Derivative Work and dependency


We are a team of fans that want to do a remake of an old game by converting all its assets to UE4, but, are facing legal issues with derivative work as it’s basically not allowed.
To try to avoid this problem, we thought that our ‘mod’ can only run in presence of the original game, to make it actually depends on the original game.

My questions :

  1. Is it still considered as a derivative work if it depends on the original game to run and is non-commercial?
  2. Is it still considered as a derivative work if maps and/or models are grabbed from the original game, but use new textures and sounds?

You can’t remake an old game and sell it or even release it for free. What you’re thinking of is Fair Use which is for things like documentaries or parody. What you’d be doing isn’t transformative since you’re reusing everything from it that’s copyrighted–story/characters/design/etc. It’s also super illegal to directly use assets from a game without permission. There’s just a small handful of games where the developers have allowed people to do stuff with their IP legally.

For example, the way custom pokemon roms get around copyright is they do not redistribute any assets or files from the original games. They require you to provide the original rom in order to generate a custom rom. They are basically mods at that point.

It’s better to simply create something heavily inspire by that source material, like Yooka-Laylee.

^That might still be illegal, in that if they contain copyrighted content then you can’t distribute it. So technically even creating your own pokemon and distributing that wouldn’t be legal since pokemon itself is copyrighted. Though the concept of pokemon wouldn’t extend very far since it’s basically just unique animals that battle.

Yup, plenty of projects have been shutdown due to not following copyright laws exactly.

Thanks for your answers guys.

Now that we decided to stay the most legal, I have another few questions :

  1. Is it legal to remake an old game with the same gameplay, but this time, using royalty free assets/making our own assets that is an approximation of the original one, like textures, sounds and meshes?
  2. Can owners prove if maps layout and/or animations were stolen even if they are tweaked a bit (e.g moving buildings, retargeting animations with a new skeleton)?

Remaking something you don’t own the rights to is copyright infringement, even if you slightly change things. It has to be a different game, it can’t be a full substitute for the material it’s based off. That includes things like map layouts and animations.

Lean more on inspired by, instead of remaking.

No, that’d still be illegal.

-remaking something yourself is still using the same designs even if you create the asset you didn’t create the design
-story/characters are copyrighted as well.

If you’re inspired by a game think about making something like a spiritual successor (where it’s not in the same universe but has similar gameplay and style).

Alright, according to what I understand, remaking the game would be illegal due to having the same universe : same maps, same HUD, similar textures/materials… So yes finally it ends up the same design.

Now that things get more clarified about legal issues, we would go for reimagining the game. But there is still some reasoning about differentiating between a remake and a reimagination.
Let’s say, we have differents maps, but, we have similar gameplay and weapons, which to me is still legal. Then there is HUD : for example we just use different text colors, different textures, similar font, place elements at similar locations, and at the end it remains the same meaning to the end user : would it be a reimagination or a remake?


It depends on how common the features are–for example the dialog wheel in Mass Effect was patented by EA so no other games can use that kind of UI design, so if it does something unique then you can’t do the same thing.
For an example, consider how Bioshock Infinite is pretty different from the first Bioshock game, it could be a spiritual successor type of game if they wanted and very easily remove any references to the first game but it still has a similar gameplay and style.