For Valve's employees, working at one of the most secretive development studios around constitutes a once-in-a-respawn experience. The leakage of Valve's employee handbook earlier this year colorfully outlined a flat management structure culturing a counterintuitive emphasis on peer-driven independence. Speaking to Seattle Interactive Conference attendees yesterday (as reported by GeekWire), Valve Product Designer Greg Coomer said the same free-form philosophy governing the company's work ethic also factors into firing someone.
"I wish that we had covered firing in the employee handbook," Coomer said. "It was one of the things that we left out. We tried writing it, but we didn't feel like we were capturing how Valve thinks about (firing) in a well enough way. It was almost a wording problem. We couldn't get it done in the time that we wouldn't to finish the handbook. The short answer of how we handle terminations, really, is the same as we approach all other decisions at the company: It's a peer-driven process.
"If it turns out that we made a bad hiring decision, or that somebody is just not working out, there’s a method we use to get the people who are involved in the same room and to walk through the decision about what should really happen as a result of this person not functioning very well. Some of the details are kind of boring, but the main answer is that it's peer-driven, just like we evaluate each other as peers.”
I wonder what a caricaturized "Termination and You" chapter in the handbook would look like—probably the Pyro immolating an office chair or something. Still, Coomer attributed Valve's higher rate of self-fulfillment to the significant flexibility it bestows upon its workers, saying, “There are attributes that other companies have quoted about themselves that they allow their (employees) to spend some fraction of their time actually deciding on their own what to work on, but at Valve that percentage of your time is 100 percent. Every single person is responsible for deciding what they do every day."
Not even a Medic can help them now. Zombies are coming to Team Fortress 2 as part of the fortnight-long Halloween event that will add an undead MvM mission and a new King of the Hill map haunted by the ghost of the Soldier's nemesis/angry housemate, Merasmus. He's placed a magical booby trap on the control point that will spin a "wheel of fate" every time it changes hands. What it does, no-one knows. Apart from Valve. "One of many potentially horrible fates await you! Or maybe something good!" they say.
According to the latest post on the Team Fortress 2 site, magic spells will also drop randomly throughout the event. These can be cast on backpack items to give them "shifting paint colors, ghost summoning, flaming footsteps and more." There are also a couple of new achievements to chase. You'll get the first for killing Merasmus (properly, this time). To secure the second you must "get to Skull Island and claim your reward!" Intriguing.
The event starts today, and will run until November 8.
Oct 25, 2012
Let's face it: default game UIs often don't have the flexibility we need. TF2's is actually generally excellent, with a number of specific settings that lets you toggle stuff like the appearance of Diablo-style damage numbers when you score a hit. But there's always room for improvement; that's why it's great that we have a PC gaming community full of enthusiasts willing to poke, nudge, and sometimes set fire to UI elements to create a more optimized experience.
We took a look at a payload of TF2 UI modifications and found the following fit for duty.
The menu screen was gray, flat. Everything was out of focus. I knew I needed to find a way out. A way to bring more contrast to this rat-infested slum of a Backpack screen. NoirHUD came sashaying out of the internet with curvy buttons and deep shades to fill in all that negative space like a moonlit river spilling over a dam. I knew I was about to have the hat-buying experience of my life.
Improved Minimal HUD
Less is often more, and appropriately, there's not much to say about this mod beyond that it carries our endorsement for anyone that prefer's TF2's existing Minimal HUD mode. This mod takes the existing mini-UI and makes it easier to read, while fixing issues with text getting cut off. It's also multi-lingual, though (obviously, I hope) incompatible with the default TF2 HUD—you have to enable Minimal HUD mode in Advanced Options. You won't be disappointed.
My personal favorite, KBNHud is less obtrusive than the default display, and adds some cool conveniences like positioning health and ammo on either side of your crosshair so you don't have to look all the way down in the corner to know how many bullets you have in your gun and/or your torso.
Disable Pyrovision HUD
Maybe you find yourself in a situation where you want to have a plucky Baloonicorn follow you around, but you can't handle the sickeningly-sweet alterations to your perception that it causes. This lightweight tweak will allow you to equip items that normally cause "Pyrovision" while keeping your ocular nerve firmly grounded in the realm of the less physically painful default UI.
This season's Team Fortress 2 Halloween event is almost upon us. According to the latest edition of the reliably hilarious series of TF2 comic strips, evil ghost lord Merasmus will indeed be behind this weekend's spooky shenanigans. Based on events depicted within the strip, we may get to see some zombie Raccoons. Or a Ghostbusters style Marshmallow Man made of sour cream. Or, more likely, none of those things. Still, it's worth a read for the gags alone. You'll find the whole thing on the Team Fortress 2 site.
Oct 24, 2012
Quick! Flee like you're out-sprinting a zombie and head to Team Fortress 2's webpage. See anything different? That's right, The Spy, usually so dapper, looks like he's been singing "Klaatu Barada Nikto". As is the case with things that suddenly appear on the Team Fortress electronic blog, when you click on it it takes you down a rabbit hole. Tap your mouse on his head and join me. Wheedly whee, wheedly whee, wheedly...
