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Default No Mutants Allowed - The Rybicki Maneuver

July 24th, 2007, 14:18
Staying with the current trend of examining the gaming press, NMA has an editorial titled The Rybicki Maneuver. This early clip does a good job of explaining the topic:
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?
More information.

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July 24th, 2007, 14:18
That is a very interesting take - and somewhat disturbing.

It is disturbing based on an argument I was having this morning with some folks at a PSP based site. The main person running the site is pretty frank in his assessment of things, from taking Sony to task for their BS, criticizing publishers and developers and actually praising the DS from time to time. This is a real problem for some on the site who think it should be the job of the site to uniformly praise and promote all things PSP.

So in the end, we get this 'praise-only' focus because it is what people think they want! Then they recalibrate their view of 'greatness' based on the sites they have decided they agree with, and it perpetuates …

— Mike
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July 24th, 2007, 14:38
So all games are great, even the crappy ones ?
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July 24th, 2007, 14:52
Yes, especially the crappy ones - since these games sell millions and millions…
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July 24th, 2007, 15:18
An interesting take. Which was the site that had Oblivion as their game of the year and Oscuros mod as mod of the year, a mod that aggressively tries to alleviate glaring flaws in Oblivions Gameplay? Black and white was another one the press made a complete turnaround on.
Partly I think it really does take a while to see the flaws. In the beginning you are wowed, by graphics, by the new things, influenced by the PR, and your own anticipation. As time goes by, you get used to the good stuff, the flaws become more nagging. You read criticism on things you didn't really notice yourself, but you agree that they are flaws. You see newer games that did things better (or remember old ones that did), and you expect newer games to be better, so what was just OK (e.g. animations in Oblivion) can now be contrasted to something better (animations in Fallout).

Still, one would expect a more thorough examination of the flaws. E.g. for Oblivion, controversial gameplay issues aside, the graphics were almost universally praised, sometimes to this day. Although I went into the game entirely with a positive mindset, the graphics annoyed me distinctly in the beginning. Self shadowing looked horrible, the parallax mapping on caves unnatural, the distant blur texture was ugly and the way they popped into the near distance high res version was immersion breaking. The pop-up of whole buildings likewise. The Facegen faces were not as distinct from each other and many just looked unnatural. Sure it created beautiful vistas, but If I had written a review, I would have made sure to mention these flaws so that potential customers can decide if it matter to them.

In summary, I don't know if it is a conscious maneuver or merely human nature, but it sure is annoying.
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July 24th, 2007, 15:52
Tech TV NWN review: The 60-hour campaign included with "NWN" isn't superfluous. It's long, bold, and features the kind of slick storytelling BioWare is known for. You can create any character race and class you like and immediately you're immersed in the story line.

Tech TV SoU review: Lame. Dull. These are words that come to mind when we think of the single-player adventure released with the original "Neverwinter Nights" title.
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July 24th, 2007, 16:41
This sort of thing is pretty common in pseudo-professional review journalism. The reviewers are wowed by first-time impressions and want to endear themselves to the game developers and publishers so they can keep getting promos, chances at first-look articles and that sort of thing. They review with more interest in pleasing the companies than with giving a balanced and objective analysis. But when the game is a few years old and the reviewers no longer feel the "pressure" to please and the developers themselves are more critical of past work, they feel free to say what they really thought, all the while repeating the process with the next big new game.

There's a pretty big difference between professional journalism, where you're likely to find more honest reviews of products, and the more amateur, fan-driven stuff where they have an agenda to please and be quoted somewhere.

It's the same in music review circles with indie stuff. I "worked" in that field for a few years and it's a very sycophantic place to be. I see the same trend in game reviews, which this Rybicki Maneuver nicely sums up.

You know the very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. They don't alter their views to fit the facts, they alter the facts to fit their views, which can be uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering.
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July 24th, 2007, 16:54
Sometimes the reviews are written by different people.

