It’s Not Tempest

Hopefully by now everyone will have heard the news that Jeff received a cease and desist from Atari over TxK.

It’s depressing news and not entirely unusual news from the husk of a corporation that is Atari. They have form for this, after all.

For my own part, part of the reason I stopped posting on RR last year was due to the short time between me posting a game based around Asteroids and Atari serving that game being, well, look. I don’t want that sort of thing hovering over me every time I post the news, yeah? Given the stuff that the shell-of-Atari holds custody of are the kind of things that lots of people make and pass through our doors. In this case it was a pay game but what if I brought down a C&D over a free title from someone just learning? No-one wants that hanging over them.

I quietly just stopped posting. It seemed safer and besides, remakes have been on the wane for a while. Things change. I was quite enjoying posting the monthly stuff until then, mind.

And on a more personal note with regards to Jeff, I make no secret that he’s an inspiration. I’ve had the privilege of seeing some of his stuff grow as an occasional part of his testing team, I owe my Sony contract to him in a vague way. Well, I owe it to Sony’s good treatment of him, at least. My own work owes a tremendous debt to him, which I’m sure comes as no surprise.

Today has been upsetting. Or rather yesterday when I first got the inkling that this stuff had been going on for a while, today just confirmed all that and yeah. Upsetting is the right word. And angering.

It’s upsetting to see Atari, who owe an immense debt to Jeff, treating him this way. Even as Infogrames wearing the skin of Atari, the value they derive from the Tempest IP (eurgh) is in no small part down to what Jeff contributed to its legacy. It’s upsetting to see how we treat those who make the games that make up our rich history at the best of times but this? League of its own.

And it’s upsetting to see people say that TxK is a clone of Tempest when Theurer’s DNA may be at the very root of it but Tempest 2000, 3000, Space Giraffe and TxK are the work of Jeff through and through. They’re his visions. They’re distinct and distinctive visions at that. No-one, and I mean this in the most literal sense it can be meant in, NO-ONE makes games through the kind of lenses Jeff makes videogames. No-one.

Tempest 2000 itself defines what most of us think of when we think of Tempest. Who thinks of Tempest as a series of pits, monsters appearing from holes in the ground? Pfft. Tempest is set on webs. IN SPACE. That’s Jeff’s vision right there. It might seem a silly, small thing but videogames are defined by the silliest, small things. Videogame progress is defined by the silliest, smallest things. Thanks to Jeff, what we think of as Tempest is very much defined by his work. The power ups, the structure, the AI droids, the resume best, the visual craziness. All Jeff’s vision. A vision built upon a sketch of a game from 1981, 20 years and over 40 years later, Jeff’s vision of what Tempest could be is the defining one. This in no way diminishes Dave Theurer’s groundbreaking work on the original, not one bit.

And TxK? To say that TxK is in itself an outright clone of Tempest 2000 is to do a disservice to the many, many mechanical changes, twists and turns the game takes as you progress. Sure, watch a video of the first stage and nod along that they’re similar. By the time the web is shifting shape underneath you, you’ve got to be some kind of complete idiot to think the two are the same.

TxK is as much an evolution of the ideas, themes and concepts that Jeff was exploring with Space Giraffe as it is a take on the more traditional tunnel shooter formula that is Tempest. It’s over 20 years of love for a style of game made videogame. I’m still kinda amazed that Jeff managed to sneak a lot of the stuff from what many claim to be his least accessible game into TxK and made it accessible without folks even noticing.

TxK is Jeff’s game. It does not belong to Atari.

To say that TxK is a clone of Tempest is to erase all our progress since 1981. That’s absurd and reductive and does us all a disservice.

But this is more than about Jeff, it’s more than about Tempest. It’s about how we evolve. It’s about how we treat the people who made the videogames that we build upon. It’s about if we let ourselves have the ability to evolve works or we prefer them locked in a corporate box, away from view, solely because someone once upon a time nearly fifteen years ago bought those things at auction. it’s about how we treat creators.

Videogames often shit on our own legacies and fucking hell, how often we put “IP” and “franchises” before the humans who made those things what they are.

Videogames are made by people and the sooner we learn to treat those people with a modicum of respect, the sooner we’ll be on our way to making videogames a better place.

Jeff deserves better than videogames give him. So do many more people who work within videogames.

Maybe this is as good a time as any to start showing some appreciation for their work instead. Stand up and show support for the people who make your videogames, don’t let them be crushed by stuff like this.