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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.
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.

No Caption Provided

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.

No Caption Provided

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:

No Caption Provided

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.

No Caption Provided

“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 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+
159 CommentsRefresh

Avatar image for bitteralmond
Posted By BitterAlmond

@Mr48 said:

I love the official rebuttal: "Hey, its not like we stole ALL the models! Check out all the models we didnt steal!"

Classic China.

A similar thing happens to nearly every game within days of its release: a strange Chinese look-alike site will pop up selling the game for a severely discounted price (often in Yuan instead of dollars). The product sold is a pirated copy of the original.

Avatar image for thedudeofgaming
Edited By TheDudeOfGaming

I love the video game industry. When you play the products it makes, you're having fun. When you're reading stuff about the inside stuff of the video game industry, you're having F-U-N!

Avatar image for mr48
Posted By Mr48

I love the official rebuttal: "Hey, its not like we stole ALL the models! Check out all the models we didnt steal!"

Avatar image for mgflaccid
Posted By MGFlaccid

@zaldar said:

@shinboy630 said:

@zaldar said:

I find it ironic how hard we all come down on these people for this when piracy is always talked about here as being ok....

Well it's not like if I pirate something I'm going to sell it to a friend as my own and make money off of it.

No your just taking something without paying for it...which is exactly what these people did...

But not saying that you created it or own it in any way. If I pirate something; I'm not gonna go out and say: "Hey! I made this! Take it if you want, becasue I am the original creator of this product!"

No. I quietly keep it on my hard drive and tend not to mention it unless needed. Yes, I took it, but I'm not claiming I am attached to it or have any real rights to redistribute it.

Avatar image for spartanhoplite
Posted By SpartanHoplite

probably usual thing with app games. still, weird story o_O

hopefully they get what they deserve.

Avatar image for thesavagetony
Posted By thesavagetony

I don't think this is going to matter much. Even if they stole all of the resources from other games, it still looks like a crap experience.

Avatar image for evilbenius
Posted By evilbenius

Thanks for putting all of the evidence in one place, this is pretty damn blatant.

Avatar image for zaldar
Posted By zaldar

@shinboy630 said:

@zaldar said:

I find it ironic how hard we all come down on these people for this when piracy is always talked about here as being ok....

Well it's not like if I pirate something I'm going to sell it to a friend as my own and make money off of it.

No your just taking something without paying for it...which is exactly what these people did...

Avatar image for ravage484
Posted By ravage484
@Xeirus what I wonder is if they aren't creative enough to come up with their own characters and monsters then why did they even get involved in this business?!
Avatar image for ravage484
Posted By ravage484

This is really just embarrassing.. Why don't they just rename the game to "Pretty Much Torchlight". I can't speak for the gameplay but damn those models are identical..

Avatar image for onarum
Posted By onarum

I think blatantly copying stuff and selling it as their own is embedded right into the Chinese DNA.... I mean fuck....

Avatar image for bigchief
Posted By BigChief

How crazy is it that that representative tried to equate wholesale theft of art assets with being derivative of other games in a genre. Especially since she missed the fact that Runic employees worked on most of the games she accuses them of ripping off. Silliness.

Avatar image for lylebot
Edited By lylebot

I once found a scientific paper written by three Chinese academics published in a Chinese (English-language) journal that turned out to be 100% copy-pasted from a paper written by an American scientist back in the 70s. I contacted the publisher (an American company) to let them know. Later I checked the journal website and found a big message saying something to the effect of "we are now closed for submissions due to the discovery of rampant plagiarism."

Avatar image for shakeitbaby
Posted By ShakeItBaby

That was a nice read

Avatar image for blacklab
Posted By blacklab

Wow, that is crazy. Can't believe it's still on the app store.

Avatar image for cincaid
Posted By Cincaid

I don't know what bothers me the most. A company blatantly stealing another company's game assets, or the rampant racism going on.

Avatar image for reaganstein
Posted By ReaganStein

Copyright infringement has been rampant in ios games for ages. IP theft is a viable business model on the app store. It really is despicable.

Avatar image for tourgen
Posted By tourgen

If the assets are indeed identical then it's a simple copyright issue. Send a dmca notice to apple an sue.

Avatar image for confideration
Posted By confideration

The real problem is the culture in China. Communism has a lot to do with it, as well. They simply don't understand the concept of a copyright.

Avatar image for satelliteoflove
Posted By SatelliteOfLove

Thousands of years of inventions and creativity.
 
Steal any assets and industry secrets without even trying to hide it.
 
Oh China...

Avatar image for cjduke
Posted By CJduke

People are really really stupid. Did they honestly think they weren't going to get caught?

Avatar image for juggaloacidman
Posted By JuggaloAcidman

It's not a rip off! Just like a Chintendo Vii! Lol!

Avatar image for arkasai
Posted By Arkasai

I like how the rebuttal makes no attempt at explaining the stolen audio files. There is no explanation because this is exactly what it looks like, blatant theft. These people were just dumb and greedy enough to sell their shitty game outside of China. I hope they're extradited for this, they should be just for being so sloppy...I mean if you're gonna steal something at least have the sense to remove all traces of its origin before you try to sell it.

