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Stardock and Star Control creators settle lawsuits—with mead and honey

"HELLO HUMAN, Umgah Court sentences you TEN MILLION YEARS OF HARD LABOR!... Oh, you settled? But... what Umgah supposed to do with three gavels if Umgah can't sentence anyone?!"
Enlarge / “HELLO HUMAN, Umgah Court sentences you TEN MILLION YEARS OF HARD LABOR!… Oh, you settled? But… what Umgah supposed to do with three gavels if Umgah can’t sentence anyone?!”
Star Control / Aurich

Stardock’s Brad Wardell and original Star Control creators Fred Ford and Paul Reiche III announced over the weekend that all parties have reached an amicable settlements in the tangled web of lawsuits between them and Stardock, which stretch back almost two years.

(To very briefly recap, Stardock and Ford & Reiche were at legal odds over who owns the copyrights and trademarks for the Star Control series of games from the 1990s. To give any more details would require a massive amount of explanation and discussion—which we already wrote a couple of years ago with this story right here. If you aren’t familiar with the disagreement—or if you want to refresh your memory—that piece will give you a good, solid grounding on the mess that got us to now.)

The settlement’s details are public, and Ford & Reiche have a blog post on their site explaining things. In summary, though, the terms are simple and straightforward:

  • All existing lawsuits between Stardock and Ford & Reiche are dismissed with prejudice (this simply means the suits cannot be re-litigated).
  • All parties are responsible for their own attorney’s fees.
  • Stardock gets to use the Star Control name for its Star Control Origins game and can develop sequels and DLCs as it likes.
  • Ford & Reiche get to continue to develop their own direct Ur-Quan Masters sequel (which was previously called Ghosts of the Precursors but will be renamed).
  • The Star Control Origins universe (now known as “the Star Control franchise”) will continue in a disconnected bubble from the Ur-Quan Masters/Ghosts of the Precursors universe (now known as “the Ur-Quan Masters franchise”).
  • Reiche will contribute some writing to the Origins universe, in a volunteer role.
  • All of the complicated arguments about who owns which copyrights and trademarks and who they bought them from and when and what’s copyrightable and what’s not are mooted. (Which is great because it means I don’t have to re-summarize the mountain of IP arguments that both sides were making!)
  • The original three Star Control games can continue to be sold on other storefronts, including Stardock’s, and Stardock will split revenue from those games’ sales with Ford & Reiche.
  • No licensing money changed hands.
  • Brad Wardell of Stardock must furnish Paul Reiche with a specific amount of honey from Wardell’s apiary.
  • In turn, Paul Reiche must furnish Brad Wardell with a specific amount of mead brewed from Wardell’s bees’ honey.

Wait… what?

Yeah, the last bit kind of threw me, too.

“We solved this problem like most problems—with booze and bees,” joked Stardock’s Brad Wardell in a phone interview earlier today with Ars (he was joined by Reiche & Ford on the line, as all three are in Los Angeles for E3 at the moment). Citing dissatisfaction with the overtly confrontational legal process—which all three described as depressingly combative and focused on winning over all else—Wardell, Reiche, and Ford instead made somewhat of an end run around their respective attorneys and decided to build on their shared interests rather than fighting each other in court.

Those shared interests, as it turns out, involve bees and honey. Wardell is an apiarist (I feel like, as someone who’s covered Stardock before, I should have known that, but I had no idea!). And Reiche, through an odd coincidence, brews mead. Mead is created from fermented honey.

As the lawsuits continued to shamble on and attorneys on both sides continued to suggest new ways to fight, Reiche decided to try to approach Wardell directly with a proposal built around creativity rather than combat.

“The first thing I did was sit back and say, ‘What is the common ground I genuinely have with Brad?’ And that is that I want to know how to raise bees. Honest to God, I have this long, long-standing goal to learn all medieval villager skills, and this has been on my list,” explained Reiche. “And I thought, ‘OK, this is something that we can kind of bond over and talk about, even if this whole thing doesn’t work out in the settlement, we can have a good conversation about bees.'”

