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The Morality of Retrofitting old Quests

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#1 Mani Kanina

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Posted 19 November 2020 - 12:05 AM

This is mostly a discussion topic because the matter is interesting to me on a conceptual level, rather than any plans to do any stuff like this. I just wanted to preface this discussion with that so no one gets the wrong idea.

There are a lot of old quests in the database, many of them authored by people who aren't active anymore. A lot of them are well liked by many people, there are a fair few I really like myself too. But a lot of them are fairly lacking when comparing them to official zelda games that were contemporary to when they were made. A fair few people have taken a problem with using that metric to judge them, and perhaps that's fair. But I do think it's fair to say that quality standards for quest making have gone up over the years, both due to ZC as a software becoming more sophisticated, but also new quests coming out that proves you can make something great without many of the problems that plague many older quests.

Of course, that's not to say old quests don't have merits..., but thinking about these things have always had me come back to the same thing: God, it would be really fucking cool to turn Lost Isle from a great exploration based quest, to an exception exploration quest.
I guess that might seem silly "what, lost isle? is the example of an old bad quest? Get out!", and yeah, maybe. But it's the one that interest me the most personally, because while I love many parts of that quest, it has many things I also consider issues. I'm always gonna gravitate towards games and experiences that puts a great deal of focus on exploration, and that's one aspect Lost Isle is really good at, having a large world to explore at your own pace and brimming with atmosphere. I don't think anyone will agree with me on the exact specifics of what in lost isle is "bad" or whatnot, but that's not really the point. There are a large collection of older quests that many people like that you can look at and consider how they would be better if some things were just a bit different, in fact, I wouldn't be shocked if this way of thinking is what brought a lot of people to Zelda Classic in the first place.., but looking at the official Zelda games instead.


But as should be self evident, doing such a project, overhauling or tweaking an existing quest runs into several problems. For one, it's a lot of work to take on and do, and you have to understand the thing you're modifying well in order to change it accurately. But secondly, and more importantly, is it even a morally defend-able thing to do? Taking someone else's game and modifying it without their consent is somewhat rude. Indeed, that is kind of what we here do in regards to Nintendo and their property, but I do think the morality of it differs when it's a giant mega corporation, compared to a (usually) single person hobbyist project that they put their entire soul into. It's just kinda rude to come out and say "Hey I made a better version of X", not to mention a bit pretentious.

I have been thinking more about these things recently since Dimi have been playing BoaB (a fairly old quest that has seen it's fair share of criticism), while also comparing it to it's DX release that happened recently. Of course, that DX version was more interested in porting the quest to 2.5 and preserving what it was, rather than seeking to improve upon it. But also, considering the notion of improving on such a quest in any meaningful way would involve countless hours of work too. One of the complaints the quest has is that a lot of the dialogue is in broken english, but going back and fixing that up and all the strings now when it's a finished thing would be quite a lot of work. The DX version of BoaB was, as far as I know, done with the blessings of the original author, so that makes the morality of such a thing easy. But the majority of authors for old quests in the database aren't around, and you can say that for most of them, it wouldn't be "worth it" to retrofit them anyway..., but I disagree.

The entire notion of retrofitting someone else's work and improve upon it, it's because you care about it, right? And because you want to improve it so even more people can care about it? Not every quest I have these thoughts about are even big hitters, Lost Isle isn't even the one I'd the most want to fix up, I'll refrain from mentioning which one is, because I'm still hopping that author will come back and finish up the updates to that quest themself. If you know me well you might be able to guess which one that is.

I'm curious if anyone else have any thoughts about such matters, but if nothing else I felt the need to write this up. I may consider most quests tat, but that doesn't mean there isn't stuff to love about ZC and it's quests, even the older ones; After all, many of them do stuff official Zelda games would never attempt, and I think those quests soar the highest.

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#2 Mitchfork


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Posted 19 November 2020 - 01:12 AM

Indeed, that is kind of what we here do in regards to Nintendo and their property, but I do think the morality of it differs when it's a giant mega corporation, compared to a (usually) single person hobbyist project that they put their entire soul into.

