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Subject: How much can you take from books? rss

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john m
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For example, I was reading a series of alternate history books. I thought the concepts in it would be a great game. But how much could I "take" (is that steal ) without being a thief?

Any example games like that...that say steal/copy ideas from popular stories?
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Justen Brown
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Generally speaking ideas are free but the expression isn't. You can make a game about a magical school for wizards but the moment you name a character Harry anything you'll be in trouble. I can't think of any examples off the top of my head but you can steal anything that isn't unique names, characters, or locations.
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John "Omega" Williams
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Not much really.
Some authors are *VERY* territorial about use of their concepts and in the litarary biz you can be taken to court or even shut down for borrowing too heavily from some other source. Harlan Ellison recently went after a movie that had alot of simmilarities to one of his short stories. They settled out of court on it. Hes also taken other movies to task for lifting concepts from his books or teleplay scripts. Others are more or less so aggressive and some are pretty blase or even encouraging.

As with everything else. Its absolutely variable from person to person, casy by case.

As for alternate history ideas. Those are pretty common really. The Difference Engine was one I was recently pointed at and theres been other variants over the years in film and games. Dust for example has an alternate superscience outcome for WWII, Jun-Roh is set in a world where germany won WWII as well. Crimson Skies follows through with a world where deridgibles never fell out of use and air travel is widespread.

Endless fun playing with "What If?" settings.

What book were you reading that that gave you the idea?
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James Hutchings
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johnnyLikesGames wrote:
Any example games like that...that say steal/copy ideas from popular stories?


Dungeons & Dragons stole/copied several ideas from Lord of the Rings. They were threatened with legal action, but the only thing they made them change was hobbits -> halflings and balrogs -> something that I can't remember.

They also took their magic system from Jack Vance (they didn't say this in the rules, but Gary Gygax mentioned 'Vancian magic' several times), apparently without any problems.

On the other hand they put out a wargame based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom series, and had to withdraw it almost immediately because of threats of legal action.

So, in terms of games based on alternate histories, it seems that "the South won the Civil War and there was a figure in the South who was analagous to Hitler in the real world" or "World War II was interrupted by an alien invasion" would be fine, but using specific names and events might not be. Also a pastiche of several writers' ideas is probably safer than taking from a single writer.

I'd look at your source material and try to separate what you want to use, from incidental fluff that can be changed. You might find that there's a surprisingly small 'core' that you want. For example if you "wanted to do a Star Trek game", you might find that what you really wanted to do was a game about a group of high-minded explorers in the future.
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johnnyLikesGames wrote:
For example, I was reading a series of alternate history books. I thought the concepts in it would be a great game. But how much could I "take" (is that steal ) without being a thief?

Any example games like that...that say steal/copy ideas from popular stories?


WWJD?
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いい竹やぶだ!

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The original D&D Deities and Demigods manual had a section on the Cthulhu Mythos, but had to drop it in later editions because of some legal kerfuffle.
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Lance Peterson
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jaybeethree wrote:
Generally speaking ideas are free but the expression isn't. You can make a game about a magical school for wizards but the moment you name a character Harry anything you'll be in trouble. I can't think of any examples off the top of my head but you can steal anything that isn't unique names, characters, or locations.


Speaking of which, I've seen analysis where HP has "borrowed" from LOTR. See "The Sword of Shannara" entry on Wikipedia for a discussion of Terry Brooks being criticized for "ripping off" LOTR: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sword_of_Shannara#Sword_and...

Frankly, if you are well read, I'd think it would probably be hard to come up with a completely original story that doesn't incorporate elements from other stories. At least for me it would be. That is not a bad thing, you just need to be creative and use themes and ideas and not plagiarize.

Unless you are doing a parody. Then the Fair Use doctrine would come into play: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use
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Aaron Morgan
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apeloverage wrote:
Dungeons & Dragons stole/copied several ideas from Lord of the Rings. They were threatened with legal action, but the only thing they made them change was hobbits -> halflings and balrogs -> something that I can't remember.


