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Classic Games (Games) Nintendo Open Source Games

Full Screen Mario: Making the Case For Shorter Copyrights 361

barlevg writes "A college student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute spent nine months meticulously remaking Super Mario Bros. based on the latest web standards. His project is open source and the code freely available through Github. The site recently gained widespread media attention, which unfortunately brought it to the attention of Nintendo, which has requested that the site be taken down. In a column on the Washington Post website, tech blogger Timothy Lee makes the case for how this is a prime example of copyrights hindering innovation and why copyright lengths should be shortened. Among his arguments: copyrights hinder innovation by game designers seeking to build upon such games, and shortening copyright would breathe new life into games who have long since passed into obsolescence."
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Full Screen Mario: Making the Case For Shorter Copyrights

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  • Innovation? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 18, 2013 @11:03AM (#45164915)

    How is making an exactly duplication of another game "innovation"?

    • Or, if you read the article, the idea is to use the game engine to develop new and original projects without having to write them from scratch.
      • Good idea. So take down the Super Mario Brothers site, change the graphics, re-release it as the Stupid Jackass Friends site, and go for it!

      • Or, if you read the article, the idea is to use the game engine to develop new and original projects without having to write them from scratch.

        It should be easy to strip out the Mario original levels, rename it, and (less easily) design new characters. I don't think the gameplay itself would be a problem, as there are numerous similar games around.

    • Game design is hard (Score:5, Interesting)

      by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Friday October 18, 2013 @11:17AM (#45165109)
      which is why Nintendo remakes games so often (Star Fox, Mario, Zelda, all had recent remakes from the N64 and Gamecube era).

      Budding game designers get a chance to remake a game and release it it's a tremendous learning opportunity. It also provides them with a solid basis to launch new work.

      As an Example, take the Giana sisters. Started as a Super Mario clone in the C64 era, but I don't think anyone would say this [] has much of anything to do with Super Mario besides being a platformer.

      Me? I could live with the long copyrights if we also had big social safety nets and Basic Income (google the phrase if you don't recognize it). A lot of great stuff comes out of Canada and Europe because their socialized health care gives people the freedom to take risks you can't do in the states...
      • I could live with the long copyrights if we also had big social safety nets and Basic Income

        But why should you??? There is no silver lining to copyright. Its intentions aside, there is absolutely no proof that it spurs innovation or creativity, whichever industry you look in, whatever the term, and however you quantify the goods. And economists looked into this [] many times by now. So our best economics research tells us that the ONLY perceptible effect of copyright is censorship, which is a BREAK on creativity and innovation, and an infringement on our rights as humans, as outlined in the UDHR.


      • It's not primarily game design which is driving the remakes. It's IP - Intellectual Properties. Brand recognition. THAT's what those games are capitalizing on. The gameplay (and designs) are completely different from game to game.

    • A "prime example", no less! I can think of no worse example than an exact duplicate.

    • by Cigarra ( 652458 )
      By using a completely different technology. The innovation is in the medium, not in the contents.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The real question we should ask is "What is the social benefit of Nintendo keeping it's copyrights vs. the social loss of restring access to it's work ?"

      Nintendo budgeted it's Mario development program so as to fully recoup it's costs in a few years of the console market and make a profit, which it did spectacularly well. So anyone looking to do the same can try, with full confidence that copyright will ensure their profitability. On the other hand, very few entities make business and creative decisions ba

    • Re:Innovation? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by jalopezp ( 2622345 ) on Friday October 18, 2013 @11:44AM (#45165475)
      The implementation is different. Don't you think there is a lot you can learn about plataformer games by implementing one? Don't you see all the new discoveries that this game enables? When the Trinity Clock was first unveiled in 1910, people similarly questioned its value. 'What value is this? We have seen clocks before, how is making a new one in any way innovative?' they asked, incredulously. But they did not see that the clock was tremendously innovative: its escapement mechanism was novel and revolutionary, allowing it to be one of the most accurate pendulum clocks in the world. There is much more to SMB than its external appearance, which in fact may be called superfluous - what really matters here is the invisible mechanism inside of it that allows it to run. This mechanism, which before was hidden and kept secret, we can now look at, and directly change. Just imagine what you will learn about a protocol based approach to objects as your Yoshi swallows different coloured shells. After playing the -1 world, no-one should ever again make an off-by-one error. Just think of the insights into modularity you will achieve when finishing the special zone. Imagine how evident the shortcomings of a floating point representation will be when you jump on a flag at the end of a level. Visualise how important duck typing will become to you as you grab a fire flower or a star, or when you find your ?block simply contains a coin. All these things are much more ipmortant than a side-scrolling game, and they are innovations we were not delivered 30 years ago when we got the original.
    • This. He can write a platform game on a web platform without re-using someone else's level design, character design and all the rest of it.

