Left: The bottom, starting position of the first stage of VGMaps.com's "Super Kid Icarus".
Right: The bottom, starting position of the first stage of Flip Industries' "Super Kid Icarus".
On January 4, 2012, while browsing news at GoNintendo, I came across a Flash game titled "Super Kid Icarus". Naturally, it's a fan-made remake of the cult classic Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) game, Kid Icarus. It's a game that has been in need of a sequel (other than the Game Boy game), so with its 16-bit sprites, it looks like something Nintendo could have released on the Super NES.
I recognized the premise right away, of course, having created maps for a "Super Kid Icarus" myself as an April Fool's joke for my web site back in 2007. What I was dismayed to find was that I also recognized the graphics in Flip Industries' Flash game. It really appears that they took my effort for granted and "reappropriated" the graphics on my maps without my permission or knowledge. And with no credit or mention after the fact!
I emailed Flip Industries directly, as I had initially hoped to work something out. I was not appreciative of the publicity this Flash game was suddenly getting while neither my name nor my web site was never mentioned. Fair is fair; if I did some work for someone else, don't you think it's reasonable for me to expect credit? I made my disappointment known on various forums and also contacted news sites where the game has been featured. Unfortunately some news sites were leery about raising something negative about someone's reputation without "irrefutable evidence". After only one brief email response, Flip Industries has been totally silent on the subject of why their game resembles my maps. So I have organized the information that I have on hand, and now present it all here, to definitively prove that I did indeed create "Super Kid Icarus" almost five years ago and to show how questionable Flip Industries' claim is that they had never seen my site before.
2012/05/01 UPDATE: Besides my own claims that Flip Industries' game has too much resemblance to my own maps that it could not have been coincidence, I have recently been informed that their web site uses a lot of artwork that appears to have been taken from deviantART users without permission. If this is indeed the case, I am not the only one who has been affected. For more on this development, jump to VI. Claims against Flip Industries by other people.
I. What is this all about?
II. What is the evidence?
- 1. Proof that VGMaps.com's maps came first
- 2. Proof that Flip Industries couldn't have recreated the same tiles by chance
- 3. Proof that Flip Industries didn't choose the same tiles themselves
IV. What is their response?
V. What do you want?
Addendum: VI. Claims against Flip Industries by other people
I. WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THAT YOU MADE IT, AND AS "AN APRIL FOOL'S JOKE"?
So why did I make my maps in the first place, especially since they were never intended to be for a real game? For those of you not familiar, VGMaps.com: The Video Game Atlas is my web site which features a collection of screenshot maps for video games. To showcase particular maps, I pick a set of maps from one game each month to be featured as the "Maps Of The Month", a tradition which began in May 2004. On the April months of 2005 to 2009, I thought it would be amusing to show fake maps for an imaginary game - like a rumoured or cancelled game - as an April Fool's joke, to fool people or to at least get them wondering if such a game existed. Naturally, since the imaginary/cancelled games didn't exist, this meant making the maps, which usually takes more work, or at least a more creative approach, than mapping an existing game (which is already a lengthy task in itself).
"Super Kid Icarus", a Super NES-like reimagining of Kid Icarus, actually fooled a few VGMaps.com visitors on April 1, 2007.
2007's April Fools joke was a set of maps of an imaginary "Super Kid Icarus". I started with Bergles' and Rick Bruns' maps of the original NES game, and used a tool created by Revned called the Tile Slicer/Splicer to take all of the game's "tiles" and replace them with similar ones from maps of various Super NES, Genesis, Turbo Grafx 16, Neo-Geo and Game Boy Advance games. After several hours of work (which Flip Industries doesn't appear to recognize), I culled enough graphics to replace all the tiles in the original game, and upon splicing them in, the result is my 16-bit reimagining of Kid Icarus:
The initial response on April Fool's Day in 2007 is seen here on my forums, followed later in that same thread by some more notes of how I did it:
II. SO WHAT'S THE EVIDENCE THAT YOU CREATED THIS AND NOT FLIP INDUSTRIES?
1. IT CAN BE PROVEN BY AN INDEPENDENT SOURCE THAT MY MAPS HAVE BEEN AROUND FOR YEARS
Naturally, for Flip Industries to have copied my maps, my maps had to have been around first.
You may have noticed in the forum thread I mentioned above that the posts are dated back in 2007. If that isn't proof enough, let's go to a more recognized source.
