Update: Minter has posted a letter dated June 2014, sent by Atari law firm Dorsey & Whitney LLP, laying out what it sees as the legally actionable similarities between Tempest and TxK.
Llamasoft developer Jeff Minter is currently embroiled in a heated legal discussion with Atari over the rights to TxK, a tube shooter released last year on the Vita that bears a striking resemblance to 1994 Atari Jaguar release Tempest 2000.
The apparent similarities between Tempest 2000 and TxK are perhaps unsurprising, given that Minter single-handedly did the coding on both games, the former while working for Atari and the latter as an independent developer (credit for 1980’s original Tempest, which was the inspiration for Tempest 2000, belongs to Atari’s Dave Theurer). Minter even called TxK “an updated version [of Tempest 2000] on modern hardware” when announcing the Vita game back in 2013.
But Minter now says Atari is trying to unduly claim trademark and copyright rights to TxK and attempting to stop him from distributing the existing Vita version of the game as well as planned ports for the PC, PS4, Android, and VR platforms. “I think the weirdest aspect of the legal letter thing is how they desperately try to imply I had nothing much to do with my own creation,” Minter tweeted incredulously.
Minter outlines what he refers to as “threats and bullying” from Atari’s “legal letter” in a post on his blog and through his Twitter account (though he has not shared the full text of the letter). Among the “legal accusations” allegedly made by Atari (quotes are Minter’s relaying of pieces of Atari’s apparent allegations):
Tempest 2000 was “merely an update to Tempest to which [Minter] made no contribution” (source)
“There is nothing remotely original in TxK and in no way can it be described as [Minter’s] original creation” (source)
“TxK features an electronic music sound track and sound effects that are indistinguishable from those used in Tempest 2000” (source)
TxK and Minter are profiting from association with the Tempest and Atari brand names.
Minter says Atari is “trying to insist that I remove from sale Vita TxK (even though it’s plainly at the end of its run now and only brings in a trickle these days) and sign papers basically saying I can never make a Tempest style game ever again. So no chance of releasing the ports.” He also says simply contesting the legal claims in Atari’s letter would be incredibly costly and that Atari has rebuked attempts to get “official” Tempest branding for TxK or its ports.