May 4th, 2006

Bethesda Responds to Oblivion Rating Change

Whatever you think of the Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion ratings mess, give Bethesda Softworks points for standing tall.

In a press release posted on Bethesda's website, the Oblivion developer admits that it - and not co-publisher Take-Two Interactive - handled the ESRB rating application process. Take-Two, of course, took a major hit over last year's Hot Coffee scandal, and their involvement - however peripheral - with Oblivion has already caught the attention of some game industry critics.

Bethesda reports that it will "will promptly implement the ratings change that the ESRB has ordered for Oblivion."

The company does not plan a product recall or a change in Oblivion to meet T (teen) rating standards. Nor will Bethesda contest the ESRB's decision. The company will work with Take-Two (whose name is, curiously enough, completely absent from the press release, which refers to it only as "co-publisher") to re-sticker existing inventory. New copies will be printed with the M (mature) rating ordered by the ESRB.

As far as it role, Bethesda said it made what it believes was a "full, accurate, and comprehensive submission on Oblivion to the ESRB months before the game's release. Bethesda used the ESRB's application forms and believes it adhered closely to their requirements. Nothing was hidden from the ratings agency. No effort was made by Bethesda to lobby or influence the agency for any particular rating."

Bethesda goes on to say, "There is no nudity in Oblivion without a third party modification. In the PC version of the game only... some modders have used a third party tool to hack into and modify an art archive file to make it possible to create a mesh for a partially nude (topless) female that they add into the game. Bethesda didn't create a game with nudity and does not intend that nudity appear in Oblivion. There is no nude female character in a section of the game that can be 'unlocked.'"

The Oblivion ratings issue does not bode well for the mod community, as witnessed by Bethesda's comment that, "Bethesda can not control tampering with Oblivion by third parties. Bethesda is taking steps to ensure that modders can not continue to hack into Oblivion's art archives to create partially nude figures."

Depite the problems presented by this rather messy episode, Bethesda reaffirms its support for the ESRB as well as for Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion.

GP: ...and well they should. It's a fantastic game. As far as their comments about the mod community, it's a concern, but who can blame Bethesda?

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What Its Creator Has to Say About Oblivion Topless Mod

It's a story GamePolitics passed on more than a month ago and, to be honest, we're still not sure how much ink the user-modified topless female characters in Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion deserve.

On April 2nd a source we know and trust pointed us to the patch at Adult Game Reviews (definitely not safe for work). The site also has nude skins for the previous Elder Scrolls RPG, Morrowind as well as for Tomb Raider, The Sims and several other games.

But the patch available there may also be found at Oblivion Source, a fan site which describes itself as "dedicated to the upcoming Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion game and TES (The Elder Scrolls series) games in general..."

The creator of the nude Oblivion patch, "Maeyanie," uploaded the file on March 24th, just four days after Oblivion's release. Maeyanie's comments to the file seem to place responsibility for the creation of the breasts in question with the developer:

"In the process of trying to create a nude skin for Oblivion, I found Bethesda had already done all the work for me. They just covered it up with underwear afterwards... Please note, this is a realistic nudity mod, not a pornographic one. The file included removes the bra welded to the skin of females of all races, showing things as most people know they are in the real world after removing upper body clothing. It will not show every female in the game as topless."

Beyond the usual tech challenges, Maeyanie's motivation for creating the topless patch is given as:

"I do this because I hate government/society/whatever forcing companies to 'protect our innocent population from seeing those evil dirty things 50% of them possess personally anyways' not because I'm trying to turn it into a porn game."

Maeyanie mentions also that he or she was unable to patch the lower character torsos - thus sparing the world genitalia-equipped Oblivion characters. As of this writing, the patch is still available at both Oblivion Source and Adult Game Reviews, but GP wonders how long that will last.

Although Maeyenie's feedback among Oblivion Source users was generally positive, a long volley of comments appended to the patch file page indicate that some fans almost immediately feared a Hot Coffee redux. Cook commented "DON'T RECREATE HOTCOFFEE!! I give you a 1 (rating out of 10). I appreciate your work, but be afraid of the oppressive game companies..."

chr43 wrote, "If you want nudity, go buy a porn game or movie instead of ruining a good game. Eric added, "...you guys are really pathetic. Please stop reinforcing negative gamer stereotypes that people who play games are sexually frustrated deviants."

The comments appear to have taken their toll on Maeyanie, who wrote, "Due to the number of thoroughly depressing comments, I'm no longer providing any support or updates. Nor will I release any further mods of this nature, for this game or others. I'm not regretting having made this. But I am regretting releasing it to the horny, immature masses out there..."

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California's Leland Yee Trashes ESRB, Take-Two Over Oblivion

The fallout continues.

Yesterday, of course, the ESRB abruptly changed the rating of Bethesda's Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion from T (13 an older) to M (17 and older) based upon some extra blood and gore as well as a user mod which allowed players to create topless female characters.

Moments ago, the office of California Assembly Speaker pro Tem Leland Yee (D) issued a press release in which Yee savages both the ESRB and Take Two Interactive, co-publisher of Oblivion.

"Take Two Interactive just doesn't learn," said Yee. "It was only ten months ago that this same publisher deceived parents by first putting hidden sex scenes into their already ultra-violent video game and then lying about the fact that they allowed the content to be included."

Yee also criticized the game rating process used by the ESRB for not evaluating the entire content of the games it reviews. On this, the Assemblyman's press release says, "Unlike the movie industry's rating board which reviews the entire content of a film, the ESRB rates games based on very limited viewing of the game and rely almost entirely on information provided to them by the game manufacturer."

"While the retailers may have been made aware of the re-ratings, how many parents are still unaware that these games include such graphic content," added Yee. "In both instances, thousands of children had already purchase the game as well as many parents who bought the game thinking it may be appropriate for their child. Take Two Interactive continued to receive all profits and was not penalized in any way."

"The ESRB again has failed our parents and clearly has shown they can not police themselves," Yee continued. "Plain and simply, the current rating system is drastically flawed and here is yet another reason why we need legislation to assist parents and protect children."

The timing of the Oblivion flap and Yee's response has an ironic California twist. Next week lawyers for the game industry will face off against the California Attorney General before a federal judge in San Jose to argue the fate of California's 2005 video game law, which Yee sponsored.

At present Yee is also involved in a tough three-way primary battle for a seat in the California Senate.

The ESRB declined to comment for this report.

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