lol1.gif['Quiz Me Quik' is a weekly GameSetWatch column by journalist Alistair Wallis, in which he picks offbeat subjects in the game business and interviews them about their business, their perspective, and their unique view of life. This time, an innocent bystander and a nearby train wreck.]

Regarding the whole Limbo of the Lost fiasco, has anyone coined the term “LoLgate” for it? I don’t seem to be able to find any kinds of references to it as that around the place, so let’s see if we can’t get it to catch on. After all, it’s a pretty fair bet that people will be talking about this for some time to come – how often do you hear about something as blatantly weird as this?

On one hand, it does seem cut and dry. The independent Majestic Studios used locales from existing games for their own game, Limbo of the Lost - 3D areas translated into 2D click and point adventure backdrops, presumably by simply taking screenshots. Screenshots from games like The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Thief: Deadly Shadows, Diablo II, Unreal Tournament 2004, Unreal Tournament 2003, Crysis, Silent Hill 4: The Room, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, World of Warcraft, Painkiller, Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines and hell, probably more too.

It’s a pretty straightforward case of plagiarism, and copyright infringement. It’s absolutely no shock that US publisher Tri Synergy pulled the game from release within days of the accusations hitting news sites and forums. Majestic recently responded themselves, calling the “notification that some alleged unauthorized copyrighted materials submitted by sources external to the development team have been found” within the game “shocking”. It’s a pretty meaningless and weak rebuttal.

But, there’s something oddly endearing about the company’s naïveté.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not trying to defend it. It just feels more dense than insidious. Even their response is amusing: “Uh…wasn’t me.” Who would honestly believe that this kind of thing would go unnoticed in 2008? It’s like Ernest Goes To Digipen or something, except that they’re British, so maybe it’s more like Carry On Game Developers.

Still, even with that dimwit appeal, you’ve got to really feel for the people wrapped up in this. Majestic will never produce another game – that’s a given. But what happens to the credibility of Tri Synergy? What happens to the credibility of composer Marko Hautamäki, who worked to produce music for the game as a freelancer, and had no knowledge of the way that the game was being developed?

Already, he’s been under fire: guilt by association. “I have seen my name mentioned in several internet discussion forums,” he noted in a recent press release, “and there has been speculation about if the game contains stolen music but so far that has not been proven one way or another.” While Hautamäki didn’t produce every piece of music used in the game, he adds that he “can 100% guarantee everything” he worked on is original, offering the files on his website for scrutiny.

In order to work through his side of the story in more detail, I contacted Hautamäki, and asked about his experiences working with Majestic, and what this could mean for the future of his career as a composer.

GSW: When were you first contacted by Majestic Studios?

lol1.gifMarko Hautamäki: The initial contact was in May 2006 via an internet forum. They posted an ad looking for composer and I replied and got the job.

GSW: So you were on the lookout for a project like that?

MH: I was - and still am - constantly looking for interesting projects, and at the time Limbo of the Lost did seem interesting.

GSW: What was it about the project that appealed to you?

MH: I wanted to get a game in my CV, so it was easier to get to do one with a smaller company. It was a starting company working on a game that would be quite different from the bulk of games released nowadays. I figured it was a good way to get some recognition in the composer market, plus it offered me a chance to write a very varied soundtrack that isn't tied to just one strict music style. I saw there an opportunity to show my skills in a fairly large scale.

GSW: How long did you work on the music?

MH: I finished with the game level backgrounds in December 2006. After that I still did some scoring for the bonus DVD. If I remember correctly, I was finished with those in February 2007 or so.

GSW: How did you record the music?

MH: I have a PC based studio running Cubase and lots of virtual instruments. There are some - mostly percussive - elements that I recorded in traditional way with a microphone. There was no budget for session musicians, so everything you hear in my scores was played by myself.

GSW: How long, all up, is the score?

MH: All in all I composed about one and a half hours of music for the game. In the last minute some pieces got replaced by others that I suppose were done by [Majestic employee] Lawrence Francis.

So, a bit over an hour of my music was actually used in the game. The DVD main feature was one of the pieces that I originally composed music to, but got later replaced. The original score for that one can be found on my demo page.

GSW: Did you have a copy of the game to work from?

lol1.gifMH: At the time of composing I didn't have a playable game to work with. Instead I got written descriptions about each level - what's happening, what kind of place it is and what kind of mood it should have. The guys of Majestic Studios also encouraged me to feel free to interpret their descriptions musically, so I was having pretty free hands with the score.

