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The Case Against Armed Heroes Online

In the face of mounting, damning evidence it used assets from Runic Games' Torchlight, the accused developer continues digging a bigger hole for itself.

A look at Armed Heroes Online, a recently launched (in Canada) iOS game mired in copyright allegations.

Cloning isn’t new to video games, and it’s been a huge problem on Apple’s App Store. At least cloning involves some level of imitative work, though. Blatant stealing is something else altogether, an allegation with marked evidence that’s been made against the recently launched iOS hack ‘n slash Armed Heroes Online.

Armed Heroes Online comes from EGLS, a mobile developer also responsible for Adventure of Monkey King, a simple MMORPG loosely based on Chinese mythology. Armed Heroes Online has already launched in Canada, and is not available in the United States. As of this writing, it's is still available in Canada.

Soon after the game launched, however, the game came under scrutiny from Travis Baldree, president of Torchlight developer Runic Games, who noticed Armed Heroes Online contained some interesting similarities.

So, wow - this game is releasing on the app store. They wholesale stole most of the assets from Torchlight! ah.eglsgame.com

— Travis Baldree (@TwinStickGames) July 13, 2012

It wasn’t just that Armed Heroes Online looked similar to Torchlight, it was Torchlight in some cases, and Baldree went about compiling an image full of evidence suggesting there was direct asset crossover.

Odd, right?

At this point, I contacted Baldree, who’d gone a step further in the meantime. He downloaded the game from the Canadian App Store, and opened up the application’s guts. Inside, Baldree found more blatant moves by EGLS, including use of Torchlight sound files. More astoundingly, the WAV files were named exactly as they were in Torchlight, including misspellings by Runic Games. Within the app, Baldree found “mechdwardeath1.wav,” a mispelling from Torchlight that should have been “mechdwarfdeath1.wav,” if the company had caught it, and “yourenotgood.wav,” a jokingly titled sound file by Runic Games technical artist Adam Perin.

“Frankly, I find the whole thing really, really funny,” he told me over email. “It's just the most bafflingly clueless example of copyright infringement I think I've ever witnessed.”

I began looking into EGLS, the company behind Armed Heroes Online, and came up with little outside of learning it's a Chinese company. The company's websites are a confusing maze, and there is no reliable contact information on any of them. All requests sent to the email EGLS used to contact media about the game (service@g2us.com) and the email address listed for the owner of the eglsgame.com domain (erifwang@gmail.com) have gone unanswered.

There is a message board associated with the game pages for Armed Heroes Online and Adventure of Monkey King, however, meant for questions from players. When I first glanced at them, Kotaku had run a story about Baldree and his findings, prompting a series of harsh posts levied against EGLS. The responses were equally brash.

It’s unclear whether these are actual responses from EGLS. The message board software being used on the EGLS website allows every user to make up their user name on the fly (which explains "test," written by me, in the shot below), meaning anyone could be representing EGLS. It’s hard to imagine someone going to bat for a company in this situation, but this is the Internet. Hoping to prompt a response from EGLS, I posted a message, and got this:

Again, I can’t be sure who is writing these message, but let’s hope it’s not actually EGLS.

“I can't be positive given the way their strange board is set up - maybe it's somebody trolling and posting as EGLS?” said Baldree, as we both scratched our heads over the unfolding events. “But it lightens my mood and fosters a certain mental image that makes this more funny than heartbreaking.”

These messages were wiped clean earlier this week, unfortunately, and the Armed Heroes Online website is currently offline. Curiously, none of the other EGLS websites are down. Imagine that.

A forum poster named “Serena zhang,” claiming to be a spokesperson for EGLS, created a thread on Touch Arcade yesterday morning, prepared to offer a counterpoint to Baldree and the allegations against Armed Heroes Online. A look at the post history of “Serena zhang” shows a history of EGLS-related comments.The spokesperson pointed out EGLS is a Beijing, China-based company that’s been working on Armed Heroes Online since 2010.