I like that you mentioned this because it kind of underscores the asinine nature of copyright law in this context to me. ZC has always been one cease and desist letter away from tumbling down* but the thought that ZC is doing any kind of material harm to Nintendo or that Shigeru Miyamoto would be offended by any of the Z1 remakes in the database is just absurd on the face of it.

It feels different to consider a Lost Isle HD because the degree of separation between me and DarkFlameWolf is way shorter than me and Nintendo R&D1. However, in the sense that we are all essentially engaging in fanfiction, I really do not see any ethical problem with this as long as the extent to which the original was used as a base is acknowledged and credited for. I think from a basic respect standpoint you should do your best to contact and let the original author(s) know what your intent is, but I don't think permission is required or anything.

I'm kind of curious if something comparable to this has happened in a fan community before. I feel like the Doom mod scene has probably been active long enough that people may have re-imagined the very early stuff.

*Actually, I think ZC and ZQuest as programs would be relatively easily protected legally just by changing the branding, but almost every single quest in the Pure and AGN databases would be nuked for copyrighted visual material.
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#3 Avaro


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Posted 19 November 2020 - 09:01 AM

Yeah I guess it's fine.. as long as there's a big fat disclaimer and link to the original quest. Especially if you upload it to the database.


Also would you work within the original questfile, or create the remake yourself from a new file? Probably easier to start from scratch, the smaller the quest is.

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#4 Geoffrey


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Posted 19 November 2020 - 01:22 PM

Almost every quest in the database has someone's intellectual property in it, used without permission. I'd actually be hard pressed to name a single quest that doesn't. Genuine question: Is there a single quest that doesn't?


The point is that someone at some point has had to crack open countless games--all without permission--in order for us to create these quests. I don't take issue with this at all--I think that fan works are wonderful and ought to be welcomed (obviously). But, as I see it, a problem arises when someone feels 'It was okay for me to crack open Nintendo's games, but it's not okay for you to crack open my games'--which happen to be made out of content taken without permission from Nintendo's games...


I'd still attempt to contact the original creator and seek their permission, and I'd still back off if for some reason they didn't want me to, but that's just me. You've gotta figure out what seems right for you.


EDIT: I think there's also a difference between updating an old quest that feels clunky to play or literally doesn't work anymore, and outright revamping one to suit your own tastes. I'd be fine with letting someone update something of mine, but might be a little wary of someone revamping it. Either way, though, as far as I'm concerned, as soon as I've released something, it belongs to the community now--not to me.

Edited by Geoffrey, 19 November 2020 - 01:26 PM.

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#5 Valerie



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Posted 19 November 2020 - 02:54 PM

I think if they left it unpassworded then it might be considered okay, but if it was passworded, I'd leave it alone. I've been thinking of updating some of my old quests, maybe just to fix some bugs or maybe add things that I couldn't back then like custom sfx.
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#6 klop422


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Posted 19 November 2020 - 03:48 PM

I'll be honest, I think it's fine, as long as you don't claim (without the original creator's permission) that it's somehow reflective of what the original person wanted to make. A claim that you're tidying up the quest to make it closer to what you think the creator was going for? Absolutely fine. A claim that you're remaking it in your vision? Also fine.


Within the larger game scene, an example of the former might be 'bugfix romhacks' (things like this one, which is just a big bugfix of Final Fantasy). Bugfix rereleases of old quests seem completely fine to me, if there's anything like that. In the romhacking scene, the best I can think of for the latter is Final Fantasy VI Brave New World, for example, where everything is sort of rebalanced to be 'better', in the view of the hackers.


But, being completely honest, unless you're doing stuff to the original that's specifically supposed to be insulting to the creator, anything goes. (Examples of being insulting to the creator might include taking their work and flipping the 'message' to something they disagree with - assuming they had a plot with a 'message' - and then still claiming it to be from the original creator, or spending a lot of in-game time making fun of - in a mean way, to be clear - the creator or their original version, among other things.) If you're not changing the original, then what does it matter? Even if it is just an 'improved rerelease', as long as you're not a dick about it then it should be fine. And even in the case of 'changing the message', as long as you're clear it's your version, then it's also perfectly fine.


