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Star Control legal tangle unwound with friendly agreement, creators say

Stardock CEO will give original designer beekeeping protips. Really.

Key art for Star Control: Origins
Title art for 2018’s Star Control: Origins by Stardock.
Stardock Games
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Stardock and the two creators of the original Star Control game series this past week agreed to a settlement resolving the legal dispute over ownership of the franchise and its intellectual property.

In statements made by both sides, the former adversaries will now collaborate to produce new stories and content for future Star Control games and downloadable content for the existing Star Control Origins.

Fred Ford and Paul Reiche, who designed Star Control and Star Control 2 for Accolade in 1990 and 1992, had claimed ownership of the copyrights to the sci-fi action and strategy classic, and Stardock claimed ownership of the trademarks. The two had sued each other in late 2017 and early 2018, with Stardock calling Ford and Reiche’s proposed Ghosts of the Precursorsbilled as a direct sequel to Star Control 2 — a trademark violation. In reply, two creators disputed Stardock’s purchase of the franchise from Atari’s bankruptcy in 2013. Ford and Reiche also said that the trademark Stardock claimed was bogus, a duplicate filed by then-owner Infogrames (which later renamed itself Atari) in 2003.

But in the agreement announced June 11, the parties came to a resolution that Reiche and Ford call “honestly and truly an amicable settlement.” Reiche said he called Stardock Corporation chief executive Brad Wardell directly (acknowledging Wardell had asked them to do that earlier) and the two worked it out.

That’s quite a hatchet-burying for litigation that began on very personal terms, in very confrontational ways. Stardock’s initial lawsuit disparaged the two developers’ actual contribution to the series’ creation; Reiche and Ford had used their ownership claim to have the original games removed from, and ultimately to get Star Control: Origins removed from that marketplace and Steam, shortly returning to Steam. Stardock called that an abuse of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s provisions (commonly understood as a takedown demand to YouTube, Steam or some other purveyor of copyrighted work).

The terms of the settlement have not been made public but both sides are free to discuss them. “We figured out what we wanted in just a couple hours of talking,” Wardell said in a statement on Star Control: Origins’ official website. “The rest of the time was the lawyers smithing out exact, agonizingly precise verbiage. That took much longer. Usually these things claim to be amicable but it’s just both sides trying to spin things. In this case, it really was amicable.”

So deep was the legal bro-ing out that the settlement even contains “a section in which I’ll be working with Paul on beekeeping,” Wardell said. “He’s going to send me some mead, I’m going to send him some honey.” Wardell has experience with this trade in his spare time.

Reiche, for his part, said he’s always wanted to try raising bees to make his own mead. That broached a conversation in which the two realized “we don’t like fighting, but we love creating,” Reiche said. “So can we step way outside the box and settle our dispute through positive, creative actions rather than continuing to beat each other up?”

Reiche clarified that “no money changed hands” and that Stardock “will create new games in the Star Control franchise. Paul & Fred will create new games in the Ur-Quan Masters franchise [where Ghosts of the Precursors is set].”

To differentiate the two, Reiche “volunteered to create a few new alien races for Origins,” Reiche wrote, while “Brad offered to help Fred and Paul with technology.” More to fans interests, “Star Control, Star Control 2 and Star Control 3 will be coming back for sale by Stardock.” The two sides will split the royalties 50/50.

More details on the resolution are available from Ford and Reiche, but the settlement does appear to be as comprehensive and good-natured as described. Star Control: Origins, which launched in 2018, is available for Windows PC on Steam and Wardell said its first expansion, Earth Rising, is coming later this fall, with Stardock and Reiche beginning work on a new Star Control game around that time.

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