As we celebrate our 10th Birthday here at Reticule Towers, we’re going to take a chance to look at our favourite games of the Reticule Years. There are few, if any, rules set for what we will write about. So hit the break, and see what we have chosen as Our Favourite Games of The Reticule Years. …
One of the joys, and horrors, of Steam, is the way it so neatly provides you with a playing time counter for each game in your Steam Library. Joys as you realise how much entertainment you have reaped for your £40. Horrors as you realise how much time you have lost after spending that £40. I’ve just flicked through all of the titles I could find in one particular series on Steam, and found that I have played 817 hours of this series. That works out at a smidge over a month at 34 days. 34 days of my life have been spent playing this one gaming series since 2010. …
I am, apparently, good at knitting. Which is to say, when I put 300 odd stitches into a something resembling a scarf last year, I received plaudits for the neatness of my knit and purl and imagined a future in which I would create hundreds of wonderful items with trademark precision, and doubtlessly to widespread acclaim. Never mind that my casting on and off was terrible – practice would make perfect and I’d hit the big time soon enough!
Hello, sometime Reticule contributor Stephanie Woor here, and yes, the paragraph you just read is an overworked analogy for my attempts at games journalism on this site (and only here, really). But don’t let me leave you hanging on the knitting anecdote – I finished that scarf, took a look into something a little more complex and then immediately gave up when it turned out that a couple of solid, core technical fundamentals doesn’t help you when you have no real reason to create something or a reason to create.
The idea when I first approached Chris – who I knew as an intelligent and affable poster active on the Halflife2.net forums (now Valvetime.net) – about writing on The Reticule, was to write and magically get hired in video games journalism. Sure, everyone was pointing out to me that the field was entirely oversubscribed and underpaid, but these now compelling arguments didn’t really mean much to someone whose most recent employment included ‘sideshow operator’ and ’15-hour contract phone shop employee’.
So I wrote, and the Reticule graciously hosted my stuff (I appear to have clocked up 30+ articles, not counting my partial contributions to group articles) – but the story of my foray into journalism just fizzles out there. Basically, it turns out that if you don’t actually pitch articles to publications, you don’t get to write for them. Who knew!
Looking over my output here, it’s sort of obvious why that is though – I didn’t have enough to say outside of reviews of whatever we had codes for. My few features indulge in a pretty narrow list of all-time favourite subjects, and the one potentially good ongoing series I created (‘Gaming crowdfunding weekly’) spent too much time on the obvious, doomed-to-fail dross. Still, I called Nier:Automata character designer Akihiko Yoshida an ‘occasional enemy of noses’ at one point, so from that perspective at least, it was all worth it.
I persisted until 2014, where things started to break down. I was already struggling to find anything to say about the Nintendo games that now occupied my time (lacking the vocabulary to describe the refined play experiences they emphasise, having always focussed more on narrative and broader mechanics). I was also finding that I was reading less and less games journalism, and ultimately you want to produce what you consume (some of us just don’t have faces or voices that can ‘pivot to video’).
But if we’re honest, the conversation around games and games journalism had turned nasty and that dream job writing about games I’d lazily imagined just ceased to hold any appeal. Even putting aside the sense that paid gigs probably meant dealing with a level of audience toxicity I was never going to have put up with in my (better paid, better prospects) marketing job, it just seemed more important than ever for those in the job to have not only something to say, but something to defend and to fight for. I greatly admire those who manage it – but I’ve no real desire to discuss those aspects of my identity that arguably would be the most interesting to pick at in public. Not for the sake of games, and certainly not for “gamers”.
So that’s my sob story done with, and aside from pausing to ponder how many far more talented people were lost during that period (and how many thrived despite it), let’s talk no more of it. For any critical project to last 10 years through changes in both the industry that produces the objects of criticism and that which produces the criticism itself is quite the achievement. It’s always a pleasure to see contributors still working the coalface and weighing in on games new and old. So congratulations to The Reticule on the big 10 – may you last another 10 and may games continue to offer experiences worthy of your comment.
Ten years is a long time. I bought a house, I got married, I had TWO kids (what WAS I thinking) and I finally found out how to use a Chainsaw without killing myself….. In the background of that though was gaming. Always gaming.
