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The Orange Box
Their dedication to the Team Fortress 2 community makes Valve's online shooter a blast.
Online shooters don’t evolve. They land on your hard drive, and if there’s a bug, or a new map, or a new gun, the developers or publishers might stick out an update. But they are as is, and they’ll eventually tire me out.
This was how I expected it to be when Team Fortress 2 launched in October 2007. And back then, at first glance, it was just a brilliant shooter. A few maps, nine classes, lots of fun, and I’d be done with it in six months. Even as I was enjoying playing the Spy, the invisible weakling capable of terrorising teams only when their backs were turned, I was wondering what game was next.
Make the Team
As it turns out, “next” was TF2. In January 2008, Valve showed me the new game mode, Payload, and the initial designs for the Medic update. As much as they’d perfected the game to the point where they were happy to release it, millions of people playing it had exposed weaknesses in their impeccable design.
This is why I still play Team Fortress 2. Valve’s unhappiness with their finished game means I’m never more than a couple of months away from a new reason to play, an extra gun to gain, a different map to explore. The classes have evolved: The Spy is still a weakling, but a new watch allows me to stay invisible as long as I need to. A new knife steals the disguise of the player I just stabbed. A Fez makes me ultra dapper. Every class has a similar story: the Demoman can be a grenade spamming death machine, or a head-lopping front-line warrior. The Sniper’s bow encourages him to wander the map, string drawn back, ready to one-hit-kill jerks.
The announcements of these updates are events in themselves. Everything Valve does has to be entertaining, including creating week-long reveals of what they’ve been working on. They’ve hid the Spy’s update in the Sniper update, having him slowly uncloak on the webpage; they set the Demoman and Soldier to war with each other, battling for the highest kill count.
Valve have changed the game so much, introducing crafting and a microeconomy, that it’s no longer just an online shooter: it’s a place where they experiment with the community, taking the game to places that you could never have imagined when it launched. Every change brings new life, new challenges to overcome if they’ve updated a class you don’t play. It’s now full of gnarly little encounters: Snipers were given a shield that protects them from a Spy’s backstab, so I got proficient with the Spy’s powerful Ambassador for headshots. Demomen now have a speed boost that they can use to charge into battle with their giant sword, but a Pyro’s airblast can frustrate the raging Scotsman by knocking him back the way he came from.
Which has resulted in my favourite game of the past three years, and nothing being able to topple it this year. I play mostly on the PC Gamer TF2 server. It’s a pub, but with plenty of regulars. When we started, 2Fort was where we spent most of our time. Now it’s the various payload maps that make up the most popular battlegrounds, Heavies can heal themselves; Scouts are hitting people with fish; people are trading weapons and hats. I’ve pushed that bomb cart countless miles, ridden on top of it pulling dramatic poses; I’ve dived in behind it as it was about to tip into a hole full of explosive barrels, stabbing everyone. I’ve flailed, missed my stabs, ran away from angry Pyros into a sentry gun’s range, raging as the kill cam zooms in to show a dancing Engi behind his little nest.
I’m there after every update, and as long as Valve keep updating it, I think I’ll keep coming back.
Dec 21, 2010
The Steam Christmas sale has launched, kicking off a series of deals that will throw ridiculous bargains at us every day from now until the new year. As well as the daily deals there's a selection of developer and publisher packs offering as much as 86% off entire game catalogues. Read on for more on the spectacular deals on offer.
Today's sales have the rock solid platformer, Super Meat Boy going at 75% off, Fallout 3 at 33% off, the excellent action RPG, Titan Quest at 75% off. Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is also on sale at a third of its normal price.
Every day one of the new offers will be eligible for a special holiday bonus. The discount on these games will increase if you own a certain game. For example, today's special deal is on Portal. It's 75% off everyone, but if you own Half Life 2, you'll get an extra 10% off.
The huge game packs and publisher catalogue deals will be available from now until January 2nd, and offer the biggest savings. The THQ pack is currently offering 21 THQ games for the price of one, and contains gems like Company of Heroes, Stalker, Dawn of War and Dawn of War 2. The Square Enix & Eidos bundle is also another great deal at 86% off, and that includes Batman: Arkham Asylum, Deus Ex, the Hitman series, Just Cause 2 and much more.
You'll find the full list deals listed on Steam. What will you be buying?
The Team Fortress 2 Christmas event launched this weekend giving everyone a chance to celebrate Christmas in true Team Fortress style. The update adds a new medieval, melee-only map and a series of mysterious festive crates that can be unlocked to reveal new items, which are also available to buy now in the Mann Co store. It's all in the spirit of Australian Christmas. What the hell is Australian Christmas? Read on for details, and an overview of the new items.
