Warner Bros is trying to patent Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor's critically-acclaimed Nemesis system, it has emerged.
The revelation came in the latest video by the superb YouTube series Game Maker's Toolkit, which analyses how the Nemesis system works.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor's Nemesis system, developed by a number of staff at Kirkland, Washington-based studio Monolith Productions, tracks the player's in-game actions to create enemies who are seemingly capable of remembering your encounters, rising through the ranks and enacting revenge. As our Christian Donlan wrote of the villain generator back in 2017, "die to an orc and the orc that offed you will grow stronger and might get a promotion".
"It allows what might be a repetitive game to become a wonderfully chuggy pleasure: there is a corrugated kind of grind on offer here as you alternate between learning, killing, and dying - at which point the whole system skips forward and becomes more complex in ways that require more learning, more killing, and yet more dying."
The patent, originally filed back in March 2016, is dubbed "Nemesis characters, nemesis forts, social vendettas and followers in computer games", and is now assigned to Warner Bros Entertainment Inc. Its current status is listed as "pending", but there's reason to believe the application will be granted.
According to the patent listing, the United States Patent and Trademark Office issued a final rejection in November 2019. But Warner Bros stuck to its guns, and in October 2020 a "Notice of Allowance" was issued. This indicates Warner was able to overcome the rejections, and the USPTO believes the invention qualifies for a patent.
So, it seems just a matter of time before Warner Bros will get its Nemesis patent six years after it first applied for it. And if it does, it could be set to return in some form in an upcoming Middle-earth game - or any Warner Bros game for that matter. Batman? Harry Potter?
The revelation of the Nemesis patent has certainly sparked a debate about the rights and wrongs of Warner Bros' actions here. Observers are also wondering whether Warner Bros' attempt to patent the Nemesis system is why we haven't seen a similar system in other games. I've seen some insist it should be impossible to patent video game mechanics.
"If you take someone's design and make a better version of it, you should be given a trophy and a triumph through the streets and the people who made the previous version should applaud you and say, 'wow that was really cool,' " Obsidian design director Josh Sawyer wrote on Twitter.
if i ever try to legally protect a gameplay mechanic i hope i am executed via the persian boats!!!— Josh Sawyer 401(k) (@jesawyer) January 29, 2021
In truth many developers and publishers over the years have obtained patents for video game mechanics. BioWare, for example, has a patent for Mass Effect's dialogue wheel. Sega once held a patent on Crazy Taxi's compass arrow, although this expired in 2018. Nintendo currently holds a patent on Eternal Darkness' sanity meter.