Jack to the Future! (and Ratings Rants)

Finally, after much waiting, the final four episodes of Samurai Jack are going to air this Saturday on Cartoon Network.

I was lucky enough to work on a Samurai Jack game for PS2 and Gamecube. The development process had a lot of ups and downs but one of the "ups" was the chance to work directly with some of the talented people at Cartoon Network Studios that actually make the show. It's rare when you work on a licensed property that you actually get to meet with the talent (although that is starting to change, thank goodness).

We met with Genndy a couple of times and took some direction from him. He'd look at a model, make one change, and it was way better! Samurai Jack is a very stylized show and it was great to get inside Genndy's head a little bit and understand how and why that style exists.

Another highlight was when Genndy said, "That animation is pretty good!" I have David Hunt to thank for that.

The nice people at Warner Bros. and Cartoon Network gave me and a couple of other team members a cool maquette, which sits on my desk here at home now.

My personal opinion about making games for kids is that the rating system really gets in the way.

You can't make a low "T" game and have it succeed.

Let me explain: the ratings that matter are "E" (Everyone), "T" (Teen), and "M" (Mature).

The E rating has to be non-objectionable to parents of six year olds. That currently means almost no violence - even cartoon violence. If you have a game built around combat of any kind you get a T rating. This is because of the increased graphic quality of current generation games. The exact same game on PS1 or Nintendo 64 would get an E rating. Gameboy Advance "E" games can be quite violent because the depiction of violence is very low-resolution.

"T" ratings are divided into ranges: "Low T", "Mid T", and "High T". A game that used to be an "E" on the N64 would be a "Low T" on the Gamecube because of the better "more realistic" graphical quality.

Unfortunately, these distinctions between "Low T" and "Mid T" are not made by Moms and Dads when they go to the store to buy Christmas presents. So a game like Samurai Jack or even Super Smash Bros. which are made for kids 8-12 get "T" ratings, which completely misrepresents the situation.

I think there needs to be a "PT" or "Pre-Teen" rating. That tells Mom what she wants to know - this game has some action but it's okay for kids.

If we had "PT" then games like Sponge Bob which are definitely "E" games would have their place and then games like Super Smash Bros. and (of course) Samurai Jack would have their place.

Another problem with the "Low T" rating - print and online game magazines review the game and compare it against other more hardcore ("Mid T") games. "PT" would set their expectations correctly and we would get more accurate reviews.

It's kind of stupid for the ratings board to make these distinctions of "Low T", "Mid T", and "High T" and not make those distinctions obvious to Mom and Dad.

I would think the same distinction needs to be made for "High T" games. They need a rating too. Medal of Honor is an "M" game except that there is (1) no blood and (2) it deals with a historic event. So it is a "High T" game.

BTW, I'm not making this shit up. All of this "Low T" etc. stuff comes from a talk I attended that was presented by the ESRB. Medal of Honor was specifically addressed in the talk.

My undestanding is that the ESRB wants a pretty simple ratings system, which is why there is no "PT" or "HT" rating. I think that thinking was fine when Moms and Dads were less sophisticated about games, but games are mainstream enough and there is enough awareness of these distinctions that the overly simple system the ESRB has now is not doing anyone any favors anymore.

My proposal just exposes distinctions that the ESRB is making internally already.

Do you know how many people set the rating for a game?


Three people actually look at the game, but if two agree on the rating, then that's it.

I read a science fiction story once where statistics and polling were so advanced that voting for president came down to sampling one person's opinion. The rest of it was interpolated by computers.

The ESRB is almost there.