The Rybicki Maneuver

Discussion in 'Content Comments' started by Brother None, Jul 14, 2007.

  1. Brother None

    Brother None This ghoul has seen it all

    Apr 3, 2003
    The Rybicki Maneuver
    When to praise and when to criticize: a how-to guide

    By Brother None</center>

    I admit it, I'm no Elder Scrolls fan myself.

    Roguelike RPGs just aren't my genre and while I've enjoyed limited playtime with the different iterations the series has had over the years, I've never been hooked, nor really interested until Bethesda studios purchased the Fallout license. At that point, it seemed like a good idea to pay more attention to their press coverage than I would've normally done.

    The (p)reviews were unanimously impressive, generally a sign of a durably classic or alternatively a good game that'll wow you out of your pants the few times you play it. I can't claim my personal experience playing through Oblivion matched up with what I had read in the previews or reviews. More importantly, there's something odd that's been going on more recently, concerning this title.

    The first sign of a paradigm shift on the horizon was PC Zone's top 101 games of all time (ref), where they placed Morrowind (#4) above Oblivion (#13) with the note Ooh, aren't we controversial? Yes, but constant bickering among the PCZ team has left the Vvardenfell lobby victorious. The argument runs thusly: Morrowind is a better game than Oblivion, if only for the things that Bethesda sacrificed in their pursuit of making the latter that bit more action-orientated.

    That looks odd when you compare it to the opening of their review of Oblivion (ref): Magesterial. That's the word we're looking for. Morrowind can take the plaudits for laying the groundwork and scrubbing out the rules of location linearity in role-playing, but The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion takes that model, streamlines it, seamlessly integrates exhilarating combat, smothers it in beautiful graphics and takes both Tamriel and the art of role-playing to an unprecedented new height.

    So which one is it?

    Morrowind just laid the groundworks for Oblivion or Oblivion loses out to Morrowind on the basis of being more action-orientated? It can't be both, so what causes the difference in opinion between these two pieces?

    And there we arrive at the central point of this article; the Rybicki Maneuver. In short the maneuver means that as long as your opinion on the product actually matters towards the game's sales, don't be too critical. The moment criticism doesn't matter anymore or, even better, criticism can be used to say "they won't do this again", do a 180 and suddenly claim the flaws you didn't mention in your review should be obvious to anyone.

    A good example and the source of the maneuver's name (with apologies to Joe Rybicki, but the Rybicki Maneuver just sounds better than, say, the Butts Maneuver) is 1up's Fallout 3 preview penned by Joe Rybicki (ref):
    but unlike Oblivion, the third-person view appears to be a viable option for actually, you know, playing the game

    And this is significant, because Fallout 3 will place a much greater emphasis on conversing with non-player characters than Oblivion did. Sure, you could talk to all 1,500 or so NPCs in Oblivion, but few of them have anything interesting to say

    Karma is a sliding scale, and the developers wanted to make sure the game could accommodate all styles of play rather than being limited by an Oblivion-style good-or-evil dichotomy.<table align="right" width="30%" bgcolor="#333333" border="1"><tr><td>Additionally, quite a few Fallout 3 previews had factual mistakes. Examples
    He spent an hour playing the most brilliant First/Third Person Shooter (...) I've seen in a long time (ref)
    It should come as no surprise that the team at Bethesda are fans of the original series. Back in 1997 [originally read 1987 - ed], while working on their own RPG, Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall, they fell in love with Fallout. (ref)
    With your trusty .22 rifle in hand, you can take potshots at the spiders, with a chance of hitting a body part (such as a leg, to slow it down, or an antenna to try to make it go berserk and attack his friends). (ref)
    And before you start saying "Van Buren" remember that that game, too, was made almost ten years ago. It would not be the same game today. (ref)
    [A] pretty gruesome headshot care of one unfortunate super zombie. (ref)

    His colleague on 1up gave Oblivion a 9.0 (ref). He didn't talk about the viewpoint at all, the only problem he notes with NPCs is the voice-acting, not limited dialogue, and no mention of any limited good-or-evil dichotomy. Is the person who wrote the 1up review of Oblivion worse at his job than Rybicki himself? I doubt it. And the reviewer took his time to point out flaws, but oddly completely different flaws than Rybicki did.

