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Valve has announced the second annual Christmas-themed update for free-to-play shooter Team Fortress 2.
The Australian Christmas update part two includes two retro-futuristic "Dr. Grordbort" class packs for the Engineer and Pyro, designed by Weta Workshop's Greg Broadmore.
It adds CP_Foundry, a new five-cap control point map designed by Valve's Team Fortress 2 team and featuring 12 map-specific achievements.
The update also adds 14 new Christmas-themed weapons, hats and items made by the Team Fortress community's item creators using the Steam Workshop.
For Christmas, Valve has knocked up to 75 per cent off over 50 items in the Mann Co. in-game store. This sale lasts until 2nd January 2012. Valve has also doubled the in-game item drop rate for the first week of the event.
Team Fortress 2 item makers have made over $2 million selling their digital creations, Valve has announced.
Yesterday marked the first full year of the in-game Mann Co. Store, and during that time user-generated content creators have made millions selling their virtual wares.
The Mann Co. Store is where the community designs, buys, sells and trades items TF2 characters can wear, such as hats.
"The 'Mann Co. Store' represents an important new direction for games and game makers," said Valve boss Gabe Newell.
"By leveraging and extending the platform features of Steam, Team Fortress 2 has enabled a viable marketplace for independent content creators and significantly extended the gameplay experience in an incredibly short amount of time."
Meanwhile, Valve has made live the Steam Workshop, an improved submission hub for community-created content. It's designed to make it easy to upload entries, check their status and get feedback from Valve. The Team Fortress community can view, comment on and rate items there, too.
Valve's added 30 new hats and cosmetic items, an item decal system, a "try before you buy" system, loadout presets, improved game performance and a new taunt as part of the Manniversary Update, which the company describes as "one of the largest and most ambitious in TF2's four-year history".
Pre-purchasing Football Manager 2012 from Steam gets you a handful of exclusive in-game Team Fortress 2 extras, Valve has announced.
Put down your £29.99 now ahead of the Sega footie sim's release later this month and you'll receive the following:
Steam has officially launched its new Trading feature today following last month's open beta.
Thanks to an auto update which has just gone live, you can now trade Steam Gifts and in-game items from Team Fortress 2, Portal 2 and Sega adventure Spiral Knights with other members of the Steam community.
Valve is apparently working with other developers to incorporate the service in their games, with further announcements expected over the coming months.
For the full lowdown on how item trading works, check out the Steam FAQ.
Quake mod Team Fortress launched 15 years ago today. To celebrate, Valve is giving anyone who plays Team Fortress 2 today a goody bag of TF2 swag.
What do you get? A free hat, naturally - of the party variety. A free noisemaker - which you can use as much as you like today and then not again for another year. Plus free cake and gifts (remodelled health kits and ammo packs).
Valve has also turned on Birthday mode - meaning levels get a "Happy Birthday Team Fortress" beach ball.
The Celebration Gib is also active, which turns exploded players' blood and guts into showers of balloons and confetti.
Team Fortress, a mod for id Software classic Quake, was followed by Team Fortress 2 in 2007. Valve has been tinkering with it ever since, and earlier this year made it free-to-play.
Valve wants the Xbox Live Arcade version of upcoming shooter Counter-Strike: Global Offensive to feature Steamworks integration.
But it faces a tough job convincing Microsoft to let it do so.
"We certainly can deliver a lot of value to customers to the degree to which we have those capabilities," Valve boss Gabe Newell told Eurogamer.
"The PS3, obviously we made a lot more progress with that. The PS3 customers of Portal 2 are going to start to see the benefits of that with Portal 2 DLC coming out in September. So we'd really like to be able to do that for Xbox customers as well."
The PS3 version of Portal 2 features a number of exclusive features as a result of Steamworks integration, including cross-platform play with the PC version.
There's also cross-platform chat, Steam Achievements (earned in synch with Trophies), player profiles and game invites. You can even play Portal 2 on a PC or Mac - Valve grants a free PC/Mac Steam edition of the game to PS3 gamers.
Xbox Live, however, remains a closed platform, with Microsoft employing strict guidelines on what publishers can and cannot do.
"The main thing is having Microsoft get comfortable with it and let us do it," Newell said of the challenges Valve faces bringing Steamworks to Xbox.
"Right now, there's a huge amount of updates and free content we've been able to deliver to people who have The Orange Box that we haven't been able to deliver to the Xbox because of the restrictions that have been placed on us on Xbox Live.