Favourite RPGs of all time: Wizardry 6, Ultima 7/7.2, Fallout2, Planescape Torment, Baldurs Gate 2+TOB, Jagged Alliance 2, Ravenloft: The stone prophet, Gothic 2, Realms of Arkania:Blade of destiny and Secret of the Silver Blades.
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July 24th, 2007, 17:00
Was about to say the same thing. Plus people can change their mind.
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July 24th, 2007, 17:12
People can change their mind, yes, and it certainly happens with all manner of reviewers. I do think that many game reviewers, however, do not actually play the entire game before writing their review, wanting to get their review out first at the expense of any in-depth examination and assessment.
So they write a review at the high point of being enthused about the game, and then a few months later they've finished the game and realise that it wasn't all they thought it was and so take pot-shots later.

Having a change of heart because of changing perspectives, preferences or simply becoming better at reviewing is perfectly fine, and it's not like there haven't been reviewers who have done "another look" reviews, but for the most part I think it's simply a lack of professionalism.

You know the very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. They don't alter their views to fit the facts, they alter the facts to fit their views, which can be uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering.
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July 24th, 2007, 17:18
Yes, people can change their minds … I look at my review of Lunar Dragon Song, the first RPG for the DS and while pointing out the flaws I was more forgiving than I would be now. So there is some 'close to launch' element, but also that I was forgiving of a major flaw than I would be then (you lost health by running).

But that is much more an example of 'hardening my stance' than changing my mind. As for Oblivion, in my review I call it a 'console action game' and remark "Never has a game with so many serious problems been so good!" Which I still believe.

— Mike
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July 24th, 2007, 17:52
This may reflect the nature of the games, too: Morrowind may be less attractive in terms of both graphics and the gameplays than Oblivion is but it has interesting in-world writing, interwoven with unique setting, which are more complex than average RPGs are. Which factor can be more easily bored?

Form an interview with a veteran RPG designer Ken Rolston "Oblivion's Ken Rolston Speaks"
How has the industry changed since you started, and what do you think about those changes?

Rolston: I had once dreamed that roleplaying games would transform culture. I expected roleplaying games to take their place alongside literature, drama, and cinema. It didn't happen that way, perhaps just because it is so much more work for users to produce a narrative than to consume one — or perhaps because crafting narratives as a hobbyist is of interest only to a limited number of people. I'm only a little disappointed, though. For a small number of people, roleplaying games have become a uniquely satisfying pastime, perhaps even occasionally a vehicle for exploring the human condition.
As teams have grown larger, schedules longer, and production budgets titanic, computer games have become almost as slick and polished as television and cinema — and often as dull and formulaic. I preferred working in small teams with short schedules and smaller budgets, and I don't prefer the slick, polished products of today to the rougher, simpler products of a decade ago. Clearly the mass market prefers the slicker games, but I prefer, for example, the original Pirates and Civilization to the various later editions.

What do you think of your work on Oblivion compared to your work on Morrowind? How did your design task change from Morrowind to Oblivion?

Rolston: On Morrowind, I had a much larger role in every aspect of design — mostly because there were so few of us designers, and I was the only one with decades of experience. On Oblivion, we had many more experienced, talented designers, and they had much more control and responsibility for their parts of the design. My personal contributions to Oblivion's design are relatively modest compared with my contributions to Morrowind, and because I am a huge egomaniac, I will therefore always love Morrowind more than I love Oblivion.
Talking of analysis, there can be quite a few interpretations of the same output. What NMA says is just a possible interpretation and it has its motivation to point out how the reviews of the bigger sites are doubtful as well.
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July 24th, 2007, 18:01
Oddly enough, all these points already occurred to me:

Unprofessionalism: the list includes Gamespot and 1up. By any objective list of "professional," they'd probably rank tops in having the means to be professional journalists. These are not fan-driven sites I'm using as examples here. If the assertion is that all gaming journalism is unprofessional, then that's an assertion I can live with. I certainly don't know any branch of journalism so obsessed with self-criticism.

Different reviewers: why should that matter? As said in the article: unless you're upholding the statement that the Oblivion reviewer is a lot worse at his job than the Fallout 3 previewer, the person switch should not matter for the sake of identifying flaws (for reasons explained below).

