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GP Exclusive - Interview with Modder behind Oblivion Controversy

It wasn't nearly Hot Coffee-level, but the ESRB's decision to re-rate The Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion rocked the video game world when it was announced on May 3rd of this year.

As the ESRB would have it, the Oblivion decision was based upon "more detailed depictions of blood and gore than were considered in the original rating... as well as the presence in the PC version of the game of a locked-out art file that, if accessed by using an apparently unauthorized third party tool, allows the user to play the game with topless versions of female characters."

At the time there was much debate in the gaming community over the ESRB's action. The Elder Scrolls series enjoys an almost reverential status among fans of role-playing games. For its part, developer Bethesda went along with the decision, although a company press release expressed frustration with the ESRB, saying, "Bethesda Softworks made what it believes was a full, accurate, and comprehensive submission on Oblivion to the ESRB months before the game's release... Nothing was hidden from the ratings agency."

So what really happened?

GamePolitics has tracked down Maeyanie, the mysterious modder who created the topless Oblivion mod. Maeyanie is a bit photo-shy, but has allowed us to publish a 3-D self-portrait (seen at left). GP Correspondent Colin "Jabrwock" McInnes reconstructs the Oblivion controversy with Maeyanie in this revealing interview:

CM: First off, I just wanted to thank you for letting GamePolitics talk to you about the controversy surrounding The Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion.

Maeyanie: You're welcome.

CM: I guess we could start with some questions about you and your background. Where are you from?

Maeyanie: This is one I'm going to have to not answer. Let's leave it at "not USA."

CM: What kinds of games are you into? What are your favorite recent titles?

Maeyanie: I'm into a lot of things. RPG's with a captivating story are my favorite by far, but I play strategy and some sim games too. Recently there hasn't been a whole lot of great stuff (with the notable exceptions of Oblivion and Dreamfall: The Longest Journey), so lately I've been playing some slightly older stuff like X3, Supreme Ruler 2010, and Silent Hunter III. When I'm not in an MMO, at least... I'm seen in EverQuest II frequently and Star Wars Galaxies rarely.

CM: How did you get started in modding?

Maeyanie: With The Sims 1, actually. I wanted to make things different - I did, and just kinda kept going from there.

CM: Have you modded many games? What games, and what kind of mods?

Maeyanie: A fair number, yeah, but most of them I haven't released publicly. Some of them are on my website. I dug up a few old mods (mostly never before released) and posted them there. As for what kind, usually I just find things I don't like and make them the way I do like them. Or find things I think would be neat, and add them. There's been a few nude patches, since personally I find it more offensive to be treated like a 6-year-old than to see people naked, but also clothes, scripts, commands, stuff like that. A lot of it depends on the game.

CM: What would you consider your skill level of programming? Basic, intermediate, expert, 1337 h@X0Rz?

Maeyanie: Well, that depends on the area really. I'm pretty good at certain things, basically anything on Linux which doesn't use a GUI, such as servers and stuff. I'm sort of working on writing a MUD, I know it's a bit outdated in the days of MMO games, but they still have a cult following.

CM: Ah MUDs. I spent many sleepless nights in first year university playing those... What is the airspeed velocity of an un-laden swallow... er never mind.

Maeyanie: African or European?

CM: Okay, now on to the infamous Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion mod! What was your original intent behind the mod. Were you looking for Easter eggs, or trying to add new content?

Maeyanie: Trying to add new content. I was basically hoping they had done something like most games do, and paste underwear right on the skin texture. They didn't, so I first tried making the underwear texture transparent. That didn't work either. Then I changed the top mesh to create what ended up being released.

CM: Why only topless models? Why not full frontal nudity? Did you make this decision before you started work on the mod, or afterwards?

Maeyanie: I actually tried doing full nudity, that was the original goal. It didn't work very well.

CM: What did you discover about the skins/models Bethesda used when you started work on the Oblivion mod?

Maeyanie: I discovered a few interesting things. For one, most of the skins and model parts are shared amongst all the races, the skins are just tinted. Also, the skins included with the game have all the, ah, "features" you see revealed with my mod already on them, so I didn't have to do a skin myself the way I expected. I'm guessing that's what the ESRB meant when they talked about this in the re-rating, but Bethesda was right, it really was impossible to do without third-party software.

CM: When did you release the mod?

