Category: Games

Go, Ken, Go! -- Part 6: Penders v Sega Dismissed

I'm going to talk about Ken Penders for a bit, because apparently somewhere along the line my blog became the Internet's foremost resource for information on Archie v Penders. And I never did get around to writing about the conclusion to the other suit, Penders v Sega et al, so I should probably start there.

To read my previous Ken Penders coverage, peruse the handy Ken Penders tag.

The gist: Archie forgets to make Ken Penders sign work-for-hire agreements prior to his work on the Sonic the Hedgehog comic, Penders asserts that he still owns or co-owns the copyrights to all that work and will be working on his own sequel, Archie sues him and writes all his characters out of the comic, fanboys flip out, Archie and Penders settle for undisclosed terms. And that's where I left off back in 2013.

Well, there were two lawsuits: Archie v Penders, where Archie sued Penders to assert that his work was for-hire and he held no ownership stake in it, and Penders v Sega et al, where Penders sued Sega and EA over Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood, a game which featured characters similar to the Dark Legion he had created in the Knuckles the Echidna comic.

Last I talked about this, Penders v Sega was still awaiting resolution, but I learned recently that last year it was dismissed on a technicality.

I took a look at Ken Penders's messageboard a little while ago (I'll come back to that in a future post), and he linked to a Tumblr post by TheAmazingSallyHogan, citing it as an authoritative and scholarly rundown of the case.

I have a couple of minor, tangential quibbles with Ms. Hogan's piece, such as how she defines work-for-hire; I'll get to them in a later post. But they're not relevant to the specifics of the Penders case, which, near as I can tell, she has exactly right, and describes in great detail.

And as for the conclusion of the Sega case, here's what she has to say:

On September 26, 2011, Penders’ lawsuit against SEGA/Electronic arts was dismissed, with the Judge essentially telling Penders that he needed settle matters with Archie first, and then he could re-file. Penders re-filed on September 30, just four days later. The same Judge dismissed the case a second time, saying very firmly that Penders needed to settle matters with Archie before re-filing against SEGA/Electronic Arts.

[...]

In May 2012, Penders’ council appealed the dismissal of his case against SEGA and EA. Penders’ determination to have a case in progress against SEGA/Electronic Arts, instead of just waiting to re-file, was because there is a three year statute of limitations on US copyright claims – a legal time limit intended to make sure cases are tried while the evidence is fresh. Sonic Chronicles was released September 25, 2008, almost exactly three years earlier. Filing a new case later would mean he would lose the chance to sue SEGA for Sonic Chronicles’ sales, so Penders appealed the dismissal. The importance of these dates was not stated in his appeal, an omission that would later prove crucial.

[...]

On October 11, 2013, Penders’ appeal (concerning his case against SEGA/Electronic Arts) was heard. While the judges agreed that the timeline was highly relevant and that if the case was dismissed he would largely lose the ability to seek compensation for Sonic Chronicles, his previous lawyer had failed to state why the dates were important in the appeal, and thus the judges could not take that issue into consideration. Shortly after, the court rejected his appeal and upheld the dismissal. While he could re-file, Sonic Chronicles had been released September 2008. It was now well past three years later, putting essentially all sales outside of the three year statute of limitations window. However, any new usage of the characters introduced in that game (such as an appearance in the comic), could potentially lead to a lawsuit from Penders. Late October, Penders stated “this case may yet end up in the US Supreme Court if a resolution isn’t found prior to that”.

So there it is: due to a mistake in Penders's lawyer's legal filing, Penders v Sega was dismissed, and he missed the statute of limitations for collecting any of the money generated by Sonic Chronicles. No ruling, no settlement, no resolution. While I wouldn't be surprised to see some fanboys take the words "case dismissed" to mean that Penders's case against Sega was flimsy or lacking in some way, that is not what this dismissal means; the case was dismissed due to a mistake in filling out the paperwork, and no other reason.

I wouldn't expect to see Sega re-release Sonic Chronicles any time soon, as that would open them up to a new suit.

Penders's allusions to a Supreme Court case notwithstanding, this is most likely the end of it, though he's still got his own series coming at some point, whatever form it may take.

I noted before that a lot of the other writers and artists who worked on Sonic around the time Penders did could potentially file for their own copyrights (and that Scott Shaw already had). I haven't heard anything more about that. However, given how the Penders case went, I would expect Archie to quietly settle with any other creators who made similar claims, on similar terms, without suing them, and it's entirely possible this has already happened. It's one of those things we'll most likely never know.

Meanwhile, if you're interested in the case at all, I highly recommend that you read the entire piece by TheAmazingSallyHogan. It's as good and thorough a summary of the case as you'll find anywhere.