It's all explained on the official Team Fortress 2 blog. Australian Christmas seems to be an excuse for everyone to meet up in a castle and bash each other. The new arena is a control point map is set in the ramparts of a medieval fortress. The catch is that everyone playing has to use melee weapons. The frenzied scenes of players running in small circles trying to decapitate each other are only improved by the the addition of lordly language to everyone's text chat. Verily, 'tis hilarious.
The update adds three new item sets for the Heavy, the Medic and the Demoman. You'll find the stats of each item listed below. All the Christmas items are for sale in one £19.99 bundle, or you can pay £29.99 and get the Christmas items bundled in with the Polycount Pack. Below you'll find an overview of the new items along with descriptions of their special abilities.
A medieval bonesaw
On taunt, applies a healing effect to all nearby allies
A medigun mounted onto a crossbow stock
Fires bolts that heal team mates and deal damage based on the distance to the target
Berliner's bucket helm
Item set bonus
Medic wearing all items will regenerate 1 health every second
The Brass Beast
Gleaming brass minigun
+20% damage done
50% slower spin up time
-60% slower speed while deployed
The Buffalo Steak Sandwich
A great big hunk of steak
When consumed, temporarily increases movement speed.
All damage dealt and taken will be minicrits
Can only use melee weapons
The Warrior's Spirit
Hand mounted bear claws
+30% damage done
-20max health on wearer
The Big Chief
Native American Headdress
Item Set bonus
+5% critical hit damage resistance on wearer
Double barrelled grenade launcher
+10% damage done
+25% projectile speed
-60% clip size
Launched bombs shatter on surfaces
+25% damage to self
The Ullapool Caber
A stick bomb that is also a melee weapon "a sober person would throw it"
No random critical hits
Riot gear helmet
Item Set Bonus
+10% fire damage resistance on wearer
A series of festive crates will also be dropping from now until new year. To open these crates you'll need to buy a festive key from the Mann Co store for £1.99. The crates will contain a random surprise, so far people have reported receiving rakes, candy canes and occasionally, one of the new Christmas weapons. The festive crates will disappear on December 31st. All festive keys will revert to ordinary keys come new year's day.
For more Team Fortress 2 Christmas happenings check out the Killing Floor goodies that were recently added. Have you played the new map? Let us know what you think.
Dec 14, 2010
After five years of work, GoldenEye: Source is finally out of beta and free for everyone to download and play. This Half Life 2 mod brings a multiplayer adaptation of the famous Nintendo 64 shooter GoldenEye to the Source engine, complete with the most famous locations, characters and weapons from the original.
Familiar locations like Facility and Complex have all been rebuilt in high definition to work with Valve's Source engine. There are 22 maps to fight on with 11 characters split between MI6 and Janus forces. There's no single player component at the moment, but GoldenEye's famous multiplayer has been recreated from the ground up, with recreations of many of the original weapons, including the always slightly rubbish Klobb sub-machineguns and the deadly Golden Gun.
For a full overview, check out the GoldenEye: Source ModDB page. The mod can be downloaded right here. You'll need a copy of Half Life 2 to run it.
Dec 13, 2010
Valve headquarters is full of secrets, and there's a constant stream of spies trying to infiltrate the inner sanctum. This is why Valve have splashed out on an extra bit of security for their lobby, a life size sentry gun from Team Fortress 2, complete with motion sensors. There's a video below of the sentry gun in action.
The sentry gun was built by the WETA workshop, a design and manufacturing company that has created props for the Lord of the Rings films and Avatar. Now they've turned their attention to Team Fortress 2, and created the remarkable machine shown in the video below.
We already know and love that the most athletic player movement happens on PC. Today, we learned of a new act of space-time gymnastics worthy of our internetting. DemonStrate has completed Portal in 10 minutes, utilizing known and new exploits to zap GLaDOS in the groin in just over 600 seconds. Prepare for irony: the sprint allegedly took two years to perfect. Video footage on the other side of this hypertext portal.
DemonStrate has also completed a Half-Life 2: Episode 2 speedrun, if you like spending your afternoons watching men ignore Combine soldiers.
Dec 3, 2010
Valve's department of mad scientists have decided that they need more guinea pigs on which to test their insane schemes, and have decided to launch a Team Fortress 2 public beta. The beta will play host to massive game changing experiments and will let Valve test out new tech without breaking Team Fortress 2 proper. Read on for details on the first round of changes in the beta, and details on how to sign up.