Maeyanie: Very shortly after I got it working, which was about four days after Oblivion's retail release.

CM: And finally, to the whole kerfluffle that followed... What was the modding community's reaction to your Oblivion mod?

Maeyanie: As expected, mixed. There were the people who came saying "men topless are fine, but women are evil and must be shunned." There were the people saying "Cool! Hot naked chicks!" And there was even the odd one who said something supportive.

CM: Do you think that the ESRB was right in re-rating Oblivion, partially based on the content you discovered, or do you think they went too far?

Maeyanie: I completely disagree with them re-rating based on this. As Bethesda said, it was impossible without third-party software. I could post a hardcore sex photo on my Windows desktop even without using third-party software. Would that make Windows deserve an Adults-Only rating?

CM: Do you think companies should be held responsible for content discovered by modders?

Maeyanie: In the case of content in the game waiting to be unlocked by a certain button-sequence or whatever, yes, they put it there. In the case of mods requiring third-party software, downloads from the Internet, and other things, absolutely not. The ability to add content to a game is a great thing, and leads to much greater replayability (if that's a word) and all-around fun. Just because some people like me "abuse" this ability to add "evil" content based on a single culture's narrow definitions of what is and isn't appropriate isn't the fault of the developers.

CM: What do you think of the current obsession with criticizing sex in games? As a comparison, should games be criticized over something like this when Cosmopolitan just released to grocery stores another issue featuring "62 Sex Moves! Guys share mind-blowing tips!" and "7 Bedroom Games to Play Tonight"?

Maeyanie: Yeah, let's make Cosmo magazine only available to people over age 17! Seriously, I think America should lighten up a bit. There's a good chunk of the world which isn't nearly so obsessed over making our own bodies off-limits - I should know, I live there.

CM: Now that all's said and done, do you regret releasing the mod to the general public? Would you have released it knowing the reaction it caused?

Maeyanie: Overall... I don't know. There are times I do, definitely. I especially regret any harm to Bethesda, which has always been my favorite game developer because of the Elder Scrolls series. But then again, perhaps some good will come from this in the end. I can only hope.

CM: Again, thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Hopefully you'll be able to stop by the site when the article is up to answer any more questions readers may have.

Maeyanie: I'll definitely stop by at least a few times.

GP: Many thanks to Maeyanie for agreeing to be interviewed. For a recap of all of GamePolitics' extensive coverage on the Oblivion controversy, click here

Want to talk about it? You can discuss this story via the "comments" feature (click below), or in the new GamePolitics Forums...

Tags: bethesda, elder scrolls iv, esrb, interviews, maeyanie, modders, mods, oblivion, sex in games
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Nothing really to contribute here, but it was very interesting to read this side of the coin. Great article/interview.
Nice Interview :)

Yeah, I think mentioning this in the ESRB's decision to re-rate Oblivion was probably the worst decision they have ever made. If they'd re-rated it due to violent content then fine, but instead they mentioned this, and then, with their usual complete failure to understand the technology they were attacking, the anti-game crowd latched onto it.

Very bad move Ms Vance. I can only hope you learn from your mistakes.

But hey, people like Thompson and Yee seem to think they can dictate what is right or wrong to the entire planet, that's not an ego trip in the slightest....
The ESRB is currently under fire, and politicians are deciding that video games need to be regulated because the industry is not doing a good enough job itself.

In any case, the ESRB needs to show that it has teeth. It needs to show that it can be a "tough" and "in charge" to politicians. So maybe next time they get brought in front of some committee they can say something instead of, "Well it's a mod..."

Is it right? Not really.

But to people who don't understand programming, modding, and gaming... All they see are boobies.
Bethesda Softworks made the content and all the modder had to do was unlock like as stated in the artical a near hot-coffie event?

Is this another one of those attempts to get mature content in a game while dodging an adult only rating? Like how some movies cut out content in the final production to dodge the NC-17+ rating?
No, from what I understand the texture used is simply the topless male model, the modder simply removed the polygons that made up the bra of the female model, it was absolutely impossible to access that without downloading the third party mod with the modified mesh. Content wasn't removed before release, it was merely modified by a third party after release.
I actually agree with the game being re-rated. Not because of the mod, but because there is too much realistic blood in the game to merit a T rating.