More from Busiek on that Final Fantasy Comic

For those of you just joining us by way of a link from Kurt Busiek or CBR, welcome. I guess I should probably figure out something interesting to say so you'll feel like sticking around for a bit. For what it's worth, I've written quite a bit about Final Fantasy over the years, and three posts I wrote about FF7 back in 2011 (the first on mods for the PC version, the second on iconic images, and the third a general look back on the game) are pretty consistently the most popular thing on the site.

In lieu of me saying anything interesting, I'm going to quote a little bit more from Kurt Busiek on the unfinished Final Fantasy comic, in the comments section of the Robot 6 article on the subject.

I will also add that if the book came out, I don’t think that Final Fantasy fans would be particularly happy with it. It was 1991, and I was a workmanlike-but-not-particularly-noted writer. Dell Barras was a workmanlike artist, and, well, the covers were gorgeous.

But I don’t think I really started to make strides creatively as a writer until VAMPIRELLA: MORNING IN AMERICA (late that year) and the industry didn’t notice ’til MARVELS in 1993.

So, while I barely remember the details, I expect it was a workmanlike story that made sense but wasn’t particularly memorable, with workmanlike art and great covers.

And heresy upon heresies, I changed things (with Squaresoft’s permission). I thought it was so odd that the manly heroic lead was named Cecil and his loyal buddy was named Cain (really? You name the loyal guy Cain?) that I suggested maybe they needed Americanized names, and Squarest agreed. I don’t remember what I changed them to, but Squarest liked them enough that they asked if I’d be interested in a staff position making the games more American-appropriate. We never talked much about it, because I wanted to freelance. But I bet fans devoted to the game wouldn’t have liked the changes, especially not from a current POV, looking back.

What can I say? I wasn’t particularly a Final Fantasy fan — I’d played their first US game a little, and the second wasn’t even done yet.

He adds, in a later comment, that the bible he'd been given didn't even mention that Kain spends half the game betraying Cecil, and talks a little bit more about the original (FF1-based) outline he wrote.

(If he had been involved in localizing the game, I'm willing to bet it would have been better than what we initially got. But he'd have still been contending with cartridge space limitations and weird Nintendo censorship.)

Mignola Final Fantasy Covers

Well now. It appears that Kurt Busiek just reblogged a Tumblr post by Alex Chung, which, in turn, links back to a post I wrote back in '012 about Busiek, Barras, and Mignola's unfinished Final Fantasy comic (based on Final Fantasy 4).

So since that old post is probably getting a little bit of new traffic, I should follow it up, now that I have a couple of Mignola's covers for the series.

This one is via Chung's post, and would have been the cover to issue #2:
Final Fantasy #2 cover

And this was sent to me just over a year ago by Dale Jackson, who owns the original art; it would have been the cover of #4:
Final Fantasy #4 cover

Alex, thanks for linking to my post and for including the #2 cover; Dale, thanks for the heads-up on the #4 cover and I'm sorry it took so long to post it.

Cheap DVD's: Earthworm Jim

I was perusing Amazon the other day and, under my recommendations, I noticed that it listed Earthworm Jim: The Complete Series (affiliate link). As EWJ is easily one of my two favorite 1990's animated video game adaptations to feature Kath Soucie as a redheaded princess and Jim Cummings as the bad guy, I went ahead and ordered it.

Initial Impressions

The Good:

  • Good animation
  • Great cast
  • Still funny
  • All 23 episodes for only eleven bucks
  • Way better quality than that torrent you grabbed a few years ago that somebody made from old VHS tapes

The Bad:

  • Totally barebones; no special features or even scene selection.
  • If you buy this, part of that money probably goes to Doug TenNapel.

Handholding

I was in Target earlier this evening. The display 3DS had the new Mario and Luigi in it and I decided to give it a spin.

I got as far as the first screen, which displays a message that says "Use the circle pad to move Mario and Luigi."

Fuck you. I'm not going to play a game that starts out by immediately insulting my intelligence.

Excellent Games with Lazy, Halfassed Interface Design

So Arkham City was on sale on Steam last weekend. Between that and the recent removal of GFWL and SecuROM, and my Xbox (and my copy of the game) being recently stolen, I went ahead and bought it.

Compared to the Xbox version of the game, well, it's got all the same benefits and drawbacks as every PC game does compared to the console version.

Including controller support.

It recognized my outdated Cordless Rumblepad 2 just fine -- I'm not sure if that's internal to the game itself or due to the compatibility layer Steam's added in Big Picture -- but either way, well, it recognized the controller but didn't actually work right with it.

