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Gaming history lesson: A literal butt once delayed Halo 2 on Windows Vista

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The video game industry was a very strange place just eight years ago.

Allow me to set the stage: Microsoft was pushing Windows Vista pretty hard, as well as its "Games for Windows" branding. The idea was to control certification and standards on the PC the same way it was standardized on consoles.

Microsoft even made a deal with Ziff Davis Media to rebrand Computer Gaming World magazine as Games for Windows: The Official Magazine. Magazines were like gaming news sites, but they were printed on paper.

bungie butt

Halo 2 was a huge deal at the time, and creating a version with the Games for Windows branding that was exclusive to Windows Vista seemed like a great move from Microsoft's point of view but, if I remember correctly, it annoyed the living hell out of just about everyone else.

There was only one problem: hidden deep in the game's code was a picture of a butt. A secret, hidden butt. Everything came to a screeching halt when this butt was discovered.

You see, the gaming industry was just getting over a controversy called "Hot Coffee," where people found previously inaccessible sexual content in copies on Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. The game had to be re-rated as Adults Only, it was yanked from the store shelves and ultimately replaced with copies of the game that didn't have the offending content. Lawsuits ensued, as did changes in how games were rated and how such content was disclosed during the ratings process. If content was on the disc that was printed and sold, no matter how well hidden, it had to be rated.

So that butt was a major problem. A game without a descriptor for nudity contained nudity. The ESRB had to add the content descriptor so people knew, deep in the game's code, there was a bit of nudity. I've included a picture of the butt in this article, for your reference.

This was the statement sent to the press by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board about the situation:

After the M (Mature 17+) rating assignment was issued for Halo 2 for Vista and just prior to the shipment of the game to retail, Microsoft notified ESRB about pertinent content found in a map editor tool that is being bundled with the game.  The content in question, although likely to be inaccessible to the vast majority of users, displays a photograph of an individual showing his bare backside to the user when a particular error occurs, and thus warrants a ‘Partial Nudity’ content descriptor in order to alert consumers to its presence in the product. Microsoft has therefore applied stickers with correct ESRB rating information to the packaging of virtually all copies that will ship to retail in the U.S. and Canada.  We have been advised by Microsoft that future runs of the game will be produced without the content in question, thus negating the need for the descriptor to be displayed on those versions.

The game's release was delayed, and stickers had to be applied to every copy of the game that shipped with the offending content. If you have a copy of Halo 2 Vista with that sticker, congratulations: You have a sad collector's item.

This all happened during a time when attorney Jack Thompson was on the rampage against violent games, and for a time it looked like the sales of games could be legislated by the government. Capcom even warned investors that a connection between in-game and real-world violence could adversely impact the company's earnings.

This is a strange piece of video gaming history in a few ways, and it shows how much things have changed in under a decade. I don't think anyone worries about an organized media attack on violent games anymore, and the threat of video game legislation is pretty much over as well.

The vigilance that keeps stray butts from making they way into games, however? Unwavering.