    But surely that's just one-time deal...

    Apparently not. While a number of Fallout 3 previews skipped over comparisons with Oblivion wholesale or kept praising Oblivion on the same tone as in their Oblivion reviews (and I applaud their consistency), a number went with the Rybicki Maneuver. Note that all these juxtapositions either show the site directly contradicting its own review or omitting to mention the flaws it sees when previewing Fallout 3 in its original (p)review of Oblivion:

    Bearing in mind the AI routines of the NPCs, which did seem more life-like and engaged in more meaningful actions than in Elder Scrolls IV - ActionTrip on Fallout 3 (ref)

    Oblivion is populated with 1,000 NPC's. Unlike in some other single-player games, the life of the NPC's doesn't stop once the player has left the area. They continue to live their lives even with you out of the picture, with the help of Radiant AI. Each of them is given a basic schedule of events to follow throughout each virtual day. They will shop, go to church, engage in conversation, hunt and even steal. This will all depend on their character traits which are initially decided on by the developers as well as the course of events that takes place in the game. The whole thing is mind-boggling to even think about let alone make. - ActionTrip on Oblivion (ref)

    One of our biggest worries was the dialogue. Oblivion, as much as we love it, isn't exactly the greatest example of NPC banter. Bonkers looping conversations with women talking in men's voices about a Grey Fox are just about dismissible in the Elder Scrolls world. - Eurogamer on Fallout 3 (ref)

    The actual interactions you have with the NPCs are generally well-handled, though. Using a basic topic/question-based conversation system, you get the chance to grill almost everyone you meet, giving Oblivion the feel of one of those old-school adventures where you end up making progress almost as much by being plain nosey and inquisitive as your actions. - Eurogamer on Oblivion (ref)

    You'll also be struggling with moral dilemmas through voiced NPC dialogue choices. The number of NPCs in Fallout 3 is about 300 (as opposed to Oblivion's 1000), so Bethesda has put alot more alcohol and devtime into making their individual A.I. more realistic and natural. Instead of NPCs walking around doing very simple tasks talking basic gibberish, they will roam with more personalized agendas and socialize with other people about topics that interest them. Who needs those flesh-based friends anyway? - Gamerevolution on Fallout (ref)

    Thanks to the game's touted "radiant A.I." system, the cityfolk are impressively lifelike, going to their jobs, visiting the tavern, and returning to their homes to sleep. They'll even make chit-chat with each other if they meet up in the street (which, like the rest of Oblivion, can lead to yet more quests if you happen to eavesdrop.) Shops do feel oddly empty, however, as nobody seems to buy anything except you, and many characters will forget their previous interactions when they revert to the "standard" daily routine. Small potatoes, though, considering how much A.I. is in here. - Gamerevolution on Oblivion (ref)

    And Bethesda really wants to make choices count in this game, much more than it did in Oblivion. After all, in Oblivion you could pursue every quest in the game and be all things to all people. - Gamespot on Fallout 3 (ref)

    Also, the way the quest system is structured in Oblivion is a huge improvement to the way quests were handled in Morrowind. - Gamespot on Oblivion (ref)

    And, thankfully, the horrid level scaling of Oblivion has been more or less phased out. - GGL on Fallout 3 (ref)

    For all the excellence within this game, there are some flaws. Firstly there is the annoying and unpredictable issue of crashing. Both of my test machines experienced random crashes to desktop. (...) The other issue is more understandable and can be largely forgiven. The NPC interaction suffers from some rather illogical and disjointed verbal exchanges. - GGL on Oblivion (ref)

    The animations all looked very impressive, particularly the lip-syncing that looked much more realistic than the system we saw in Oblivion. - Team Xbox on Fallout 3 (ref)

