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Julian Eggebrecht on censorship in games

Julian Eggebrecht held a really interesting keynote address at GCDC this year, about a subject dear to my heart: the idiotic standards used to censor games.

Just before I became a producer in 2004, I heard a particularly ludicrous story about an extremely convoluted way to access "sexual content" (a nipple) in Max Payne 2, and how the developers were forced to take it out. It's not quite "hack the game to reactivate dead code" a la Dead Coffee, but it came pretty close. The irony is of course that violence is regularly removed from games for non-US markets, often using somewhat Byzantine rules (no blood, no violence related to sex, etc.).

I vowed that in my next project, as a European developer, I would try to add enough sexual content so that it would need to be censored for the US market, much like Basic Instinct or Julian's example, Eyes Wide Shut. From a development point of view it's not a big deal: if you're making multiple SKUs with different content changes for each, why not add one more? (At some point I may be able to tell what became of that vow.)

Anyway, Julian makes three excellent points:

  1. The standards used by various rating organisations are nonsensical. Of course, that's true for other media as well, but I think it's worse in games right now.
  2. This is caused by the more general issue that games are not generally recognized as an art form, a topic that is being discussed more and more in the last few years, to the point where it has spilled over into mainstream culture.
  3. Finally, Julian urges developers to push the boundaries of sex and violence, but to do it in an artistic way. This reminds me of something Brian Moriarty said in one of his excellent talks at GDC in the late 90s: if you're going to portray violence, do it for a good reason.

(Thanks Kirsten!)

Bioshock demo

I just played the Bioshock demo on an Xbox 360 hooked up to a kick-ass surround sound system (thanks Chris!). What can I say? I really liked it. Each single element has been seen in other games before, but they're put together expertly to create a really intense and interesting experience. The visual design, the sound, the writing, the technology, the gameplay, the level flow: it all works really well together. No wonder Bioshock has been getting such crazy scores so far.

What most impresses me is how the team at Irrational Games managed to combine an unusual setting, a deep background, lots of interesting choices, and kick-ass moment-to-moment gameplay. As Ken Levine said in this great interview over at Gamers With Jobs:

The point of BioShock, the raison d'etre, is really the story, and the messages and intellectual content that Levine tries to deliver as a payload. "Look at Lord of the Rings," he challenges. "Why is Lord of the Rings more interesting than random RPG story number 507? They're exactly the same thing. They have orcs and goblins and demons and trolls. But Lord of the Rings is a meditation on power. And it's really interesting because of that. It's what gives it it's heart." And with undenied hubris, Levine's trying to do the same thing with BioShock, while still delivering a game 16-year-old cheese eating high school students will want to play. "We have these philosophical notions, but you've got to deliver. You gotta bring home the monsters. You gotta bring home the superpowers." In short, he's become a commercial realist.

Very inspiring to see someone do pull of something ambitious and, probably, commercially successful, deep inside the games industry. Man... I'm a big fan of the Looking Glass school of design. If Irrational Games hadn't been bought by Take 2, I so would have applied for a job there last year. But I just couldn't do it.

Now I have to wait for Microsoft to repair my inert Xbox 360... sigh. Ah well, I still haven't even opened Twilight Princess. And World of Warcraft is singing it's siren call again.

A Tribute to the Rolling Boulder

Through the Independent Gaming Source I found out about A Tribute to the Rolling Boulder, an indie game by Petri Purho.

A Tribute to the Rolling Boulder

In it, you play the boulder from the first Indiana Jones movie, and you need to defend the honor of two fertility statues from the lecherous advances of brown-hatted archaeologists. I presume it's a PC game, so I haven't played it myself, but the concept is hilarious. Be sure to check out the video (skip to the end if you're getting bored, it rocks).

Meet me in Leipzig

I will be at the Games Convention in Leipzig from Tuesday afternoon to Thursday morning. It was a bit of a last minute decision - getting accomodation took hours. I paid more than if I'd made arrangements months ago, but nothing outrageous.

Contact me if you want to meet up!

My Xbox 360 died

My Xbox 360 died just as I was downloading the Bioshock demo. Sob. I have the dreaded red ring of death.

Oh well, Microsoft support was nice about it. It may take up to 25 working days, but I should have a working machine again at some point.

Regarding The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion

Whoops. Never write drafts early in the morning :P One might hit 'Send' by mistake...

So what was it that struck my eye about's mention of The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion?