All the button pairs were switched. A and B, X and Y, the bumpers and the triggers.

All of which I suppose I could have eventually reprogrammed my muscle memory to work around (hell, the Xbox's button layout is already backwards for a kid who grew up with a SNES). But the fact that the Y-axis was backwards on the left stick? Not so much. Try playing a game where up is literally down and see how far it gets you.

And here's my gripe:

There's no menu to reconfigure your controller in the game.

There could have been. There's a menu option to look at the controls. You just can't modify them in any way. (Well, you can invert the axes on camera and flight, I suppose. But not on regular movement, the thing where I actually needed to invert an axis. And no button remapping whatsoever.)

There's a configuration utility -- outside the game -- which lets you remap controls...for keyboard and mouse. If there's a way to change the button layout on a gamepad, I sure didn't see it.

Now, the good news about this being 2013 is I could type "arkham city" inverted controls into a search engine and find a trivial fix -- as it turns out, there's a config file in BmGame\Config\DefaultInput.ini that has straightforward, cleartext entries with names like XboxTypeS_LeftY and XboxTypeS_A. Simply swap the names of the axes and buttons, and that's all it takes.

Which is great!

But the bad news about this being 2013 is I can't help asking why the fuck I had to look this up on the Internet and edit a fucking text file instead of just configuring my controls from a menu.

The last time I had a problem like this, with The Walking Dead, I found a forum post by a Telltale staffer who had this to say:

Unfortunately we do not have access to all the various versions of controllers that logitech and other companies make.

Which sounds perfectly sensible, and also completely misses the fucking point.

Now, in Batman's case, there are a couple simple reasons that's a bad argument: first, this issue occurs with the authentic Xbox controllers that the game is specifically designed for. Second, this is not a new bug -- see the link to the fix a few paragraphs up? Take a closer look at the URL -- it's for Arkham Asylum, not City. This is a bug from the original game that was not fixed in the sequel.

But even leaving aside those two points (which is only fair, of course, given that I'm quoting a guy from a different company talking about a completely different game), the central issue remains: this is the twenty-first goddamn century and people are making games -- PC games! -- where they don't give you the option to remap your buttons.

Yes, I know that hardware inconsistency is the single most difficult thing about PC development. No, I don't expect you to design your game to work with every single controller ever made.

But I do goddamn-well expect you to let me map my fucking buttons however I want.

Mega Man X did that shit twenty years ago. What the fuck is your excuse?

Still Headachin'

Left work early yesterday, and didn't make it in at all today. Rough week. Starting to feel better; hope that holds.

Not much else to add, I guess. Puttering around the house a bit, continuing to take inventory. Got my broken Wii to work with my broken CRT TV. It would appear that we literally can't have nice things.

Burgled

So the main reason the blog's been kinda quiet this week is that my house was broken into on Monday. I don't really want to say anything more about it publicly at this point. Stuff was stolen, it sucks, we're okay but shaken-up and stressed-out, we'll get through this and things will be back to normal eventually.

It's been a pretty lousy week -- mainly due to the burglary but also because there's been some turnover on my team at work, and today I came home early with a headache. I've been getting headaches all my life, but they didn't used to happen every single fucking time it started to get cloudy out. If this is what happens when you turn 30, I can't wait for all the myriad health issues that will crop up at 40, 50, ...

Anyway. I'm bound to get back to more regular blogging and Zappa posts somewhere down the line, but I'm not quite there yet. Still got a lot else to do.

But for now, I think I'm going to take a break and play some DuckTales.

World of Balance

So my current replay of FF6 has sparked some discussion over on the forums, as you might expect.

My previous post, asserting that the Auction House is the worst thing in the game, met with some debate from TA and Brent, who contend that the Veldt is the worst thing in the game. From there, discussion ensued about Gau's utility, and I mentioned that I'm going out of my way to use characters on this playthrough who I don't normally use and how putting Strago, Relm, and Locke in my party made the Floating Continent a much more defensive affair.

Brent interjected that strategy is not a subject he associates with FF6 ("I always thought the RPG bits were just the glue holding together a pretty good steampunk fantasy novel"); Ocksi and I got to talking about the unlikely prospect of a remake in the style of 3 and 4 for DS -- and I bridged the two points, noting that while the best we're likely to get is a prettied-up-but-primitive port like on the PSP (and even that's not looking likely right now), FF6 is a game that could really use the sort of serious rebalancing that the DS remakes got. Brent suggested the following:

If I were redoing the game I'd just do away with the Fight command completely and let everyone have their own wholly unique attack mechanic. That'd mean a lot of new minigames and some changes to existing specials (Cyan shouldn't hold up the entire damn fight, Setzer shouldn't randomly end the game), but I don't think many people would complain.

and we went from there.

