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.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) and the email address listed for the owner of the eglsgame.com domain (email@example.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.”
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.”
“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.