Should I post file format spec for a D&D computer game?

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wtrmute
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Should I post file format spec for a D&D computer game?

Post by wtrmute » Mon May 08, 2017 9:28 pm

Hello moderators.

A few weeks back, I found in my mother's house an old copy of the 1997 Birthright: the Gorgon's Alliance computer game by Sierra On-Line. I brought it back to my house and installed it with the help of DOSBox. It's a great game, but quite buggy.

I wanted to get a copy of the main map of Anuire the game comes up with, so I trawled the Net for a description of the file formats (modding people usually have them), but came up empty. So I fired up my trusty hex editor, and after a couple of weekends of bit-chewing, I managed to mostly figure out the resource file format they used and wrote a simple C application to extract those resources from the archives they are packed in.

I wanted to share this format information to people who have this game and might want to do something similar, so I thought to look in the Piazza, which is a hub of information regarding D&D's more obscure campaign settings. However, I'm not sure it is convenient for the board to have this sort of information, which isn't strictly about the campaign setting or the (pen and paper) game specifically, so I though I'd ask here, first.

Do the moderators think that this kind of post is off-topic, conductive to piracy, or otherwise inconvenient to have in this forum? If so, I'll refrain from posting anything more about this subject. In the meantime, I'll try to figure out the data format for the rules files; who knows? If I can figure enough of it out, we might be able to start some sort of engine update project, like Exult for Ultima games (naturally, one which would require the original's file data so that it doesn't facilitate piracy).

Thanks for your time.

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Re: Should I post file format spec for a D&D computer game?

Post by Big Mac » Tue May 09, 2017 1:10 am

Hi Wtrmute!,

Thanks for reaching out to the moderator team on this. That was very considerate of you. :-)

It looks like you have an interesting project there.

From the point-of-view of The Piazza, I think what you are asking us boils down to two questions:
  • "Is it OK to talk about a Birthright computer game at The Piazza...or do we only allow tabletop discussions?" and
  • "Is it piracy to extract information from the computer game?"
The first one is an easy question to deal with.

The Piazza's campaign worlds area is about the campaign settings. But the computer game is about Birthright, so it is about that campaign setting. So topics about the game are probably going to be "on topic" enough to go in the Birthright game. But even if it wasn't on topic, we do have an off-topic forum called The Tabard Inn, and it would be appropriate to have a topic over there.

And as you are talking of about a map of Anuire (rather than something like the keys you have to hold down to move around in the computer game) I think that this specific topic is clearly something that would be of interest to some fans of the Birthright world. :D

The second question is a bit more tricky to deal with as I'm not exactly sure what you mean by "extracting resources from the archives". The exact context of what you are doing might be important here and only you know what your project is, but I'll cover the general principle.

The various Birthright products were copyrighted by TSR (and that copyright now belongs to Wizards of the Coast). We discuss them here (and people discuss them elsewhere) under a principle called "fair use". Under "fair use" you can quote some information from copyrighted material, but you can't copy the entire thing.

Exactly how much you information is fair to extract is something that different people might have different opinions on. And if you really want to explore this sort of legal subject, you need to talk to a lawyer. But a good general principle is to ask yourself if something you are going to do is going to encourage people to buy a specific product (in this case Birthright: the Gorgon's Alliance) or if it is going to stop people buying it.

There are people out there who make reproductions of maps (Thorf makes some awesome Mystara maps and Anna Mayer has a fantastic map of Greyhawk) so if you are talking about making a map of Anuire, as it appears in the computer game, I would guess that is probably OK (as well as probably something that Birthright tabletop players would really like to see - I know I'd like to see the computer game map).

So is this the map?

Or did you pull some other stuff out of the game? :?

It still might be appropriate to share some other stuff from the game (I've been trying to get the names of all the locations from the computer game Spelljammer: Pirates of Realmspace for example. And I've also been talking about using World of Warcraft quest chains as inspiration for a tabletop adventure path in the Warcraft campaign setting.) I bet there are a lot of different aspects of that Birthright computer game that people interested in the tabletop game might want to discuss. And, if you are an expert on Birthright: the Gorgon's Alliance, you could help Birthright fans that don't have the same skills as you! :cool:

But, if you have done something like make an entire copy of the game that people can play without buying the game, I'd say that was outside of the "fair use" area and something that we would not want to see posted here. (I don't think that's what you have done, by the way. I'm just letting you know of an example where something is clearly over the line.)

