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The History Of Team Fortress 2 (TF2)

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Team Fortress 2 (TF2) is a team-based first-person shooter multiplayer video game developed and published by Valve Corporation. It is the sequel to the 1996 mod Team Fortress for Quake and its 1999 remake. It was released as part of the video game compilation The Orange Box on October 10, 2007 for Windows and the Xbox 360. A PlayStation 3 version followed on December 11, 2007. On April 8, 2008, it was released as a standalone title for Windows. The game was updated to support OS X on June 10, 2010, and Linux on February 14, 2013. It is distributed online through Valve’s download retailer Steam; retail distribution was handled by Electronic Arts.

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In Team Fortress 2, players join one of two teams comprising nine character classes, battling in a variety of game modes including capture the flag and king of the hill. The development is led by John Cook and Robin Walker, creators of the original Team Fortress. Announced in 1998, the game once had more realistic, militaristic visuals and gameplay, but this changed over the protracted nine-year development. After Valve released no information for six years, Team Fortress 2 regularly featured in Wired News annual vaporware list among other ignominies. The finished Team Fortress 2 has cartoon-like visuals influenced by the art of J. C. Leyendecker, Dean Cornwell and Norman Rockwell and is powered by Valve’s Source engine.

Team Fortress 2 received critical acclaim for its art direction, gameplay, humor, and use of character in a multiplayer-only game. Valve continues to release new content, including maps, items and game modes. On June 23, 2011, it became free to play, supported by microtransactions for unique in-game equipment. A ‘drop system’ was also added and refined in this update, allowing free-to-play users to still receive game equipment by use of a random number generator.

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Origins

Team Fortress originally began as a free mod for Quake. Development on Team Fortress 2 switched to the GoldSrc engine in 1998 after the development team Team Fortress Software—consisting of Robin Walker and John Cook—were first contracted and finally outright employed by Valve Corporation. At the point of Team Fortress Software’s acquisition production moved up a notch and the game was promoted to a standalone, retail product; to tide fans over, work began on a simple port of the game which was released in 1999 as the free Team Fortress Classic. Notably, Team Fortress Classic was built entirely within the publicly available Half-Life Software Development Kit as an example to the community and industry of its flexibility.

Walker and Cook had been heavily influenced by their three-month contractual stint at Valve, and now they were working full-time on their design, which was undergoing rapid metamorphosis. Team Fortress 2 was to be a modern war game, with a command hierarchy including a commander with a bird’s-eye view of the battlefield, parachute drops over enemy territory, networked voice communication and numerous other innovations.

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Early development

The new design was revealed to the public at E3 1999, where it earned several awards including Best Online Game and Best Action Game. By this time Team Fortress 2 had gained a new subtitle, Brotherhood of Arms, and the results of Walker and Cook working at Valve were becoming clear. Several new and at the time unprecedented technologies on show: Parametric animation seamlessly blended animations for smoother, more lifelike movement, and Intel’s multi-resolution mesh technology dynamically reduced the detail of on-screen elements as they became more distant to improve performance (a technique made obsolete by decreasing memory costs; today games use a technique known as level of detail, which uses more memory but less processing power). No release date was given at the exposition.

In mid–2000, Valve announced that development of Team Fortress 2 had been delayed for a second time. They attributed the delay to development switching to an in-house, proprietary engine that is today known as the Source engine. It was at around this time that all news ceased and Team Fortress 2 entered six years of silent development. During that time, both Walker and Cook worked on various other Valve projects—Walker was project lead on Half-Life 2: Episode One and Cook became a Steam developer.

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Final design

The next significant public development occurred in the run up to Half-Life 2s 2004 release: Valve’s director of marketing Doug Lombardi claimed that Team Fortress 2 was still in development and that information concerning it would come after Half-Life 2s release. This did not happen; nor was any news released after Lombardi’s similar claim during an early interview regarding Half-Life 2: Episode One. Before Episode Twos release Gabe Newell again claimed that news on Team Fortress 2 would be forthcoming, and Team Fortress 2 was re-unveiled a month later at the July 2006 EA Summer Showcase event.

Both teams sport their own art style to help players navigate the levels.

Walker revealed in March 2007 that Valve had quietly built “probably three to four different games” before settling on their final design. Due to the game’s lengthy development cycle it was often mentioned alongside Duke Nukem Forever, another long-anticipated game that had seen many years of protracted development and engine changes. The beta release of the game featured six multiplayer maps, of which three contain optional commentary by the developers on the game design, level design and character design, and provide more information on the history behind the development.