These are the changes for the first beta release.
Three Natascha variants:
25% damage, -25% health
Spin-up/down time increased, slowdown-on-hit effect falls off over distance.
cp_granary: new entrance added into the RED and BLU mid ramp room.
cp_5gorge: 5 CP version of cp_gorge.
Misc balance changes:
Players being healed by a medic are immune to movement-impairing effects generated by hit-scan weapons.
In future we can look forward to "higher level, game-wide experiments", like doubling all player health. The beta should prove to be an interesting insight into the ideas Valve have for Team Fortress 2's future, and also a good excuse to play TF2 with some crazy rulesets. The beta can be installed directly from your Steam games library, so it's dead easy to jump in and test the new changes. Full details on the beta launch can be found on the Team Fortress 2 blog.
For more on Valve's plans for Team Fortress 2, check out part one and part two of our huge Valve interview. What do you think of the first round of changes, and what rules would you put into the beta?
Nov 23, 2010
It's been a fine few weeks for charity projects. An indie sock sale recently raised thousands of dollars, and a team of heroic volunteers are even now braving the terrible boredom of the Desert Bus challenge. The latest effort for Child's Play might just top them all. How would you like to own your very own Portal gun?
This replica of Chell's Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device can be switched between blue and orange portal firing modes, and even makes the pew-pew portal sounds when triggered. The gun will go on sale as part of the 2010 Child's Play Charity event auction in Seattle on December 7th. To see how this amazing replica was created, check out the project's build blog. Here's a video showing the gun's various features:
Nov 19, 2010
Team Fortress 2 isn’t entirely about hats. Somewhere within is a game you can be good at. Some people are better than others. TCM Gaming have been sitting at the top of nearly every professional TF2 gaming league for the past few years, and as such they’ve managed to accumulate a vast sum of knowledge on how to not get yourself stabbed in the back, headshotted, blown up with a cluster of stickybombs, or killed by a sentry gun over, and over, and over again. They explain exactly what to do, and what not to do, below.
1. Stick together
It’s not called Team Fortress 2 for nothing, and so it’s hardly surprising that you’re probably going to need to work as a team. But what does ‘team’ even mean? Matthius ‘Zerox’ Kühl thinks he’s figured it out. “Six individually great players won’t make it to the top unless they learn how to play together. It is important to attack and retreat as a group, help each other out or know when to flank the opponent during an attack. You have to learn how each player in your team thinks and reacts to certain situations and use it for your game. Therefore you also need to know how to play the other classes. Only when you understand the pros and cons of the classes your teammates have to deal with can you help them out or time your actions right. But even if you know your mates for years, you will never be able to read thoughts. That's why it is essential to tell everyone what you are doing or what you are gonna do.”
2. Find a team you can be friends with
Chums. They’re the best. They buy you a round when you are too stingy to buy one yourself, and they ubercharge you that second before you were about to die. Or they don’t, and you don’t speak to each other for weeks. “There are several ingredients to a successful team,” Says Jim ‘XMan’ Maguire, “but one of the most important one's is friendship, and actually enjoying each others company. Whenever we have a big game, be it online or LAN, I always tell the guys to go and enjoy their game. If you’re having fun you play with passion rather than repetition. All the skill in the world means nothing if you hate what your doing.”
3. Turn down the graphics
Aww, man, you just died because you couldn’t render that crit rocket fast enough. You need to upgrade. Make sure everything is running properly. Maybe even buy a new mouse. It’s ok, Zerox can help you out. “You have to have a good system to run TF2. This game is very demanding on CPU power and since it is essential to get the best response and feel from the game, even in the most frantic mid-fights, you need to have good hardware or tune down the graphics to run the game at the desired fps rate. What you will also want to do is turn off any unnecessary graphic effects like HDR. They draw to much power from your PC, but be aware that you don't disable effects which give you additional information, like shadows. Something that takes time to find is your own personal setup; the right mouse, mouse mat and sensitivity can make a lot of difference. There is a great deal of choice on the market so you need to find out what kind of settings you prefer.”
4. Buy a Headset. Use Intelligently
You know what I really hate? I hate it when the only thing I can hear in a game is the excellent voice acting of the TF2 characters. Sure, they’re funny, and they usually help communicate what’s going on, but they’re not people, and people have a larger, more eloquent vocabulary. It’s the truth. “Communication is a key element to winning in any clan you join.” Says Ahmed ‘Byte’ Fansa, communicating to me. “Make no mistake this game, when played at the top level, is very fast, so don't forget it's not just one player. It’s six ones. That's six different thought processes which may need to be communicated. So when one player starts transmitting useless information it scrambles other, IMPORTANT messages that may have been transmitted yet not picked up due to other useless comms. My best advice would be to keep it simple, keep it smart. Never repeat your communication more than two or three times.”
