Censorship Within Computer Games

Nowadays, censorship exists virtually everywhere. Nearly every single product sold has some form of age requirement or rating attached to it which is intended (at least in theory) to protect audiences from material which may be damaging or offensive to people of their age. This is mainly to protect minors from exposure or over-exposure to violence, sex visceral, or other forms of imagery & ideas which could be considered damaging or offensive.

One of the biggest debates regarding censorship however; is if it actually has any effect at all. For many people the answer varies depending on the situation. Within video games, one of the best examples of censorship being demanded is Grand Theft Auto. This is because GTA provides the player with the ability to run around a city murdering innocent strangers in a variety of ways, all simply for amusement. As the setting for GTA is realistically based, & could (hypothetically) happen within our own world, many parents do not allow their children to play these games.

On the other hand, games such as the Halo series receive little to no censoring, because, although the player goes around with the direct intention of killing nearly everything that crosses their path; the setting, and targets, are all completely fantastical in nature, set in an imagined future reality & based upon a fictitious war setting. Even though players can stick grenades to enemies then watch as the enemy panics before being blown to pieces, it is not censored because the enemies are not even humans or any ‘real’ creature, & therefore is not seen by most people to be something that needs censoring.

Several people with children & younger family members were asked how much they let their children play censored & age rated games, & where they ‘drew the line’ with certain games.

The first person who was asked said that they didn’t get any game for their child that the child wasn’t old enough to buy on their own; and that the child wasn’t allowed to play, or watch anyone else in the household play, game which were rated above their own age.

Another person said that they allowed their children to play games such as Modern Warfare, yet would not allow them to play GTA, as they felt Modern Warfare wasn’t an issue as they usually played the game together, whereas GTA was likely to be played alone. The case that this person made was summed up as “They can play stuff that’s age restricted, but only if someone’s watching them”.

Another person said that they didn’t allow their children to play any age restricted games, or watch films or media of any type with an age restriction, believing that the age restrictions are placed for a reason. However, they admitted that their children had played & seen age restricted games & films at their friends.

Many younger gamers do have their own opinions on this issue; one young man (16) said when asked that he didn’t generally care about censorship when gaming. That he would just have older friends & family buy age restricted games for him, & that when prompted he would leave blood & gore & bad language settings in games alone as he felt in added to the ‘realism’ of the experience.

Nearly everyone who was asked about this stated that whenever they left censorship settings (blood, swearing etc) turned off, they did so not because they wanted to watch people bleed, swear & suffer, but in actual fact because of the opposite. One person said “When you get cut or shot you bleed right? So isn’t it worse if people play this stuff & think it’s fine to shoot people because it doesn’t make them bleed or hurt them?”. This was a very good point not expected to come from someone 15 years old, but was one with a lot of logic to it regarding the downside of censorship; stating that censoring offensive material could make people grow to think it doesn’t exist at all.

Overall though, it seems that many people do not show any concern for age restriction & censorship, & that most people still seem to buy, or at least let their children play, age restricted games. It seems that the only peoplewho actually pay any heed to censorship are those with enough common sense & emotional maturity that they probably don’t need it anyway …

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Indie Game the Movie…

Ok, so I watched this along with the rest of the group back on Monday for the first time, & then got around to watching again yesterday. I thought my opinion might be slightly different if I watched it a second time, maybe it would give me a different perspective or something like that. Man was I ever wrong though…

No matter how I look at it, it seems to give the viewer the impression that the games industry (at least for indie games producers) is nothing but stress, depression, & (in some cases) the desire to kill either yourself or someone around you … Now I know that this was probably a focus of the people that recorded this for the purpose of ‘dramatic effect’ or some film-making stuff like that, but I’m sorry, I refuse to accept (maybe just out of some form of ignorance-born hope admittedly) that the industry is THAT stressful & basically, bad. I mean, if it was that much hell, why would anyone ever do it?

I found some ideas quite interesting, like trying to make games that captured the best parts of the developers childhood, but these same developers were focusing on making a game based on their own tastes & desires, rather than their audiences & then obsessing over either how big a success the game was, & (in the case of Braid) complaining when buyers didn’t like the game for the same reasons that they did. I would have expected that these people would have realized that in the industry you can’t make a game & expect everyone to pick out every little subtle metaphor & idea that you put into it. I mean, sure I’ll most likely do similar things in what I make; but if someone buys the game, enjoys it, but doesn’t pick up on the ‘deep meaning’ I had hoped they would, am I going to sulk & complain? Hell no! I’ll just try to be quietly grateful that someone bought & enjoyed the game, because as long as people get enjoyment out of it then I consider it a job well done.