    The voice acting is decent in the game, but conversations are furthered by choosing a pre-determined text block and NPC comments are recycled from time to time. We did encounter some glitches in the audio department, and it can be comparable to the clipping that occurs from the visual standpoint. There were times when the game couldn’t load up fast enough, making sound effects and dialogue either out of synch with the on-screen action or not playing at all. Again, it's not a big deal, but still noticeable. - Team Xbox on Oblivion (ref)

    Where the faces in Oblivion sometimes looked a bit mushed and repetitive, those in Fallout 3 have much more lifelike detail. - IGN on Fallout 3 (ref)

    Actually engaging NPCs in conversation is absolutely impressive - IGN on Oblivion (ref)

    Now, environments looking fantastic in a Bethesda game aren’t exactly new: both Morrowind and Oblivion had fantastical environments, though the characters themselves looked a bit off; not so in Fallout 3. - RPGFan on Fallout 3 (ref)

    Character models are well-drawn and animate with a surprising amount of grace and fluidity. Lips move in synch with speech. Eyes blink, facial expressions change, clothes move. All in all, the characters look strikingly real (save for the fact that most of them look like they have no teeth when they talk…a minor quibble) - RPGFan on Oblivion (ref)

    Without quoting further, a strong impression is left that Oblivion, universally praised as a perfect reinvention of role-playing, has suddenly been demoted to nothing more than a springboard for Fallout 3.

    And so...

    What are we supposed to conclude from this? Nobody can look inside the heads of those reviewers, but why suddenly identify flaws in Oblivion now rather than a year ago, when it would still have mattered for opinion forming? Did they need a year to find these flaws? Do they not dare to criticize the game that early? Or can they only see flaws when they have something superior to compare it to?

    And is this the future that awaits Fallout 3? When the TES V previews pop up, will they read "No more clunky character animations like in Fallout 3" or "No more childish aborted attempts at humor like in Fallout 3" or "This time, quest solutions really matter!" One thing is for sure, the gaming media is better at praising than they are at criticizing, since it takes them a one-hour demo to praise a game to high heavens, but a year to find flaws in a game once released.

    Articles on gaming journalism

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  2. marovincian

    marovincian First time out of the vault

    Aug 28, 2006
    An excellent piece. I'm glad someone is finally taking game "reviewers" to task. The only game in recent memory that I can remember getting a real and frank review that seemed to be on the mark was Doom 3. Other than that, most reviewers seem to be brown-nosing sicofants. I suppose they are all afraid that they will lose their pre-release access or some other perks that we as readers are totally unaware of.

    Keep up the good work Brother None.
  3. Cimmerian Nights

    Cimmerian Nights So Old I'm Losing Radiation Signs

    Aug 20, 2004
    Nicely done!

    The links at the bottom are great eye-openers as well.
  4. Stag

    Stag Guest

    Heehee, people are dumb.
    I like the guy who said that you could shoot a spider in the antenna...

    Nice article, Sister Kharn..
  5. Bezimek

    Bezimek First time out of the vault

    Jul 19, 2007
    ïðåêðàùåíèå ñòóïðî è äàëüíåéøèå äåéñòâèÿ

    Ðàçðåøèòå ïðèñîåäèíèòüñÿ ê Âàøèì ðÿäàì Ïàäæåðîâîäîâ. Ïðèîáðåë 4 Ïàäæåðèê Ultimate 3.2 â êîíöå àïðåëÿ. Íàåçäèë 6500êì. Îùóùåíèé ìàññà! (Áûë âàðèàíò êóïèòü Discovery 3). Êàòàëñÿ è íà òîì è íà ýòîì àâòî
    Ðàçðåøèòå ïðèñîåäèíèòüñÿ ê Âàøèì ðÿäàì Ïàäæåðîâîäîâ. Ïðèîáðåë 4 Ïàäæåðèê Ultimate 3.2 â êîíöå àïðåëÿ. Íàåçäèë 6500êì. Îùóùåíèé ìàññà! (Áûë âàðèàíò êóïèòü Discovery 3). Êàòàëñÿ è íà òîì è íà ýòîì àâòî
  6. SimpleMinded

    SimpleMinded Vault Fossil

    Jun 17, 2003
    An issue that GameDaily brings up though is this:

    And that's something I've really come to struggle with. You might want to roast a game, but if you do... don't expect them to be treating you with the star content at a later time.