5. If you're practising a class, try deathmatch
Apparently it takes 10,000 hours to truly master something, so my paltry 300 hours of TF2 played means that I probably need to put in some more practice if I want to reach that high watermark. But it’s not entirely about how much you play, so much as how you play, says Byte. “The problem that some players feel is that they put in the time, but the fundamental difference is they use the right practice. There is no point in learning something if the method is incorrect, as it will in the long run be worse off for you. So if you are to dedicate time make sure you do it right and find out the proper techniques of achieving what you want to achieve. In the case of Team Fortress 2, if you are trying to master your own class individually then you should be thinking of playing on some death matching servers, watching some demos of the top players in that particular class, and then watch your own style to see how you can adapt and change.”
6. Earn Some Repute
Don't fall in the trap of talking your way through the community rather than showing your skill. Keep your mouth shut and buckle down. That’s the advice Byte gives when it comes to actually breaking through into the ranks of the TF2 professionals. “Reputation is key part of a player's profile being accepted in the community and being well known. My best advice would be to stay quiet, and build up your rank via your skill and own doing. This method is the hardest way to get recognized and have a great reputation, but then again think about it in life since when has getting a reputation ever been easy? No pain no gain."
7. Think, don't just shoot
You know that time you got sniped because you forgot there was a sniper up on the balconies in 2Fort? That was because you didn’t have sufficient Game Sense. Same thing when you didn’t realise your Buff Banner was charged, and your entire team got slaughtered. Byte let’s you know about the importance of Game Sense. “When you execute a certain game sense movement with your class, it can be the difference between winning the round or losing it." So what's the best way to improve your game sense? "There is no clear cut answer to the question as it requires various other elements being learnt properly. This includes dynamic play/awareness/anticipation. The game sense is like the outer bubble of your entire career in Team Fortress 2, sure you can have the aim, sure you can have the position and you can even have the advantage but what is the use if your game sense lets you or your team down?”
8. Learn to dodge
Just as important as killing the other guys, is avoiding taking damage, and being in the right place at the right time.“Practice your aim, movement and Rocket/Sticky-jumps," advises Xerox. "A Demoman for example should not arrive late to a mid-fight or half his team will already be down. Just as important as aim is dodging. The less damage you take the bigger your chance of winning your fights. Experience obviously plays a huge role in increasing your skill level. Playing with and against good players will improve your aim, game sense and confidence over time. I like to train on death match servers you can test different settings and its a good way of warming up your aim before matches.”
9. Adapt And Evolve
You’re going to have to adapt, and learn how to react to the way your oposition is playing. XMan says you need to be constantly shifting strategies. “You will quickly find that other players and teams watch your every move and try to devise ways in which they can best you. Be prepared for other teams to have done their homework on you and to have prepared an Anti Strat to your winning play. The ability to adapt your tactics mid game and to change things up without losing your stride is the mark of a true professional. This could mean mixing several plays together randomly to achieve the same result, but keeping your opponent guessing is the key.”
10. Do Your Homework
No one ever said it would be easy. Part of being a professional means doing actual work, which means you’re not just going to be playing games all day. Sometimes you’re going to have to watch games. I know, life is tough. “To get the edge over other teams you need to figure them out. Specifically, prepare for the matches you have ahead, study your opponents tactics by watching demos and discuss them within your team. Spending half an hour on your server, going through the map-specific tactics is sometimes more valuable than an evening of pickups. It is easy to check out games from top teams and use their tactics for yourself but without understanding them they wont work for you like they do for others. That's why being up to date is essential. Even on old and well known maps the game play still develops. If your opponent comes up with a strategy that you have not seen before it won't be easy to counter it on the fly during a match.”
Nov 8, 2010
It sounds like the start of a joke. "The Heavy from TF2 and Tycho from Penny Arcade walk into a bar...", but that's pretty much the premise for Telltale's upcoming poker game, which pits an odd variety of gaming characters against one another and gives the player a chance to win some exclusive items for TF2. Telltale have released a trailer of the game, showing some of the banter we can expect from the motley crew they've assembled. They've given Tycho a voice! Hear his sultry tones in the video below.
The trailer teaches us that the Heavy is as serious about cards as he is about his beloved miniguns. Head here more information on the TF2 items that will be wagered. The game will be out later this month, and is available to pre-order now on Steam.