Most of this was originally posted on Brontoforumus, 2013-08-11, but I'm making some notes and revisions here as I go.


That'd be pretty tempting, yeah. Make Terra and Strago pure magic, say? And give them an FF12-style Charge move in case they run out of MP.

Further thoughts:

Give monsters AI. Make them only heal as needed, and not re-cast offensive/debuff/negative status spells on characters they have no effect on. Obviously you'd need to rebalance their attacks, because there would be absolutely no reason for a Stray Cat ever to use its standard attack instead of Cat Scratch. (Which I guess is the same problem with Edgar, Sabin, Cyan, and the Fight command.) Maybe add charge time to the more powerful attacks? I'll get back to charge time in a minute.

Either give Gau, Mog, and Umaro AI much like what I described above, or make them controllable. (Or, ooh, here's a thought: have them initially fight based on AI, but introduce a relic in the second half of the game that allows you to control them, like the FakeMustache turns randomized Sketch into Control.) Make your character controllable in the Coliseum, too.

(Mothra interjected that he liked not controlling his character in the Coliseum. I don't, at all, but if they were to keep it that way they'd definitely need to give it the same kind of AI upgrade that I suggested above -- Sabin should never, ever use Spiraler; if you know Firaga you shouldn't be casting Fire; and if you cast Scan I'd better see you using your next turn to exploit any elemental weaknesses it pulled up.)

Gau/Veldt: Make Gau automatically learn rages from every monster he defeats, whether he's on the Veldt or not.
Veldt can still serve a purpose as the place where you can re-fight monsters from earlier in the game -- but needs a few tweaks.
First of all, get rid of the current arrangement of monsters (where you fight a random group from an ordered list). Split the Veldt up by region -- maybe arrange it so that it resembles the world map in miniature. Go to an area on the miniature map and you'll fight monsters from that part of the world map. (Obviously this would be a little trickier to implement in the WoR -- do you have a mix of WoB and WoR monsters in each region, or find some way to split it up into two miniature world maps?)
And no more missable Veldt monsters. If you've been to a region, monsters from that region will show up on the Veldt, whether you've encountered them or not. (The exceptions would be the two bosses, provided you even keep them as Veldt monsters; that was always kinda weird.)

Oh, and no missable dances, either. Create some persistent location where you can learn the Water Dance in the WoR. Maybe make the Serpent Trench, Ebot's Rock, anywhere else that was underwater in the WoB into a marshland that counts as water.

Celes: While Terra and Strago make sense as pure mages from a plot perspective, Celes doesn't. She's been raised as a warrior from infancy; you'd have to expect she'd at least know how to handle a sword when MP runs out. I say make her an FF5-style Mage Knight; give her the ability to enchant weapons with elements or effects. You could keep Runic, but if so you'd want to make it useful late in the game by, for example, making it only draw enemy magic (maybe have this be another ability that gets upgraded by a Relic), or you could drop it entirely in favor of Magic Sword.

Magic: The four natural mages (Terra, Celes, Strago, Relm) should have visibly better magical aptitude than everybody else. I think everybody else's magic stats (Magic, MP, M Evade, M Def) should be nerfed -- not to the point where magic is useless, but to the point where it's noticeably less effective than when the natural mages do it. (Gogo's actually a pretty good example of a character who can still use any ability in the game but is visibly worse at it than its natural practitioner.) I'm thinking you could also add charge times for the non-natural magic users to cast their spells.

And speaking of charge times, that's what you do with Cyan. Have him pick his attack from a menu and then initiate the counter; if you want to do, say, #7, it'll still take just as long to prepare, but everybody else in the party can keep doing their thing while he's preparing it.
Also, either eliminate his intermediate attacks or make them useful.

Similar goes for Edgar -- there's not really much reason to use any of his tools except Autocrossbow and Chainsaw.
I say nerf Chainsaw a bit. (Make the difference between it and Drill more striking -- make it useless against monsters with high def, for example, so that Drill is clearly a better choice there.) Make monsters more susceptible to Bioblaster and Noiseblaster (and maybe add some more tools that cause different status ailments) -- here's a thought, maybe even make monsters that would normally repel a Bio or Confuse spell susceptible to the Tool version.
Introduce Debilitator way earlier in the game -- say, before the Magitek Research Facility. (Technically it's possible to steal one from the crane boss, but it's rare and that still means you get it immediately after the part of the game where it would be most useful.)