For those of you who haven't played the game (and why haven't you?), when you strike an enemy, the nearby surface usually gets covered in blood. And when the use a blade, mists of blood will spray from your enemies. It's not gratituous or anything, but if Halo 2 could get an M rating, I don't see why Oblivion shouldn't.

Now, I do believe the mod was partly responsible as it drew negative attention to the game. Thus, Bethesda must have thought "Hey, there're calling for us to re-rate our game. Since the violence is M-rated, we might as well do so. And since violence=okay and boobies=EVIL, we should cite the mod as our reason to show that we didn't rate the game wrong originally."

My final take on this? It was the right move for the wrong reason. I just hope we don't see more companies giving in to pressure over mods.
"For those of you who haven't played the game (and why haven't you?)"

Because my xbox lacks the "360"...
and my bank account lacks a positvie balance.


Good points though, and I agree.

Right decision, wrong reason.

terminator44

12 years ago

premo_maggot

12 years ago

gamepolitics

12 years ago

xlorep_darkhelm

12 years ago

terminator44

12 years ago

your right

nitkin1

12 years ago

Re: your right

terminator44

12 years ago

". . . personally I find it more offensive to be treated like a 6-year-old than to see people naked . . ."

OK she just made my very cool person list
I could post a hardcore sex photo on my Windows desktop even without using third-party software. Would that make Windows deserve an Adults-Only rating?


Er, does she realize that the ESRB doesn't rate operating systems?
The same principle applies, though. In countless games, you can make your very own nude skin for game characters. In Half-Life 2, using Garry's Mod, if you feel the need to do so, you can position characters in such a way that makes them look like they're getting it on in positions that would probably make the author(s) of the Kama Sutra stare in wide-eyed awe or disgust.

Does that mean that all of these games deserve an Adults-Only rating?

trooper6

12 years ago

You know, calling the Construction Set an unauthorized 3rd party tool, is really quite sad. Since, well.. it's right here, on their own website. http://www.elderscrolls.com/downloads/updates_utilities.htm

All the modder did, was remove the poly skin that made up the bra. The only difference between the male and female upper body skins, is that the female one includes breasts in the poly model, while the male doesn't. Otherwise, it uses almost the exact same texture.

But, I do agree with the re-rating of the game to M. There's some content in there that even I was floored by, just from the sheer amount of innuendo, or how graphic it was.
Actually TCS for Oblivion wasn's available when she created it, so she used a completely different tool to do so, which could be 3d studio max or some other modeling program.

ss_ebonclaw

12 years ago

She should release a topless version of her 3-D self portrait.
My sentiments exactly.

gamepolitics

12 years ago

hayabusa75

12 years ago

Forgive me for being obvious and partly off topic. But we realy need new people on the esrb ratings board. Young people that are gamers and in touch with the public view. If that happend Then most likey we will not be seeing games re rated for stupid reasons . Nuff said
So many points were made out, all of them pretty good.

The thing is, the gaming community isn't seen as something big yet, and isn't widely accepted (to some people). It is widely accepted that we play games, but now there are big gaming competitions, MTV is have shows that involve gaming (Its online based, but it will definately turn cable soon). Eventaully it will become accepted. Until then, we've got to deal with this crap from people.

Heh, Cosmo should definately be 17+. It's so retarded since there are 6 and 7 year olds out there that get the mag since it's a popular magazine.
This is fantastic! A mystery person with a good attitude, interesting point of view, and eclectic (and might I add, same as my own) taste in games.

I didn't even have to watch Fox! (Reference to Robert Novak)

I agree that it is bullshit for esrb to rerate based on a mod, they should have just re-rated based on violence alone. (Heads on a stick=MA) I would have been one of the supportive ones, no doubts there.

Another excellent exclusive escapade!
Fantastic interview! very intelligent and I agree with everything that was said.
I would guess that the fallout from this will mean more game developers will worry about protecting their games from third party applications.
Or on the flip side, they could embrace the idea of naked characters and target the 18-40 demographic. (18, since thats what the ratings would require)
I've never found out if this question has been answered, but was the female nude skin obviously distinct from the male nude skin, or is it simply a modified (remapped to fit) version of the male skin?
The female and male skins are identicle, just shaped around a different mesh. That is why the female version had "nipples" they were just the male nipples.
Go after Cosmopolitan. They're marketing tips for actual sex and any minor can buy an issue. If you don't go after literature I can understand, seeing that Song of Songs is the Holy Bible's very own "Hot Coffee"
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