"Type VI Demon" (later, Balor)

Ents were also renamed to Treants
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mike
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This may sound like a rant, because well frankly it is, but what is it this week with people wanting to copy/borrow from other people’s works whether it’s a book, video, game or movie?

Have we lost the ability of original thinking and coming up with our own ideas?

I do research/analysis and read all day at my day job,and I do a ton of reading outside of work since I need to stay on top of current world affairs, so I understand that inspiration can come out of reading, no really I do. I always have a notepad and pen handy.

However what ever happened to respecting an author’s original works? We’re not talking about doing a research paper,thesis or study here where you simply cite your sources and move on with your writing. These are original copyrighted works.

I’m not going down the whole copyright/trademark etc, path as that has been beaten to death, dug up and beaten again this week.

If you want to do something with an alternate history theme, then rather than start with a science fiction/fantasy work why not hit the library and/or online sources and read some of the actual historical works for the time period you’re interested in?

Say you’re interested in the War of 1812, then why not read up on that, build a knowledge base on it and then come up with some alternative events and build on those to come up with a game concept. You’ll learn allot more about the subject material that way and frankly probably end up with a better game concept.
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john m
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Omega2064 wrote:
Not much really.
Some authors are *VERY* territorial about use of their concepts and in the litarary biz you can be taken to court or even shut down for borrowing too heavily from some other source. Harlan Ellison recently went after a movie that had alot of simmilarities to one of his short stories. They settled out of court on it. Hes also taken other movies to task for lifting concepts from his books or teleplay scripts. Others are more or less so aggressive and some are pretty blase or even encouraging.

As with everything else. Its absolutely variable from person to person, casy by case.

As for alternate history ideas. Those are pretty common really. The Difference Engine was one I was recently pointed at and theres been other variants over the years in film and games. Dust for example has an alternate superscience outcome for WWII, Jun-Roh is set in a world where germany won WWII as well. Crimson Skies follows through with a world where deridgibles never fell out of use and air travel is widespread.

Endless fun playing with "What If?" settings.

What book were you reading that that gave you the idea?


I wouldn't use the author's stuff but it gives a framework like any alternate history would. There is stuff by I think by Eric Flint (1632 series), Harry Turtledove, short stories by stirling. There an alternate history website, all full of ideas.
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John "Omega" Williams
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Yeah. That sort of "What if" alternative history ideas are all over. Go with a setting that interests you and try not to draw from anyone directly. More look at how they approached the setting as sometimes and author will research military and political history of the time to work out where things could have gone. The South winning the Civil War being a recurring theme.

Flints though seems to work well with fans. If you wanted to use one of his works as a basis. Why not just ask him? If he says yes then you have alot more to work with or base on. and if no then you can allways work out your own concepts.
 
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Derry Salewski
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80sgamer wrote:
This may sound like a rant, because well frankly it is, but what is it this week with people wanting to copy/borrow from other people’s works whether it’s a book, video, game or movie?

Have we lost the ability of original thinking and coming up with our own ideas?

I do research/analysis and read all day at my day job,and I do a ton of reading outside of work since I need to stay on top of current world affairs, so I understand that inspiration can come out of reading, no really I do. I always have a notepad and pen handy.

However what ever happened to respecting an author’s original works? We’re not talking about doing a research paper,thesis or study here where you simply cite your sources and move on with your writing. These are original copyrighted works.

I’m not going down the whole copyright/trademark etc, path as that has been beaten to death, dug up and beaten again this week.

If you want to do something with an alternate history theme, then rather than start with a science fiction/fantasy work why not hit the library and/or online sources and read some of the actual historical works for the time period you’re interested in?

Say you’re interested in the War of 1812, then why not read up on that, build a knowledge base on it and then come up with some alternative events and build on those to come up with a game concept. You’ll learn allot more about the subject material that way and frankly probably end up with a better game concept.


Erm. Because it's how writers have functioned forever? Every now and then something new, that has nothing to do with literature, comes along. Then a lucky couple writers get to write about something new.

Most people are inspired by what comes before them, and most people learn by imitation of what comes before them.

