are going to pick apart everything once they’ve seen one.

The thing is, though, Monster Hunter isn’t all that original in the first place… especially when it comes down to the one thing everyone was pointing at. The monsters.
Capcom didn’t invent raptors, wyverns, manticores or the dozens of mythological monsters that you hunt within the game. They just gave them different names.
When Dragomon Hunter includes a flaming manticore into their game that’s their prerogative. You can call it a “Teostra” rip-off all you want, that doesn’t change the fact that the two characters aren’t exact model or animation copies. I’ve seen the Teostra fight and the “Molten King” battle plays out nothing like it. This isn’t Hunter Blade, after all.
Sure, you can make the case that Dragomon does far more than that, especially if you go about looking at the “Rock Gigant” and immediately think “Groudon” from Pokemon. But take a look at them side by side sometime. REALLY take a look. They look almost nothing alike, aside from their general color, stance and eyes. That’s not enough to be considered a ripoff. Rock Gigant doesn’t have smooth white spikes on its side. No runic markings on its body. No claw-tail. Rock Gigant’s jaw is two massive bone like plates, while Groudon has a rounded shark-like mouth. It’s not even close.
Yet our minds are desperate to make a connection and call out these apparently copyright violations when there really aren’t any.

The term “clone” tends to be thrown around a bit much around forming genres. When a new game comes out, or at least brings a new set of mechanics to life, others try to see what they can do with those mechanics. It happened with the First Person Shooter when the media dubbed them all “Doom Clones” in the early 90’s. When Mario 64 brought about a new style of gameplay with the 3D Platformer, all too many publications were willing to dismiss Crash Bandicoot, Croc, and hell, even at one time, Tomb Raider as “Mario 64 Clones”. Sometimes the “clone-name” never goes away, as we’re currently seeing with the recent genre trend, the “Roguelike”, a name that literally means “like the old PC game called ‘Rogue’ that contained permadeath mechanics.”

Another genre that of course has had “clone” and “rip-off” shouted at it more times than I can count is the MOBA. DotA Fanatics would have you call them “DotA-Style” games, as they’re unquestionably miffed by the fact that Riot’s “League of Legends” coined the term by making their own version of DotA. A term I will greatly admit is completely vague and nondescript on its own, applicable to hundreds of differing titles and genres, but the name’s stuck. You say “MOBA” nowadays and most players are going to know what kind of game you’re talking about. The market itself reached some sort of mobius-strip of cloning when Heroes of the Storm started getting rip-off accusations for including Jaina in their game when it was “so obviously a copy of Crystal Maiden”.
Just… just look into the history of something before you say some really stupid shit like that again, guys.

We’re seeing it rise up again with the similar titles of Overwatch, Paladins, and Battleborn cropping up. Three titles with similar mechanics but very different feels being labeled as copies by people who’ve played one or less of these titles, and have nothing to go off of beyond screenshots and promo trailers.

You want to see some actual “rip-offs” go look into the woefully under-regulated mobile market sometime.
The Mobile MOBA “Ace of Arenas” is such a painfully obvious League of Legends clone that I can name every Champion they copied to put into their game upon first playing them. Hell, when you include a fox girl who attacks with a boomeranging “soul orb”, can summon a trio of homing fireballs, and has an ult that causes her to dash toward enemies while firing shots, you wonder if Ahri and Riot might want to have something to say about it.
This brings about another observation. Ace of Arenas also has a Sun Wukong, which many Leaguers might cry foul as another “rip-off”, just as they did with SMITE adding a Sun Wukong. But here’s the thing… Neither League nor SMITE invented Sun Wukong. He’s been a Chinese legend for centuries. All Riot did was take the name, look and abilities of Sun Wukong and inexplicably give him a new lore. (Getting into Riot’s “re-lore-ing” would be a whole other article)
I’ve played one of those Mobile RPGs that uses characters and skills copied directly from League of Legends as well. Jolie from “Magic Rush Heroes” is Miss Fortune in every way but look. Muse is Sona. Emily is Annie. Yet the game’s mechanics are so far removed from the MOBA that it honestly amuses me, and just makes me wonder why they bothered.
You’ll find dozens of cash-in clones looking to ape the latest trend of the month. Some of the companies going as far to rip themselves off, by making the same kind of title with a slightly altered skin. King.com has so many versions of Candy Crush, a clone version of Bejeweled, mind you, that I’m pretty sure that bubble is well on its way to bursting. I’m just saying there’s plenty of real, honest to goodness rip-offs out there without having to look at a creature and go “Hey, that kinda looks like that one character if you squint and ignore these several traits! RIP-OFF!”

But let me offer up one question…

Does it really matter?