Team Fortress 2 does not attempt the realistic graphical approach used in other Valve games on the Source engine such as Half-Life 2, Counter-Strike: Source and Day of Defeat: Source. Rather, it uses a more stylized, cartoon-like approach “heavily influenced by early 20th century commercial illustrations” and achieved with extensive use and manipulation of phong shading. The development commentary in the game suggests that part of the reason for the cartoonish style was the difficulty in explaining the maps and characters in realistic terms. The removal of an emphasis on realistic settings allows these explanations to be sidestepped. The game debuted with the Source engine’s new dynamic lighting, shadowing and soft particle technologies, among many other unannounced features, alongside Half-Life 2: Episode Two. Team Fortress 2 was also the first game to implement the Source engine’s new Facial Animation 3 features.

The art style for the game was inspired by J. C. Leyendecker, as well as Dean Cornwell and Norman Rockwell. Their distinctive styles of strong silhouettes and shading to draw attention to specific details were adapted in order to make the models distinct, with a focus on making the characters’ team, class and current weapon easily identifiable. Silhouettes and animation are used to make the class of a character apparent even at range, and a color scheme that draws attention to the chest area brings focus to the selected weapon. The voices selected for each of the classes were based on imagining what people from the 1960s would expect the classes to have sounded like, according to writer Chet Faliszek.

The map design has a strong evil genius theme with archetypical spy fortresses, concealed within inconspicuous buildings such as industrial warehouses and farms to give plausibility to their close proximities; these bases are usually separated by a neutrally themed space. The bases hide exaggerated super weapons such as laser cannons, nuclear warheads, and missile launch facilities, taking the role of objectives. The maps have little visual clutter and stylized, almost impressionistic modeling, to allow enemies to be spotted more easily. The impressionistic design approach also affects textures, which are based on photos that are filtered and improved by hand, giving them a tactile quality and giving Team Fortress 2 its distinct look. The bases are designed to let players immediately know where they are. RED bases use warm colors, natural materials and angular shapes, while BLU bases use cool colors, industrial materials and orthogonal shapes.

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Release

During the July 2006 Electronic Arts press conference, Valve revealed that Team Fortress 2 would ship as the multiplayer component of The Orange Box. A conference trailer showcasing all nine of the classes demonstrated for the first time the game’s whimsical new visual style. Managing director of Valve Gabe Newell said that the company’s goal was to create “the best looking and best-playing class-based multiplayer game”. A beta release of the entire game was made on Steam on September 17, 2007 for customers who had pre-purchased The Orange Box, who had activated their Black Box coupon, which was included with the ATI HD 2900XT Graphics cards, and for members of the Valve Cyber Café Program. The beta continued until the game’s final release.

The game was released on October 10, 2007, both as a standalone product via Steam and at retail stores as part of The Orange Box compilation pack, priced at each gaming platform’s recommended retail price. The Orange Box also contains Half-Life 2, Half-Life 2: Episode One, Half-Life 2: Episode Two, and Portal. Valve offered The Orange Box at a ten percent discount for those who pre-purchased it via Steam before the October 10, as well as the opportunity to participate in the beta test.

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Post-release

Since the release of Team Fortress 2, Valve has continually released free updates and patches through Steam for Microsoft Windows, OS X, and Linux users; though most patches are used for improving the reliability of the software or to tweak gameplay changes, several patches have been used to introduce new features and gameplay modes, and are often associated with marketing materials such as comics or videos offered on the Team Fortress 2 website; this blog is also used to keep players up to date with the ongoing developments in Team Fortress 2. As of July 2012, each class has been given a dedicated patch that provides new weapons, items, and other gameplay changes; these class patches typically included the release of the class’s “Meet the Team” video. Other major patches have included new gameplay modes including the Payload, Payload Race, Training, Highlander, Medieval, and Mann vs Machine modes. Themed patches have also been released, such as a Halloween-themed map with unique items available only during a set period around the holiday. Other new features have given players the ability of crafting new items within the game, trade items with other players, purchase in-game items through funds in Steam, and save and edit replay videos that can be posted to YouTube.