I also couldn’t help but notice (particularly in the creators of Super Meat Boy) a degree of contempt for larger games developers & their titles; with one of them saying that if people wanted to play games like Halo & Fallout then that was fine because “They’re shit games & I don’t make shit games”. Now, this is something that for one thing is blatantly pure rubbish. Just because it’s not your game that you made, does not make it a bad game. it has to be said that, regardless of what you think of the evil-soul-crushing-large-corporations(tm), that if as many people play the series such as Halo & Fallout as they do, then there must be something good about them right?

Sadly, some of these people seemed locked into their own closed off world of ‘my-work-good, everything-else-bad which was just disappointing unfortunately; & left me sorely disheartened.

Most likely, I think it is safe to say that when I (hopefully) come to seeking work within the industry I will find myself much more likely to try & join one of the makers of such”shit” games as Halo or Fallout, because I personally think they’re great. & if I do end up making some side scroller that looks like it came out of Flash? Well then I’ll make it the way I want, but still look at what a perspective audience is after, & then not complain if it’s a success ‘but-not-why-I-wanted-it-to-be’.

The games industry is an enormous & ever-growing industry, & sadly the message I got from IGtM was not an encouraging one. I personally intend to do everything in my power to create (& help to create) games that above all else will be enjoyed by those who buy them, & try not to become a wolverine over the course of the games production, which seemed to happen to nearly everyone in the movie …

… do have to say that Fez looked quite good though, may have to get it at some point …

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Mass Effect 3

Mass Effect 3 was the final chapter in the Mass Effect series of action roleplaying games developed by Bioware, released onto the Xbox 360, PC & Playstation 3 in March 2012, after being delayed repeatedly & significantly from its original planned launch date of December 2010.

Mass Effect 3 completed the story of Commander Shepard, & continues the trend set in Mass Effect 2 of using the players completed game save from the previous game to ‘lay out’ the world; with certain events happening, or certain characters being alive or dead, depending on choices the player made in the previous games. Impressively, it was reported that over one thousand different variables were imported into Mass Effect 3 from the first two games, creating a unique backstory for many players when compared to each other.

The game featured many well known systems, such as levelling up characters & purchasing new powers & abilities, & being able to buy & improve new weapons & equipment. The game also featured a Paragon/Renegade alignment meter, as used in the previous two games (similar to the Light Side/Dark Side meter in the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic games previously made by Bioware under Hudsons design) which reflected & influenced the way players roleplayed Shepard, either as a charismatic & heroic paragon, or a ruthless & merciless renegade.

The objective within the game was to acquire military resources in order to win the war raging between organic forces & the synthetic ‘Reapers’, which were attempting to end life in the galaxy. Throughout the Game the player must forge alliances with as many people & armies as possible in order to stand the best chance of winning in the end game battle.

Mass Effect 3 also featured a cooperative multiplayer mode for the first time in the series, with teams of up to four players working together to fight against increasingly powerful waves of enemies. Although simple, the multiplayer had a direct effect on the single player game in that it increased the effectiveness of military resources.

Although the game was originally released to considerable praise & immediately achieved top ratings from nearly every source, many fans heavily criticised Bioware (Hudson in particular) for the ending, which was far more limited & reflected the choices & paths the players had made throughout the trilogy, than they felt had been promised by Bioware. Many felt that there were many inconsistencies with the lore of the Mass Effect universe present in the ending, & little variation in the small number of endings which were presented. One member of the Mass Effect writing team, Patrick Weekes posted a message on gaming website Penny Arcade, criticising Hudson (& lead writer Mac Walters) saying that control of the ending was wrested away from the rest of the writing team towards the end. According to Weekes, Hudson & Walters locked the rest of the writers out of the endings production, & chose the ending they personally wanted to put in the game, refusing to listen to the input of the other writers as they had done in the rest of the game.

Weekes stated that the ending to Mass Effect 3 was “entirely the work of out lead [Mac Walters] & Casey [Hudson] himself” who decided that “they didn’t need to be peer-reviewed”; with Weekes concluding by simply stating “it shows”.