This isn’t like “The Asylum” trying to take advantage of the latest movie release by making a low-budget movie with a similar title in order to fool some unsuspecting, non-observant grandmother into buying it for their grandkids.
These games aren’t something you go to the store and pick off the shelf, trying to fool us into thinking they’re the real thing. There’s just people with varying amounts of personal creativity trying to place something they enjoy into their own personal world.
If there’s really a problem, a true concern, the companies in charge WILL take care of it, not a group of roving fanboy gatekeepers shrieking at every perceived infraction of copyright like a low quality copy is honestly going to take attention and players away from their favorite titles.

All in all, it’s best to be mindful of the true originality and source of something before you start mislabeling it as a reference, copy, or worse, “Rip-Off”. Reality is far more vast than the world contained within your favorite game.

Immersion Broken: The Problem With Meme Reliance in MMOs

I have had this happen before… people calling me hypocritical for laughing at corny jokes and writing in one game, while bashing another for doing the same thing.

I laughed when Kaguya in Onigiri used the Doge meme.

I groaned in frustration when quests in TERA said things like “Gotta Kill Em All”

I chuckled when an NPC in the Secret World screamed “Get your stinkin paws off me, you damned dirty ape!”

I shrieked at my monitor when MegaGWolf linked me to the image of a Primal fight in FFXIV called “Quake Me Up Before You O’Ghomoro”

Why is it “ok” for that to happen in one game, while other games that do it infuriate me like no other? Well, as I said in the video that likely brought you looking for this article, “It’s all about context.”

In games like Onigiri, Loadout, or ZMR, the tone of the game is fitting of this kind of humor. Even in games that aren’t exactly lighthearted, like The Secret World still have moments of humor, and the real world setting of the game means these references aren’t uncommon or out of place. TSW’s leader of the Illuminati, the Pyramidion, is a disembodied voice that speaks using internet memes, and yet the character is presented in such a manner that you feel they actually are a character, and not simply a sequence of jokes serving to compensate for someone’s failed career in stand-up. Balance is key.

Alternatively, we have TERA, FFXIV and hell, even World of Warcraft. These are all worlds with established lore, yet plagued by stupid shoehorned modern day memes and stupid jokes. I can sort of give a pass to WoW, as the game is Blizzard’s through and through, but they have an occasional tendency to rely on memes too much.

This is why EnMasse is so much more suited for ZMR than TERA. ZMR is a Chinese GoW clone, filled with busty scientists, jiggle physics, guns, robots, zombies, Egyptian gods, and undead concubines. The game is clearly batshit insane and should be treated as such. Regardless of the choice outfits in TERA, however, that game is a world with established characters, an ongoing story, and a fantasy setting. The constant barrage of rampant perversion and stupid jokes with modern references seem painfully out of place in the setting, and comes across as blatant disrespect to the developer and their story.

This is also what makes Final Fantasy XIV so intolerably frustrating. As I said, it’s a FINAL FANTASY GAME. Why did the translation team need to rely on that stupid crap to carry the story? Were they being lazy? Were they not aware of the pedigree of the game they were working with? Are the blissfully unaware of the seriousness of the story, and what came before it?

Here… I’m going to put this in perspective. Below is a video showing the final moments of FFXIV 1.0 before the “extinction event” that took that version of the game down forever. I want you to put yourself into the shoes of these players… to stand around and witness the burning sky of their world…the slow haunting music singing them to their end… the inevitable countdown to their demise that all culminated with this cutscene:

I didn’t even give a shit about FFXIV 1.0, and all for dancing the “Suck it, Squeenix” dance upon its failure, but holy hell if that scene didn’t resonate with me on an emotional level. To witness such utter despair, to see the world people had played and lived in, torn apart by fire and destruction… to see the look of hope upon that Elezan’s face as he manages to port away most of the population of that world, smiling before being consumed by a wall of flames, and fading out to black… it got to me. Now I have to imagine that image. That scenario… every time I come across another instance of “Giant Enemy Crab”, “Give It To Me Raw” or the EX Shiva achievement being called “Let It Go”.

The translation team feeling its story is so weak that they have to rely on stupid jokes and memes for nearly everything in the game is blatant and utter disrespect for the source material, and I find it utterly reprehensible and disgusting. Hell the whole thing gets me so riled up that I had a knee-jerk reaction of anger when I saw a quest called “Too Many Cooks” until I realized there was no way that was made in reference to that very recent Adult Swim sketch.

Now, I understand that we are not all roleplayers. Not everyone cares about the story, or the characters, and that’s fine. But keep in mind those that do. Lord of the Rings fans aren’t going to be pleased when they’re trying to roam around Middle-Earth and take in the sights and sounds of Bree, while seeing an elf named Bonerlord69 running by.
When the game itself starts making the boner jokes instead… we feel the devs really don’t care about the game that we care about, and our confidence in their abilities, our hope for the future of the game, and our immersion, is completely broken.

I’ll leave you all with a final link to a video that Rob “Tyger” Rubin did on his show MUD2MMO that also covers the subject of immersion and memes, and his reasons for abandoning all hope for World of Warcraft.

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