    Case in point: Do you think Bethesda will do an interview with NMA? No... because in the end, they're all about making money and selling games and if an interview with us won't help them sell more games (though it could if they had something phenomenal to reassure us with... which they don't), they're not going to do it.

    I feel like after a game has been out a while, it's more politically safe to criticize it as your criticism will be overlooked by the publisher.

    Another, less political look at this is the idea that when you first play something, it looks really cool. I remember when I first bought Black & White, I was like man, this is the coolest game in the world. About 3 days later, I saw that there wasn't too much meat to the game and that it really wasn't all that great. Then again, you'd expect reviewers to be a little more qualified at spotting the stinkers.
  7. Slaughter

    Slaughter It Wandered In From the Wastes

    Sep 24, 2003
    Nice article Brother None. You bring up many interesting points!
  8. seanmike

    seanmike First time out of the vault

    Jul 17, 2007
    Out of curiosity -- you give my quote about shooting at spider as a factual error.

    Now, while I've admitted to two - why did you pick that? At least in the preview I was at, they were referred to as spiders at least once.

    They're giant mutant bugs. I'm not a bug scientist, I'm an engineer and occasional video game writer. I go by what people tell me.

    Admittedly, I'm a bit biased in this discussion - just today, in fact, I put in my staff blog on GamersInfo just why previews are so different from reviews. It's all economics, really.

    I'd have no problem if you'd put in my quotes about Vault 101 or VATS for that part. :D :D (Which, as I stated before, I did retract.)
  9. Tannhauser

    Tannhauser Venerable Relic of the Wastes

    Mar 18, 2004
    The glaring thing is that spiders don't have antennae. That, in association with the fact that every other media outlet that mentioned a battle against giant bugs referred to them as ants.

    It should be pretty obvious to anyone if a particular arthropod is an insect or an arachnid. Spiders have two body sections, a head and a thorax, while insects have three, an abdomen in addition to other two. Spiders have eight legs, insects only six. Spiders don't have antennae, insects do. The eye of a spider has a single lens, insects have compound eyes. Not exactly finicky details you have to be an entomologist to master.
  10. jstrom2002

    jstrom2002 First time out of the vault

    Jul 25, 2007
    A Good Article

    There was actually a gaming magazine that I thought gave very fair reviews: PC Accelerator. Although they did tend to rate FPS LAN party type games (quake, etc.) higher, they usually talked about the flaws in a game without remorse. Hell, half of the fun of reading it came from their jokes about how bad some parts of games were. Clearly they did not care about appeasing any publisher, or at least they weren't serious or credible enough to have to worry about it. Sadly, they are long gone and a lot of their staff left for magazines like PC Gamer, who are notorious for this Rybicki Maneuver you write about.

    While i've sadly come to expect dishonestly positive reviews from magazines or sites that are directly affiliated with the company that provides them with review material (OXM, PSM, etc.), it seems to be the case with almost every game review site. Maybe one day there'll be a Hunter S. Thompson-esque, lone-voice-in-the-wilderness sort of gaming journalist, who writes articles that analyze not just games, but the industry and people involved in their creation in an intelligent way. Of course, they'll still have to pay full retail price for whatever games they review.

