Brian Johnson (175560) wrote,
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They found me!

Back in 1989, in the summer between my seventh and eighth grade years, I started playing a roguelike game called Moria. It was the first such computer game I had ever discovered, and I loved it. I played for hours on end on the University of Minnesota's 8-processor Encore Multimax mainframe, which I was able to access through an account graciously provided by the UMTYMP program. My family was driven bonkers by the sheer number of hours I monopolized our phone line with my 2400 baud modem, but I could have cared less. I just wanted to defeat the Balrog! Eventually, sometime between 1991 and 1993, I succeeded. The game was a horrible grind towards the end; like many winning Moria characters, my Ranger was held back at the end by a long and exhausting search for Boots of Speed.

In June 1994, I lost access to my U of Minnesota UNIX account, but I had managed to get an early version of Debian Linux running on my shiny new 486 PC. At some point, thinking that I might want to play the game once more, I downloaded the Moria source code, typed make, and was dismayed to see screen after screen of compile errors. After a bit of experimenting, I determined that some very minor changes to some #ifdef lines enabled Moria to compile on Linux, so I sent a patch to the maintainers adding "GNU/Linux support".

I never played Moria again after that, being much too busy with my frosh year at Harvey Mudd College to have time for a dungeon grind alone in my dorm room. Later in college, I returned to roguelike games, but it was Nethack that attracted my attention, not Moria.

Nonetheless, my Moria Linux patch was incorporated into the main Moria source tree, and my name was added to a list of some 26 contributors to the source code. But Moria is unfortunately not free software; the source code license allows you to download, compile, and play the game, to modify the source code, and to give away the source code for free -- but not to provide the source code to someone in exchange for money. Consequently, Moria is not available as part of any Linux distribution, nor are any of its descendants, most notably Angband, free either. And that's where things have stood for many, many years.

Recently, a brave developer named Ben Asselstine sought to remedy this licensing issue. Turning copyrighted non-free source code into free, open source software is not easy. Basically the only way to proceed is to contact all of the original copyright holders, and get each and every one of them to agree to relicense their code under a free, open source license. The older the software, the more difficult it becomes to track down and contact all of the original copyright holders. Ben's Moria relicensing saga is described nicely in Freeing an old game. But, to make a long story short:

We still lack [the consent of] one final contributor who is especially hard to find because he has a common name. If anyone reading this article knows a “Brian Johnson” who likes to do computer programming and was old enough to add “GNU/Linux support” to Moria in 1992 [sic], please have him contact me.

Earlier today, Ben finally succeeded in contacting the right Brian Johnson. And with my consent, Moria will finally become free software.
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