I hope that is enough context for you to know if you are OK to post, but I'm happy to continue this conversation. Do go into more details about the exact thing you extracted from the game if you feel you need to.

Otherwise I'll look forward to seeing your topic in the Birthright forum.

I'm still learning about Birthright, so I'm not sure if there was an Anuire map in the tabletop products...or if there are new things in the computer game map that people could add to their tabletop games, but it sounds like something I'd like to see, so I'm hoping that you are making some maps that we can look at. :mrgreen:
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Re: Should I post file format spec for a D&D computer game?

Post by agathokles » Tue May 09, 2017 6:42 am

@Big Mac: what the OP is proposing is a description of the structure of the files used by the computer game. Usually computer games come with graphics packaged in resource files of some types (think like a zipped archive), often in proprietary formats which are not easy to open. So, basically the information the OP wants to provide allows others who have the game to extract graphic files from it (in particular the map, but likely also other graphical elements such as backgrounds, splash screens, etc.).
The information is per se of no use without the game files, obviously. The same goes for the application the OP was discussing, which actually uses the file format information to extract the files.

GP

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Re: Should I post file format spec for a D&D computer game?

Post by Big Mac » Tue May 09, 2017 12:55 pm

agathokles wrote:@Big Mac: what the OP is proposing is a description of the structure of the files used by the computer game. Usually computer games come with graphics packaged in resource files of some types (think like a zipped archive), often in proprietary formats which are not easy to open. So, basically the information the OP wants to provide allows others who have the game to extract graphic files from it (in particular the map, but likely also other graphical elements such as backgrounds, splash screens, etc.).
The information is per se of no use without the game files, obviously. The same goes for the application the OP was discussing, which actually uses the file format information to extract the files.

GP
Thanks GP.

I'm guessing that the nerd-level computer extraction information would be kind of off-topic for Birthright, but if it was wrapped up in a project to get fans some nice quality screenshots of the extracted images, that would probably be highly useful to fans.

(I know I'd really love to see some of the images used within Pirates of Realmspace, especially the pictures that show the layouts of various port towns, so projecting that geek-desire of my own onto Birthright fans, I'm sure someone out there would really get a kick out of this.)

I'd say that Wtrmute should post the topic in the Birthright forum and we should see how things go. If it gets really far off topic of the actually setting-based stuff within the game, it wouldn't be too hard for a moderator to move the topic from Birthright to The Tabard Inn. :)

(On a side note, I think that Video Game Geek might be interested in computer game screen shots, too.)
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Re: Should I post file format spec for a D&D computer game?

Post by Ashtagon » Tue May 09, 2017 1:19 pm

As I understand it, the OP is asking for permission to post the "key" to extract various forms of data and media from the game files. Am I correct in this? If so, is this key in the form of plain text instructions, computer source code, a compiled executable, or something else?

I'm edging towards "no" regarding this key (assuming my understanding of this request is even half-way correct), simply because the technical aspects of taking a game apart for its media content is rather far off the mission for this forum.

However, is there a reason the OP could not simply present us with the extracted media (maps, graphics, etc) of interest directly, without presenting the tools used or entering a discussion of the how-tos of taking the computer program apart?
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Re: Should I post file format spec for a D&D computer game?

Post by agathokles » Tue May 09, 2017 5:50 pm

That media is copyrighted, whereas the "key" is not.
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Re: Should I post file format spec for a D&D computer game?

Post by wtrmute » Thu May 18, 2017 11:15 pm

It's as Agathokles says; what I wanted to document is how one can go about, having a copy of the game, extract that map (or enemy animations, or sounds, or any of the other art assets which together go into making a game) for private purposes. While I could post a reduced-resolution version of the map I have extracted and still be able to argue some sort of fair use, posting the whole map in all its 1920×2234 pixel glory could get myself and this board in some legal hot water, which I am unwilling to do.

I've decided to post this information elsewhere, after all, in order to err on the side of caution. I'll do some reading to try and figure out how small I have to make the map in order for it to be clear fair use, and if I can find out, I'll post a version in the BR boards if anyone would find it useful.

Thank you for your time; I'll continue participating in these boards in other capacities.

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Re: Should I post file format spec for a D&D computer game?

Post by Big Mac » Sat May 20, 2017 9:49 pm

Thanks for considering the possible impact of your activities.

If you are willing to start a topic about the in-character things that you discover in the computer game (and how they relate to the tabletop setting) I would be interested in finding out what sort of things you discover.
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