Sadly, first impressions have marred the games otherwise flawless reviews, as even with the release of an extended cut ending DLC for the game, which did satisfy many fans; many still feel betrayed by Bioware, particularly Casey Hudson, & feel cheated after going through the entire trilogy to find such a disappointing end. For Hudson’s sake, it should be hoped that in an industry where a designer is only as successful as the last game they worked on, people choose to only remember the good things about Mass Effect 3, & hope that the damage done by the originally released un-extended ending, isn’t terminal…

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Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

 

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KotOR) was released for the Xbox in July 2003 (& later on for the PC in November of the same year) under the licensing permission of LucasArts & under the direction of Casey Hudson, as his first time as head designer for Bioware.

The game was based on the Star Wars Roleplaying Game, which used the D20 system derived from the Dungeons & Dragons table top roleplaying game, with players choosing a class from a predefined list, & then selecting from a set of Skills, & Feats, to represent their characters specialities & preferences within the game. Players also gain experience points for many of their actions, levelling up after accumulating a certain amount, at which point the player would be given a certain number of points to improve their characters attributes & skills, & to gain new feats & abilities.

Under Hudson’s direction, the game came to be very free-roaming, with the player able to choose their characters response to any event or conversation which they encountered, allowing them to pursue the story & even the way they interacted with other member of the party in their own manner of choosing.

The story was also nonlinear as well, with players, after getting to a certain point, being able to do mission quests & events in whichever order they chose to do, rather than a default sequential order as in many other games. This helped to give the player more of a feeling of control over events rather than simply being ‘swept along’.

The game also featured an alignment meter, which tracked the players Light & Daark side levels. This was influenced by how players responded to situations, with diplomatic, peaceful & merciful options resulting in the character gaining Light Side points, & aggressive, violent & merciless actions resulting in Dark Side points. This alignment influenced the way that other characters reacted towards the player character, & even affected certain moments in the story.

KotOR was hailed as a massive success & is still seen by many as the best Star Wars game to be released to date, & with many other nonlinear RPGs with similar elements such as character development & alignment tracking often being compared to KotOR as a measure of quality & success. With this in mind it is surprising to note that the game that was released to the public was almost identical to the concept originally devised by the studio at the beginning, Casey Hudson commented himself “The thing that seems to stand out is that the current game is almost exactly what we envisioned almost three years ago.”, which goes to show that the team managed to produce such an impressive formula on their first attempt.

KotOR has long been a benchmark for quality RPGs for almost ten years now, & will most likely stay as such for many more years to come…

 

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Casey Hudson

Well known as the head designer behind Biowares Mass Effect trilogy, Casey Hudson has been working within the videogames industry for over ten years, all of which he has spent working at Bioware, located in Edmonton in Canada.

Hudson originally began his career by joining the company as a technical artist, working on the artwork for their earlier video games, MDK2, Baldurs Gate 2, Neverwinter Nights & Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. He eventually managed to climb to become game director for Knights of the Old Republic & later Jade Empire.

Seven years into his time at Bioware, Hudson became Executive Producer on Biowares new Mass Effect series, the success of which helped increase his renown within the games design world.

Hudson has made his name working on some of the biggest games in the western industry, most significantly Knights of the Old Republic, & the Mass Effect trilogy, all immensely popular & successful games which focus heavily on immersive storylines which allow the player to make numerous & significant choices & decisions which directly effect the way the games story unfold.

With the exception of MDK 2 (Upon which Hudson was an artist, not a direct designer), all of the games which he has worked on have been RPGs, something Bioware has become extremely well known & respected for, largely due to Hudsons work. Hudson once stated in relation to Mass Effect “We have a rule on the team that there are no canon choices. We leave it to you to decide Shepard’s true path.”; showing that his (& Biowares) goal is to allow players to influence & be a part of the world they choose to immerse themselves in; moving away from the traditional path of simply being little more than a spectator to a story that has already been decided with no real power given to the player.

Hopefully more & more games will take similar views in the future, allowing players to experience more games where their decisions do not simply result in a victory or a game over screen, but instead affect the story & interaction with the world they play a part of…

Games

  • MDK 2 (2000), Bioware
  • Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn (2000), Bioware
  • Neverwinter Nights (2002), Bioware
  • Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003), Bioware
  • Jade Empire (2005), Bioware
  • Mass Effect (2007), Bioware
  • Mass Effect 2 (2010), Bioware
  • Mass Effect 3 (2012), Bioware
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Portal 2

Created under Doug Churches design & direction, Portal 2 was the hugely successful sequel to the (also hugely successful) Portal, released back in 2007. Church helped to design Portal 2 for Valve, who, through Electronic Arts, released the game across every large console or PC based system save for on the Wii.