...whee! Thanks for following me down. Ooh, look! It's a page of the Teufort Reader, advertising all kinds of things. I'm going to hazard a guess and say the Wizardcon advert is the salient detail. It's dominated by Merasmus, who plucked the Demo Man's eye from his skull to unleash the Monoculus. What foul beasties he will be responsible for this time around? As usual, it's probably impossible to tell with Team Fortress 2. They're already playing games: if you'll note the bottom right corner, under the torn page. It's clearly a code. No doubt the beginning of a torturous game that'll unleash the info when unlocked. Fiends! I remember when they would just tell us what they were up to. Good times.
A Slashdot user has spotted that the beta version of Team Fortress 2 has received a sneaky update, introducing changes which emit the heady and appealing whiff of Linux support.
"Among the modified files are some Linux-related files including a hardware driver compatibility list, optimal graphics settings, and a shell script launcher (previously only for OS X, now with a case for Linux as well)," writes Slashdot submitter spacenet.
Valve have only acknowledged the existence of this update in a forum post, but not its content, and have yet to update the changelog. Hm! Hm? Hm.
This comes on the back of Valve's announced Steam for Linux private beta, which was said to be going live this month - but has yet to emerge. The interest in Linux also mirrors the inroads the platform is making on Mac - anything, it seems, to put distance between itself and the Windows 8 "catastrophe", as Gabe Newell put it. Can Valve single-handedly usher in a future in which PC gaming is no longer largely synonymous with Windows-gaming? Putting Team Fortress 2 on Linux is certainly a big step in that direction.
Yellow-bellies beware! Valve are cracking down on the cowards who flee games prematurely, leaving their team-mates in the lurch just to avoid an X in their ledger. The changes affect Mann vs Machine mode only, at the moment, and have been designed so as not to penalise people who get booted by the odd connection issue.
The Mann vs. Machine FAQ breaks the changes down. You are only ever punished for abandoning a game. This is different from leaving a game. Abandoning happens when:
You leave a game while playing a Mann Up game on an official server; and
You have not played through a single wave to completion or failure; and
There are 5 or more players currently connected to the server (including you).
Otherwise, you are cool to quit. In fact, even if you do satisfy the abandonment criteria, you will not be punished - at first. The punishments only kick in for repeat offences, though it's not specified exactly how many or often. Luckily, if you leave the game by pressing the disconnect button, you will be informed if you're at risk of punishment.
Said punishment means being placed in low-priority matchmaking pools, making it longer to get into a game.
If you just crash out, or your connection drops, your spot will be reserved for three minutes, allowing you to rejoin without incurring any penalty. Getting kicked for idling is considered the same as quitting intentionally, so you can be penalised. However, being vote-kicked does not count, and you won't be penalised for leaving. Though you may still be an asshole, which is a kind of punishment in itself.
So, quitters, cowards and wheyfaced weaklings - you have been warned. In the words of Saxton Hale, the not-actually-real-though-I-wish-he-was President and CEO of Mann Co:
"I gave you mercs one simple thing to do: Defend Mann Co. from an unstoppable robot horde. Now Bidwell's telling me some of you are abandoning the fight in the middle of attacks. Firstly: What am I even paying you in found money that falls out of robots for?
Secondly — actually, put this first, it's more important — I am coming for you."
Oct 13, 2012
Since its launch, Valve's Source Filmmaker has helped budding directors create literally hundreds of movies - some good, some bad, most.... incredibly goofy. The Team Fortress 2 cast especially has sung seemingly every song, played out every meme and worn every hat and every expression - sometimes at once! But what are the ten best creations? We've scoured YouTube in search of the funniest, the most dramatic, and the just plain prettiest Source Filmmaker movies.
Scout vs. Witch
Easily one of the best directed SFM movies out there, mixing Team Fortress, Left 4 Dead and a fine sense of timing. Scout (no relation to Scout) is one of the more popular TF2 mercs, with his cockiness the perfect antidote to all that zombie misery. At least, while the moment lasts.
Just One More Hat
And he's back, in this fashion-conscious spin on one of Disney's most parodied songs. More worksafe than Dirty Little Mermaid, more morally conscious than Slaughter Your World, it also wins bonus points for having an original TF2 version of a song instead of just looping in a more general one.
Meet The Family
Mostly made (naughty naughty) with the leaked SFM, this was one of the first epic projects to be finished and still one of the best. Scout and Spy team up as literal brothers in blood to kick off a perfectly choreographed race for that all-important Intelligence. Guest starring music from The Incredibles to add pace and more than a little style. No "da-da-da" sting at the end though.
