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from in-soviet-russia,-the-deposit-is-of-you department

Usually, when software is pirated, it is to remove DRM or other limitations that have been inserted to prevent unauthorized copying and distribution. Once this is complete, unauthorized reproduction and distribution begins, with these illicit copies sometimes ending up in the hands of paying customers who simply want the software they paid for to work properly. (Funny how it works/doesn’t work.)

This is the usual scenario. There’s nothing “usual” about Russia, as anyone who’s reworked a quote from Yakov Smirnoff / watched a few hundred hours of dash cam footage will attest. A Russian hacker named Barbarus cracked an Xbox Live Arcade game… to port it to PC.

Ska Studios released its excellent hack-‘n’-slash sequel, The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile, in 2011, exclusively for Xbox 360. It was the sequel to the original The Dishwasher game which won the Dream.Build.Play contest in 2007, which earned the studio $10,000 and an Xbox Live Arcade publishing deal. So when the sequel was created, Ska and Microsoft were already set to pursue the exclusive publishing deal on XBLA, meaning the game never saw a release on other platforms. But that didn’t sit well with some people, and now a PC port has been run outside of any official game.

Barbarus uploaded its unofficial port to the rustorka.net torrent site, but the traffic jump removed it. Since then, he also posted it on Yandex. The unofficial port is in beta (unofficial) but is obviously very popular with PC users (or Xbox users who also want to play the game on their PC). It also sparked a bit of a backlash in favor of James Silva, one of the game’s developers. Barbarus posted this in response.

Publishing Ethics

The opinion was expressed that, compared to the authors, it is not very pleasant to release the game on PC. I have to say that the part of the authors is not very kind to release the game exclusively for Xbox 360 which makes it impossible for PC gamers to play such a great game.

About Hacking

Hacking – yes, it’s bad. On the other hand, we didn’t steal the game for the Xbox 360; we released it for the PC port. Since the developers have ignored the PC platform, any loss of profit for them is not out of the question. After all, if they wanted to make money, the game would be released on all available platforms. If the game was officially released on PC, then this thread would not exist.

Barbarus’ arguments defending his actions are not completely without merit. It’s safe to say that Ska Studios is losing money with this unofficial PC version (entertaining Xbox users who now have a way to play the game without purchasing it through Xbox Live Arcade), but again, no version PC does exist, so any amount of lost money is in the realm of theory.

On the other hand, James Silva did not ignore the PC market. The terms of its contract with Microsoft made it exclusively an Xbox title. Again, one can argue against the limits of the deal or question Silva’s wisdom in agreeing to these restrictions, but that does little to address the issue at hand: how much Barbarus port harms it to Silva and Ska Studios?

Barbarus goes so far as to claim that his release of Silva’s game from the confines of the Xbox was a “restoration of justice” rather than a hack. This is clearly not the case. But it’s not really piracy either, at least not in the normally accepted sense of the word. It’s somewhere in between, traveling into the gray area usually populated by emulators and fan translations. The original was modified, designed to do things it normally doesn’t (run on other operating systems, speak English) and released to the public.

James Silva’s answer is naturally contradictory.

“I guess you could say my reaction is mixed. I’m flattered that there’s so much interest in Vampire Smile on PC. I’m not crazy about the crack itself; in fact, I’m quite impressed. But I’m baffled by the cracker’s attempt to justify its morality. He assumes a lot about why Vampire Smile isn’t on PC yet, and he could have clarified a lot of those assumptions just by emailing me. I understand that piracy is a service issue, but it’s a consequence, not an justification.

If there was a potential PC market for Silva’s game, Barbarus beat it to market (so to speak) with its own game. Barbarus, on the other hand, continued to defend its actions, pointing out that its port is far from perfect…

The PC version has a lot of limitations. Cooperative gameplay is not available, network gameplay is not available, achievements are not available…

and offering Silva a bit of an apology.

I have to apologize to James Silva for not letting him know before the porting. Sorry Jacques. I meant nothing bad. I just wanted to give PC players the opportunity to play this game.

A very strange situation. Most people seem to agree that porting a game without the developers permission is just plain bad form (to say the least). On the other hand, porting a game to a platform where it’s not currently available does very little harm as it’s pretty hard to damage a market that doesn’t exist. Could it undermine an official port to PC? Maybe, but it looks like Silva chose to fight counterfeiting by making a bigger and better version of Dishwasher for PC.

Sorry, the game is not officially on PC yet! The main reason why it doesn’t is that even though the game was developed on a PC, getting out on PC and working on all the inputs, display sizes, graphics options involved is a lot of work (and a lot more work than it looks!). I know Dean had been working on Dust PC for at least a few months before it was even announced (sorry if I said too much, Dean!), and for us, when Vampire Smile came out, we were already full speed on Charlie Murder. Once Charlie ships, I’d like to try working on a Vampire Smile PC port, but I’d really like to give it a director’s cut treatment – rework some areas, add environmental hazards and new enemies, etc. I don’t really miss if there’s a cracked torrent with broken shaders floating around somewhere.

And honestly, out of all the possible answers, Silva picked the best one. Going legal costs too much and tends to turn some public opinion against you, even if you’re right. If there is an unofficial cracked port, it won’t be as polished as the original. This weird little saga only adds to why fans are supporting Silva when the official PC arrives and his gracious handling of this screwed up situation should attract even more Ska Games supporters.

Filed under: barbarus, cracks, pc games, portage, russia, the dishwasher: vampire smile, video games, xbox, xbox live

Companies: Microsoft, ska studios

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