Here Wardell picked up the tale. “During the course of the agreement,” he said, “we decided, well, what is it we want to get out of this? Well… Paul makes mead. And I make honey. And actually in the settlement, we exchange honey for mead, and I’m working with Paul on beekeeping.”

He laughed. “I actually sent him a video—it’s not going to be public because it’ll become a meme—of ‘OK, here’s how you set up a hive,’ and I get stung—” here he, Reiche, and Ford all began laughing, “—on the video, I wasn’t wearing any protective gear, and I’m standing there next to this very angry hive after I’ve been messing with it—” And laughter and bee jokes then derailed the entire conversation.

Artist's impression of Brad Wardell's beekeeping instructional video.
Enlarge / Artist’s impression of Brad Wardell’s beekeeping instructional video.

The mead must flow

Continued Reiche: “I think it also is going to come as very unexpected to the fans, although ultimately I very much hope that it brings them back together. Because it was painful to see people who fundamentally both like something we worked on get mad at each other and stay mad at each other… it’s not necessarily going to be what fans expect, because it’s a ‘more than the sum of its parts’ solution.”

Wardell was effusive in his praise and excitement about the settlement, as were Ford & Reiche—two parties coming to a simple agreement (with appropriate legal backing) feels like an unprecedented development in the litigious environment of game development. Stardock’s Origins title will continue to be sold, and Stardock can produce DLCs and sequels as it likes, so long as those future expansions don’t nudge into “old” Star Control territory with respect to aliens and locations and plots (there are a few caveats around the Arilou, but that’s the basics of the agreement).

Reiche, in turn, volunteered to spend some time writing some creative ideas for the Origins universe, to give it even more of that classic Star Control vibe. Perhaps most importantly to old-school Star Control fans, Ford & Reiche are free to continue work on their new, direct Ur-Quan Masters sequel—although they’re going to change its name away from Ghosts of the Precursors to another title that they haven’t thought of yet. (Reiche joked that tentative titles so far include Goats of the Precursors, referencing Star Control 3’s space cows; Mask Effect, a deep dive into the history of the Utwig; and possibly The Color Purple, where we finally get to find out why the Melnorme ship’s bridge turns purple when you begin trading.)

<img alt="Mask Effect, starring Commander… oh, it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. You should go.” src=”https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/16-1107-1.png” width=”640″ height=”480″>
Mask Effect, starring Commander… oh, it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. You should go.

And if the two parties realize that either has developed a story idea that intrudes into the others’ territory, they’ve all agreed to simply pick up the phone and work it out. Both Wardell and Ford & Reiche are committed to talking through any potential disagreements and reaching a conclusion amicably, without attorneys. Because no one wants to jeopardize the mead supply.

The Settlement of Now and Forever

Wardell jumped in then to explain that he and Reiche hammered out the details of the entire settlement in a conversation lasting a couple of hours. The collection of attorneys attached to the case then spent several weeks transforming the quick agreement into a formalized settlement offer. He and Reiche and Ford laughed when recounting the frantic attorneys’ cries of “you can’t do that!” and “you can’t give that away!” They again made the point that the lawsuit process was creatively draining and too combative for the kind of compromise they were attempting to reach. Reiche interjected that the resulting settlement contract is the first contract he’s ever signed that included specific language about bees and about how many jars of honey must be exchanged per month for flagons of mead.

The agreement also includes some stipulation that Ford & Reiche go into a quiet period for a while, which will allow them to focus on Mask Effect their now-untitled UQM sequel and will also allow Origins and its DLC and sequels to have some more spotlight time before Ford & Reiche begin dropping announcements. As part of that, Ford & Reiche have taken down all the lawsuit-related posts on their blog (which is basically all of the posts) and terminated their lawsuit fundraiser; Wardell has reciprocated by removing similar lawsuit-focused posts.

“The manner in which we settled is… I think uniquely creative and unexpected, and definitely not the direction the lawsuit was going,” said Reiche.

For what it’s worth, this lifelong Star Control fan couldn’t be happier with how this has all worked out.

ARS T

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