    One final comment: I think a good thing to note about the Oblivion Engine, which is not mentioned enough, is that it is very accessible for modders, which allowed the mod community to fix a lot of the problems with Oblivion. Of course, they shouldn't HAVE to do that, but it's nice to know that gamers will easily be able to fix problems with the game, as well as design new Fallout quests and content using an impressive graphics engine. Given that Fallout fans are generally intelligent and talented people, that ALONE is worth the price of this next game to me. I look forward to Fallout 3's version of the drinking mod from Oblivion.
  11. Stag

    Stag Guest

    Thasswhatisaid. I am deathly afraid of spiders, but I know they don't have antennae...Moronotron wrote that.
  12. Seboss

    Seboss First time out of the vault

    Jul 25, 2007
    Nice article. Good points and all but your speculative comments about Fallout 3 in your conclusion are inappropriate in my opinion.
    You tried very hard to steer clear of plain Bethesda bashing but you failed eventually.
  13. Black

    Black Vault Senior Citizen

    Jun 21, 2007
    It's conclusion from Oblivion > Fallout 3 reviews.
  14. Brother None

    Brother None This ghoul has seen it all

    Apr 3, 2003
    Yes, the humor remark is a stab at Bethesda. The other two are not, they're natural conclusions based on what we've seen said on Morrowind and Oblivion.

    If I wanted to go with Bethesda bashing, I'd have talked about stupid combat modes or illogical weaponry

    It's a pretty blatant one, if I have to be honest. I mean, spiders don't have antennae. That's just...very basic information.

    PS: I put your colleague's recent blogpost on editorial quality in my criticism roll in this article, as you may have noticed

    Your write-up on previews is pretty darn defensive, there, to be honest. You could have a point, but you get bogged down in some kind of quest to prove everyone else is wrong. But you forget that others being wrong doesn't make the previewers right. A lack of
    "fault" with previewers doesn't mean previews are material worth more than toilet paper, on average.

    At no point did you convince me, and I'm a pretty convincable person, that I should take the opinion of any previewer seriously. And maybe I shouldn't. And in that case both you and I know I shouldn't, but a lot of readers don't know that. It's up to the gaming media to change the misinformation flow caused by this kind of lack of understanding of angles, points of views and opinions between writer and reader. It's the writer's responsibility to make clear what it is that the reader is reading, that's not the job of the reader.

    The gaming media simply isn't doing that job. And that's what's neckin' ya.
  15. Seboss

    Seboss First time out of the vault

    Jul 25, 2007
    That makes perfect sense.
    But you certainly know how swiftly NMA members and contributors are put aside as pathological nay-sayers and trolls, and your conclusion just begs for this.
    I think that the article would have been better if you just sticked to hard facts.

    I fully agree with you though.
  16. Brother None

    Brother None This ghoul has seen it all

    Apr 3, 2003
    Meh, anything I write is not meant for the pathological nay-sayers and troll, because they're nay-sayers and trolls.

    The article was received well enough by those with a more open open mind.
  17. analord

    analord It Wandered In From the Wastes

    Jun 18, 2007
    Impressive article.

    A word on previews and reviews...

    For some reason Previews always look better then playing the actual game (screen shots especially make a game cooler then it is). I think that's just the way things are and there's nothing wrong with that.

    There are certain companies that like to wind the hype machine, and they end up pretty much lieing about the game by over exhhagerating all about it. This case is different and is pretty scummy.

    On the review end... I think there is the case of oblivion, in which the reviewer does not realize that what he is presently playing is crap and goes ahead to write a positive review before he has appropriately digested what was experienced. Then later, in reflection realizes that what he might've played could just be possibly not good, maybe even bad.

    I would not be surprised if this happened frequently. If i reviewed games this would happen to me all the time.

    On the other hand... there are those like Game Informer who straight up lie in their reviews. I read their stuff and it's not just that what they write isn't true, it's actually opposite.

    I guess on both sides the reviewer is doing a bad job.

    Nothing wrong with positive previews though. At least with the internet now you can see for yourself. and all that.
  18. JohnnyHighGround

    JohnnyHighGround First time out of the vault

    Jul 26, 2007
    Hmm, got sent a link to your article from a reader, and thought I'd add my two cents as the Rybicki in question.

    The problem is, you're overlooking three key facts:

    1. Often -- perhaps most often -- reviews and previews of the same, or similar, games are not written by the same person. Different people tend to have, you know, different opinions about things. For example, when I played Oblivion the fact that I couldn't aim straight in third-person mode annoyed me. But I know lots of folks who never even tried to play in third-person mode, because it's not the default mode, or they prefer first-person, or whatever. So, as with anything, personal preference makes a difference here.