"A change of opinion": sure, but two things:
1) This isn't opinion, these are "objective" flaws. It's not an opinion that Oblivion had shitty level scaling, it's pretty much accepted as standard knowledge. Faces in Oblivion did look mushy no matter what angle you tried to highlight 'em at, yet that's been ignored up until now. The voice-acting and writing of Oblivion was mediocre, yet somehow this is only being pointed out now. Could you convince me that this is just a matter of change of opinion for one, maybe two journalists? Sure. A dozen (including the non-quoted ones because not everyone had ready-to-use quotes)? No.
2) Back to professionalism. If you're writing for a fansite, then by all means give your personal experience of the game and do not even attempt to go beyond that. But any professional reviewer of movies or music (but, apparently, not games) has to keep in mind that he has a broad spectrum of readers to take into account, and has to keep in mind not what his personal experience was, but what elements of the game could majorly effect a gamer's experience. I'd say that some of the things named here, like "horrid level scaling" or "boring NPCs", would be pretty darned important to note the existence of in a review, even if they didn't bother the reviewer personally, wouldn't you?

NMA says is just a possible interpretation
I'm a bit puzzled by what is an interpretation here. I indicate the timing of the criticism, the early lack of it, and provide quotes for it. Interpretation would be giving a motivation for it, but I don't. The existence of this phenomenon and its timing are objective facts, not interpretation.
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July 24th, 2007, 18:26
Originally Posted by Brother None View Post
I'm a bit puzzled by what is an interpretation here. I indicate the timing of the criticism, the early lack of it, and provide quotes for it. Interpretation would be giving a motivation for it, but I don't. The existence of this phenomenon and its timing are objective facts, not interpretation.
My assumption is that was an attempt to label your article as having just taken quotes out of context to use to bash on Oblivion.

That would be completely missing the point.

When I read your article I was also reminded of LEGO Star Wars, which sites generally gave decent scores to but since they are mostly 20-something single males who are too cool for either Star Wars or LEGOs they pretty much piled along-side the latest SpongeBob and Scooby-Doo games and labeled it as a dual license kiddie fest … until they noticed that people of all ages were having a blast and the game was selling loads. Then they were stumbling over themselves to get out talking about it as a great family game or whatever …

My point is that your point is universal and that folks shouldn't get all 'Oblivion-defensive' about things.

— Mike
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July 24th, 2007, 18:26
All this is hardly something new and has nothing to do with the quality of journalism.

It's called a sliding-line of expectations. It's a part of how humans work. In sport it is evidenced in records being broken continuously due to better training regiments, food and material.

Let's look at the printing press. It was very great that whole pages were carved in woodblock as opposed to writing a copy all the time. The original printing press became less special when the printing shifted to system of loose letters that can be formed to make sentences and pages. If we follow your logic we should burn the praisers of the first type of printing press for not having the modability of the second type.

Oblivion is almost 1,5 years old now, this is a lifetime in software development. Of course it is a little different for people who where the last installment of their favorite series was released almost 10 years ago who settle for an outdated view on RPGs and apparently have no qualms whatsoever with it.

It's obvious that elements that only were a minor distraction at first would become a point of critique later (16 months!).

I was looking at Outcast screenshots the other day. At the time I found the graphics to be great, they still are (for a game from that period), however I wouldn't play a game with the same graphics now. Does that make me inconsistent or did the line of expectations slide?

On another note, there were no female aliens, although they explained that the females and the children lived on a separate continent. In hindsight I could note this as a flaw since it was only an excuse explanation for a part missing in the world. Gothic 3 has the same flaw (exempting the rare buffed up female rebel) and apparently they said they weren't able to implement the females. Two flaws from to games ten years apart, who has the biggest one? Does it even matter that the earlier one has the particular flaw. I say no. I feel the sliding line of expectations should have seen Gothic 3 better, even more so as the prequels apparently had no problems with implementation of female characters.

