Things are not at all well in the world of Star Control, with a public war of words erupting between two parties who claim the rights to sell the classic PC space games.
The story began with a 1st December blog post from Fred Ford and Paul Reiche, the original creators of the Star Control universe. In it the pair, who recently announced a new Star Control game, said there was a "growing legal conflict" between them and publisher Stardock, which is working on a Star Control game of its own.
The conflict appears to revolve around the sale of the classic Star Control games. Ford and Reiche contend Stardock isn't allowed to sell Star Control 1, 2 or 3 without their permission. "That permission has not been given," they insisted.
In 2013, Stardock bought the rights to Star Control as part of an Atari bankruptcy auction. But Ford and Reiche dispute this, saying: "It's our opinion that Atari's rights to publish our earlier games terminated over a decade before the auction and we contend that Stardock has zero rights to our games, including any code and other IP we created."
There's more. Ford and Reiche said Stardock reckons it can use "our aliens, ships and narrative without our permission, but thinks that we cannot make a sequel to The Ur-Quan Masters without their permission".
"This is where we got really, really angry," the post continues.
It's worth explaining the two new Star Control games at this point. Ford and Reiche are working on Ghosts of the Precursors, which is intended to be a direct sequel to Star Control 2. Stardock, on the other hand, is working on a game called Star Control: Origins. They have nothing to do with each other, apparently.
Ford and Reiche's blog post concludes: "We've been waiting 25 years to make Ghosts of the Precursors for our fans and we certainly won't let this stop us. Go! Go! Go!"
This sparked a response from Stardock's Brad Wardell, who in a forum post took issue with various points raised by the original creators.
Wardell said the classic Star Control games have been available for sale long before Stardock acquired the rights from Atari four years ago, and for the entirety of the time Stardock has held the rights, Ford and Reiche have been getting paid for those sales.
"If they had an objection to the games being sold this is something that could and should have been addressed before we were ever involved," Wardell said.
Wardell then insisted Stardock is not using any of the aliens from the classic series. "As we have stated, our position is that, to the best of our knowledge, the classic alien IP is owned by them," he said.
Wardell said, however, that the classic Star Control IP is "messy". "We understand that this makes them 'really really angry' but we weren't a party to that agreement," he continued.
Here's where things get a bit more serious. Wardell again:
"All we can do is try to put something together that releases them from the restrictions placed on their IP that they agreed to and transfer any and all rights and responsibilities to them. We want them to make Ghosts but we don't want any liability or association with it.
"Given the disturbing and unanticipated post by Paul and Fred, we are persuaded more than ever that a clear and irrefutable document that makes it clear that we are not associated or involved with their new game is needed.
"We have nothing but respect and admiration for Paul and Fred and wish them well in their new project."
Things did not end there. Yesterday, 4th December, Ford and Reiche published another blog post, saying they were hauling Star Control 1, 2 and 3 off of GOG.
"We think it's necessary to 'clear the decks' to help resolve our definitely-not-harmonious, until-recently-private, months-long conflict with Brad Wardell and his lawyers at Stardock," the pair wrote.
Ford and Reiche said they've had their own distribution agreement with GOG since 2011, but no agreement with Stardock or Steam (Stardock still sells the Star Control games on Steam).
They also said that in October this year, "Stardock began selling our games on Steam and elsewhere (even bundled with theirs), again without getting our permission".
"This time we couldn't come to an agreement, so we asked that Stardock stop bundling and selling the games. They refused, so we've decided to end our 2011 distribution agreement with GOG as a first step to having the games pulled down."
This follow-up blog post sparked a follow-up forum post from Wardell, who accused Ford and Reiche of continuing to make "unsubstantiated claims".
"Stardock... possesses a perpetual, exclusive, worldwide licensing and sales agreement that was explicitly transferred to us by Atari who in turn acquired it from Accolade that has Paul Reiche's signature along with a signed distribution agreement between Atari and GOG for the DOS Accolade Star Control games," he said.
Then there's a bit of needle:
"The tone of their blog posts is similar to the kind of correspondence they had with us since the announcement of their Ur-Quan Masters successor, vague, full of demands and without any documentation," Wardell said.
"With all due respect to Paul and Fred, they really should talk to competent legal counsel instead of making blog posts."
That's where we're at. It seems that the next step will be for Ford and Reiche to get lawyers involved, if they're serious about preventing Stardock from selling the original Star Control games. Meanwhile, the games remain available to buy, and we're no closer to a new Star Control game.