Avatar image for the_laughing_man
Posted By The_Laughing_Man
@Frumpa said:

@The_Laughing_Man said:

@EGLSzzhang said:

@damnable_fiend said:

@EGLSzzhang said:

This piece is not fair to EGLS. We work hard to bring amazing work to the West and we are only met with angry. Why is there anger toward a small group trying to make game inspired from prestige? The evidence to refute the evidence of Rubic Games is set in stone, yet we receive no respects. Is it because EGLS is from China? We do not copy! We only use other work as a way to make new ideas!

Maybe next time Patrick wait for a response from EGLS before he go and make another article? Maybe next time he is fair, instead of making bad of little foreign company? We have right to make game just like the rest of industry powerful houses.

the point is, you blatantly stole other people's work.

We steal not a thing! Just another example of bully little know company here. How is inspiration steal?

Learn english. Dont steal assets/sounds. Get your own ideas. Have a nice day.

Obvious troll writing bad fake english and laughing at your responses. I'm surprised he did'nt say 'Me no rikey!!'

Again was trying to make him waste his post count. 
Avatar image for foxmulder
Posted By foxmulder

This reminded me so much of the whole Limbo of the Lost thing a few years back! How the hell do people like that think they can get away with blatant copying like that in this day and age???

Avatar image for assirra
Posted By Assirra

Wow the evidence is quite big with the screenshots and even the miss spelled sound files. I am however not sure if there will come anything out except lots of people quitting the game. An international lawsuit costs a ton, not to mention this is a Chinese company.

Online
Avatar image for laowaigeez
Posted By Laowaigeez

@Frumpa: I agree with you. As someone who has tested the spoken and written English level of thousands of Chinese people, the tone and inconsistent grammar issues seem to be that of a native English speaker pretending to be a Chinese person. But funny nevertheless.

Avatar image for frumpa
Posted By Frumpa

@The_Laughing_Man said:

@EGLSzzhang said:

@damnable_fiend said:

@EGLSzzhang said:

This piece is not fair to EGLS. We work hard to bring amazing work to the West and we are only met with angry. Why is there anger toward a small group trying to make game inspired from prestige? The evidence to refute the evidence of Rubic Games is set in stone, yet we receive no respects. Is it because EGLS is from China? We do not copy! We only use other work as a way to make new ideas!

Maybe next time Patrick wait for a response from EGLS before he go and make another article? Maybe next time he is fair, instead of making bad of little foreign company? We have right to make game just like the rest of industry powerful houses.

the point is, you blatantly stole other people's work.

We steal not a thing! Just another example of bully little know company here. How is inspiration steal?

Learn english. Dont steal assets/sounds. Get your own ideas. Have a nice day.

Obvious troll writing bad fake english and laughing at your responses. I'm surprised he did'nt say 'Me no rikey!!'

Avatar image for frumpa
Posted By Frumpa

That load screen at the start is D&D art by Jeff Eastley from about 20 years ago. Cover of one of the manuals I believe. Scumbags.

Avatar image for ghostiet
Posted By Ghostiet
@Gordo789 said:

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

Even if it's in the coffee?
Avatar image for the_laughing_man
Posted By The_Laughing_Man
@DFSVegas said:

All of those models look different enough to look like they copied it (which is bad enough in my eyes), but they don't seem like straight up asset rips to me.

The .wav file names is pretty freakin' damning though. Exact file names that are exactly the same as those of TL, even the misspelled ones? These dudes are toast.

Ive played a chunk of Torchlight and WoW. And the images are asset rips. 
Avatar image for dfsvegas
Posted By DFSVegas

All of those models look different enough to look like they copied it (which is bad enough in my eyes), but they don't seem like straight up asset rips to me.

The .wav file names is pretty freakin' damning though. Exact file names that are exactly the same as those of TL, even the misspelled ones? These dudes are toast.

Avatar image for deltadreamer
Posted By DeltaDreamer

Silly China, stick to poisoning kids with lead painted toys

Avatar image for salarn
Posted By salarn

@KoolAid said:

@Salarn said:

@KoolAid said:

I find it interesting that it wasn't mentioned that the games themselves are completely different, its just some assets we are talking about.

Assets are the most expensive part of a game to create, and pretty much the only element of game development that can be protected by copyright law.

A fair and mostly true point. Some open source proponents would say that the sharing of assets in order to spread ideas are a good thing (I realize trouchlight's assets are not open source.) I guess I'm trying to say that there doesn't seem to be a theft of ideas here. Its not like with Johann Sebastian Joust and that iPhone game. This company made a game and "burrowed" some assets. It's not a clone.