      Also, SMB is hardly close to being 'obsolete' - Nintendo still manages to find ways to sell it again on every new platform it releases. I'm sure it's buyable or will be soon on the Wii U.

  • Slow (Score:5, Informative)

    by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Friday October 18, 2013 @11:03AM (#45164925) Journal

    Super Mario Brothers ran at a steady framerate on a 1.7mhz 6502. This doesn't run smoothly on my 2.6ghz Core2Duo. Is this progress?

    • It seems to depend on browser. I tried it in Firefox and it was slow and I didn't have the status display or music. In Chrome it seemed fullspeed and I had status display and music.

      2.8GHz Athlon II X2, Nvidia GT220 using the driver from RPMfusion on Fedora 19.

    • by stms ( 1132653 )

      It does say beta so don't expect it to run perfectly. Really this is /. I shouldn't have to explain that.

  • Silly (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Princeofcups ( 150855 ) <> on Friday October 18, 2013 @11:12AM (#45165029) Homepage

    There's no reason that the game has to use the character designs of the original. They are using the Mario name to gain attention. Of course they are going to be sued.

    • There's no reason that the game has to use the character designs of the original. They are using the Mario name to gain attention. Of course they are going to be sued.

      Yeah, it sounds more like a trademark issue than copywrite.

    • Replace Mario with a self portrait, and the enemies with lizard-lawyers, and they'll be golden!

  • by Joe_Dragon ( 2206452 ) on Friday October 18, 2013 @11:14AM (#45165043)

    and they have the balls to quote the 70+ year copyright BS. Some old video games are stuff on old hardware / old PC hardware that is hard to find parts for and a lot of the older pc based arcade games are tied to older chip sets or may be on old HDD's that can fail taking the code with them. Also ROM based games can have bit rot and battery acid damage.

    • Let's see so far Super Mario Bros. has been released on: NES, FAMCOM Disk System, SNES as part of Super Mario All-Stars, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, Emulated in Animal Crossing on Game Cube (requires a Game Shark to unlock), Nintendo Wii (both as a virtual console and part of the Super Mario Bros. 25th Anniversary Collection Disc), Super Smash Bros. Brawl as a Demo. And is currently available on Virtual Console for Nintendo Wii, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Wii U.

      Most people that complain about this in reg

  • by Joe_Dragon ( 2206452 ) on Friday October 18, 2013 @11:17AM (#45165107)

    That can even now days that may have a unknown owner makeing finding who has the rights hard.

    • I have only heard of one game that fell into abandon ware. Unfortunately, I can't find the arcade game but they used to package it with the MAME Emulator. It was an arcade game made in a former European country that no longer exists. From what I remember since the game was never released outside of that country it didn't fall into any copyright domain therefore it was considered abandon ware because the country it was made in no longer exists.
  • by spykemail ( 983593 ) on Friday October 18, 2013 @11:19AM (#45165139) Homepage

    Finally, RPI is more famous than MIT.

  • Reminds me of this short story/essay by Borges: []

    He did not want to compose another Quixote —which is easy— but the Quixote itself. Needless to say, he never contemplated a mechanical transcription of the original; he did not propose to copy it. His admirable intention was to produce a few pages which would coincide—word for word and line for line—with those of Miguel de Cervantes.

  • Trademark (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jbolden ( 176878 ) on Friday October 18, 2013 @11:22AM (#45165165) Homepage

    Assume that there were no copyright violations. This is still a clear cut trademark violation. I'm not sure how this case is even questionable. The right thing to have done would have been to go to Nintendo and asked permission to license Mario to do a web based version. Nintendo might have been receptive, and have been willing to grant some sort of license as it is kinda cool. But heck yeah, they own Mario.

    This is like me releasing a soda called "old fashioned Coke" using 1970s style soda ingredients.

  • Conflation (Score:5, Interesting)

    by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Friday October 18, 2013 @11:23AM (#45165185)

    Since when did copying an existing work become innovation?

    Seriously, if you want to use the term innovation it should be in reference to something new.

  • by FellowConspirator ( 882908 ) on Friday October 18, 2013 @11:27AM (#45165259)

    Not that I disagree with the sentiment that copyright terms are indefensibly long, but it's important to recognize that the game is not subject to copyright. The original source code is, as is the artwork from the game. The characters of Mario and Luigi, as well as the Mario Borthers name and logo are trademarked.

