Chinese developer accused of asset theft by Torchlight boss

Evan Lahti at

Torchlight creators Runic Games have found themselves in a public dispute with the creators of a Armed Heroes Online, an MMO for mobile platforms that’s currently available in the Canadian Apple App Store. In a July 13 forum thread about the game on Touch Arcade, an iOS-focused gaming site, users noticed similarities between footage of Armed Heroes Online and Torchlight.

Very soon, Runic President Travis Baldree entered the conversation. Baldree alleged that “All of the monster assets and every dungeon tileset, as well as voices, and most sound effects, are direct rips from Torchlight.” Baldree continues: “I didn’t see ANY monsters that weren’t ours.”

While PC Gamer cannot independently confirm the origin of the Armed Heroes Online game assets referenced, the evidence of plagiarism -- a topic dear to our hearts -- is significant based on what’s presented in the thread.

As these allegations were being made by forum members and Baldree, Armed Heroes Online’s creators made a statement in a separate thread. A poster, identifying herself as an EGLS (AHO’s developer) representative named Serena Zhang, denied any wrongdoing.

“We can hardly agree with Mr. Travis Baldree who judged that EGLS ‘wholesale stole most of the assets from Torchlight!’ only based on the similarity between several small monsters. The judgment is simply untenable.”

Zhang then shared a series of images that compare the appearance of both games’ main characters. (Left: Torchlight. Right: Armed Heroes Online.)

Comparison images shared by a representative from Armed Heroes, meant to downplay any similarity.

But then her statement takes a strangely defensive turn. Downplaying any similarities between AHO and Torchlight, she writes that Runic “ripped off” other games, including Diablo and Diablo II, and most curiously, Fate.

“In Fate, players are allowed to raise their own pets, cats or dogs, and equip them with 3 items. These pets can help players’ in-game characters fight, pick up and transport items. What is more awesome is you won’t lose them even if they run out of HP when they just wander around for a while and come back to fight for you later. If you feed them with fish, they can transform into various powerful monsters. In Torchlight, all the above elements are completely borrowed without any difference: cats and dogs, 3 available items, help in fight and pick up/transport items, feed them fish to transform them… Does everything sounds familiar? Then, does it mean that we can conclude that Torchlight blatantly ripped off Fate?”

The poster may be unaware that Travis Baldree designed Fate before coming to Runic.

Following that statement from EGLS, Baldree shared direct evidence of misuse of Torchlight’s assets: many sound file names from Torchlight—typos and all—are identical to Armed Heroes’. “The files named after our unique bosses and classes are particularly telling, as well as the 'joke' sound effect that Adam Perin our technical artist recorded for a rare sword,” Baldree tells PC Gamer. More visual evidence was presented by another forum member, seen below.

Speaking directly with PC Gamer, Baldree calls EGLS’ statement "deliberately misleading." But Baldree says they’re not seeking legal damages or royalties, but simply a removal of the game from the App Store. "At present, we're hoping for news from Apple that this has been taken down in Canada, and won't appear in the US App Store. We don't have any objection to people taking 'inspiration' from our work -- even slavish inspiration! But given that they are using the exact assets from Torchlight with minor alterations in places seems a touch unfair."

We followed-up with Baldree for additional insight:

PCG: In your mind, is there any doubt that the assets referenced in the thread were taken from Torchlight? When was this brought to your attention?

Baldree: “I have no doubt that the assets were taken from Torchlight. I actually noticed the infringement myself and showed the rest of the team, when I saw their announcement video which was linked from a newspost about the Canadian release.”

PCG: How difficult would it have been for EGLS to have used assets from Torchlight? Did they have to do something in particular to gain access to those assets, or are they readily available through Torchlight’s SDK?

Baldree: They were all available in the SDK, and it's actually quite trivial to do. The model files are in Ogre3D's native model format, which is convertible to other formats fairly simply. Our textures are raw and uncompressed, as are our sounds. This was all done intentionally in keeping with Torchlight's moddable nature. Our terms of use for the SDK and game content of course prohibit using those assets for monetary gain.

PCG: If EGLS or Apple doesn’t comply with Runic’s request to have the game taken down from the App Store, what would you expect Runic’s next action to be?

Baldree: I think this will largely depend on what Apple says in response, and what our lawyers advise. I highly doubt that EGLS will take it down independently, especially given their response. Never having been through this before, I'm assuming we'll try to put together an even more comprehensive list of infringements and present them to Apple, but I can't say for certain.

PCG: Thanks for your time, Travis.