"We'd love to see those relaxed. Other developers on the PS3 are starting to benefit from Sony's more open approach. Hopefully that will help Microsoft see that's a good strategy for making customers happy, that the barbarians won't tear down the walls of Xbox and turn it into some chaotic wasteland."
One game making use of Sony's more relaxed policy is Dust 514, from Eve Online developer CCP.
"Let's just say that with Sony at least they have policies that allow us to build the game the way we want," CCP CTO Halldor Fannar said during an E3 presentation attended by Eurogamer in June. "That is one of the reasons why we've gone with PSN."
Valve isn't the first MMO developer to find Xbox Live troublesome.
Last year Final Fantasy XIV Online creator and director Hiromichi Tanaka told Eurogamer that a "closed" Xbox Live blocked the game from appearing on Xbox 360.
"The main reason why we couldn't go with Xbox 360 was the Xbox Live system," he explained. "[Live is] different to the normal internet environment, so when we wanted to introduce this game in the same environment as Windows PC it had to be PS3, so that was our choice.
"Microsoft has a different point of view: they want to have a closed environment for Xbox Live. We're still talking to... We couldn't come to an agreement on Xbox Live."
MMO developer Cryptic chucked in the towel on an Xbox 360 version of Champions Online in early 2010. Producer Craig Zinkievich told Eurogamer he was frustrated with the business side of getting an MMO on Xbox Live; the game itself, he said, ran just fine.
Sony, however, seems more open to the idea of allowing MMO developers to play by their own rules on the Network.
"Sony allows us to use our systems," Fannar explained. "Microsoft has Xbox Live. They're very strict on that. There are a lot of issues we run into. It may be a basic thing people don't realise, but with Dust and Eve on Sony's network, we can allow them to chat together. Voice chat, text chat, that's all one world.
"One of the reasons for the partnership with Sony is because they're opening up new ways to do these things. We're going to be managing most of it. We're using PlayStation just for credentials, stuff like that. Then it's all our stuff.
"With our agreement with Sony they seem to be fine with our three month expansion cycle. They've been looking at the MMO space for a while, trying to understand why something like that hasn't still happened on the console. They're coming to terms with it. There are certain things they have to relax just to allow these things to function."
Still, there appears to be hope for Xbox 360 owners - a report in June claimed free-to-play games were coming to the console and that Microsoft was talking with developers to discuss free-to-play game deals.
And last month Hi-Rez Studios boss Todd Harris, who is making Tribes: Ascend, told Eurogamer free-to-play games supported by micro-transactions on Xbox 360 were "inevitable".
Valve is yet to decide how to monetise CS: GO - indeed it may end up free to play, as its other shooter, Team Fortress 2, is.
If you pre-order Deus Ex: Human Revolution on Steam, you'll receive eight new, Deus Ex-themed items in Team Fortress 2.
These items are available separately from Team Fortress 2's in-game Mann Co. Store, and through item drops and crafting.
Half of the Deus Ex items are cosmetic: Deus Specs (glasses), The Company Man (baseball cap), The Nanobalaclava (helmet - Spy only) and The Purity Fist (robotic arm - Heavy only).
The other four items affect gameplay. The Machina sniper rifle is for the Sniper class and, at full charge, adds 15 per cent damage and player-penetrating bullets. But The Machina uses exposing tracer rounds and will only go bang when zoomed.
The Diamondback hand gun (looks like a Magnum) is for the Spy. This grants a critical shot for each building destroyed with your sapper attached. But in general use, The Diamondback has a minus 15 per cent damage penalty and no chance for random critical hits.
The Widowmaker and The Short Circuit are for the Engineer. The Widowmaker (is it a shotgun?) adds 100 per cent of damage to ammo and requires no reload. But the ammo cost is expensive: -60 metal each shot.
The Short Circuit attaches to your hand and fires an electric field that damages projectiles and players. But there's chance for random critical hits and you'll lose 35 metal each shot.
Team Fortress 2 has turned free-to-play, which means you've little excuse not to at least try it. Then consider Eurogamer's recent 10/10 Team Fortress 2 re-review, and you have even fewer excuses not to dive in. Most old PCs can handle it.
You can now trade in virtual items for other virtual items through Steam.
Steam Trading Beta lets you do that, and trade Steam gifts: games on Steam you've bought but not yet added to your Games Library.
Currently Team Fortress 2 items and Steam Gifts can be traded.
You can try it out now by going to Steam, then Settings, then opting into Steam Trading Beta.
"Now your Steam Community profile will have an item inventory, and you'll be able to view the item inventories of every public profile in the Steam community," Valve said.