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robigo wrote:
The original D&D Deities and Demigods manual had a section on the Cthulhu Mythos, but had to drop it in later editions because of some legal kerfuffle.


They didn't have to drop it; they chose to drop it.

As far as TSR was concerned, the elements of Lovecraft they used had fallen into the public domain. As far as Chaosium was concerned, they had an exclusive licence with the Lovecraft copyright holder to use that stuff. TSR included a note of acknowledgement to Chaosium in the second printing as part of an agreement in return for being allowed to include that stuff as well as some stuff by Michael Moorcock. Even after they removed the material they still kept, presumably by mistake, the credit on the copyright page for a while.
 
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mike
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Derry: it wasn't worded as can/should I use this book I am reading as inspiration for a game concept.

" But how much could I "take" (is that steal ) without being a thief?"



He's asking what he can take from this book.

My point was to forget the book and do some ORIGINAL research on the subject matter, that is what writers and authors do, they do the leg work and research on the subject and then write their own works.

 
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Maarten D. de Jong
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80sgamer wrote:
My point was to forget the book and do some ORIGINAL research on the subject matter, that is what writers and authors do, they do the leg work and research on the subject and then write their own works.

Apart from the legal issues and all: I think you're being too harsh. Some people are simply better at recognising a game and subsequently designing one based on the storytelling work of others than they are at extensively researching a period and fitting facts plus fantasy into a coherent story of their own. There are tons of analogies out there illustrating the point, here's one: I like cooking, and am pretty good at it in the sense that I have a good grasp on techniques... But I suck, to put it mildly, at creating my own recipes—I cannot really 'imagine' what would make a good combination of flavours and textures. Yet creating my own recipes is precisely what you would want me to do. I see little purpose in such a course of action.
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Actually that's not the same thing

All home cooks benefit from published recipes/cookbooks that's how you learn to cook and what they base the whole cookbook/cooking magazine industry on, they expect people to use and alter their works, but surely at some point though you have made changes to an existing recipe or come up with something on your own.

You’re not however using their published cookbooks to create and publish your own cookbook. That would be the same thing as borrowing from the book to make a game

Now if you were a chef and you said well I am going to borrow Bobby Flay's recipe for chipotle flank steak and use it at my restaurant and call it my own, that would be the same thing.

I'm sorry but if you are going to design games with the intent of publishing them to the public and make a profit, then you need to learn how to do some original research.

Inspiration is not the same thing as “How much of this book can I borrow and not be considered a thief” That is not a good attitude for a fledging career as a designer. By all means take inspiration from the idea of alternate history. What if scenarios are a fascinating concept. I would imagine though the reason we don’t see more works in this area is because people do not want to do the historical research required. You need to have a firm grasp on the realities of a particular event/time period before you can propose an alternate version.

Let’s take a well known alternate history writer Harry Turtledove. He has a Ph.D in Byzantine history from UCLA. Don’t you think the research and writing skills he gained earning his Ph.D have allot to do with his ability to craft a believable alternate history?

Do you think that similar skills might be required to create a quality alternate history game?

 
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I’ll add this have you ever published anything?
Doesn’t matter if it was for profit or just to get experience, but have you ever written and published an article, thesis paper, research paper, book, song, game any creative work?

If you have then how would you personally feel if someone “borrowed” as much as they could from that work in order publish their own work?

We’ll use the same example here, if you were the published author of a book that you spent 100s/1000s hours writing, editing, etc and who knows how many years waiting to get it published, how would you feel about someone unknown to you, reading your book and then creating a game based on your book, your hard work?
Not only did they “borrow” from that work, but they post on a public forum hey how much of this book can I steal without looking like a thief?

Really this seems ok to you? So my questioning this seem harsh, really?

If it doesn’t seem ok to you, then shouldn’t we perhaps correct this behavior, particular from those on the forum who are publishers or game designers?
 
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Maarten D. de Jong
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80sgamer wrote:
I’ll add this have you ever published anything? [...] If it doesn’t seem ok to you, then shouldn’t we perhaps correct this behavior, particular from those on the forum who are publishers or game designers?

