There's a danger when writing about crowdfunded projects that people will mistake coverage for recommendation. Broadly speaking, I do tend to focus on things I think deserve our readers' attention. That doesn't mean they're good, though. Sometimes a thing deserves your attention because it's bizarre, brazen or downright unbelievable.
Sometimes coverage is the opposite of a recommendation.
Keep that in mind as I tell you about STALKER Apocalypse. It's the new crowdfunding project from West Games, the people behind Areal. If you don't remember Areal, you missed one of the stranger Kickstarter projects of the year. Its creators claimed they were making the "definitive spiritual successor to the cult hit S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series," and that their team was mostly "composed of former senior GSC Game World staff members".
Both of those claims were contested—most notably by the former GSC Game World staff members at Survarium developer Vostok Games. Areal's pitch video even used footage from S.T.A.L.K.E.R., and other off-the-shelf Unity assets, without clearly stating that it wasn't from the game they were supposedly making. Finally, shortly after reaching its $50,000 goal, the project was suspended by Kickstarter.
The makers of Areal want your money again. This time, $600,000 of it.
The project is now called STALKER Apocalypse. That's STALKER, you'll note, not S.T.A.L.K.E.R.. West Games doesn't own the rights to S.T.A.L.K.E.R.. Here's what they say about that:
"We have registered a trademark for Stalker Apocalypse, and have every right to use it as our title. Stalker by itself is a common word, and anyone can use it."
Oh boy, are they going to be in for a shock.
Remember when the developers of The Banner Saga were opposed by King for trying to trademark the name of their game, despite their game being an actual goddamn saga? This game, to all intents and purposes, is trying to be like S.T.A.L.K.E.R.. And everyone already refers to S.T.A.L.K.E.R. as STALKER. And STALKER Apocalypse even calls its protagonist a STALKER. Oh, and then there's the game's logo:
Notice where the screws are conveniently placed? I'm not sure "is a common word" applies here, whatever your views on trademark law.
Here's the kicker: STALKER Apocalypse isn't on Kickstarter, but rather "World Wide Funder". From what I can tell, it's a site that's basically Kickstarter but with even less regulation.
Here's a link to the project, if you genuinely want to go and have a look. Remember, though, coverage is not a recommendation.
Update: Jas Purewal over at the excellent GamerLaw blog is an actual lawyer, and has both tracked the existing S.T.A.L.K.E.R. trademarks and speculated on West Games' "Stalker by itself is a common word" defence. The full post is worth a look, but here's a particularly relevant quote:
"What a developer should not do is leave a games studio, build a game that is similar to the one he/she was working on before and call it virtually the SAME NAME and then basically dare the trademark owner to have at him/her (i.e. to sue)."