    2. Oblivion really is a fantastically put-together game. You may not like it at all (it appears that you don't), and that's absolutely valid and proper and good. But the game's gotten scores in the 90%+ range from reviewers and fans alike, according to Gamerankings. A game regarded as that good isn't going to have flaws big enough for everyone to mention. The things individual players may be annoyed by will be either different enough that they'll seem inconsistent to this kind of arbitrary audit, or insignificant enough that they won't get mentioned in a review. For example, are you really going to dock a game in a review because many of the characters have similar lines, or reused voice actors, when there are fifteen hundred of them in the game? That's a bit absurd, don't you think?

    3. The game came out almost a year and a half ago now. Technology moves on. What looked or sounded or felt impressive last year may no longer seem so impressive compared to the big, pretty, impressive games that have come out since then.

    I doubt that'll change your mind at all; if we look for inconsistency we can usually find it, just about anywhere. But I thought it might be worth pointing out a few factors you may not have considered.

    Take care,
  19. DirtyDreamDesigner

    DirtyDreamDesigner Venerable Relic of the Wastes

    Apr 15, 2005
    And yet there are games out there with smaller budgets that have used a much larger (and higher quality) voice cast. However that's not the main reason to dislike Oblivion. It's not even one of the major ones.

    I don't dislike Oblivion because it has been technically surpassed, I dislike it because it's an overhyped, shallow, boring game that has been surpassed gameplaywise 10 years ago.

    My $ 0.02. But, anyway, don't think I don't welcome you here just because I disagree with you, I think it's nice to have you here. ;)
  20. Brother None

    Brother None This ghoul has seen it all

    Apr 3, 2003
    Hey Joe. Again, sorry for using your name like that, but it's a great-sounding name. Rybicki Maneuver, kapow!

    The flaws named here aren't really a matter of personal preference, are they? I've heard very few people who thought the bad voice-over work or stupid level-scaling fit their personal taste perfectly. Yet so, so few reviews name it as a flaw.

    See, pointing out flaws isn't a matter of personal preference. Think it's only a small flaw? Then say so, but it's your job as a journalist to still note the flaw is there. Omitting to even mention the flaw can't really be explained by personal preference.

    I like it fine, it's just not my genre. But it's a very pretty, somewhat fun game, from the little I played it. Not my genre, but I liked it fine. I've just been trying to figure out how the experience I had playing it was so completely unlike how the game was reviewed. A little different, fine, I'm used to that, different interpretations, but it's like everything on the screen was the opposite of what I had read.

    No, it'd be more accurate to say "it's not going to have flaws big enough to mention in reviews, only to mention one year later."

    You're not explaining that, Mr Rybicki, and I feel you kind of missed the point of this particular criticism. There's a lot wrong with the gaming media, and I've read about it high and low since you guys enjoy criticizing yourself so much, but while your post here addresses several of these critiques, it doesn't address this one. Why does it take you a year to find flaws most people could in fact see on the first play-through, that many of you are now stating as obvious?

    Only 2 or 3 out of the 12 instances cited are actually about graphics or technology, or maybe 6 if you include the hyped RAI (which I find difficult, because RAI's flaws were not about technology moving on, they were about too much being promised). So that don't work.

    Oh, definitely, that occurred to me and is probably the strongest down-cutter of this article. I mean, as we Dutch say it, "if one wishes to beat a dog one can easily find a stick." We Dutch have crappy proverbs.

    That said, I didn't really have to look for it. It's so in your face, this sudden flip-about, the universally praised Oblivion suddenly becoming a springboard to Fallout 3 as Morrowind was suddenly demoted to springboard for Oblivion before it. Maybe I could understand it if we were just talking about fans or inexperienced volunteers, but you're (supposed to be) professionals. Such short-term and frivolous problems shouldn't block your view, because you've been here before. You're supposed to be the ones to look beyond the more short-term matters and hype and present the cold, hard truth. Y'know, 'cause it's your job.