Borrowed == Stolen

It's really not a grey area. As far as 'idea's go they are not subject to copyrights or patents, you can use any idea you want as often as you want from any source you want. However, once the idea is given form, it has implicit copyright protection. You can't copyright an 'orc' or 'elf' or 'spaceship' you can however copyright 'ork choppa' 'Dritzz' or 'Millennium Falcon'

If the Torchlight team wanted to share their work, they would have, in fact they are with Torchlight 2 having mod support. However this is their choice, and they have control on who can use their work and to what extent. Their work and effort was taken, with almost no modification without permission to be used in a for profit situation that falls way out of 'fair use'

As to your exact example of Johann Sebastian Joust, that does suck that someone else was able to bring the same game concept to market before them, however nothing was done that was against the law. Copyright and Patent law is a huge mess right now, and is pretty much a broken system. However, copyrights on mechanics would kill the game industry.

Avatar image for mrsmiley
Posted By mrsmiley

what a hilarious argument against blatant stealing (the sound files are just the cherry on top): "hey look! everyone else copies! so it's fine if we copy! right!?" geez, it's like a 5-year old with his hand caught in the cookie jar who immediately cites his younger brother as stealing a cookie earlier.

i hate to use the cliche, but two wrongs don't make a right. (of course, i'm not saying torchlight stole anything. being "inspired" by other games and blatantly copying them are two different things.

Avatar image for bunny_fire
Posted By Bunny_Fire

i will be interested to see what happens ...

Avatar image for fatbody75
Posted By fatbody75

All your base are belong to us

Avatar image for takkun169
Posted By takkun169

I absolutely LOVE that they gave their own comparison shot.

"We'll show you a picture of different thing and you'll see how different they are."

Avatar image for scorpionrespons
Posted By ScorpionRespons

Nice to see that Baldtree thought it was funny instead of getting all litigious about it.

Avatar image for bacongames
Posted By bacongames

Those screenshots of those boards are both hilarious and depressing at the same time. Record time on 0 to racism but getting it wrong on top of that makes it,

Avatar image for vinsanityv22
Edited By vinsanityv22

This is pretty sucky for sure, but it's not like much can be done. I mean, besides the example with the audio, it's incredibly hard to prove they actually stole anything - especially if the messed with the polygon counts and textures (which it looks like they did; those are not 100% identical assets). Not to mention, they're Chinese - a lawsuit between 2 countries? Talk about a mess. Copyright laws just don't match up everywhere.

And of course, the obvious; it's hard to imagine an iOS game - from a different genre, MMO - eating into sales of Torchlight II. Even if it's wrong, it probably won't affect anything. If anything, these stories are probably selling a buttload more copies of Armed Heroes Online, out of sheer curiosity.

But the worst part of all this? The stupid gamers who think invading EGLS's forums and being racist, angry and stupid (what with the misspellings) is a "win" for freedom, 'Murica and Runic Games. Go kill yourselves, trolls - let the adults deal with this stuff.

Avatar image for ronald
Posted By Ronald

@Mijati said:

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.

I was hoping this story would end with them putting a picture of the band in the game. "We don't know why the song 'Zombie' is important for Christmas but whatever."

Avatar image for xbob42
Posted By xbob42

A Chinese company not respecting copyrights? Man, this is new!

Avatar image for koolaid
Posted By koolaid

@Salarn said:

@KoolAid said:

I find it interesting that it wasn't mentioned that the games themselves are completely different, its just some assets we are talking about.

Assets are the most expensive part of a game to create, and pretty much the only element of game development that can be protected by copyright law.

A fair and mostly true point. Some open source proponents would say that the sharing of assets in order to spread ideas are a good thing (I realize trouchlight's assets are not open source.) I guess I'm trying to say that there doesn't seem to be a theft of ideas here. Its not like with Johann Sebastian Joust and that iPhone game. This company made a game and "burrowed" some assets. It's not a clone.

Avatar image for m2cks
Posted By m2cks

Of course it's a Chinese company. Nothing against the country itself, but time and time again their companies have done some blatant and inexcusable copyright infringement. Hopefully one of these days their government will step up and crack down on these shady practices (not likely, but hey, a guy can dream right?)

Avatar image for morningstar
Posted By Morningstar

@Stubee said:

"OUR GAME IS NOT A RIP OFF AS OUR ORC WARRIOR LOOKS NOTHING LIKE YOUR HEALTH POTION. THANKS AND GOOD NIGHT"

Thank you, this made my day =D

Avatar image for thebigj_a
Posted By thebigJ_A

And of course some ignorant racist d-bag insults them for being from somewhere other than where he/she is from. I weep for humanity.

Avatar image for shinboy630
Posted By shinboy630

@zaldar said:

I find it ironic how hard we all come down on these people for this when piracy is always talked about here as being ok....

Well it's not like if I pirate something I'm going to sell it to a friend as my own and make money off of it.

Avatar image for tim_the_corsair
Posted By Tim_the_Corsair

Oh China

Avatar image for nomin
Posted By Nomin

What a disgrace...they absolutely have no scruples, their entire mindset is bred on theft and infringement. And what temerity to lob the accusation back with even more blatant deflection and defiance...I would think twice before dealing with any of their ilk, I am quite sick of these scum.