Mr. Peabody and Sherman could probably visit ancient Greece via their WABAC Machine to see Icarus, but we only need this WayBack Machine to visit 2007 to see that the Super Kid Icarus maps already existed here on VGMaps.com.
The Internet Archive has a handy tool called the WayBack Machine, which crawls the web and archives many Internet sites at different dates so that one can see what a site has looked like in the past. It currently has 150 billion pages, and thankfully, it has crawled my site since its first month on the web.
Let's set the WayBack Machine to see VGMaps.com in 2007. Clicking on April 9, we see a clear shot of "Super Kid Icarus" on the main page, as my April Fools' maps are featured all month long:
Not only that, but it picked up on the page featuring my "Super Kid Icarus" maps, still in 2007.
Clicking on those map names will take you to each of my maps. Compare those with Flip Industries' game.
The Internet Archive's WayBack Machine is an independent source in no way affiliated with my site. This alone should be irrefutable proof that my maps existed in 2007, publicly available on my site, as they still are. Flip Industries' game is copyrighted 2011, and even given a couple years of development, my maps could certainly have been known of by them before and while they were making their game.
2. IT'S MATHEMATICALLY IMPROBABLE THAT, BY CHANCE, THEY RECREATED THE SAME TILES AS I CHOSE
Now, as both my maps and Flip Industries' Flash game are based on "remaking" the NES game, it comes as no surprise that the layout of the game would be identical. That's not the concern. What really should be raising eyebrows is how similar the graphics are. Yes, there is "grass" on their dirt tiles but not on mine. And they switched the background of the first stage (with one that just looks like another one of the stages I assembled). But the vast majority? The same.
Now, I never claimed to have created the graphics in my mocked-up maps. I chose them from other games (though that still took effort). For now, let's say that if Flip Industries would even answer any questions on the topic of their game's uncanny resemblance to my maps, they might claim to have recreated the graphics themselves, and any similarity is just a coincidence. So, how likely is that? Stand back, we're going to try math!
(If numbers aren't your thing, please just skip ahead.)
There are 16.7 million possible colours in a standard 24-bit "truecolour" palette. This palette has 256 possible values, or shades, for each of the red, green, and blue components (RGB), and when combined, give us 256 x 256 x 256 = 16,777,216 colours. That's a lot of colours. But before I get into the math, let's lower the numbers here, because an astute observer will notice that the tiles I chose and the ones that Flip Industries have aren't the same when you look at the exact RGB values. They're close enough that they look similar, but you'll see that it's still incredibly unlikely to come up with a tile that, by chance, only slightly resembles another.
So for our calculations, we'll reduce the 16.7 million possible colours to a mere 256 colours. The original truecolour palette has thousands of reds, many of which look similar to each other, and thousands of greens, many of which look similar to each other, etc., so we'll reduce this figure. The reduction of 16.7 million by a factor of 65,536 to only 256 is probably more than generous, but let's use it for this example anyway.
With one pixel, you have 256 possibilities, naturally, one of each colour. With two pixels, all 256 possibilities of the first pixel is paired up with all 256 possibilities of the second pixel. So that's 256 x 256, which means 65,536 different pairs. With three pixels, every one of those 65,536 pairs is combined with any of the 256 different third pixels, so that's 16,777,216 possible triplets. For every pixel you add, you're multiplying by 256, so simply take 256 to the power of however many pixels there are to find the total number of possibilities. So how many pixels are we talking about?
Each "tile" consists of a 16 x 16 square, or 256 pixels. So the number of possible 256-colour, 256-pixel tiles is 256 to the power of 256. Which is 3.23 x 10616. That's huge. (It can't even be physically counted, as it eclipses the estimated number of atoms in the observable universe, which is "only" 1082.) Based on what I could find out about number nomenclature (since Google can't even find this word), I believe that's 32.3 quattuorducentillion. (You can correct me if I'm wrong.) But, regardless, that's a multi-syllabic "-illions" number. Would you bet on something where your chances are one in a billion? Probably not. So forget about one in a trillion. And a billion and a trillion are just 10 to the power of a measly 9 or 12. When we're talking about a quattuorducentillion, we're talking about 10 to the power of a whopping 616. And 32.3 quattuorducentillion is only the number of possibilities for just one tile.
Super Kid Icarus, the way that I constructed it, comprises of 140 tiles. With 140 tiles, it's 256 to the power of (256 x 140) for the whole game. It took me ten minutes just to figure out the word "quattuorducentillion". Would you want to figure out what that number is? Don't ask me, I don't even know how many digits that would be.