Auction House: Easily fixable. FF9 had an Auction House that actually behaved like an auction house; do it like that. Make players bid; place them up against simple AI behavior from townspeople; reward good betting strategies while keeping the results somewhat unpredictable. Maybe even have an online component to it, let players trade items -- you can put restrictions on it (like one purchase a day) if you really want to, but I wouldn't worry that much about people gaming it, really.

The joke events could still happen I guess, but limit them to once each.

And keep a high probability that the important items -- the two Espers and, provided we keep Gilgamesh, Excalipoor as well, shouldn't be too hard to get ahold of. It's okay to have some rare stuff in there -- maybe a very low probability of super-powerful, super-rare items like Economizers and Offerings showing up -- but I don't think any unique items should be such a bastard to get.

And while we're talking about rare items, having the Excalibur and other high-end equipment not show up until the very end of the game is dumb. It should be obtainable earlier.

(Making the player choose between Ragnarok the Esper and Ragnarok the Sword, while still allowing you to steal the sword from one of the Goddesses, is okay by me, though. ...but maybe make it not such a pain in the ass to get rare steals. Maybe do like the more recent games have done and allow monsters to carry multiple items so if you keep stealing for long enough you'll eventually get the rare one?)

I think Celes's theme should actually play for more than three seconds of the game, too. Like, for starters, why not play it when she's introduced, like nearly every other playable character?

Final Fantasy Prequels I'd Actually Like to See

R^2's excellent Let's Play Final Fantasy 4 Advance thread over at Brontoforumus has veered onto the topic of The After Years and its general wretchedness. I've never played it -- but yeah, it sure seems like a terrible idea, on principle.

And I get to thinking, what Final Fantasy same-world sequels are any good?

For my money, FF12 and Revenant Wings don't count -- that's a case of an established setting being worked into a numbered FF game, not a numbered FF game's setting being reused per se.

FF10-2 was pretty neat, partially because it was the first and partially because it was so utterly different from FF10 proper, in tone, plot, and gameplay.

And the only FF7 sequel worth a damn is Crisis Core.

I think a lot of that is because it has the good sense not to take itself as goddamn seriously as most everything in the FF7 universe -- but I think it's also because it's a prequel. FF7 has an ending. An ending whose appeal comes from its ambiguity. Setting games (or movies) after the ending misses the point. Badly.

So with FF4. FF4 puts a fucking bow on things. Everybody gets to be a king or queen. Even Yang, for no reason whatsoever.

How the fuck do you top that? You don't.

Most Final Fantasys have an ending that's pretty, well, final. (There's an ongoing fanboy talking point that that's why they're called "Final" and that's why you should stop making jokes about "Dur hur how can they be final if there's thirteen of 'em?" That's stupid fanboy talk. But you really should stop making that joke.)

But you know what? Plenty of them come with perfectly good backstories to play with, and ripe ground for prequels.

Let's start with FF5 and the Warriors of Dawn. You could play as a young Galuf, and Butz's dad, and...look, I forget the other two guys' names. The point of FF5 isn't really its plot, it's the jobs system. I'd be happy to play a game with an earlier war with Exdeath, revisiting some familiar locations and characters a la Dragon Quest 3.

And then there's FF6 and the War of the Magi. The backstory's dashed off in a few lines of exposition in-game, but it's got loads of potential -- three gods begin fighting, they mutate humans into magic users, other humans hunt the magic users to take their powers, and it leads to an all-out apocalyptic battle that rends the world asunder and ultimately wipes magic off the map and sends technology back to the Stone Age.

Given the timeline and the established power of the Warring Triad, the world wouldn't need to bear any kind of resemblance to FF6. (Though, hm -- maybe the map could start out looking one way and, after being torn asunder by the Triad, look like the World of Balance. Dramatic irony!)

And the final candidate I'd like to share is Final Fantasy 3. 3 has an even more barebones story than 5 (and isn't as good a game), but it has one idea in its backstory that could make for a wonderfully warped take on the traditional story.

3 relies on the D&D trope of Good and Evil existing in balance to one another, and the idea that if one becomes too strong, the other will rise to defeat it. Final Fantasy 3 has a world subject to the influence of a creeping evil -- and so the Crystals create four Warriors of Light.

But, it's clearly established in the backstory that the reverse happened a few hundred years before: Good got too strong, and the Crystals created four Warriors of Dark to restore the balance.

I'd love to play a game that does the Final Fantasy formula in reverse: burn villages, breed monsters, awaken ancient evils, start an evil empire and slowly take over the world.

I guess it would be kinda like the first half-hour of Final Fantasy 4, if Cecil had a much higher degree of job satisfaction.