Devolver Digital has called out app developer, Fabulous, on Twitter for ripping off the artwork and animation from one of its indie titles, GRIS. When contacted by Kotaku Australia, Fabulous described the likeness as a mere 'mistake' and a case of inspiration gone too far.
This story has been updated below and now includes a statement from Ustwo.
This issue came to light when Devolver Digital published a side-by-side comparison of GRIS and a video that Fabulous published to social media several months ago.
— Devolver Digital (@devolverdigital) November 5, 2019
The similarities led to Fabulous removing the video and speaking to Devolver directly about the issue. "Similar to you, we’re a small startup inspired by the things we love. We have removed the video as a preemptive action & are investigating. We've privately contacted Devolver Digital to resolve this. Any wrongdoing on our part was certainly not intentional," said Fabulous on Twitter.
Another Twitter user revealed that some aspects of the app, which is also named Fabulous, resembled the loading screens from Monument Valley by Ustwo. It's not as overt as the above, there is a similarity in the use of 'in which' and the name of the character engaging in an activity.
Left: A Monument Valley chapter screen. Right: A screenshot from Fabulous by Mattia Traverso on Twitter
It's a difficult situation. When you make something that people like, especially in design, you hope it inspires others. That can be very rewarding until a line is crossed. In this case, Devolver have determined that line was crossed and the developers have taken the offending video down," said Ustwo marketing lead Oscar Guardiola in an email.
"The above screenshot reads to us more like a nod or an Easter egg to Monument Valley and we don't have an issue with it."
Speaking to Kotaku Australia, Fabulous has reiterated its public stance - it is a small 20-person startup, not a big corporation like Devolver Digital stated in the tweet.
Fabulous CEO Sami Ben Hassine stated that the company was inspired by several titles while developing the app.
"From the very beginning, and as we are gamers ourselves, we were inspired by games like Journey, Monument Valley, and books like the Little Prince or The Alchemist, to create our universe," Hassine said over email.
Hassine went on to say that the video, which was created several months ago has been removed and that the company is looking into the matter.
"We have a team of 2 artists and freelancers," Hassine said. "We're still investigating this as all of this has been sudden, but any wrongdoing from our side is not intentional. It might be that one of our artists or freelancers got inspired by a game that they liked."
The Fabulous CEO said the the potential theft of intellectual property was "not intentional". "This has been one mistake we didn’t even know we were making and was certainly an inspiration pushed a bit far," he added.
Devolver Digital declined to comment any further for this story.
Update November 11:
Fabulous CEO Sami Ben Hassine, wrote a Medium post regarding the outcome of its internal investigation into the alleged plagiarism.
The company points to a single unnamed designer as the creator of the video in question. It also states that the protagonist of its app, Amber, was inspired by both Monument Valley and Journey.
The designer weighs in on the post, admitting to "ripping off" GRIS but insisting that it was a mistake and inspiration taken too far.
"When I was about to start the animation, I told our design lead. that I was gonna get inspired from a game called 'GRIS' for the animation. He never played the game, so he gave me the OK for 'getting inspired'. I took the word 'inspired' way too far, "said the designer in the post.
"I fully realise that I ripped off the game now, but in the animation process that wasn’t my intention at all. AT ALL. I was so amazed by the game animation, especially of the character’s cape that looks so much like Amber’s cape and I had no idea back then how to animate her cape (cloth animation is one of the hardest things to do), so I played the game cinematic over and over and over again to grasp the cape mechanics."
The designer goes on to describe how this came to pass and takes sole responsibility.
"For the opening scene (Amber in the big hand) that looks like GRIS opening scene, I liked the scene so much and thought it would fit perfectly into the Hero Journey animation so I did something similar to it with no intention to do so. Then, the cape movements, I did something similar with the same mistake in mind: I was only referring to the cape mechanics," they wrote.
"I took things way too far and what I thought I was managing got slipped out of my control without me even noticing. Our lead designer had no idea about that since he, like I said, didn’t play the game. I am the only person responsible for this catastrophe."
"As a content creator, I am ashamed that I ended up copying someone else’s hard work, and believe me this is the first time that I know of this has happened to me."
The blog post then returns to Hassine, who reiterates that the team's work is art and for the greater good.
"Once again, I do hope that everyone realises that this can happen. We are all humans. We all make mistakes."