“We can hardly agree with Mr. Travis Baldree who judged that EGLS ‘wholesale stole most of the assets from Torchlight!’ only based on the similarity between several small monsters,” said the spokesperson. “The judgment is simply untenable.”

The spokesperson provided their own set of comparison images, though avoided addressing the same creature and environment comparisons brought up by Baldree. Instead, the EGLS spokesperson claimed both Torchlight and Armed Heroes Online were guilty of pulling inspiration from the same source: Blizzard’s World of Warcraft.

“Some members of our team are both crazy game fans and ecstatic movie lovers,” said the spokesperson. “They indeed get inspirations from other games and movies, which however is totally different from directly decoding or “stealing” assets from other games. Learning and getting inspired from other games or movies actually helps many game designers generate new ideas and creations. We are always making great efforts to develop games with creative features to find a balance.”

The comparison between Torchlight and Fate presented by the unnamed EGLS spokesperson.

The EGLS spokesperson then wonders if Baldree and his team at Torchlight may have taken too much inspiration from another action RPG, WildTangent’s Fate, and cites several design similarities.

“Does it mean that we can conclude that Torchlight blatantly ripped off Fate?” said the spokesperson.

Of course, the spokesperson neglects to mention Baldree actually worked on Fate at WildTangent. So, uh, right. Yes. Given this, you might expect how the rest of the thread played out at Touch Arcade.

I sent a private message to the supposed spokesperson and privately messaged their account, but, as expected, received no response. The spokesperson has made no posts since starting the Touch Arcade thread.

I’ve contacted Apple about the allegations but have yet to hear back. Baldree said Runic Games’ lawyers are investigating Armed Heroes Online, as well.

For the moment, anyway, Armed Heroes Online is still in the App Store.

Patrick Klepek on Google+
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Posted by patrickklepek
A look at Armed Heroes Online, a recently launched (in Canada) iOS game mired in copyright allegations.

Cloning isn’t new to video games, and it’s been a huge problem on Apple’s App Store. At least cloning involves some level of imitative work, though. Blatant stealing is something else altogether, an allegation with marked evidence that’s been made against the recently launched iOS hack ‘n slash Armed Heroes Online.

Armed Heroes Online comes from EGLS, a mobile developer also responsible for Adventure of Monkey King, a simple MMORPG loosely based on Chinese mythology. Armed Heroes Online has already launched in Canada, and is not available in the United States. As of this writing, it's is still available in Canada.

Soon after the game launched, however, the game came under scrutiny from Travis Baldree, president of Torchlight developer Runic Games, who noticed Armed Heroes Online contained some interesting similarities.

So, wow - this game is releasing on the app store. They wholesale stole most of the assets from Torchlight! ah.eglsgame.com

— Travis Baldree (@TwinStickGames) July 13, 2012

It wasn’t just that Armed Heroes Online looked similar to Torchlight, it was Torchlight in some cases, and Baldree went about compiling an image full of evidence suggesting there was direct asset crossover.

Odd, right?

At this point, I contacted Baldree, who’d gone a step further in the meantime. He downloaded the game from the Canadian App Store, and opened up the application’s guts. Inside, Baldree found more blatant moves by EGLS, including use of Torchlight sound files. More astoundingly, the WAV files were named exactly as they were in Torchlight, including misspellings by Runic Games. Within the app, Baldree found “mechdwardeath1.wav,” a mispelling from Torchlight that should have been “mechdwarfdeath1.wav,” if the company had caught it, and “yourenotgood.wav,” a jokingly titled sound file by Runic Games technical artist Adam Perin.

“Frankly, I find the whole thing really, really funny,” he told me over email. “It's just the most bafflingly clueless example of copyright infringement I think I've ever witnessed.”

I began looking into EGLS, the company behind Armed Heroes Online, and came up with little outside of learning it's a Chinese company. The company's websites are a confusing maze, and there is no reliable contact information on any of them. All requests sent to the email EGLS used to contact media about the game (service@g2us.com) and the email address listed for the owner of the eglsgame.com domain (erifwang@gmail.com) have gone unanswered.