The next time you're going to write a reply, don't assume so much about what my opinion on the matter is going to be. I zoomed in on one aspect of the entire process, namely that people are not likely to be good at all aspects of a creative endeavour; and that, consequently, it might be more productive if they focused their creative efforts where they know they are at their strongest. Game design is completely different from factual research which is completely different from putting a creative storytelling twist on the facts found. Just as being a master of cooking technique is completely different from knowing what combination of ingredients will result in a tasty dish worthy to be served in a 3 star-restaurant.

Not only that, you seem to be under the impression that I am condoning full-scale 'borrowing' front, left and center. Which is of course total bovine scatology: If someone is not using their own story, i.e. their own imaginative interpretation of some fact(s), to create a game, then that someone is very likely going to need a license from the original author. Nothing wrong with that as it happens all the time. I had thought that the opening sentence of my reply Apart from the legal issues and all, was enough of a hint that I certainly wasn't going to suggest that everyone lift everybody's hard creative work to their hearts' desire, but apparently I was wrong.
 
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80sgamer wrote:
I’ll add this have you ever published anything?
Doesn’t matter if it was for profit or just to get experience, but have you ever written and published an article, thesis paper, research paper, book, song, game any creative work?

If you have then how would you personally feel if someone “borrowed” as much as they could from that work in order publish their own work?

Yes, RPG material as Throwing Dice Games from 2003-2007. It's all 100% OGL so borrow all you want. What's your point? Some people do or don't feel possessive of their artistic works.

Isn't it said there are only 7 plots (or some other low number)? I don't see how any author can say "don't steal from me" when the aphorism "good artists borrow, great artists steal" is also true.

But I'm not advocating theft. I'm just saying that with art, it's sometimes hard to tell the difference between borrowing and stealing. Sometimes I see the world devolving into a time where someone ends up getting royalties for words like "the". That is extreme but is it really any different than if the Tolkien estate tried to claim ownership of "elf"?
 
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80sgamer wrote:
This may sound like a rant, because well frankly it is, but what is it this week with people wanting to copy/borrow from other people’s works whether it’s a book, video, game or movie?


Well, if we stick to OP, often a change in the media is a change in the experience. Sure, I could reread my HP Lovecraft stories, but if I play the Call of Cthulhu RPG the stories become *my* experiences, *I* am the one saving the world (or at least a close friend), and the game becomes a social experience.

*Adapting* one form of media to another is also an enjoyable challenge. Is it possible to capture the experience of the Doom video game in boardgame format, given the obvious limitations of boardgames? And are there boardgame strengths that can actually improve this experience?

I think adaptations have been around for quite awhile. Certainly, movie adaptations of books have been around since people stopped reading...!


EDIT: Woo! I think I have an Uncle Wiggly piece somewhere. Anyway, not all media adaptations have been... successful. You can't do worse than this. WoooOOOOH!!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMJNemsJbc4&feature=related
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John "Omega" Williams
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About 90% of my games out so far have been adaptions of comics.
Why? Personally because I just happen to love the challenge of working out how something will play as a game. That and sometimes a book just happens to mesh really well with an existing design. Its the same for a few others I know that do this. Sometimes a book just begs to be adapted into a game, board or RPG.

There is though a big diffrence between asking permission/liscensing a specific book one-for-one for a project, and just yanking out at random willy nilly whatever you please from this or that book.

80sgamer wrote:
This may sound like a rant, because well frankly it is, but what is it this week with people wanting to copy/borrow from other people’s works whether it’s a book, video, game or movie?

Have we lost the ability of original thinking and coming up with our own ideas?
 
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John "Omega" Williams
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Sam and Max wrote:
I think adaptations have been around for quite awhile. Certainly, movie adaptations of books have been around since people stopped reading...!


One of the earliest book to game adaptions I ever had was Uncle Wiggily. And NO! Im not THAT ancient! zombie

Its pretty common for movies or TV series to have an attendant board game.
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