Game developers as poetry detectives

Call me Lorin.  I don’t remember who had the brilliant idea of putting zen-themed poetry into our first game, fourtex zen. But the approach was so logical we all fell for it. Since we were just starting out, we wanted to minimize costs, and that meant using resources we didn’t need to pay for. And we needed a poetry resource because none of the Salty Dogs wanted to write a bunch of poetry. One of us did eventually get tricked into doing that anyway, but that’s another story…

Along with all the other things we learned about putting a game into production, one was almost an afterthought: double-checking that all source materials were appropriately licensed.

The original source for the poems we incorporated into the game was the wikisource website. There was something about the page that bothered me– the book of poems by author Clay McCauley was described as public domain, but there was a non-commercial-use license associated with it. After a bit of searching, I was able to track the content to what I believe is the source those poems: a pair of academic researchers at the University of Virginia. Their site mentioned they had made some changes to the translations. Presumably this was done primarily to update the language and punctuation to something more modern. As I found out later there were also some printer’s errors in the original text.

To keep this post a reasonable length I will summarize the rest of the story. We found a copy of the book, Robert and Louise generously bought it, and I was nominated to read it first, since old books can be dangerous. Because of its use of two languages (Japanese and English) the book could not easily be digitized with software, so we did the digitizing manually, thus proving the observation from the ancient sage Anonymous: sooner or later, every good idea does indeed degenerate into work.

About this poetry

At Salty Dog Digital we’ve decided to gradually republish Clay MacCauley’s translation of Single Songs of a Hundred Poets – a collection of japanese poetry from the seventh through thirteenth centuries. Sixty four of these poems are the rewards in our game fourtex zen.

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Storyteller of Salty Yarns! He works on idea development, prototyping and weird and wonderful words and sounds.