Dark and Darker, the dungeon-crawling mediaeval looter from Korean developer Ironmace, has been gaining a lot of attention on Steam this year. When playtests for Dark and Darker began in early 2023, the game captured players’ interest with its dark and broody atmosphere reminiscent of Skyrim, King’s Field, and Legend of Grimrock; and its enjoyable take on co-op dungeon crawling.
Unfortunately, none of this is why Dark and Darker has been hitting the headlines recently, and it seems there is no sign of the controversy train slowing down any time soon.
Over the last weekend, Korean developer Nexon, the ex-employer of several Ironmace employees, filed a cease and desist letter and DMCA takedown to the Dark and Darker developer, which has resulted in the game being removed from Steam.
Ironmace have claimed this action is based on distorted claims in an open letter posted on Reddit, which aims to address the allegations brought forward by Nexon. In the letter, Ironmace include a statement from Nexon which says:
“Dark and Darker appears to have been built and developed using trades secrets and copyrighted information, copied and stolen from Nexon.”
The letter goes on to explain how these accusations are baseless, with Nexon accusing current Ironmace employees of transferring key assets to their personal computers during a work from home period in the COVID-19 pandemic, when they were employed by Nexon.
One of Nexon’s main arguments is the timeframe in which Ironmace produced a working test/demo of Dark and Darker, which was only 10 months after the developer’s creation. They state that it would be impossible for this to have been achieved in such a short timeframe “without using Nexon’s trade secrets and confidential information” to create the game.
Before leaving Nexon, the future Ironmace employees were working on a secret project known as P3, which is apparently very similar in both gameplay and story to Dark and Darker, and has provided the basis for Nexon to serve a takedown notice on the game due to its apparent similarities with P3. In the takedown notice provided by Nexon, they stated that their investigations into Dark and Darker found over 2,338 resources with identical file names to that of P3, to which Ironmace argue that “both games rely on very traditional classic fantasy tropes, none of which are original and can be found in numerous other fantasy games, including the listed character classes and the torch mechanics. Both games being in the same genre of a classic fantasy dungeon crawler can explain these similarities.”
Now, this is where the arguments around similarities become extremely interesting. Nexon’s takedown notice also states that the extent of the games core concepts, genre, and storyline, are evidence that Ironmace have stolen their idea from Nexon’s P3 project. This is a difficult argument to rebuttal, as it can be argued that most games within a single genre borrow from one-another, or use similar established games as their point of reference. But Ironmace have gone one step further, using the controversial ai tool, ChatGPT, to create a game description for a ‘Generic PvP dungeon crawling game’ (their words, not ours) and the results provide an interesting basis for defence.
The ChatGPT content reads as follows:
Certainly! Here’s a generic game description for a PvP dungeon crawling game: In this PvP dungeon crawling game, players compete against each other in a dangerous and mysterious dungeon filled with traps, puzzles, and monsters.
Players choose their characters from a variety of classes, each with unique abilities and playstyles. They must navigate through the dungeon, fight off waves of monsters, and solve puzzles to progress deeper into the dungeon.
However, in addition to battling monsters, players must also face off against each other in intense PvP combat. They can attack other players to steal their loot or gain an advantage, but they must also be careful not to get caught off guard by enemy players.
Along the way, players will collect loot, weapons, and magical items that will help them in their quest. They can also trade items with other players or buy and sell items from NPC shops.
The gameplay involves strategic decision-making, as players must decide when to attack other players and when to focus on advancing through the dungeon. They must also manage their resources carefully, as they have a limited supply of weapons, spells, and health.
The ultimate goal of the game is to reach the deepest level of the dungeon and defeat the final boss, all while outsmarting and defeating other players. This game offers an exciting and competitive experience for players who enjoy both PvE and PvP gameplay.
It is difficult to say how effective a defence this ai generated content will be for Ironmace, as Nexon’s arguments reference file names and similar assets as well, but it certainly provides an interesting insight into the originality of a games concept. If an AI tool like ChatGPT can create a game concept based on such little information, that sounds almost identical to that of Dark and Darker; and presumably Nexon’s P3, then can Nexon realistically use similarities between both games’ concepts as a reason for takedown?
The fight between Nexon and Ironmace is still ongoing. it is yet to be seen whether Nexon will be able to provide solid evidence that assets or code had been stolen by Ironmace, and as it stands Dark and Darker is still not available on Steam. This story is likely to develop in surprising ways if Ironmace are resorting to Chatbots to provide part of their defence, but as yet there has been no sign of Nexon slowing down their takedown action.
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