Shacknews - Steve Watts

Team Fortress 2's bustling hat-based economy is getting another rare addition, thanks to the launch of Scribblenauts Unlimited. Pre-ordering the game through Steam before it launches next week will get you a choice of Maxwell or Lily's rooster hats, which honestly aren't that much sillier than the other hat options in TF2.

Maxwell's comes in red and Lily's in pink. The hats will be available as soon as you pre-order Scribblenauts, so you don't have to wait for its November 20 release date to don your rooster cap. Scribblenauts Unlimited is also planned for the Wii U, but of course, you don't get to wear a ridiculous looking hat that way.

Shacknews - Andrew Yoon

Steam, Valve's popular portal for PC games, is now available on Linux. The beta client is currently available for Ubuntu 12.04, with more OS variants to be supported in the future. Valve's Frank Crockett explained that "an overwhelming majority of beta applicants have reported they're running the Ubuntu distro of Linux," but Valve plans on supporting additional "popular distros," prioritized by user feedback.

The beta client will become available to "a widening group of users," but the first round is currently reserved for those that have already responded to participate. "Once the team has seen a solid level of stability and performance across a variety of systems, the Steam for Linux client will become available to all users of Steam."

To coincide with the launch of Steam for Linux, Valve has released Team Fortress 2 for the platform. Valve says that approximately two dozen other games are also available to play, but the list is currently inaccessible.

The Linux client also includes support for Big Picture mode. It's all part of Valve's larger bet on Linux as a platform, as the company openly criticized Microsoft's new Windows 8 OS.

Shacknews - Steve Watts

Every year around this time, the light-hearted (albeit bloody) world of Team Fortress 2 gets a little bit darker. Past years have brought a horseless headless horseman and Demonman. The fourth annual "Scream Fortress" update brings a necromancer with a grudge and some magic potions in tow.

The update goes live today and lasts through November 8. As usual, it ties into a new comic that plays with the premise. The magician Merasmus will enter haunted King of the Hill maps to terrorize your crew, throwing bombs and booby-trapping the control points. Each time a point changes hands, a random effect will trigger some "horrible fate." Or possibly something good, but you know, more likely the horrible fate thing.

You'll also randomly find spells that you can cast on items in your backpack, giving them magical effects like ghost summoning or flaming footsteps, or more modest ones like repainting your items. One spell promises to make you an evil sorcerer.

The new "Wave 666" replaces your usual Machine co-op opponents with brain-hungry zombies, and you can score two new achievements -- one for beating Merasmus, and one for getting to Skull Island.

Shacknews - Steve Watts

When Team Fortress 2 launched its Mann vs Machine update, it finally added a co-op mode to the game. Not content to rest on its laurels, Valve had updated the game with several new tweaks and features.

A post on the TF2 Blog spills the details. For starters, the new update includes two more Tours of Duty to sate those who found the first one too easy or too hard. Operation Oil Spill should prove less of a challenge, and Operation Gear Grinder is for those who laugh in the face of danger.

You can also look forward to new Tour-specific loot, including rusty robot heads for Oil Spill, and 24-carat diamond heads for the Gear Grinder. The update also boasts improved match-making, which lets you select from multiple missions. Finally, after a mission is over, you'll be sent back to the matchmaking screen as a group.

Shacknews - Steve Watts

If you've been paying any amount of attention to Team Fortress 2, you've probably noticed that it's home to some of Valve's wackier ideas. The company says it may not have started as a test bed, but it's certainly become one as it's used to experiment with new strategies.

"In the end, TF2 has been ended up being one of the most useful tools we've ever built to reduce risk in our company's future," lead designer Robin Walker said.

"It's been really nice that it's also brought in significant revenue throughout that time, but ultimately, the importance we place on understanding our business and our customers has made it totally worthwhile." Walker told Gamasutra that without TF2, Valve's lack of experience in monetization would be "terrifying."

He says the hidden goal for TF2 was to explore ideas that "were potentially a requirement for the long-term survival of the company." When the game first came out, it appeared that MMOs were going to take over the market, so Valve started building persistent items. When the free-to-play market rose, it used TF2 as a test bed for microtransactions. The gambles seem to be paying off, as the game continues to evolve and remain popular.