Very similar to the original Portal game, Portal 2 consisted mainly of a series of levels in the form of increasingly complex puzzles which must be solved & beaten by moving the player character around using the ‘Portal Gun’, a device that allowed the player to effectively create micro-wormholes throughout the level (basically, ‘portals’), but only on flat planes, not in mid-air. The extremely impressive physics engine Church helped to design for the game meant that a player passing through one portal and coming out the other retained the kinetic energy from its movement, meaning that entering a portal from a long fall would result in the player character leaving the exit-portal and considerably higher speed (& going a much farther distance through the air) than if they had simply walked through a portal at ground level like a normal door. The players were encouraged to use this physics system in order to traverse gaps which were too big to ordinarily jump over and such, as well as innumerable other obstacles throughout the game, in order to reach the goal.

As Church didn’t simply want to remake the previous game with better graphic however, several new gameplay elements were added to Portal 2, such as laser redirection, light bridges, tractor beams, and special surface that could have certain abilities, such as boosting the player characters speed or jump height & distance.

Portal 2 featured a single player story mode with a very well thought out storyline where the character resumes control of the main protagonist Chell from Portal, released from stasis years after the first game. For a game with such a simple concept as the puzzle solving aspect would lead many to believe (I myself didn’t expect any form of interesting story from the game until I first tried it), the story was very well though out & engrossing, giving the players plenty of desire to see the campaign through, to thwart the Artificial Intelligence GLaDOS (the returned antagonist from Portal).

However, despite having a bigger & better story than its original; the thing that truly made Portal 2 a success was its multiplayer, in which two players were given controls of Portal Gun-armed-robots, & tasked with working together in order to complete puzzles impossible for one player alone. The multiplayer was & still is one of the best examples of cooperative gaming ever seen within the computer games industry & market, & could have probably have made the game a success even if the single-player mode had been entirely absent.

Ironically, given his penchant for paying great attention to ensuring a game has a fascinating & compelling story appropriate to its genre, Churches work ensured that the most successful aspect of the game was by far its multiplayer appeal rather than its appeal to lone-gamers. Still, it should be noted that Church has taken part in the design & development of considerably fewer competitive games than solo or cooperative games; showing that he clearly finds cooperation leading towards success for everyone far more rewarding and appealing than rivalry via conflict a=& competition, which is something I can agree with completely …

 

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Thief: Deadly Shadows

Created under the direction of Doug Church for Eidos Interactive, & released in 2004 for the PC & Xbox, Thief: Deadly Shadows was the third game in the popular Thief series.

A precursor and significant source of inspiration for Ubisofts Assassin’s Creed series, Thief: Deadly Shadows was a stealth game which gave the players control of master thief Garrett, as he attempted to steal his way through the city in pursuit of fame and riches. The gameplay allowed the players to freely roam the city whilst completing main missions and side missions at their leisure. The game itself was set within a fantasy style world, containing heavy similarities to medieval and Victorian styles, albeit with more advanced technology in places.

Missions and sneaking had to be performed by being as stealthy as possible, and staying in the shadows, as guards would pick up the sound of Garrett walking or running, meaning that the player had to be aware of the level of noise each of their actions produce in order to sneak successfully. the player was also able to pursue different methods of completing each mission, with the missions ending once the main objectives had been successfully completed. Following missions, players could continue their exploration of the city, which could be explored more & more as they progressed through the main storyline; & they could sell any stolen goods & items obtained during the missions to fences scattered throughout the area for gold to buy new equipment & supplies.

Thief featured a deep and compelling story which pitted Garrett against enemy forces searching for artifacts with incredible power, in which he is drawn against his own wishes into a quest with far reaching consequences. The story was a brilliant example of how Church prefers to design games he works on, choosing to make an engrossing storyline in order to give the player the most compelling and engrossing experience appropriate to the type of game in question. This is obvious in Thief: Deadly Shadows as the story is one based on mystery, intrigue and betrayal, which is very fitting for the game type & setting in question.

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Doug Church: The fundamentals, methodologies and practices.

As a designer, Church tends to focus on looking at ways to make sure that games are constantly evolving. He has pointed out correctly that although areas such as graphical power and sound quality may increase very naturally and obviously, the design process itself, that which forms the very ‘heart’ of the game being created, often develops much more slowly and with more difficulty.

Church has shown that he often puts priority on making sure games fit together properly and make sense when played by the player. Having pointed out that players like to know what their options are, to know why action A results in consequence B for example, and not making players feel discouraged when a random event that (although it will of course have a proper rooted cause played into the games coding by the programmers) seemingly occurs for no reason, or is unavoidable.