Because of the two little bundles of….. erm…. let’s go with ‘joy’ here, my gaming (and writing!) time has had to be wrestled free and jealousy guarded- so it means what gaming time I DO get is oftentimes rare and always, always, precious. This means I tend to fall back on games I know, games I trust, and well, you all know it’s XCOM right?
XCOM: Enemy Unkown, the expansion, and the inevitable sequel have devoured a ridiculous amount of my gaming time. I’ve played it so much that I broke the Steam timer, so all I know is that it’s somewhere north of 200 hours. Now the potentially controversial part here is that it isn’t either of the main games that get my vote as the Game of the Decade; it is Enemy Within, the expansion to the 2012 return that wins it for me. Hands down.
When Enemy Unknown was first on the radar, it was a bold proposition. A world of FPSs, cover shooter and sprawling RPGs didn’t seem the place for a turn based isometric game to make a splash. Especially not one that was missing in action for a decade. Even I wasn’t sure. But it came, and it absolutely kicked ass. The sequel upped the ante, and switched roles. This time you were the guerrilla force attacking the established world. A great way to keep the game fresh.
XCOM for me was always more about my squad than the actual mission (and it’s worth saying the bonds and rebuffs available in the XCOM 2 add to this immeasurably), and there’s something about genetically modifying your troops in Enemy Within that really connected with me. You could also turn them into giant stompy-mechs. I found though, as many do in XCOM, that you start to make your own rules and conditions, so I reserved the bot-ectomy for soldiers who got gravely wounded in a mission. OCP would be proud. It just added something for me, another layer, more character for my team members. I loved it. Always seemed to be Nick who got the ‘upgrade’ mind…
It was still hard, ridiculously so, and the addition of in-mission meld canisters (required to upgrade your soldiers ) meant that even though you had some serious tech at your command, you were always having to stretch just out of your comfort zone to grab all the meld AND achieve the objectives. These missions were so good that they basically formed the template for the majority of the second game’s missions. Oh, and the cloaking skill. SO good.
XCOM will always be a special game for me, especially as a dad (the turn based format means you can literally stop at the drop of a nappy), but Enemy Within is the one that I think stands out above all others in the last ten years. It just added so much extra to the game that made me care more about my team, and made it hurt so much when one inevitably failed to come home. It’s an excellent expansion, and arguably better than any of the ‘main’ versions or expansions since. If you haven’t played it, you absolutely should.
So that’s my vote, XCOM: Enemy Within, FTW.
As I thought about what to write for our feature on the biggest moments in the industry over the last decade, I started to write about how the rise of super-fast internet, and realised it deserved an article for itself. So here we are.
The biggest, most important thing to hit the games industry over the last decade has been the rise and rise of super-fast internet access. Back in 2008, Ofcom reported that UK customers on a broadband deal advertised as offering “up to 8Mbit/s” were in fact only averaging 3.6Mbit/s.
The latest Ofcom report on home broadband speeds shows that average UK broadband speeds were 46Mbit/s. That’s a massive difference, and the increase in internet speeds can be seen to have had an impact across the board, and can best be witnessed with two titles from Rockstar Games.
Grand Theft Auto IV was one of the biggest games of 2008, which on the PC required a mere 16GB free disk space to install. Compare that with what will be one of the biggest launches of 2018; Red Dead Redemption 2. That weighs in at around 100GB depending on your console of choice.
Would video game installation sizes have increased over the last decade without the spread of super-fast broadband? Certainly, the nature of development in physical media with Blu-ray discs and SSD drives would have led to developers creating ever bigger, more richly detailed game worlds.
The initial installation size of a game though is only half the story as day one patches are now de rigueur. Red Dead 2 requires a 3.3GB patch, largely for quality of life improvements, while something like Forza 7 required a 50GB update to be able to access the singleplayer Driver’s Club campaign.
Back in 2008, that patch alone for Forza would have taken upwards of 32 hours to download on an average UK line. These days, it might take two and half hours. It’s still an incredible time-sink, but one that developers consider much more palatable, and are willing to inflict upon the end user.