Shacknews - Alice O'Connor

Ever keen to experiment with digital distribution, Steam is trying something unusual on XCOM: Enemy Unknown pre-orders with publisher 2K. Rather than offering fixed bonuses, Steam will unlock increasingly fancy goodies as more people pre-order, including extra character customisation options, Team Fortress 2 hats, and a free copy of Civilization V.

Everyone who pre-orders through Steam will help the "reward" drive, which seems to hope it'll inspire a little of that Kickstarter feeling. Customers are fast approaching the first unlock, a pack of cosmetic XCOM pretties including shiny new armour, paints for armour, and a recruit with the classic X-COM: UFO Defense flattop haircut.

The flattop also features, in the second tier, a pack of TF2 goods. This offers that good old flattop for the Soldier, a creepy sort of alien head for the Pyro, and a very swanky medal. Lastly, if loads and loads of people pre-order, everyone will also get a free copy of Civ V, or a gift copy if they already own it.

Of course, Steam's charging the full $50 for XCOM, so you might instead fancy buying it from somewhere that simply knocks a few dollars off the price instead. XCOM: Enemy Unknown is coming to PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on October 9.

Shacknews - Ozzie Mejia

After nearly five years of fighting over control points and briefcases of intelligence, the mercs of Team Fortress 2 have a new challenge before them--mechanical monstrosities looking to destroy any and all things bearing Mann Co.'s name. TF2's new Mann vs. Machine mode introduces co-op for the first time, bringing up to six players together to fight back the soulless automatons. To do my part in the fight, I jumped into Shacknews community member re-verse's server to fight alongside fellow Shackers against the robotic menace.

Team Fortress 2 veterans will notice the difference between traditional multiplayer and Mann vs. Machine almost immediately. Cohesive teamwork is emphasized here more than any TF2 game mode to date. Teams need to cover robot spawn points to stop machines in their tracks before they bring a bomb to the player base. Robots employ various tactics, including robot Scout rushes, multiple airblasting Pyros, and Demo grenade spam and teams must adapt to each enemy tactic in order to survive. New voice over lines from each character are a big help, as the characters will yell out if a teammate is down or if an enemy Sniper or Spy has entered the field. Once killed, players can respawn, but any time that passes can be costly given how quickly robots are able to move the bomb up.

While traditional multiplayer sees every class playing a pivotal role in the game, Mann vs. Machine places some weight on certain classes. In particular, success is almost impossible without a Medic and an Engineer. Medics need to be aware of their surroundings at all times and heal teammates quickly, while making sure to upgrade their Medigun or Kritzkrieg between rounds. Engineers' sentry guns can mow down waves upon waves of robots to the point that the robots eventually deploy a sentry buster (a large bomb with legs) to take them down. Dispensers also prove to be invaluable resources, since many players tend to run low on ammo amidst the fracas.

While all of TF2's weapons are balanced to a degree in the game's traditional multiplayer, a number of those weapons may see their usefulness diminished significantly. The Pyro's Backburner, for example, is great for ambushing opponents in multiplayer, but its advantages are reduced during an all-out robotic blitz. The Engineer's Pomsom 6000 ray gun has been called overpowered in the main multiplayer mode, but its buffs are far less useful against the machine menace. And Spies are at an intense disadvantage given the sheer number of targets he needs to cover in order to be effective.

One thing to note is that all weapons can be upgraded in between waves, with upgrades customized to suit each specific weapon. For example, the Soldier can either choose to increase the clip or damage dealt from his rocket launcher or opt to increase the Buff Banner's deployment time. Upgrades are purchased with money picked up from successfully taking out waves or from defeated enemies. In fact, teammates fighting over money drops may be the one instance where they'll fight amongst themselves.

Upgrades are pivotal, as later waves introduce more powerful robots. Larger bosses include a Giant Soldier that only shoots crit rockets, giant Heavies flanked by multiple Medic-bots, and oversized Scouts that bash your brains in with their baseball bat. Another wrinkle includes a colossal tank with an enormous HP bar. Even with Kritz and Buff Banner assistance, the tank can take a lot of punishment and will destroy the base if it makes it that far. Taking out the tank becomes more difficult, considering that the other robots will still be trying to escort the regular bomb to your base, as well.