Adventures Of The F2P Engineer
He's smart enough to whip up teleporters and sentries on the battlefield... but he didn't pay for the privilege, so he's probably doing it with his flies open and his shoes undone. When he's having this much fun though, can you really begrudge him? The answer is yes. Even if you're on the other team, sometimes it just gets... sad. Luckily, there are other engineers on hand, like...
An epic war between two professionals who know what they're doing, but don't know when to quit. A little parable about the importance of good manners, respect, and most importantly, not ****ing with another man's sandvich. A true Lesson For The Ages, with some fine music right alongside.
Meet The Soldier (Directed By Michael Bay)
We're firmly back in parody territory for this one; a relatively straight replay of Meet The Soldier, but with rather more boom and a surprising (though not unwelcome) lack of Alyx, Zoey, Rochelle or Chell forcibly being draped over a motorbike or anything at any point to complete the picture of one of cinema's most successful nostalgia murderers. Love or hate it, it's better than Transformers 2 any day.
The First Wave
It's not just a game mode... it's war! Mann vs. Machine gets dramatic in this epic four minutes of the mercs facing their durable doubles for the first time. Bonus points for a return of the disembodied Blue Spy, and a death scene with the power to spawn a thousand bits of erotic TF2 fan-fiction. Which exist. You'd better believe they exist. You have been warned.
DOTA Hero Pals: The Mysterious Ticking Noise
Not so much a 'parody' of the Potter Puppet Pals original as a straight copy with DOTA characters in it, this is still one of the more accomplished movies to come from that game. We just need another eighty or so instalments to cover the other characters, and I see no reason new players shouldn't have enough data to compete at professional level/troll like champions.
Heavy Doo, Where Are You?
I never understood "Scooby Doo, Where Are You?" as a show title. Admittedly my memory is a little fuzzy about the actual cartoons, but I definitely remember Fred, Daphne and Velma doing most of the mystery-solving gruntwork, with Scooby's role being to blunder into helpful things. If you called him, you'd prevent him from doing that. The song makes no sense, is what I'm saying. This movie is more reasonable. If you had to fight Old Man Peterson, having a Gatling wielding Russian psychopath on hand definitely beats anything Scrappy Doo could serve up. Admittedly, so would a crouton.
Chell's life after Aperture isn't exactly unexplored territory, but this Exile Vilify backed slice is one of the more interestingly melancholic SFM movies so far. A little clunky in terms of animation, largely due to the poor Chell rig (at least one other movie opted to reskin Zoey instead of using it), but it makes up for it with a different kind of atmosphere to most and that lovely outdoor setting.
Those are our picks, but there are many more SFM movies out there. Have any particularly caught your attention, impressed you, or just made you laugh? Share their names below...
Mann vs. Machine, Team Fortress 2's robot-infested co-op mode, has been given its first major update - and, as mentioned earlier today, it's a doozy. The free patch adds two new Tours of Duty: Operation Gear Grinder and Operation Oil Spill, which Valve rate as "very hard" and "less hard" respectively. If you're wondering where Operation Steel Trap - the original MvM tour - falls on that scale, it's "hard", or somewhere in the middle.
The Tours come bundled with a bunch of new loot, which can only be acquired by braving Oil Spill or Gear Grinder. Squirreled away in the former are "rusty, blood-covered 'bot heads" (Valve buy the best gifts), while the latter boasts "24-carat diamond 'bot heads". You can see these delightful trophies below.
A smaller, but no less welcome, part of the humungo-update is the promise of improved matchmaking. Valve reveal that "you can now select multiple missions you'd like to play, to maximize the chances of finding compatible players as quickly as possible. We’ve also added some handy buttons that'll let you select all missions of a particular difficulty level, or all missions not yet marked off on a Tour of Duty." Which is nice. You can read the full update here, complete with brilliant Goldilocks analogy.
Oct 9, 2012
By the time you are reading this, hundreds -- nay, thousands -- of brave XCOM soldiers have laid down their lives to defend the earth. Take a moment to contemplate their digital sacrifice, and then help yourself forget by emptying this shot glass of PC gaming news. Today's poison features some oak cask aged Far Cry 3 footage, and a full-bodied announcement of the first major update to Team Fortress 2's Mann vs Machine.
Team Fortress 2's Mann vs Machine co-op mode is getting its first major update. The perfect way to take out your anger about the death of your best XCOM sniper on some goofy-looking robots with a few friends.
Far Cry 3 has another insanity-laden trailer for us, to help remind you that you're not alone in the grief-driven psychotic spiral you've entered thinking about all of those good men and women you got killed fighting aliens.
Project Eternity has raised enough stretch goal cash to unlock Barbarians and Ciphers. For another 200K gamers will get Paladins and the bard-like Chanters thrown onto the class heap. Just like the lifeless bodies of your brave... yes, I'm kind of emotional about my XCOM squad wipe, okay?!
Of Orcs and Men is on the way, and we have the trailer to prove it. I won't come up with any kind of self-pitying tie-in for that one. I can get past this.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to walk to my car with this song playing.