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Nicalis issue DMCA takedowns against Cave Story fangame

A fan-made enhanced edition of Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya’s seminal indie platformer Cave Story has been slapped with a DMCA takedown. Publishers Nicalis have accused Cave Story Engine 2 of using code stolen from the original game’s source – code that they, as developers of Cave Story +, own. But while fears that the publisher planned to wipe all free versions of the game off the internet for good seem to have been misplaced, contention remains over whether Nicalis actually owns the rights to code used by the now-shutted fan game.

In a DMCA notice posted last week, a representative for Nicalis called for the entire Cave Story Engine 2 repository (which included various editions of the fan-made edition) to be stricken from the site. From the looks of things, they’ve been successful.

The takedown notice alleges that CSE2’s source includes code based on the original Cave Story, which Nicalis own as part of their deal to distribute their own Cave Story + and Cave Story 3D on Steam and Nintendo Consoles. However, several developers – including one behind a “major fork” of CSE2 – claim that the repo includes nothing of the kind, insisting that the game instead works from its own decompiled version of Cave Story. Effectively, they’re writing their own code with the aim of the end result feeling as close as possible to the original.

“The DMCA claims Nicalis owns the code to CS+ and believes said code exists in the repos, but that’s not the case to our knowledge.” the developer wrote in a now-hidden Tweet (via PC Gamer) “Several major participants in the CSE2 project (myself included) are currently planning to approach Nicalis to settle on the matter.”

That’s complicated somewhat by what appears to be the same developer (many of these accounts are locked) later updating their story to Nintendo Life, claiming that Nicalis may, in fact, actually own the IP to Cave Story, stating:

1. This DMCA is strictly for CSE2, the fanmade decompilation of the original freeware version of Cave Story. Said freeware version is unaffected by the takedown, and can be downloaded at cavestory.org as always.

2. To the best of our knowledge, Nicalis in fact owns the Cave Story IP. We have no reason to believe that this DMCA takedown is illegitimate in any way. While there can be fair use exceptions for decompilations like CSE2, the burden of proof rests on the project, not on the copyright holder.

3. Nicalis has a history of being very supportive to the modding community. At this point, we don’t suspect any ill will. We are approaching Nicalis in an attempt to clear up this misunderstanding.

4. The maintainers of CSE2 have no intention of disparaging Nicalis. It’s by their good will that the modding community continues to thrive above ground. We unilaterally endorse the official commercial versions of Cave Story.

That comes in spite of the game’s community wiki claiming Nicalis have merely licensed Cave Story, while Amaya retains ownership. It’s an extremely messy situation to be sure. But regardless of how it plays out, it seems to have only brought more ill-will to a publisher that’s already gained plenty, after several developers came forwards last year accusing CEO Tyrone Rodriguez of racism, abuse, and exploitation. While early rumours of the publisher trying to wipe free versions of the game off the internet entirely may have been overstated – Cave Story itself is still free to download over on sites like Cavestory.org – prominent indies like Rami Ismail urged folks to steer clear of Nicalis-produced versions of the game.

“Cave Story is one of the most important games every made and I will 100% recommend you do not buy it. Download the freeware original, then buy Kero Blaster to support the actual developer of the game, instead of these ugly shenanigans.”

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