Team Fortress 2 already has a loyal player base, but Mann vs. Machines has the potential to create an entirely new fanbase. It employs many of the familiar TF2 mechanics that veterans love, while emphasizing a new sense of camaraderie over competition. There are only three maps (Decoy, Coal Town, and Mannworks) for MvM so far, but given how much fun this game mode is to play, I expect that number to rise soon. In the meantime, grab your friends and prepare for the machine uprising.


Field Reports provide our first-hand experience with the latest games, but should not be considered a review. This report is based on the Windows version of Team Fortress 2. The game is now available for PC and Mac.

Shacknews - Alice O'Connor

Team Fortress 2's business model has been fairly simple since it went free-to-play--sell lots of virtual hats and guns--but Valve's trying something slightly different with the new 'Mann vs. Machine' co-op PvE mode, which launched last night. While it's free to play, if you fancy extra special loot, you can pay 99 cents for a ticket which offers the chance to earn unique prizes the likes of which ye have never seen.

The 99-cent single-use Tour of Duty Tickets let you into Mann Up Mode, which is a fancy way of saying it's played on Valve's official Mann Co. servers and you can score snazzy robot parts to wear. You're given a wearable Tour of Duty Badge to track your progress through the three MvM missions, which levels up once you've finished them all. The first time you finish a mission on each badge level, you get a piece of robot-loot, then another piece once you've finished the entire tour.

It's not cheap, though. Tour of Duty Tickets are used up when you complete any mission not already finished on your badge level (but not if you fail or have finished it before on this level). Tickets are still ultimately a hat delivery mechanism, but a bit different to straight selling them. Look, it's complicated, so check Valve's FAQ for the nitty-gritty.

You can also cough up $1.99 for a Squad Surplus Voucher, which will ensure everyone on your Mann Up Mode team will get an item if you beat the mission.

Of course, you don't need to pay a penny to play Mann vs. Machine if you don't want to; player-run servers simply don't drop the special robot-loot. The items are tradeable too, so you can swap your spares for shiny newness if you don't mind being thoroughly fleeced by unscrupulous traders.

Team Fortress 2 is a little overwhelmed by the flood of people trying to smash robots and wear their metallic skulls as trophies, mind, so it may be a while before you can play.

Shacknews - Andrew Yoon

As many Team Fortress 2 fans have already puzzled together, a new co-op mode is coming to Valve's free-to-play online shooter. Called "Mann vs Machine," this new mode has six human players waging "a desperate battle to stop a lethal horde of robots from deploying a bomb in one of Mann Co.'s many strongholds." Essentially, it is a horde mode. With robots. And in typical horde fashion, you'll be able to upgrade your abilities and weapons in between waves. Surviving will let you earn "incredible loot." The new mode will also be accommodated by brand new maps as well.

The mode will unlock on August 15th. To get yourself hyped, here's yet another comic and a brand new trailer:

Shacknews - Alice O'Connor

Valve's up to something again. Team Fortress 2 is, as we all know, an epic tale about the rivalry between two siblings, but now a third brother has appeared on the scene to shake things up. A new TF2 comic and several sneaky in-game secrets hint that something big, shiny and metallic is coming, possibly the long-speculated PvE mode nicknamed 'Mann vs. Machine' by fans.

As one fan's video details, Valve has been dropping hints about robots for some time, from comics and trailers to files casually added to TF2--which Valve knows fans pore over for hints. The most damning of these has been the heads of robot versions of every TF2 class.

After a little code-breaking by fans, Valve released a splendid new comic on Sunday showing a long-lost third Mann brother returning to slay his siblings--the heads of the warring Red and Blu teams--and set a dastardly plan in motion. Huge tanks appeared in the background of several maps over the weekend, so it seems an invasion is coming.

What does it all mean? The popular theory is Valve's releasing a new co-operative mode named Mann vs. Machine, where players fight robotic versions of the TF2 gang. TF2 files do reference something named 'MVM' and robots clearly are coming in some form, but it's mostly speculation for now. After several years of teasing, it seems we'll soon be finding out just what's afoot. If you want in on all the gossip and guessing, the Reddit community's gasbagging up a storm.

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