The way I see it, there are two main aspects of entertainment/art (idk how many quests on here can be considered 'Art', but video games certainly fall into the world of art and entertainment): there's the technical, 'objective' aspect (in this case, how well the game mechanics work, and how many bugs there are, etc.), and the taste-based, 'subjective' aspect. (Obviously there's a bit of overlap, and the 'objective' bit is based on standards that, if you think about them hard enough, are still subjective, but are just agreed upon by most people.) Most parts of a game fall somewhere between those two.

The completely technical stuff can always be improved upon - I can think of few moral positions you can take against bugfixes, except for 'conserving the original state' (think BLJs in Mario 64, for a recent example). The stuff on the other end can't be 'improved' upon, because the word 'improve' holds very little meaning - the worst you can say is "I don't like it". Doesn't mean you can't change it anyway, tbf, in your own version.

And then there's stuff in between. The stuff that some people argue is a big problem and others feel is part of the charm. If, say, I really hate one dungeon in a quest and feel it only slows down the game - should I just remove it? I think it comes down to how much of a problem I think it is and how big the dungeon is in the game. And at that point I really have to be familiar with the source material.


The question comes up from time to time in music discussions, so I'm drawing a few of my opinions from there: things like cover versions and arrangements vs performers making small changes to established scores for performance. There's a famous piece by Tchaikovsky, for example, that I feel is vastly improved by just chopping a couple seconds off near the ending - without presuming to claim that my 'compositional prowess' is as good as Tchaikovsky's (though I feel ego is a big part of the problem) - because those couple seconds just interrupt the flow of the music, but many would be offended at the mere suggestion of changing an established piece. I'm not necessarily elevating ZC quests to the level of a Tchaikovsky Symphony (to be specific, his fifth), but I feel the same things apply in this case.


But in any case, to answer the main question: I might be a bit looser on the whole idea of Intellectual Property than most, but honestly, in my opinion, it's not really relevant. Like, it's important for creators to be recognised from their work, and maybe also reimbursed for the use of their work, but a lot of the time it can really hamper creativity, especially when people's ego gets involved. As a creator myself I know it's easy to tie a bit of one's identity to a work, but often, if the goal is to make a successful piece of entertainment (successful defined here as 'achieving the goals it was intended to', which, with a game, is generally 'be fun to play throughout' and maybe 'tell a compelling story') then maybe one's ego has to be left behind a bit.


Even so, if you are 'improving' on an old project by someone else, please don't be a dick about it. There's never a reason to be a dick.

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#7 Matthew


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Posted 19 November 2020 - 04:33 PM

I like Valerie's mention of quest passwording as a tacit endorsement/rebuke of allowing retrofitting. I personally am in favor of retrofitting and have even done something (somewhat) similar with an old quest of mine. Personally, I'd find it flattering that someone was inspired enough by my work to want to add onto it.

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#8 Twilight Knight

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Posted 20 November 2020 - 05:07 AM

Interesting discussion, and I think a lot has already been said regarding permissions and intellectual property. But I would like to share my own experience to offer some insight.


Regarding BoaB DX it was a simple matter. CastChaos was telling me about how he would've liked to make the quest with new ZQuest features from 2.5, but that it was not stable at that point and it would take a long time before it could be released if he were to make it using 2.5. So I offered I could make a DX version and have the patience for 2.5 to become stable.


