Thursday, July 19, 2007

Sour Grapes - Silicon Knights May Ruin Itself and Too Human Over Childish Grudge

There's no doubt that Silicon Knights head blames Epic games for the PR failure of the second playable showing of 'Too Human' however whats sad is that it has turned from a personal dislike to a full blown lawsuit that may potentially ruin Silicon Knights and 'Too Human'.

Their lawsuit is unwarranted on many levels, the most basic of which is common sense, I wouldn't expect any programmer to get away with bad coding by blaming it on someone else, 'it isn't someone else's fault the software is no good, it's your fault'. Blaming Epic, an established and respected developer, for Silicon Knights poor second gameplay showing of its title is a serious mistake. Not only can it have a massive backlash from the community in general but the lawsuit itself won't be winnable given Epic is bigger and has a lot more at stake here.

The lawsuit is no more than bitter rivalry, it seems that Dennis Dyack thinks the fanbase will side with him if he goes open with this in court. There are many Epic licensees right now and all are chugging along with no complaints, some of the biggest upcoming titles are using UE3 and they all look great. As it stands Silicon Knights is out numbered, just throwing in their blood doused PR into a shark infested pool.

Now the other problem, the whole 'new engine' that was 'derived' from UE3. If it works it works, Epic provides a lot of things with UE3 to licensees and in effect the so-called 'derived engine' is probably no more derived than Bioshock uses an engine 'derived' from UE3. UE3 is flexible enough and easy enough to use so that developers can add stuff to it as much as they want.

In effect, derived or not, Silicon Knights bought the license from Epic, they paid for it and they received it. 'Deriving' from it does not make them exempt to the license they paid for it. Of course all this won't sound good in court on Silicon Knights behalf, so they get choosy with the details.

An excerpt from their claims:

"The final development kit for the Xbox 360 was released in early September, 2005, such that Epic was obligated to release the functional Engine for that platform no later than March, 2006."
If this was genuinely what Epic had contracted then they do at least in part owe something back to Silicon Knights, but it's asking too much to try and get a full refund.
"The support Epic had misrepresented it would provide Silicon Knights... became increasingly inconsistent as both Silicon Knights and Epic progressed toward the target launch date for their respective games. Epic has attempted to avoid its obligations under the Agreement by representing to Silicon Knights that the support,
modifications, or enhancements to the Engine – all of which are essential to the Engine’s proper function – were “game specific” and not “engine level” adaptations, and that Epic therefore need not provide them to any of its licensees, including Silicon Knights."
Would inconsistent support have something to do with a dodgy showing of Too Human? Could this entire lawsuit be based on the differing opinions of two journalists, one who liked the game and one who disliked it.
"That representation is false, as evidenced in part by the fact that Epic later provided nearly all the Gears of War code to all of its licensees, at no extra charge, in a belated effort at damage control."
Silicon Knights is essentially saying that Epic didn't provide consistent support to its licensees so that it could concentrate more on its own games. The question here is whether or not Epic was contracted to provide this support that Silicon Knights is/was demanding. However Epic did provide the entire code behind Gears of War in the end, perhaps to help calm down Silicon Knights which had been getting more and more frustrating to Epic.

Whats interesting here is that it was reported that Silicon Knights was working on a new game engine and was leaving behind UE3 after the second poor showing of Too Human, before the release of the Gears of War source code indicating that Silicon Knights was just piggy backing Epic and using whatever of Epics code it could to create its own game engine. Epic might have started to find it frustrating that one of its licensees was using its code to do no more than what any other of its licensees might (i.e. alter code) but claiming it to be a whole new game engine hence the shaky relations with Silicon Knights.

Unfortunately that wasn't good enough for Silicon Knights, and they blatantly lie:
"Epic’s actions and the consequent increasing delay and cost of development of Silicon Knights’ own game caused by the unworkable Engine forced Silicon Knights in May of 2006 to embark on the time and resource intensive task of writing its own game engine, the very task it had hoped to avoid be entering the Agreement with Epic."
They weren't writing their own game engine, they were essentially re-writing an early version of UE3, fixing up loose ends and bugs that they couldn't be bothered waiting on Epic to finish. It's either that or were to believe Silicon Knights made an engine comparable by look and feel to UE3 in under a year.

It gets interesting, it seems that Silicon Knights might have not been able to finish Too Human because of Epics alleged lack of consistent support:
"Silicon Knights was forced to decide whether to continue waiting for Epic to provide it with a commercially functional version of the Engine. Under the Agreement, Silicon Knights found itself in the position of being ostensibly “bound” to use Epic’s non-functional product, even though doing so would result in the breach of its obligations to its publishing partners. Rather than let that happen, in May of 2006, with the Engine two months overdue and under the looming risk of funding for Too Human drying up if no workable engine could be found, Silicon Knights had no choice but to abandon the Engine and begin creating its own game engine (“the Silicon Knights Engine”). By that time, Epic had shown neither the ability nor the intent to fulfill its obligations under the Agreement."
IN a way you can sympathise, perhaps the developers of other big UE3 based games like Bioshock had more funding. Unfortunately Silicon Knights decides to shit all over their viable and perhaps even justifiable claims by saying that "Progress on the Silicon Knights’ Engine continues to date and, at this time, the Silicon Knights Engine is completely independent of Epic’s Engine and certainly derives no benefit from the unworkable source code provided by Epic.". I'm sorry but it's going to be hard to prove that the Silicon Knights engine is not deriving 'any benefit' from UE3. To me it screams of 'you just copied and pasted the code, changed a few minor details and compiled it again!'.

The whole Epic vs. Silicon Knights thing seems to be based on one poor showing of the game, if Epic was as bad a licensee as they claim then other developers might start siding with Silicon Knights, however no one else wants to touch it. This may lead Epic to stop providing, or at least charge extra, for Source code of its engine code and instead provide DLLs and appropriate documentation otherwise to offset the potential for similar lawsuits in the future.

Win or lose this is just sour grapes, it's obvious there is a lot of love going into Too Human as Dennis Dyack said 'some people joined Silicon Knights ten years ago to make this game' (very sic) and this whole lawsuit thing may just ruin it for everyone, except maybe the Sony fanboys who'll love to see Too Human and UT3 both be released to very poor receptions.

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