I'd say the biggest source of inspiration were the written descriptions themselves. At some point I also got to see some concept art but as they were mainly about characters without their own themes, I can't say they would have influenced me much.

GSW: Any impressions of the game from that time?

MH: None about the game itself. I only got to see the finished game when I received my own boxed copy a couple of days before I first read the news about accusations of plagiarism and that someone had found some stolen graphical assets in the game. It seemed to me that Majestic Studios were very enthusiastic about the game and working hard on it, so I felt good about being involved in the game.

GSW: What are you concerns regarding your reputation, from this point?

MH: After my initial announcement and press release got out, it seems people understand my situation and are being very supportive. I'm still undecided about whether it's better to keep Limbo of the Lost in my CV or just forget about it.

Anyone Googling my name will find plenty of mentions about Limbo so I couldn't just pretend it never happened, even if I wanted to. On the other hand, I don't think I have any reason to feel bad about the music I composed for the game. How all this will affect my career in the future is very hard to predict, so as a precautionary measure I'm taking steps to clear my name.

What will actually happen and what kind of effect this will have in the long run remains to be seen.

GSW: Was it difficult to come out with the press release?

lol1.gifMH: Not as such. The difficult part is keeping in mind the contracts and NDA and what they allow me to say in public and what not. When posting my initial announcement about the matter, I was only concerned about clearing my own name. Understandably, after that I got a lot of inquiries related to the stolen assets and actions of Majestic Studios. Unfortunately I can't answer those - not because of an NDA but simply because I don't have any more answers than anyone else outside the Majestic core team.

GSW: How do you feel about what the developers have done in regards to reusing art?

MH: Simply put, it's a fucking catastrophe! I have no insider information about the game development process outside my own part and I sincerely hope there will be some sensible explanation to how this happened and how it's even possible as so many aspects in this whole circus just seem to defy common sense. Personally it's a major source of frustration and uncertainty for me.

GSW: Did you have any troubles working with Majestic, either personally or professionally?

MH: Not at all. I thought they were a pleasure to work with. They were enthusiastic about the game and seemingly worked hard on it so I felt good about contributing to the game. Working with the written descriptions about the game levels can be quite liberating and I had pretty free hands with the background music so I felt good about working with them. I didn't notice anything odd or alarming at all.

All in all, I have to say that if the plagiarism hadn't happened I would still feel very good about the game and the work I did for Majestic - even if it means that relatively few people had ever heard about the game. Now that's not a concern anymore.

GSW: Any trouble with payment for the work?

MH: Money issues are something I can't talk about in public. So far, no problems.

GSW: What proof are you able to offer that your work is 100% original?

MH: I have all the original Cubase project files. When I work I save my project often under different name. This way, the files not only show the contents of the music files but also the whole composing process from beginning to end. That's something that would be extremely hard to replicate afterwards.
Also, I posted some of the pieces I made for the game on my demo page, so you can make comparisons yourself. Furthermore, I think there's a very big difference in the style and sound of the music pieces I did versus the ones I didn't do. Again, I'm assuming that the rest of the pieces were written by Lawrence Francis. Majestic Studios project leader Steve Bovis has also assured me that there isn't any stolen music in the game.

GSW: How do you feel about accusations that elements of the soundtrack are not your own work?

lol1.gifMH: Of course I'm not happy about it, and that's also the reason I went public trying to clear my name. Such accusations can be disastrous to the career of anyone doing creative work.

Though, as said, there are pieces in the game that are not my work, most notably the game intro and the DVD main feature. The intro was something that was supposed to be done by Lawrence Francis from the start. The music I composed for the DVD main feature got replaced with that same intro piece. Some trailers in YouTube do feature my music, some do not. I have been assured all the music in the game is original but personally I can only guarantee my own work.

GSW: What level of communication have you had with the developers, post-release?

MH: We have been in contact, although not on a daily basis. They have apologized me for the mess but I'm afraid I can't really say much more about that. To my understanding, their announcement should be on its way and I hope it will give more answers than I'm able to.

GSW: Do you feel lucky, in a way, to be only credited in the .pdf that accompanies the game?

MH: Yes and no. Of course a proper credit would have been nice if things had gone the way they were supposed to go with the game. Now, I think having my name in the .pdf only probably hasn't done any harm, but probably mostly because of the fact that I have gone public.

GSW: What hopes do you have for your career from here?

MH: Well, I'm going to continue working on film and game music in the future anyway. I honestly don't know what kind of effect this whole Limbo circus will have so I guess we'll just have to wait and see. I'm currently working on a Finnish feature film that will be released in October. After that my plans are pretty much open at the moment.