Ultima IV
Image: Origin Systems

We've already covered the fact that Japanese veteran Nihon Falcom has a rather dark past – the company paid low wages, employed underage staff and refused to credit developers in its games. Taken in the wider context of the nascent 1980s Japanese video game industry, these stories are hardly unique, but Falcom was guilty of another shady practice around this time: plagiarism.

It's a relatively well-known story that Falcom unwittingly landed itself in legal hot water when it approached Ultima developer Origin about handling the publishing of its title Xanadu in North America.

Here's what happened, according to The Official Book of Ultima author Shay Addams:

Xanadu turned out to be a top-down view, tile-graphics game closely resembling an Ultima, but Garriott didn't consider it close enough to be a copyright infringement. That is until halfway through a presentation of Xanadu when a familiar scene filled the screen, a high-resolution picture showing the interior of a shop. The illustration was a direct copy of one of Denis Loubet's pictures in the Ultima manual, and looked as if the designers had literally digitized Loubet's original art and added color. The president of the company put his hand over the monitor and laughed nervously, but found it pointless to continue the demonstration after stumbling into yet another shop illustrated with Origin artwork. These weren't the only such examples of Loubet's work that had been diverted to Xanadu, and the Japanese company wound up settling out of court with them, paying a large settlement and changing the art in the game.

You can see how shamelessly the images were cloned in an excellent feature on Hardcore Gaming 101.

Amusingly, a social media exchange relating to our previous Falcom feature has revealed that Loubet, the artist whose work was copied, wasn't actually aware that any of this had happened.

Loubet's association with the Ultima series began when Origin Systems founder and series creator Richard "Lord British" Garriott commissioned him to paint the cover for Ultima I. Loubet would contribute art to every Ultima entry, including Ultima Underworld and Ultima Online. He also created artwork for the Wing Commander series, Crusader: No Remorse and Times of Lore, amongst others.

Loubet has also created art for pen-and-paper RPGs and is one of the credited developers on the 2003 MMORPG Ashen Empires, which saw release on Steam this year.