And remember that all of the above is based on a low estimate of 256 distinct colours. Any slightly higher number of distinct colours is going to be exponentially higher. And if you still want to go lower, like to four possible colours per pixel? Sorry, we're still dealing with at least a 155-digit number of possibilities for a single tile. You'd be more likely to win the lottery about twenty times in a row.
So when we're dealing with numbers that are barely pronounceable and even harder to comprehend, the odds of designing the same graphics might as well be one in infinity. The likelihood of Flip Industries recreating my maps by chance without seeing my maps before isn't technically a total impossibility, but realistically, with odds like these, wouldn't you think it would be a near-infinitely more reasonable conclusion that Flip Industries just used my already-existing maps?
3. I CAN TELL YOU WHERE ALL OF THE TILES CAME FROM, AS I HAVE THE WORK FILES
My work files folder for "Super Kid Icarus", full of the individually cropped tiles. The replacement tiles appear next to the corresponding original tiles. Each filename tells me what game the replacement tile originally came from. Does Flip Industries have a folder like this?
Now that we've established that the near-impossibility that Flip Industries custom-made the same tiles that I chose, you might look at the possibility that they coincidentally chose them from the same other games as I did.
There are 140 different tiles to replace. Each of the one could be replaced by any similar-looking tile from a Super NES, Genesis, Turbo Grafx 16, Neo-Geo or Game Boy Advance game, or even other games for other platforms. What are the chances that they would choose the exact same tiles as me? Pretty slim. VGMaps.com currently has more than 7000 screenshot maps from those five particular game libraries, and if you include other platforms, well, it would be a lot more. And each map alone has anywhere from dozens to hundreds of possible tiles. Not every tile would be suitable, of course, but that's still quite a pool of tiles to pick from.
If you were recreating Kid Icarus, or any game, you can probably find something that will work from all of that. Once you've found the proverbial needle in the haystack, great! But if you didn't actually find the needle yourself in the first place, how would you know where it is?
Consider this: since I created these maps, I have a whole folder of work files that I used during the creation process. In this folder are some of the maps you'd see on VGMaps.com, which I placed in this work folder before cropping out the parts I wanted to use. Now, I'm not going to give just anyone the whole folder of these work files, since I wouldn't want them to end up in Flip Industries' hands. But, if Flip Industries claims they coincidentally made the game in nearly the exact same way I did, they should have their own work files folder and then they would know precisely where each of those tiles came from.
Above Left: A tiny bit past halfway up the first area in VGMaps.com's "Super Kid Icarus".
Above Right: A tiny bit past halfway up the first area in Flip Industries' "Super Kid Icarus".
To illustrate my point here, I can give you a couple freebie answers.
Below Left: Those weird geode, crystal-rock formations that you see in the above screenshots? I thought it was a weird choice when I made it. But I know it came from the Super NES game ActRaiser, specifically, Bloodpool, Act-2.
Below Right: Those bushes (and the top of the tree) are actually from the original Harvest Moon on the Super NES, as you can see in the Ranch.
I can name all of the tiles...but I'm willing to bet that Flip Industries cannot do the same.
So if you were to simultaneously ask me and Flip Industries, "hey, these particular tiles look familiar. I know they're from other games. Which games are they from?" then I would be able to give you a definite answer, and quickly. Flip Industries, like anyone else versed in video games, might be able to identify a few of those tiles, but only I can tell you where every single piece came from. And since these are all from VGMaps.com, anyone can easily verify my answers by looking at the original games' maps. Too bad for Flip Industries that there are literally hundreds of games any tile could have come from, that they wouldn't be able to fake their way through knowing the origins of 140 tiles. I wouldn't mind taking on the challenge if someone were to ask, but only if this challenge were issued by a trusted news site, as I don't want all the answers out there. But it shouldn't take very many questions to show that Flip Industries doesn't know as much as they should if they claim to have assembled this from their own hand-picked choices of tiles. And if they don't know where the tiles came from, the likely conclusion, again, is that they worked off of already-assembled maps.
III. TO SUMMARIZE...
From the points above, wouldn't you agree with these statements?