There is a message board associated with the game pages for Armed Heroes Online and Adventure of Monkey King, however, meant for questions from players. When I first glanced at them, Kotaku had run a story about Baldree and his findings, prompting a series of harsh posts levied against EGLS. The responses were equally brash.

It’s unclear whether these are actual responses from EGLS. The message board software being used on the EGLS website allows every user to make up their user name on the fly (which explains "test," written by me, in the shot below), meaning anyone could be representing EGLS. It’s hard to imagine someone going to bat for a company in this situation, but this is the Internet. Hoping to prompt a response from EGLS, I posted a message, and got this:

Again, I can’t be sure who is writing these message, but let’s hope it’s not actually EGLS.

“I can't be positive given the way their strange board is set up - maybe it's somebody trolling and posting as EGLS?” said Baldree, as we both scratched our heads over the unfolding events. “But it lightens my mood and fosters a certain mental image that makes this more funny than heartbreaking.”

These messages were wiped clean earlier this week, unfortunately, and the Armed Heroes Online website is currently offline. Curiously, none of the other EGLS websites are down. Imagine that.

A forum poster named “Serena zhang,” claiming to be a spokesperson for EGLS, created a thread on Touch Arcade yesterday morning, prepared to offer a counterpoint to Baldree and the allegations against Armed Heroes Online. A look at the post history of “Serena zhang” shows a history of EGLS-related comments.The spokesperson pointed out EGLS is a Beijing, China-based company that’s been working on Armed Heroes Online since 2010.

“We can hardly agree with Mr. Travis Baldree who judged that EGLS ‘wholesale stole most of the assets from Torchlight!’ only based on the similarity between several small monsters,” said the spokesperson. “The judgment is simply untenable.”

The spokesperson provided their own set of comparison images, though avoided addressing the same creature and environment comparisons brought up by Baldree. Instead, the EGLS spokesperson claimed both Torchlight and Armed Heroes Online were guilty of pulling inspiration from the same source: Blizzard’s World of Warcraft.

“Some members of our team are both crazy game fans and ecstatic movie lovers,” said the spokesperson. “They indeed get inspirations from other games and movies, which however is totally different from directly decoding or “stealing” assets from other games. Learning and getting inspired from other games or movies actually helps many game designers generate new ideas and creations. We are always making great efforts to develop games with creative features to find a balance.”

The comparison between Torchlight and Fate presented by the unnamed EGLS spokesperson.

The EGLS spokesperson then wonders if Baldree and his team at Torchlight may have taken too much inspiration from another action RPG, WildTangent’s Fate, and cites several design similarities.

“Does it mean that we can conclude that Torchlight blatantly ripped off Fate?” said the spokesperson.

Of course, the spokesperson neglects to mention Baldree actually worked on Fate at WildTangent. So, uh, right. Yes. Given this, you might expect how the rest of the thread played out at Touch Arcade.

I sent a private message to the supposed spokesperson and privately messaged their account, but, as expected, received no response. The spokesperson has made no posts since starting the Touch Arcade thread.

I’ve contacted Apple about the allegations but have yet to hear back. Baldree said Runic Games’ lawyers are investigating Armed Heroes Online, as well.

For the moment, anyway, Armed Heroes Online is still in the App Store.

Staff
Edited by Rhagkall

Those models in the screenshot do look a bit alike...

Also: Got it... Woohoo!

Posted by Animasta

armed heroes online is probably one of the most generic names I've ever heard

Posted by MiniPato

I've been conditioned!

I read that as "Cards Against Humanity."

Online
Posted by Xeirus

This is some truly pathetic stuff, I hope they get what they deserve. It's really sad when people have to steal just to get by.

Posted by ManiacMaysin

Fascinating stuff!

Posted by MooseyMcMan

Crazy story. I hope there's some sort of resolution to all this at some point.

Posted by umbaglo

"Not copied different texture and polygon" is now one of the best responses.

Posted by Gravier251

hmm, that does seem pretty glaringly obvious. Makes me think of Limbo of the Lost. That game was pretty funny to follow to pick out how many dozens of assets were shamelessly ripped from other sources too.

