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Waveform: when a clone isn't a clone

When two indie games feature the same mechanic and release one after another, the second must be a clone right? Not necessarily, but that's what was assumed of Waveform, which released on Steam yesterday.

Ryan Vandendyck, Blogger

March 21, 2012

3 Min Read

Yesterday I released my indie game Waveform on Steam (http://store.steampowered.com/app/204180/). I had been working on it for nearly 3 years mainly alone, which was a painful endeavour that I undertook while also working as a full-time programmer in the games industry (read more about that in my other blog entries: http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/RyanVandendyck/908384/). 

I spent every evening and every weekend on it for the better part of 3 years, working 100+ hours every week and draining my bank account. But finally, I had a game to release that was actually very cool and very unique! It was garnering a lot of great reviews, and people who played it had a ton of fun.

What happened next, you ask? 

The proverbial crap hit the fan. The internet (or at least the corner I pay attention to) exploded with confusion and questions about how Waveform appeared to be a blatant rip-off of Kenta Cho's game Sin Car (http://www.gamesetwatch.com/2011/10/drive_around_kenta_chos_sin_ca.php). In particular Adam Saltsman (of Canabalt fame) and Jan Willem Nijman from Vlambeer were particularly aghast at what appeared to be a clone and direct rip-off. And they were right to be suspicious! Jan, along with Rami Ismail, gave an awesome talk at GDC just a few weeks ago on the devastating impact cloning games has on our industry, especially indie games. It's a problem, and they were correct to call attention to it.

To anyone who happened to come across both games, they seem very similar! Both involve controlling a sine wave to accomplish objectives. And unless you happened to stumble upon the few obscure places Waveform was referenced and talked about starting in late 2010 (like it's IGF entry for example), Sin Car seemed to have debuted first. And of course let's not forget that Kenta Cho is a renowned indie developer! Who's this Ryan Vandendyck guy? Never heard of him :)

So the similarities between Waveform and Sin Car are immediately apparent, and their debut dates a bit suspicious. What's going on here?

Well folks, we seem to have come upon a classic Newton/Leibniz situation. For anyone who doesn't know, Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz both seemed to have come up with Calculus (a branch of mathematics) around the same time. But who copied who? Did one of them abscond with the other's papers during the night? For those in the world of mathematics (not a large percentage of the world, but maybe a good number of Gamasutra readers) this is a well-known debate. The conclusion seems to be: they came up with it independently.

Maybe a little coincidental, but that seems to be the truth from what we can garner from history. And to make a long story short, that's what happened with Waveform and Sin Car, coincidental though it may be.

I tried getting the word out in advance of Waveform's release that the two were different games after hearing about Sin Car. John Polson from indiegames.com wrote up a great article about Waveform's then Kickstarter project (http://indiegames.com/2011/11/kickstarter_project_waveform_e.html) and helped explain that actually they just happened to be developed independently. But being a small, unknown indie dev, I didn't have enough contacts to spread the word further than that. I was hoping that the information would filter out and people would know of what happened, but it didn't quite happen as organically as it could have. Good point to know for the future!

Despite having a working prototype of Waveform since mid-2009, I opted against talking about it much or showing really anything online. Why did I decide that? Ironically, given what has happened, I was afraid someone would clone my game :)

Above: A video of me talking about the history of Waveform, with an early prototype shown in the top-left corner. Full video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=piRXp0EjB80

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