I really enjoyed polishing my favourite quest, but on the other hand I regret making the DX version for various reasons:

  1. I really got a lot of criticism for it. People were angry that things they didn't like about the original were still there in the DX version. But like people mentioned in this thread, it's really a subjective thing. From my perspective, this is the DX version I wanted. And certainly not unimportant, it was the DX version that CastChaos wanted as well.
  2. It was horrible (no offense CastChaos) to work in another person's quest file. Things like tiles, combos and maps were structured so differently.
  3. It included a lot of brain-dead work of manually updating strings, screens and graphics.
  4. It's hard to make the correct decisions (relating to my first point). What part should I update? Which area is lacking features? How far should I go with improving a feature? How can I alter this without losing the original intention? Luckily I could discuss these things with the original creator.
  5. CastChaos was right regarding 2.5 being unstable. At a certain point all the strings were messed up and shifted around and I had to go through every screen to fix every string. That was... tedious

Also I think the DX version would've turned out worse if I couldn't discuss things with the original creator.



Now I'm completely remaking a quest that CastChaos and I made together (Nargad's Trail: Argon's Evil Lair) and so far I do not have any regrets. The quest was so flawed that it was no use taking the original file and improving that. It had: serious bugs; sloppy gameplay; uninteresting areas; missing features; broken bosses; and tons of spelling/grammar mistakes... too much to fix to be worth the time. I did however like the concepts for areas, dungeons and bosses and I really like the story and setting of the quest. 

So a complete remake seemed the right way to go here to me. Here are things I'm doing better now:

  1. I'm working with a tileset I'm comfortable with.
  2. I'm not remaking any screens exactly the way they were. Partially this is necessary since I'm using a different tileset, but it also forces me to improve every screen as much as I can. It also allows me to change entire layouts of areas.
  3. I play a part of the quest, take note of the original concept and then go to the "drawing board". No idea is too crazy as long as the original concept still somewhat stands. I also scrapped and/or replaced things that seemed less integral to the original vision of the quest. Of course I cannot scrap something like Argon's Lair (for those familiar with the quest), but I can scrap and replace a part of Argon's Lair.
  4. I'm very liberal with changes. The resemblance is there, but the layout and design may be completely different. This also keeps it interesting for me to work on.
  5. I spare no "expense". I completely favour quality over quantity now regarding the way I work on the quest. This means that I'm working on something for a much longer time, including testing that thing over and over. I really take my time now, but honestly, that is how I should've worked in the past as well (I used to be very impatient).
  6. I test a lot in many different ways. Of course I do functional testing myself, but when I think something is done I ask friends of mine to try and play it while I'm watching (and not giving any directions). It is much like watching an LP and I get a lot of direct feedback, but I can also question to the player with things like "What do you think about this?" or "Why did it take so long to find this certain thing?". It reveals issues that are not so apparent to the creator, such as the lack of directions in the quest or how difficult/easy it is to navigate. The direct feedback also gives me a lot of motivation.
  7. I present my work continuously to f.e. my friends, but also to CastChaos. This really helps in validating the quest, keeping true to the original concept and making sure I get the best result. I'm thinking that I soon make a project page and release a demo, so that hopefully some people on this forum can play it and give me even more feedback.
  8. Most important of all: I'm much more open to feedback. I used to not even consider my own thoughts about what I made. And the good thing about remaking/improving an existing quest is that there's probably a lot of feedback already available.


Hopefully I provided some points regarding how you could tackle improving or reworking a quest. I don't think a complete remake is always the valid choice, especially not when you do not have consent and feedback from the original author. This is however not a problem with the 2 quests I'm revamping and not a problem I have experience with.



In conclusion my views on the morality are simple: you need consent and feedback from the original author to ensure you do the right job in the views of the original author. But many of the quest makers here on the forum prove the contrary. Nintendo does not approve what we're doing, but there are many quests that turned out really great and honour the Zelda series. They are a big company however and do not even notice us (as far as I know), so I think we need to take this question of morality more to a level of how personal it can get. And for that reason I'd say again that you would need consent from the original author not only to ensure you do the right job, but also to be respectful to that person. The quests on this forum were made with love and not for money.

Edit: one more thing I'd like to say is that it's probably better to make a new quest which pays tribute to the original quest in any case. Not only regarding consent, but also regarding your own sanity and keeping it interesting for yourself.

Edited by Twilight Knight, 20 November 2020 - 05:10 AM.

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