[Wth this I've probably earned the Ire of both the Fallout and the Gothic community. I should probably go creep back under the rock I came from.
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July 24th, 2007, 18:55
Originally Posted by Brother None View Post
1) This isn't opinion, these are "objective" flaws. It's not an opinion that Oblivion had shitty level scaling, it's pretty much accepted as standard knowledge.
No, but the question of how much it influences the quality of the gameplay experience is highly subjective. How much the game is penalized for having shitty level scaling is up to each individual reviewer. Some will see it as a major problem, others will see it as a minor annoyance.

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July 24th, 2007, 19:00
Originally Posted by Gallifrey View Post
I do think that many game reviewers, however, do not actually play the entire game before writing their review, wanting to get their review out first at the expense of any in-depth examination and assessment.
Possibly.

We had a small scandal here in Germany, where Knightshift (aka Once upon a Knight) was reviewed by someone who didn't like RPGs in general, as it appeared to be. His favourite genre were fly-sims, if I remember correctly.

Although nothing ever changed, it threw aspotlight in this kind of journalism : People theoght - and the publisher especially - that this game had it "deserved" to be actually reviewed by an RPG enthusiast, not by someone who might not like RPGs at all.

This way of writing reviews puts a spotlight on the main flaw : RPgs are reviewd by RPG-lovers, who don't turn theor eyes towards the weak points too much.

Non-RPG-lovers, so to say, on the other side point out flaws much more and much more directly.

This can also be a way to make a game fail : Just see to the "right" person reviewing it.


Not to mention "payed" journalism through advertisement, by the way.
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July 24th, 2007, 19:07
Originally Posted by JuliusMagnus View Post
Gothic 3 has the same flaw (exempting the rare buffed up female rebel) and apparently they said they weren't able to implement the females.
I remember an interview where someone of the Gothic 3 team ( was it KaiRo ?) actually said that they wanted the gowns to move in the wind or so really fluid, and that was a thing they couldn't get, so they rather left all females out until they got this cloth movement into a desired form, than implement females without this"cloth movement".

Then it was too late and the game had to be shipped.

That was basically what I read there, and this is imho the far most sh…BEEEP argument I've EVER been told.
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July 24th, 2007, 19:16
Originally Posted by fluffy bunny View Post
No, but the question of how much it influences the quality of the gameplay experience is highly subjective. How much the game is penalized for having shitty level scaling is up to each individual reviewer. Some will see it as a major problem, others will see it as a minor annoyance.
Sure, but it takes quite a bit of individual experience to make the flaw completely not exist to the point where it's not worth mentioning even when you're explicitly naming flaws.
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July 24th, 2007, 19:17
I'll say it again, then: I LIKE Oblivion. I don't consider Oblivion the second coming or the next best thing since sliced bread. I like the game for what it is: a fun, explorative game where you can do anything you like and go anywhere you like - when you feel it.

I haven't noticed any problems with the FaceGEN thingie in Oblivion, but maybe this is just because these things don't matter to me. What does matter, however, is the writing. And as I've said numerous times before: The misc. (or side quests) in Oblivion are among the best, if not the best I've seen in any games. They are imaginative, innovative, and filled with stuff that dreams are made of, especially the quest 'through a nightmare darkly' or the quest that turns the rat quest all topsey-turvey (upside down) or the quest in the painted world.

The main quest - however - is bland & generic - and shows no real talent what so ever. I know this may sound harsh, but to have an invasion from (a dimension of) Hell coming to overtake the world is —- seen before. And it is not only that we have seen this before, this also goes for the execution and carrying out of the main quest. It seems like 2 months or so before release, they went like this *holy…., we don't have a main quest, what are we going to do??* *Hey, I know. Let's do an alien…na… I mean… Hellish invasion* Not approved. I don't much like that you can be head of all guilds and do all guild quests in Oblivion. But that's just how Bethsoft did make Oblivion. So I just only do the guild quest lines I want

Oblivion, like any other game out there, has its share's of faults and shortcomings.
And I'm not blind for these, especially when it comes to the much hyped Radiant AI.
I would rate Oblivion at 80% or so.

I'll have more to say later, but for now, I need to go see Miss Marple on my tv
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