1. my maps existed and were available since 2007, which is years before Flip Industries' game (confirmed by the Internet Archive's WayBack Machine)
2. Flip Industries can't really claim to have recreated the same tiles I chose, as it is extremely improbable (explained by mathematical probability)
3. Flip Industries can't really claim to have chosen the same tiles I chose, as they wouldn't be able to name where all the tiles are from - however, I can (confirmable by questioning us about our work files)
2012/05/01 UPDATE: See below, in the added section, VI. Claims against Flip Industries by other people, where a number of deviantART users claim their artwork has been used on Flip Industries' website without permission (confirmed by contacting the artists)
So, with these points, what is the most logical conclusion we can draw from them?
IV. WHAT IS FLIP INDUSTRIES' RESPONSE?
Those three points above certainly lead to an interesting conclusion. Now the question is, what does Flip Industries have to say about this?
Not much, apparently. Flip Industries' response - or rather, lack of response - could be seen as fairly suspicious in itself. If they really didn't reappropriate existing work, why wouldn't they defend themselves?
Flip Industries did respond to me about this whole thing, but only once, via a single email last Friday. They didn't admit to exploiting my work, they didn't have an explanation, and claimed they'd never seen my site before then. On a positive note, they did say they weren't doing anything out of malice, and at the end of this, their only email, they asked what it was that I was looking for.
In my reply, I asked them to put VGMaps.com's name in their game and related materials. Fair, right? I spent some time making the original maps specifically for VGMaps.com's publicity, so I figured that I should get some of that back now since they truly appear to be using my work. I essentially saved them time by assembling their graphics for free. I'm not sure that I would have wanted the game made in the first place with my exact choice of graphics - and especially without my knowledge - but now that the "Super Kid Icarus" game was already made, I figured I'd look past that and didn't think it was too much to ask them to just mention what the source was, i.e. my web site, VGMaps.com. It's not like I am asking for money, or for them to remove or redo their game. I just wanted to be mentioned. Is that too much to ask, for credit where credit is due? Doesn't everyone want that?
But their week-long silence essentially tells me their stance on that. In the last few days while I still had patience, I gave them the benefit of the doubt and emailed them, simply reminding them to respond. I feel like the victim here, and yet I was being more than fair, and even generous, by just asking them for something simple, then giving them some time to respond, and multiple chances, and I even said I was willing to negotiate the particular details - but for whatever reason, I don't even get a single response to my requests. It appears as if they think ignoring me will make me go away.
Now if you were in Flip Industries' situation, and you saw this as some huge misunderstanding, would you not think that giving me some kind of response and addressing the situation would be an appropriate thing to do?
V. SO, WHAT NOW? WHAT IS IT THAT YOU WANT?
Sure, I want people to know that I spent effort coming up with my vision of "Super Kid Icarus", but I don't want it to be implied that I ever gave Flip Industries permission to make their game, since I never did. Permission would imply affiliation, which I definitely want to avoid. Unless they (very quickly) prove otherwise, Flip Industries appears to be the type of company that disrespects other people's work, taking it without consent or credit, then not owning up to it when confronted, and can't be bothered to reply even when I, despite feeling exploited, am still willing to give them multiple chances to make amends. Would you want to be associated with any company with morals like these? I certainly don't. And as the victim, I was perhaps too nice to those willing to exploit me. A wasted effort anyway, as they didn't take my kindness seriously.
So, if I don't care for credit now, what do I want? First, for the truth to be known.
As I told Flip Industries, like them, I also don't act out of malice. But I told them that I am compelled to tell the truth, and it's not my concern if by now doing so, Flip Industries' name is affected. They were already in the wrong when they decided to (mis)use my "Super Kid Icarus" maps in the first place without even asking. When I allowed them to correct their own error, an opportunity that they continuously chose not to take, then that's their own problem. If they're really concerned about their name, they should have responded long ago, especially if this is some big misunderstanding. But as it is, they're unwilling to say how this situation came about. So they can keep silent if they want, but I'm publicly saying what I feel I have to say about this whole experience.
However, I have had some resistance. Without even attempting to refute my claims, I've been labelled a "troll" and "attention-seeker". How extremely odd that some random users would so vehemently state that they don't care what I had to say, and yet go to the point of insulting me. Is that fair? What personal stake do they have in this? But though they shouldn't be listened to, there is one point I can't counter. And that is that even if I do reveal what I believe is the truth, most people don't really care who makes what they see/play/enjoy, and VGMaps.com and Flip Industries may both be practically nameless to most people. You might be saying, "okay, now I believe that JonLeung of VGMaps.com made these Super Kid Icarus maps. Great. So...now what?" Maybe that specific detail means little to you, because you were never questioning who made them.