The ever-increasing speeds of home broadband, and even 4G, are what allow users to turn to digital distribution. The numbers are hard to quantify, with chart trackers infamously reluctant to reveal how many copies of a game are sold through digital distribution. Steam sales figures are one thing, but for a multiplatform release, we rely on a company like Ubisoft revealing that digital sales of Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey made up 45% of total sales. That’s a 10% rise over last year’s figures for Origins.
Without the increase in broadband speeds, would we be seeing 45% of the sales of Odyssey come through digital channels? When prices in the digital sphere (excluding Steam sales) are broadly in line with physical retailers, I have to argue that it is the broadband revolution that has been at the heart of the changing nature of the gaming industry.
It’s been a funny old decade, hasn’t it?
When Chris asked me to write something for the tenth anniversary of The Reticule, I looked back at my previous work on the site, and 2012 now seems like a lifetime ago. During my time here, I had the privilege of reviewing such classics as Portal 2, games that surprised me in a good way like Driver: San Francisco and games that I’d rather not talk about, like Call of Juarez: The Cartel.
Eight years later, the games world has changed significantly. A huge milestone was when The Reticule went from a PC only website to covering all formats, today’s consoles – with their extra apps like Netflix, video streaming and sharing to social media feel more like PCs than ever. PCs themselves went through a period where they started to become more like consoles with innovations such as the Steam Link and Steam Controllers.
Social Media of course became bigger than we could have possibly imagined, and people creating their own content with their consoles exploded. Capture cards, live streaming and Twitch, YouTube channels. Magazines and websites are still around but are wildly different from a few years ago to the point they’re almost unrecognisable. People have more say than ever in how games are made, with more direct access to their developers than ever before, for better or worse.
Then we’ve seen handhelds get smaller, get bigger. Mobile games go from a curiosity to a global worldwide phenomena. We’ve even seen hybrids with the advent of the Nintendo Switch. Expansion packs became DLC, microtransactions and whole debates around the value of a game both in terms of money and time. Games with unique controllers became games with toys, and games with no controllers in the Kinect, games where you build the controllers like Labo. The rise of VR. New business models like Kickstarter, Early Access, episodic – some have worked, some have failed.
What has remained is that gaming has always been this nebulous, ever changing thing that never sits still. It can be exhausting, it can be draining and sometimes we see stuff that makes us roll our eyes. But by the same token, it can bring unbridled joy. It can bring people together, it can form relationships, it can do so many things that it’s hard to pigeon hole the medium into one category.
That’s why it’s more important than ever to be sure that everyone can enjoy it. We’ve made great strides over the last few years, in accessibility, in making people feel welcome, in not letting gaming ever be one particular thing for one particular type of person. We’ve got one hell of a lot of work to do and keep doing to truly get there and I don’t think we’ll ever finish, but I’m not sure we’d put that effort in regardless for any medium we didn’t love and care about.
Many of us took to gaming because it was the main thing that welcomed us when we felt other things in our life wouldn’t. There’s nothing to be gained by then keeping that away from other people, as it only would serve to make the medium more insular. The best thing about gaming is that it is so malleable, it can be everything other media are and then more on top.
I’ve no idea where gaming will go in the future, of course. I don’t think that’s entirely possible to predict. I’m excited to find out, and I’m sure it’ll continue long after me. It can be relevant, irreverent, serious and silly, take on and tackle deep rooted and contentious issues, it can be light-hearted and fluffy. It can be everything in between, if it wants to be.
But no matter what happens, when I look back on these last ten years, I’ll always remember the time I compared Kane & Lynch 2 to a drunken blowjob.
Happy 10th Birthday, The Reticule!
//Ben Borthwick is still freelancing having contributed to several major UK games publications, websites & books including most recently as a project coordinator on Women in Gaming: 100 Professionals of Play by Meagan Marie, which is available from December 4 2018. He can also be found @The_B on Twitter.//
In a little over a week, The Reticule turns 10! Yes, on the 5th November 2008 The Reticule was launched with a bang. Well, considering we started out on the 5th November, that day of gunpowder, treason and plot, we probably should have started out with something more emphatic than just a small “Hi world” post. Oh, the joys of youth! …