Oblivion, the latest in the series, takes that freedom to ridiculous extremes. Accidentally freed from a jail cell by Emperor Septim, the player is saddled with a quest to close the Oblivion Gates opened by the Emperor's untimely death. But the magic of this game is in the journey - the player has dozens of ways to tackle the main quest, and can also choose to ignore it and explore the living, breathing AI world, taking on hundreds of other jobs and tasks. Of course, when it is time to confront the Daedric Lord and close the gates forever, the resultant kick-ass battle is a climax for the ages, but the genius of Oblivion is that you're never in any rush to get there. More than a story with a beginning and an end, Oblivion is a whole world laid out for you to explore.

Emphasis mine. Oblivion is one of two games I own for the Xbox 360. Although I have now become renowned among some people for being very... unforgiving with games (a topic for another post), I played Oblivion beyond my first negative impressions.

And those first negative impressions came early. Just like KOTOR my initial excitement was crushed by the character creation screen. With all due respect to the talented team that made a hugely successful game, but sweet zombie jesus. The sliders for making faces are named after actual facial muscles? And they mutually influence each other so you can't lock one part in and then tune others? It took me 10 minutes to make a face that wasn't a medical curiosity but merely ugly. Luckily this game uses a first-person perspective.

The second negative impression came later. I played through the initial dungeon and then got outside, ready to save the world! And then, after traveling to a village to talk to the next NPC who could give me vital information, I just plain lost interest due to a basic paradox about this game: Total freedom to explore while saving the world. Hello? I had read about the things one could do in this and earlier games in the Elder Scrolls series, and in principle I find that exciting. But for me it has to be coherent. If this is a game about me exploring anything I want, the story has to be about me exploring anything I want (and a very interesting story that could be). If the story is about me saving the world, the game's structure has to be about me saving the world. How can you spend hours gathering herbs, killing deer and learning to become a werewolf if the Fate of Civilization rests on Your Shoulders? I mean, it doesn't have to be an episode of 24, but please.

I realize many people don't care about this, but this is not a game that has a thin layer of story spread out over gameplay - obviously Bethesda went through a lot of trouble to craft and present their story. It is too bad the structure of the story and the structure of the gameplay don't fit together. Or did I not play it long enough? Tell me why I'm wrong in the comments.

Post-transfer observations

1. According to Google Analytics, traffic on my site went from about 25 hits a day to 200 hits a day, since the transfer.

  1. According to FeedBurner (owned by Google), subscribers to my feed dropped from about 375 to 85 since the transfer. Is anyone having trouble with the feed?

My guess is both systems are a bit confused. Oddly enough, SiteMeter doesn't show any major changes in traffic.

  1. I just now realized existing permalinks to individual blog posts don't work anymore, because WordPress and TypePad generate different URLs. I am now wondering what I could do about this. I don't think I can trivially change the WordPress settings to generate TypePad-style URLs. In theory I could do some kind of if-permalink-doesn't-exist-look-for-a-matching-blog-entry kind of thing, but it wouldn't be the most trivial thing in the world (mainly because I don't know WordPress and PHP that well). On the other hand, I don't think that many people link to individual blog posts. It's mainly this one.

Update: Of course, it just struck me that I do a lot of intra-site linking. Gah!

Update: Permalinks should work now. I looked into four dozen ways of solving this and got sidetracked when my local PHP stopped talking to my local MySQL and I noticed I have two versions of PHP installed - I will spare you the details. In the end, I solved it by simply executing 2 SQL commands and changing one WordPress setting... The feed subscriber count is still down, although it seems I am not the only FeedBurner user with this problem.

Please post a comment if you notice something unusual about the site.

Update: My feed subscribers are back, yay!

Transfer complete

You can now reach this blog again through the usual URL (with or without 'www'). The temporary URL at will disappear soon.

There are still a few small issues to work out, but most of it is done now. I have changed hosting from TypePad to Dreamhost, blogging platform from TypePad to WordPress, and I have transferred my domain.

I initiated the transfer of my domain last Sunday. The domain would have expired on Tuesday. The transfer process takes a week... this meant my site was in an interesting state of limbo for a while.

I can now do more things with my blog, my costs are a bit lower, and everything related to this blog is now consolidated in one place.

I used TypePad for almost 4 years, but in the end I felt WordPress offered more possibilities and better usability. I had the most expensive TypePad package simply because I wanted the ability to edit some HTML, which was quite cumbersome. I could run as many blogs as I wanted, but didn't need to. Their customer support is nice, but I've had a couple of issues where they couldn't help me at all (I think I've had trackbacks disabled for over a year). But at least they replied: I can't say the same for Apple's .Mac support, which is even more expensive and which I also intend to replace.

Update: It seems the feed through FeedBurner and all of their feed flare is working again.


Welcome to the new look of Intelligent Artifice. I have not fully set everything up, but I already like it a lot better. Feel free to leave feedback in the comments.

And yes, cute little flowers have nothing to do with games. But I like the rest of the theme so much, I'm leaving it in for now.