Valve has released tools to allow users to create maps, weapons, and cosmetic items through a contribution site; the most popular are added as official content for the game. This approach has subsequently created the basis for the Steam Workshop functionality of the software client. In one case, more than fifty users from the content-creation community worked with Valve to release an official content update in May 2013, with all of the content generated by these players. Valve reported that as of June 2013, over $10 million has been paid back to over 400 community members that have helped to contribute content to the game, including a total of $250,000 for the participants in the May 2013 patch. To help promote community-made features, Valve has released limited time events, such as the “Gun Mettle” or “Invasion” events in the second half of 2015, also including the “Tough Break” update in December 2015, in which players can spend a small amount of money which is paid back to the community developers for the ability to gain unique items offered while playing on community-made maps during the event.

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Development of the new content has been confirmed for the Xbox 360, while development for the PlayStation 3 was deemed “uncertain” by Valve. However, the PlayStation 3 version of Team Fortress 2 received an update that repaired some of the issues found within the game, ranging from graphical issues to online connectivity problems; this update was included in a patch that also repaired issues found in the other games within The Orange Box. The updates released on PC and planned for later release on Xbox 360 include new official maps and game modes, as well as tweaks to classes and new weapons that can be unlocked through the game’s achievement system. The developers attempted to negotiate with Xbox 360 developer Microsoft to keep the Xbox 360 releases of these updates free, but Microsoft refused and Valve announced that they would release bundles of several updates together to justify the price.

On June 10, 2010, Team Fortress 2 was released for OS X, shortly after the release of Steam for OS X. The release was teased by way of an image similar to early iPod advertising, showing a dark silhouette of the Heavy on a bright green background, his Sandvich highlighted in his hand. Virtual earbuds, which can be worn when playing on either OS X or Windows once acquired, were given to players playing the game on OS X before June 14, though the giveaway period was later extended to August 16.

On November 6, 2012, Valve announced the release of Team Fortress 2 for Linux as part of a restricted beta launch of Steam on the platform. This initial release of Steam and Team Fortress 2 was targeted at Ubuntu with support for other distributions planned for the future. Later, on December 20, 2012, Valve opened up access to the beta, including Team Fortress 2, to all Steam users without the need to wait for an invitation. On February 14, 2013, Valve announced the full release of Team Fortress 2 for Linux. From then to March 1, anyone who played the game on Linux would receive a free Tux penguin, which can be equipped in-game.

Team Fortress 2 was announced in March 2013 to be the first game to officially support the Oculus Rift, a consumer-grade virtual reality headset. A patch will be made to the client to include a “VR Mode” that can be used with the headset on any public server.

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Trading

In Team Fortress 2 players can trade for items such as weapons, cosmetics and utilities. Weapons and utilities can change and affect gameplay in different ways, the main being; some weapons have different stats than others and thus allows a different playstyle. Cosmetic items, on the other hand, do not change game-play at all as all they do is change the way the player looks.
In late 2011, the gaming site Kotaku reported that the Team Fortress 2s trading economy was worth over $50 million.

Third-party websites have been set up to help users trade.

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Free-to-play

On June 23, 2011, Valve announced that Team Fortress 2 would become free to play. Unique equipment including weapons and outfits would be available as microtransactions through the in-game store, tied through Steam. Walker stated that Valve would continue to provide new features and items free. Walker stated that Valve had learned that the more players Team Fortress 2 had, the more value it had for each player.

The move came a week after Valve introduced several third-party free-to-play games to Steam and stated were working on a new free-to-play game. Within nine months of becoming free to play, Valve reported that revenue from Team Fortress 2 had increased by a factor of twelve.

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Marketing

The Scout talks about himself in his entry into the “Meet the Team” series.

To promote the game, Valve has released an ongoing video advertisement series entitled “Meet the Team” since May 2007. Constructed using the game engine and slightly more detailed character models, the series consists of short videos on individual characters, displaying their personalities and tactics. The videos are usually interspersed with clips of the character in combat in the game. The manners which these are presented have varied drastically: the first installment, “Meet the Heavy”, depicted an interview with the gun-obsessed Eastern European while “Meet the Soldier” showed the Soldier giving a misinformed lecture on Sun Tzu to a collection of severed heads as if to raw recruits. The videos are generally released through Valve’s services, though in one notable exception, the “Meet the Spy” video was leaked on YouTube during the Sniper/Spy update week. The “Meet the Team” videos are based on the audition scripts used for the voice actors for each of the classes; the “Meet the Heavy” scripts is nearly word-for-word a copy of the Heavy’s script. More recent videos, such as “Meet the Sniper”, contain more original material. The videos have been used by Valve to help improve the technology for the game, specifically improving the facial animations, as well as a source of new gameplay elements, such as the Heavy’s “Sandvich” or the Sniper’s “Jarate”. The final video in the Meet the Team series, “Meet the Pyro”, was released on June 27, 2012. Newell has stated that Valve is using the “Meet the Team” shorts as a means of exploring the possibilities of making feature film movies themselves. Newell believed that only game developers themselves have the ability to bring the interesting parts of a game to a film, and suggested that this would be the only manner through which a Half-Life-based movie would be made. A fifteen-minute short, titled “Expiration Date”, was released on June 17, 2014. The shorts were made using Source Filmmaker, which was officially released and has been in open beta as of July 11, 2012.

