Earlier this week I had my mind completely blown when I saw something that was almost unbelievable: a game that at first glance seemed like a clone of a game several of my friends made as students a few years back.

The game that my friends made was called Yeti Tracks. The premise of the game is that your character has crashed his plane in a blizzard and you have to use your rifle to both hunt a rabbit for food and fend off a Yeti that is hunting you. You win by successfully hunting the rabbit and returning to your plane. It’s a small, unpolished student game:

What’s interesting is that indie developer Vlambeer showed off a new project of theirs at Fantastic Arcade recently. The game is titled Yeti Hunter… and it looks exactly like what most people would call a clone, but I don’t think that was Vlambeer’s intention. It’s worth noting that they say this game may never find it’s way to a formal release, but it’s certainly gotten more attention than the Yeti Tracks did. The key difference as far as I can tell, is that the point is to hunt yetis instead of staving them off, but the gameplay is eerily similar in this small, unpolished indie game:

You may have noticed Vlambeer in the news recently, their game Radical Fishing got cloned on iOS before they could release the actual iOS version of the game, Ridiculous Fishing. It seems relatively certain that the clone was intentional, and it made my blood boil when I read about the whole incident. But the Yet Tracks / Yeti Hunter similarities also made my jaw drop, and then I realized that it was highly unlikely that the developers found an obscure student game and decided to clone and polish the gameplay.

So what does that leave us? Does it make it alright? If Yeti Hunter’s existence is acceptable, then does that mean that we also have to find Ninja Fishing to be acceptable?

Or can we really have the criteria be based on what the intention of the developer was, so that the similarities in the Yeti games are alright, but an intentional fishing game rip-off is not? Using that distinction is incredibly hard to do. Consider the sciences and engineering: keeping a log of your work can be just as important to prove your work was developed originally, as it is to validate the methods used.

If we want game design to be an art form, wanting that sort of proof that an idea is original would be ludicrous, never mind that it would be infinitely harder to “verify” as well. The whole dilemma seems like a tangled mess, and the thing that really makes me sour is that the student that had the original idea for the game admitted that the existence of Yeti Hunter meant that he could never release a polished version of Yeti Tracks without people constantly making comparisons.

In fact, I wonder if he did a more public release of the game (say, on iPhone), if the community would attack him for “ripping off” Vlambeer, considering their unfortunate situation with Radical Fishing.