Posted by GERALTITUDE

Jeez those message board comments are intense. There should almost be a warning on the article.

I'll remember them the next time I think someone here is being inappropriate.

Posted by HatKing

The image comparing the main characters is kind of damning in its own way. Look closely at the assets that were lifted from Torchlight, compared to the main characters there is no artistic consistency - something looks out of place. Kind of like they cherry picked some side characters and monsters, then created their own heroes. And, I like how these guys never address the most damning evidence, the sound files. How can you explain that??

Posted by The_Nubster

@Animasta said:

armed heroes online is probably one of the most generic names I've ever heard

Prepared Soldiers.

Posted by Chris2KLee

The apps on death watch at this point, once Apple's slow as hell review process finally gets around to taking it down. EGLS will go quiet for awhile, and maybe rename themselves, then probably turn around and do it again with someone else's assets. Because that is what companies like this do.

Posted by CharAznable

One of the rare instances where I side with lawyers. Hopefully, these dipshits will get what's coming to them.

Posted by Patman99

I think it is one thing to have a game mechanic or art style heavily inspired by another game but I think it is totally different when a game uses essentially the same files found in another. I mean the damn sound files were the same except the Armed Heroes file was missing a letter or two. Fate and Torchlight may be similar in the sense that the player has a pet but it's not like Torchlight uses the same texture or file name as that found in Fate.

Classic case of a slimy company wanting to make a quick buck off of unsuspecting people who just want an Action RPG on their phone.

Posted by Kosikutioner

@HatKing said:

The image comparing the main characters is kind of damning in its own way. Look closely at the assets that were lifted from Torchlight, compared to the main characters there is no artistic consistency - something looks out of place. Kind of like they cherry picked some side characters and monsters, then created their own heroes. And, I like how these guys never address the most damning evidence, the sound files. How can you explain that??

Yea. Their defense doesn't really address the things Runic says was copied, it just points out some stuff that wasn't copied.

And when I say copied, I mean literally copied. Not imitated or inspired by.

Posted by Gordo789

I never, ever, ever gift a F--K.

Posted by Saganomics

@Gordo789 said:

I never, ever, ever gift a F--K.

Same.

Posted by yoshisaur

I'm getting really effing tired of developers pulling this type of bullshit. I know this type of thing may be a common practice in other countries (I won't point fingers) - but this is just un-acceptable. You can literally put a tweet out for a freelancing designer of any media and get thousands of replies from desperate workers to get your next piece.

Posted by TheHumanDove

Why gift a fuck?

Live fast

Die flung

Posted by Mijati

Working with Chinese devs is always interesting. I worked for a company who were publishing a Chinese developed online game. We wanted to have a christmas update in the game for the players so we gave them the information needed to make the items/quest etc. for the game (we'd tell them what to make and they'd handle all the development side of things for the western version of the game). As they had no idea what Cranberries were they googled a picture of them and put it in the game as a the item icon.
 
That's just one of many examples of "interesting" happenings when working with that company.

Edited by AjayRaz

bahaha those responses are horrible. dude does not gift a F--K

Posted by ThatPrimeGuy

I have this steam copy of F--K I just can't seem to gift, what gives?

it always amazes me how much these companies just flat out lie.

Posted by TheLastGunslinger

If those are official comments from EGLS in the forums it's possible they just hired Ocean Marketing to handle this.

Posted by Kaigan

Hole status: don' got dug deep.

Posted by Video_Game_King

Should I add this to the lonely plagiarism page?

Posted by Ravenlight

@TheLastGunslinger said:

If those are official comments from EGLS in the forums it's possible they just hired Ocean Marketing to handle this.

Oh snap!

Posted by Xeteh
Posted by Yummylee

@AjayRaz said:

bahaha those responses are horrible. dude does not gift a F--K

in his coffee.

Posted by mtcantor

Newsflash: small Chinese software developer doesn't respect copyright laws.

I'm shocked, really shocked.