In more recent major updates to the game, Valve has presented teaser images and online comic books that expand the fictional history of the Team Fortress 2, as part of the expansion of the “cross-media property”, according to Newell. In August 2009, Valve brought aboard American comic writer Michael Avon Oeming to teach Valve “about what it means to have a character and do character development in a comic format, how you do storytelling”. “Loose Canon”, a comic associated with the Engineer Update, establishes the history of RED versus BLU as a result of the last will and testament of Zepheniah Mann in 1890, forcing his two bickering sons Blutarch and Redmond to vie for control of Zepheniah’s lands between them; both have engineered ways of maintaining their mortality to the present, waiting to outlast the other while employing separate forces to try to wrest control of the land. This and other comics also establish other background characters such as Saxton Hale, the CEO of Mann Co., the company that provides the weapons for the two sides and was bequeathed to one of Hale’s ancestors by Zepheniah, and the Administrator, the game’s announcer, that watches over, encourages the RED/BLU conflict, and keeps each side from winning. The collected comics were published by Dark Horse Comics in Valve Presents: The Sacrifice and Other Steam-Powered Stories, a volume along with other comics created by Valve for Portal 2 and Left 4 Dead, and released in November 2011. Cumulative details in updates both in-game and on Valve’s sites from 2010 through 2012 were part of a larger alternate reality game preceding the reveal of the Mann vs Machine mode, which was revealed as a co-op mode on August 15, 2012.

Valve had provided other promotions to draw players into the game. Valve has held weekends of free play for Team Fortress 2. Through an early update, hats and accessories can be changed or added to any of the classes, giving players some ability to customize the look of their character. New weapons were added in updates to allow the player to choose a loadout that best suit the player. Hats and weapons can be gained as a rare random drop, through the crafting / trading systems, or via cross-promotion: Limited-edition hats and weapons have been awarded for pre-ordering or gaining Achievements in other content from Steam, both from Valve (such as Left 4 Dead 2 and Alien Swarm) or other third-party games such as Sam & Max: The Devil’s Playhouse, Worms Reloaded, Killing Floor, or Poker Night at the Inventory (which features the Heavy class as a character). According to Robin Walker, Valve introduced these additional hats as an indirect means for players to show status within the game or their affiliation with another game series simply by visual appearance. The Red Pyro, Heavy, and Spy all function as a single playable character in the PC release of Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed. The game’s first television ad premiered during the first episode of the fifth season of The Venture Bros. in June 2013, featuring in-game accessories that were created with the help of Adult Swim.

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Reception

Upon release, Team Fortress 2 received widespread critical acclaim, with overall scores of 92/100 on Metacritic. Many reviewers praised the cartoon-styled graphics, and the resulting light-hearted gameplay, and the use of distinct personalities and appearances for the classes impressed a number of critics, with PC Gamer UK stating that “until now multiplayer games just haven’t had it.” Similarly, the game modes were received well, GamePro described the settings as focusing “on just simple fun”, while several reviewers praised Valve for the map “Hydro” and its attempts to create a game mode with variety in each map. Additional praise was bestowed on the game’s level design, game balance and teamwork promotion. Team Fortress 2 has received several awards individually for its multiplayer gameplay and its graphical style, as well as having received a number of “game of the year” awards as part of The Orange Box.

Although Team Fortress 2 was well received, Team Fortress 2‘s removal of class-specific grenades, a feature of previous Team Fortress incarnations, was controversial amongst reviewers. IGN expressed some disappointment over this, while conversely PC Gamer UK approved, stating “grenades have been removed entirely — thank God”. Some further criticism came over a variety of issues, such as the lack of extra content such as bots (although Valve have since added bots in an update), problems of players finding their way around maps due to the lack of a minimap, and some criticism over the Medic class being too passive and repetitive in his nature. The Medic class has since been re-tooled by Valve, giving it new unlockable weapons and abilities.

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Phil Williams

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