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Game makers hit with graphics patent violation suit

Technique used by almost all 3D titles since Quake

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A US legal firm specialising into corporate law is taking the world's biggest computer games publishers to task over what it claims is the violation of a 1987 3D graphics patent.

The patent, number 4,734,690 is owned one-time printing and graphics specialist Tektronix and covers the display in 2D of a 3D image. It was filed in April 1987 and granted almost a year later.

The technique described is used by almost every game that uses 3D modelling, from the latest titles right back to the likes of Quake and possibly right back to Doom and even Wolfenstein - all products of the 1990s. It covers the use of a 3D space - the UAC HQ on Mars, say - to encompass one or more 3D objects - half a dozen Cacodeamons, say. The patent details how panning across the scene - sidestepping past a plasma bolt, say - can be realistically depicted on a 2D display, such as a computer monitor.

Given its ubiquity, the firm behind the suit, Dallas, Texas-based McKool Smith, has named all the big guns in the gaming industry, including Electronic Arts, Activision, Take Two, Ubisoft, Atari, THQ, Vivendi Universal, Sega, Square Enix, Tecmo, Lucasarts and Namco. Some smaller firms are also in line for action, apparently.

Prior art may yet come to their rescue. Early 3D games, such as The Colony and Spectre, released in the late 1980s, may just come in ahead of the 1987 filing. Early CAD and 3D graphics apps may also utilise the kind of process outlined in the patent, which doesn't explicitly focus on games, though that's clearly where the money is these days. Heck, even Elite, from the BBC Micro days, might well utilise such a techique. ®

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