Edited by Bwgmon

I wonder if there will be a Quick Look of this, if only for the shits and giggles over how downright shameful this is.
 
EDIT: Oh right, this is a mobile game.

Posted by Chibithor

The houses in the comparison, aren't they both just generic cabins? I can get behind the rest of the screenshots being blatant copies (Well, the plant is at least somewhat different) but as I see it the houses are just generic, and because of that, similar.

Posted by Bakaneko

@Gordo789 said:

I never, ever, ever gift a F--K.

And if you do: Always, ALWAYS, get a receipt.

Posted by Ursus_Veritas

They weren't just 'inspired' by World of Warcraft, there are assets taken from that too. The launch trailer shows their Necromancer character using a set of Warlock Tier 10.5 armor - the character even has the same idle stance that Forsaken characters in WoW do too! 
 

Posted by SortedeVaras

@Gordo789 said:

I never, ever, ever gift a F--K.

F*ck the gift that keeps on giving.

I am patiently waiting for the Chinese to copy Diablo 3 and put it on the Appstore so I can play it on the go. :p

Posted by AbeBroHamLincon

the best they can really do is get them kicked off itunes store ....its china lol that and everything that apple sells is made there so that might not happen to.

Posted by Bwgmon
@Xeteh said:

Skip to 0:19. Anyone who has played World of Warcraft during WotLK should recognize that, for those who don't:

http://www.wowhead.com/itemset=884#screenshots

Man, even the runic patterns on the robe match up. That's just horrendously lazy.
Posted by DrSwank

Hide your kids, hide your wife, hide your husband,

I'm gifting F--K's like it's Christmas 'round here...

Posted by TadThuggish

A scummy iPhone game? Shocking!

Posted by HydraHam

And people thought zynga was bad.

This is beyond pathetic, nothing about this game is original in any way shape or form.

Posted by ArbitraryWater

Gotta love china's blatant disregard for international copyright laws.

Posted by Yorkin

Great story Patrick. I'm interested to see how this pans out.

Posted by churrific

Lol I'd prefer to hear what the verdict was after all the lawyering has taken place instead of a well-research story about allegations.

Posted by Maitimo

It'll be interesting to see how this pans out. I imagine if they hadn't gotten into the guts of the thing it'd be a steeper hill to climb.

Posted by Enigma777

They're in China. Nothing's gonna happen to the except having their game pulled from the app store.

Posted by Silvergun

@Xeteh said:

Skip to 0:19. Anyone who has played World of Warcraft during WotLK should recognize that, for those who don't:

http://www.wowhead.com/itemset=884#screenshots

Pretty sure the staff model at :21 is a WoW model too. All they need are some stolen Warhammer assets and we might be looking at the long awaited release of World of Fight!

Posted by gakushya

@HatKing said:

The image comparing the main characters is kind of damning in its own way. Look closely at the assets that were lifted from Torchlight, compared to the main characters there is no artistic consistency - something looks out of place. Kind of like they cherry picked some side characters and monsters, then created their own heroes. And, I like how these guys never address the most damning evidence, the sound files. How can you explain that??

I agree. But data is not really evidence in itself, its the strength of the implication that makes the conviction. I would say, in this case, a digital forensic scientist needs to make a cross-comparison (data that falls into subcategories of 2 supercategories), and test the hypothesis that "the number of similarities between the two families of digital assets are much greater than could have occurred by chance (where this chance includes plausible inspiration)". I'm not really sure how this all works, but I think one defence EGLS could use to get out of this would be to say :

Any comparison of two families of digital assets will always have a certain number of similarities that occur merely by chance. The observed similarities between the Torchlight asset family and the AHO asset family at the perceptual and digital/binary level remain within bounds of plausible chance.

Posted by Chroma_Auron

Silly copy developers, Trix are for kids!

Posted by CptMorganCA

I assume the unnamed spokesperson failed to address the extremely similar .wav files found when Baldree broke down the game for himself.

Posted by Cogzwell

also those level designs are lifted completely from torchlight.

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