It often seems that Church takes a very abstract look at games design, being able to see genres and storytelling methodology in much broader and more detailed terms than is usually given (I must admit, it was rather encouraging to read of a successful games designer, not just me, refer to Square games as ‘storybook’ games; a genre label I had been referring to them as for years), and he seems to prefer dismantling any game concept down to its most basic components, allowing him to get the most out of the work he does.

Church seems to focus mainly upon the story of the games, enjoying thinking about the kinds of story that different genres of games feature, not so much what the story actually is, but what type of story it is, namely features such as complexity, length, interactivity and so forth. The single most important thing Church seems to look at though, the most vital part of the design process, is communication. This is a seemingly obvious thing that is overlooked far more often than most people would normally realize. Church has pointed out that communication, pointing out things specifically and in as much detail as possible, are exceedingly vital to any games success. Knowing exactly what needs to be done, changed or improved, can make or break a game, and this is something I can most definitely agree with. The more detail a designer receives and gives, the better product they will produce at the end.. Provided of course they paid attention and did something with it naturally…

 

An extremely interesting article on games design by Doug Church on Formal Abstract Design Tools cn be found here:

http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/3357/formal_abstract_design_tools.php

I strongly recommend giving it a read…

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Doug Church – Games Behind the Name

Although most well known in recent years for his work on Portal 2, Doug Church has worked on many games over his career, some of which are very well known even today.

 

Church has been involved, often at a high level, on the following games:

  • Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss (1992), ORIGIN
  • Ultima Underworld 2: Labyrinth of Worlds (1993), ORIGIN
  • System Shock (1994), Dro Soft, ORIGIN
  • Flight Unlimited (1995), Looking Glass
  • Terra Nova: Strike Force Centauri (1996), Looking Glass
  • Flight Unlimited 2 (1997), Eidos
  • Thief: The Dark Project (1998), Eidos
  • System Shock 2 (1999), Electronic Arts
  • Flight Unlimited 3 (1999), Looking Glass
  • Thief 2: The Metal Age (2000), Eidos
  • Frequency (20001), Harmonix, SCEI
  • Deus Ex (2001), Eidos
  • Freedom Force (2002), Crave Entertainment, Electronic Arts
  • Whiplash (2003), Eidos
  • Deus Ex: Invisible War (2003), Eidos
  • Backyard Wrestling: Don’t Try This at Home (2003), Eidos
  • Thief: Deadly Shadows (2004), Eidos
  • Project Snowblinf (2005), Eidos
  • Tomb Raider: Legend (2006), Eidos
  • MySims (2007), Electronic Arts
  • Braid (2008), Microsoft Game Studios
  • Boom Blox (2008), Electronic Arts
  • Boom Blox Bash Party (2009), Electronic Arts
  • Rock Band 3 (2010), MTV Games
  • Portal 2 (2011), Valve
  • Dishonored (2012), Bethesda Softworks
  • Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (2012), Valve
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Doug Church, A Brief Introduction

Recently I was given the task of finding out as much as I could about a particular name within video games design, and then writing up a piece on them. The idea was to find out as much about their origins, training and experience, games they had worked on, particular styles and influences; that sort of thing.Then to look at their styles and techniques and such and see if any of it would be relevant to myself, or even to look at some that I felt wouldn’t.

For this task I was presented with the designer, Doug Church. Currently working as a games designer for Valve, Church has worked on many well known games series, most notably Portal, Tomb Raider, and Deus Ex. Though I must confess none of the games he has helped to create have been ones I have ever played myself or had much interest in (at least to date anyway), I am still able to recognise that he has worked on some popular and very successful titles, perhaps the most notable in recent years being Portal 2.

Doug Church was born in Evanston, Illinois, America, on November the 16th 1968 & has been involved within the games design industry for much of its (successful) lifetime. He originally attended MIT in America, but left before the end of the decade to work at Looking Glass Stiudios, back in the days of mainly MS-DOS based gaming. there Doug was heavily involved with the design and creation of Ultima Underworld one and two, System Shock, and the original Thief game.

Several years later Church joined Eidos Interactive in the position of Technical Director, lending his design and programming knowledge and experience to many of their games, including Tomb Raider: Legend. He later  left Eidos in 2005 to sign on with Electronic Arts, where he spent the next four years working at EAs Los Angeles officee under the supervision of filmmaker Steven Spielberg.

In 2011 Church went on to join Valve where he worked on the extremely popular Portal 2.

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