Monday, March 24, 2008

My interview with Joe Rybicki (of the 1up network and writer of the EGM article)

I was able to do a Q&A with someone the SOCOM community should be familiar with by now, Joe Rybicki, who free lances for the 1up network and is the man behind the SOCOM Confrontation EGM cover story arriving this week. I'm sure you will all enjoy this interview, and look for the 1-word peak at his cover story at the end of the Q&A.

Q: First of all, thank you for doing this.

My pleasure!

Q: What is your current position at Ziff Davis, and can you tell us a bit about your history in video game media?

Well, I'm part of the stable of regular freelancers for Ziff, which means I don't really have a "position" with them per se anymore. I started doing freelance after OPM closed in November 2006 -- before that I was with OPM since its launch in 1997, and with its predecessor P.S.X. for about a year before that; I started in June of 1996. This was right out of college. And by "right out of" I mean, "two weeks after graduation." I was very, very lucky to be in the right place at the right time.

Q: When did you first play a SOCOM game and what were your first impressions?

This would have been at an E3 over a year before the first game launched. So, probably E3 of 2000? Sony had started talking up their online initiative for the PS2, and was showing this SEALs game. And let me tell you: It. Was. AWFUL. The game ran at about 10 frames per second, the whole thing looked muddy and choppy and just kind of goofy. I saw what they were going for with the realism, but it was obviously taxing the system way too hard, and the whole voice-command thing seemed like a cheesy gimmick that didn't work all that well.

So, fast forward a year to E3 2001. I get assigned to cover the game again, and go into the demo dreading what I'm about to see. And it turns out they fixed really just about everything I had griped about. I remember seeing how you could hide in a bush and basically be completely invisible to other players, and just getting so thrilled by the idea. I was pretty much hooked from that point on.

Q: What is it about these games to you that have made them so addictive?

I think it's the fact that SOCOM is one of the few shooters in which strategy is really more important (or at least can be) than raw manual skill. Yeah, if you're an insanely good shot you're going to do well, of course; but you can also do well by picking great hiding spots, planting mines in the right places, picking the right weapon for your play style, learning to lob grenades where (and when) you want them to go -- and more importantly, working together with your team. I don't know of any other game I've played where communication is as important as it is in SOCOM.

Q: Do you still ever get online and play a few rounds in SOCOM 1 or 2?

Every once in a blue moon, but it's very, very rare these days. I did just play S2 last weekend, and I was amazed by how quickly I could get back into the groove. This was after not having played in probably two years. By contrast, I jumped onto Halo 3 that night after not playing for just a couple months, and repeatedly got my ass handed to me. Different games, of course, but it was a pretty striking contrast.

Q: How would you rank the SOCOM console games, in terms of your favourite to least favourite?

Definitely S2 in the top spot. But here's where I'll piss off your readers: I'd almost always rather play S3 than S1 -- mainly because S2 and S1 are so similar. If I want the old-school style I'll play S2, if I want new-school I'll play S3.

Q: What are your top 3 favourite online SOCOM maps (over any of the games)?

Hrm. I'm not sure I can rank these, because my favorites change depending on how I feel like playing at any given time. But I'd say Abandoned has always been one of my favorites, in part because I got so good at tossing grenades through the windows of that center structure...I really liked the way Enowapi could play out with very good players on both sides...and Desert Glory was one of those that allowed for so many different play styles that I always had fun with it. I also really liked Last Bastion, but didn't get as much chance to play it as the others 'cause of the way it was distributed. If only more of you had bought those issues of OPM with the maps on them!

Yes, I'm kidding, of course.

I'll also say that I never liked Rat's Nest and always actively hated Fish Hook. I have no idea why people still play that map. And Crossroads? It's fine and all, but I honestly don't get what exactly it is about that map that everyone loves so much. I like it fine, but it's probably not even in my top five.

Q: What are your thoughts about the direction Zipper took with SOCOM 3?

At first, I really liked it. It seemed to me that it totally brought the SOCOM feel into a vehicle-based game. But once I brought it home, it sorta just sat on my shelf. I think the problem might have been that addition of vehicles tipped the balance back toward raw skill and away from strategy. I think this was exacerbated by the huge size of the levels, which made it harder to work together with your whole team...or at least, people in the games I played seemed disinclined to work together.

Q: Do you like the direction Slant Six took with the PSP SOCOM game, Tactical Strike?

Loved the idea, but damn did I have problems with the execution. I really hope they do a sequel, if only to get rid of all the problems. Here's my review if you're interested in the whole story:

Q: You're one of the few people I've come across in the popular media who really seem to 'get' SOCOM and the community. Do you think the media has largely ignored this franchise over the years? If so, why do you think that is?

You know, I never really got the sense that SOCOM was ignored in the gaming media, but of course my perspective is unusual. If it was, it's probably because the Xbox side was all about Halo for so long, and the PC side was all about Counter-Strike or whatnot. Or maybe it's because Microsoft was launching XBL right around that time and that became more of a focus for online play. I dunno. I've always wondered why people aren't as right as me.

Q: Its safe to say that the SOCOM community was shocked when SOCOM Confrontation was announced and it sounded like our prayers might finally be answered. What were your initial thoughts after the announcement?


I had to forcibly remind myself of my experience with the first game, and that Confrontation was still way, way early. (And yeah, those new screens you've seen? Those aren't touched up. The game really does look that much better than the first screens.) Just a couple hours after they showed it, I got to sit down with Seth Luisi, who's the director of development for the franchise, and once he'd given me all the details about wanting to get back to the feel of the first games and so on, I was very, very excited. I didn't even mind that it looked like ass.

Q: We know you can't say anything at this point, but since you were one of the first people outside of Slant Six and Sony, to play SOCOM Confrontation, I have to ask, can you give us a one-word description of your time with the game?


Q: Thank you for your time. The community is eagerly awaiting your article.

No problem! Don't forget to go buy EGM instead of just reading all the details when they're inevitably leaked online, so that they can continue to hire me to write features for them. :)


poprocker said...

Great article man! Nostalgic!!

Derek Ferreira said...

Awesome of you to get this. Your really doing a great job with this blog for the SOCOM fans. Thanks a lot.

Shinta said...

Nice interview man but i am kind of worry about that word nostalgic a hope you said that in a good way but the blog is amazing and thank u David Doel for keeping us updated in the best game ever.


Michael said...

Good stuff! Well done on getting this interview.

moondawg9 said...

Thanks to Joe Rybicki I have discovered many games I wouldn’t have tried with-out reading his reviews -

The Original “Silent Hill”


“Silent Bomber”

Among others . . .

I miss OPM!

It was TANGIBLE. I was looking at an issue just the other day and to see a full page glossy ad for a game kinda shocked me. I have gotten so used to seeing all of my game info on a computer screen. So, actually seeing a HUGE printed image was overwhelming. PLUS, the demo disk gave me a chance to do something I NEVER do anymore - Play crappy games! Sometimes it takes a sense of perspective to realize just how TECHNICALLY amazing your favorite games are . . .