But I still wrote this all up as a matter of principle.
You mess with me, deal with the consequences. And I don't just disapprove of offenses to me personally. The second thing I want is for people to stop taking advantage of other people. The world has enough problems without having people disrespecting other people and their work, and thinking there won't be consequences. I know, this little "expos�" may only ever make a mere iota of a barely visible difference, but it's something. If I publicly discourage game makers from using my maps without permission, and call out those who appear to, then maybe someone out there will be encouraged to speak up against some other injustice. Maybe? Anyway, the point is, ripping people off is not cool.
Thank you for reading all of this, if you have. I hope I have proved to you not only in this particular case who really made these particular "Super Kid Icarus" maps, but also that it's never a good idea to take other people's work without their consent.
- Jonathan Leung (JonLeung)
VI. OTHER PEOPLE SAY FLIP INDUSTRIES TOOK THEIR DEVIANTART ARTWORK.
If you're not sure that using the same tiles (by a near-infinitely small chance) constitutes an offense, what about taking entire works of art from a number of artists and using them without permission or credit?
On April 27th, I received an email from Chesu, a user at Pixel Joint directing me to this forum thread:
The original post, before it was edited, was of Flip Industries attempting to recruit artists for their cause. The second post was written by Chesu, referencing not only this very page you are reading right now, but also uncovering a number of cases where the artwork used on Flip Industries' Super Kid Icarus site look identical to work by deviantART users.
See for yourself:
Above Left: "Chibi Pit", drawn by XsmashxbrawlX on deviantART, as seen here.
Above Right: Pit as he appears on Flip Industries' web site, as seen here.
Below Left: "Pit Chibi", drawn by Wasil on deviantART, as seen here.
Below Right: Pit as he appears on Flip Industries' web site, as seen here.
Chesu's post includes many more examples. Not only are deviantART users affected, but other artists as well.
Left: Niklas Jansson's Kid Icarus redesign project, as seen here, includes enemy designs.
Right: Flip Industries' Super Kid Icarus Enemy Guide, as seen here, uses the same images.
After these claims, these artists emailed me themselves confirming their non-involvement with Flip Industries' take on Super Kid Icarus.
If you read that Pixel Joint topic, you can see that Flip Industries edited their original post to link to the infamous "RickRoll'D" video, abandoning their recruitment attempt, rather than to respond to the allegations. Not at all a mature way to tackle the situation, but unfortunately not at all surprising coming from them. A response was then made by a user named TimBuxton, who said he signed up on that forum for the sole purpose of responding to Chesu. TimBuxton vehemently defends Flip Industries' game - more than you would think any person would gush about a Flash game, especially considering his claimed uninvolvement other than being a "HUGE fan". The immediate response by other forum members is the assumption that TimBuxton is merely another username made by Flip Industries. He makes a second post with no real argument before the thread is closed by a moderator named Blueberry_pie, but not before the moderator explains that he can see IP addresses from where user accounts and forum posts are made, and so there is no doubt that TimBuxton is on the same network as Flip Industries, certainly making the suspicion that they are one and the same quite a possibility.
Above: TimBuxton may or may not be Flip Industries, but he defends them with inexplicable zeal and also has the same IP address as them. See the thread in its entirety and in context here.
I have said more than enough about my own project; if there was still any shred of doubt, these latest allegations paint an incredibly poor picture of Flip Industries' practices. The only time they directly responded, as I mentioned, was in one brief email, and though they didn't really acknowledge my claims of taking my work, they were certainly aware of what I was saying. So since the artwork now present on their site was not there when I originally wrote this article up in January, it shows that they have not learned and continue to exploit other fans who share their work on the Internet.
Art theft is a serious issue. When it was just about how it looked a lot like my April Fool's joke for VGMaps.com, it was "merely" the same tiles swapped, so that was an annoyance. Or perhaps a little more so, for me to write about it. But now we're talking about actual hand-drawn artwork by talented artists having their works reappropriated. There can't possibly be any doubt now about what Flip Industries is doing. It doesn't help that Flip Industries does not want to officially respond, and they seem to have no defense other than a few immature statements that can be traced back to the same source.
With numerous allegations against them, backed with evidence as I and Chesu have shown, Flip Industries has no right to be making games. Do not support them.
I will continue to update this page as more details surface, as necessary.
Want to discuss this topic?
Want to see the original "Super Kid Icarus" maps?