    The students could very well have innovated by making a rip-off game without any covered elements to it, but they wanted to make something looked exactly like the Nintendo game (trademarks and all). The thing is that in the US, trademarks are unique in that if you do not defend them, you can lose them. If Nintendo didn't react, then they could lose their trademarks. Were I Nintendo, I would approach the students about licensing the trademark (say, for $1 so long as they kept the terms of the arrangement a secret) rather than face any sort of backlash for being heavy handed - they save face and defend their trademark in a single act.

    • by aitikin ( 909209 )
      This is a perfect explanation of what is going on. Now, whether I'd say they're being heavy handed or not, that's a different story. Personally, I think this should be a situation of the students were idiots about it and should've asked permission first.
    • The level design would also be copyrighted. So you could make a platformer with the same physics, but different characters (the character artwork is copyrighted and trademarked), different graphics, and different level design. No point associating it with Mario once you get to that point.

    • DO you think it wise to let companies have perpetual trademarks? At some point a trademark becomes cultural property as well. Where is the function to allow that to fall into public domain?
  • "copyrights hinder innovation by game designers seeking to build upon such games, and shortening copyright would breathe new life into games who have long since passed into obsolescence."

    It's a good argument, but a crappy example. Nintendo's not a great company to point to here, because they tend to release and re-release anything popular they've made. Mario Bros, I know, is available on the Wii and Wii U at least via the Wii shop (maybe also on the Wii U's virtual console). It's also been re-released in se

    • I just heard that there was to be a remake of Day of the Tentacle, that was canned. I wasn't even aware such a thing was in the works until it was gone. :-(

      I still think that making all these remakes is a bit overrated. If an old game warms the heart, why not try to find out what makes it so great and make something new based on those qualities. Don't get me wrong, I love those old Sierra and LucasArts games too, but it shouldn't only be about playing those same crusty games over and over. Companies like Wadget Eye Games [] are doing the right thing, they concentrate on the beautiful 2D pixel art graphics and good and interesting gameplay, but they also write new

  • Apparently, innovation recommends I specifically use Google Chrome to play the game but offers to let me attempt to try it in other browsers.

  • I agree that Nintendo's suit based on copyright is counterproductive - that, in fact, anything that's been on the market for 30 years has outlived any need for protection under Copyright law. Limit it to the same duration enforced for patents - 14 + 14 - and I think we come closer to the intent of the founding fathers (who probably would argue that even 7 years was an incredible head start...).

    But Nintendo could still have shut this project down through trademark protection. Indeed, they are obligated under

  • You absolutely do not want company A to have the ability to pretend to be company B. It might seem trivial over Mario or Disney characters but symbology is how companies sign their 'good' name to a product.

    • Good Point.

      Though, it seems beyond the intended effect of the law. Trademarks should be things like The Official Nintendo Quality Seal. Remember that awful graphics on NES games (except the Tengen ones)? Or the "Nintendo" or title "Super Mario Borthers".
      Those seem like legitimate trademarks, intended to help avoid consumer confusion.

      IP lawyers do tend to push the envelope creatively in applying trademark/dress protection.
      the graphics for Mario, if they're a direct byte-by-byte copy it should be copyright

  • This: []

    Didn't face nearly as much opposition. It was up for months and Nintendo never really gave a care. Only when the author wanted to sell a version did Nintendo strongly suggest that he invent his own characters. But you can still play Crossover for free.

    Nintendo seems picky and choosy about this stuff. Sort of like Atari!

  • by mbone ( 558574 ) on Friday October 18, 2013 @11:54AM (#45165585)

    14 year terms, required registration and a possible (single) 14 year extension would go a long way to restoring sanity in copyright.

    Now, this would require abrogating / modifying an international treaty, but I don't see why I should care given that the whole point of such treaties is to put these matters beyond the reach of the mere legislatures and parliaments of democratic governments. (If you doubt this, you really need to follow how such treaties are negotiated.)

    • Your 14 + 14 would still put Super Mario Bros under copyright in Europe, Australia and the US. So how would it solve this particular issue?

      • Perhaps Nintendo wouldn't care enough about the original Super Mario Brothers title to renew it past the first 14 years. I don't think they were still selling (firsthand that is) the game 14 years after its first publication.

        Even if they did it would be 2 more years for the us publication date, and entirely public domain if taking graphics from the 1985 japanese famicom rom

  • Boggs is an artist who makes accurate, but one-sided, copies of banknotes and then uses them to purchase things on the grounds that what he's actually doing is trading art for a service or product. [] Rather similar to making a perfect clone of a copyrighted game.
  • by Andrio ( 2580551 ) on Friday October 18, 2013 @12:24PM (#45165935)

    Copyrights will continue to be extended indefinitely as long as that hundred year old mouse is around.

"Yeah, but you're taking the universe out of context."