You can invite people to trade through Group Chat, and trade with anyone in your Friends List who's also opted in.
To do so, you need to right click on their name and select Invite to Trade. Once the offer is accepted, a trade window will open up.
There's more on the Trading Beta FAQ.
In the introduction to our very first Game of the Week, I wrote this: "If there's nothing at all we can recommend that week - hey, it might happen - we'll take the opportunity to highlight something from previous weeks that you (or we) might have missed."
How about something from previous years?
It's not even like there really is nothing to recommend this week. Ms. Splosion Man definitely has its fans and would be a worthy contender, right? So why am I just not feeling it?
I suppose it's the suspicion that, as Simon wrote, this sequel has simply been "freshened by lipstick and a bow". Until I read his review, I had no idea that Ms. Pac-Man was an unauthorized rip-off made without Namco's permission by its impatient distributor Midway. Sure, she's canonised now, but it's a dangerous spirit for Twisted Pixel to invoke.
Me? I returned to Gran Turismo 5 this week, after a friend told me about the Seasonal Events: effectively new single-player playlists for the racer that dole out unbelievable quantities of experience and money. That 1967 Lamborghini Miura Concept is within reach at last!
I've been having fun, and am struck by how exciting a drive Polyphony's grand folly remains. But I'm also feeling a little uncomfortable. I just need to do 30 laps of Le Mans to get my shiny new fake possession... Maybe this recovering World of Warcraft player isn't quite ready to bring the grind back into his life.
But it made me think. Most of us games writers don't stick with games long after release, because something else comes along that requires our attention. I suspect the same is true for many of you readers, being people of taste and curiosity with an insatiable hunger for everything gaming has to offer.
But few are the games that stand still now, and even in some high-profile cases like GT5, it's only those games' communities that are keeping track. In 2011, a game doesn't have to be a subscription-funded MMO to be an entirely different proposition four years down the line.
That's why, when a reader emailed us requesting a re-review of a multiplayer shooter from 2007, I was only too happy to organise it.
"Now Team Fortress 2 has gone free-to-play, you should do a re-review of it. I came across your old review of it from 2007 and it almost reads like a review of some older, forgotten game that inspired TF2," wrote Ollie Fox.
Rich Stanton's Team Fortress 2 re-review agreed with Ollie, booting Tom's original 9 up to a 10 and dropping some other heavy numbers: 200 updates! 29 new maps!
"There isn't one game called Team Fortress 2. There are hundreds," Rich wrote. "Its famously long development time used to see it compared to Duke Nukem Forever, but that doesn't hold water any more: Duke's finished. The development of TF2 goes on and on... It understands that persistence is as much about personality as power, and is one of the most consistently surprising and inventive games you'll ever play."
Team Fortress 2 players - and sadly, that means players of the PC (and now Mac) game, which has long left the static console versions behind - don't need us to remind us how great a multiplayer shooter it is. Some would claim that all those guys playing Halo, COD and Battlefield are, in a sense, kidding, and looking at TF2's razor-sharp dynamics and never-ending fountain of free content, you can see what they mean.
But this isn't just about quality. While all eyes were on Left 4 Dead or Portal 2, and all voices were pleading for Half-Life 3, Valve has been using TF2 to experiment with what its Steam platform can really do for a game. It's the embodiment of Gabe Newell's "entertainment as a service, not a product" maxim, an organic, evolving relationship between game and community that few outside of the MMO genre have fully exploited.
Free-to-play is part of this philosophy, but don't get hung up on the economics. It's more about the happy fact that, in this brave new world, Valve has been more focused on how to keep TF2 great than how to make more money out of the next one. Hell, it's even still making wonderful trailers for it, four years down the line.
What TF2 really stands for is not that micro-transactions are the future. It's this: Games don't have to die any more. Great games can live forever. And you'll get back what you put in.
So if there's another living, breathing online game out there that you think we should catch up with, please let us know: in the comments, through the contact form, or by emailing me directly at email@example.com.
Team Fortress 2 has dislodged perennial chart hog Counter-Strike from the top of Steam's most-played list.
As noted by PC Gamer, the announcement earlier today that Valve's team-based shooter has gone free-to-play sent the game rocketing from the lower reaches of the top 10 to the number one spot, which Counter-Strike has owned since time immemorial.
It seems, for today at least, the move to a microtransaction-supported business model has won the game tens of thousands of new users.
At the time of writing 69,962 users were playing Team Fortress 2, compared to 54,754 on Counter-Strike.