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.
Grab your crowbars and spectacles, everyone. The Source engine fan remake of the original Half-Life is now available. It went live at 8:47 AM Mountain Time, which should sound awfully familiar to fans. The labor of love has taken eight years and has added a few notable tweaks to the classic, with at least one more revision on the way post-launch.
The Source mod has added some new bits of dialogue, and plans to make revisions to the Xen portion of the game sometime in the future. It opted to remove that part completely from the initial release. Other than those changes, it will be a much prettier version of Half-Life. The excitement was enough to garner a spot in the first batch of Steam's Greenlight program, and chances are we have more than a few Half-Life enthusiasts in the Shacknews audience.
Also available is the full soundtrack for your listening pleasure. Download it from us.
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.
Welcome back from the long weekend, Shack. Hope you had a relaxing Labor Day. While I was supposed to have the holiday off, I still got a few hours in yesterday on a project I have been working on for more than two months, and you finally got to see the start of it yesterday.
David Craddock, author and Shacker since 2005, posted in Chatty back in mid-June about a book he was working on about Blizzard Entertainment, called Stay Awhile and Listen. Now, anything we post on Blizzard usually does great traffic on Shack, so it immediately got the rusty gears in my head cranking. When I was at GameSpy, I had worked with author David Kushner to publish a chapter of Masters of Doom that site as the book was about to come out, so I proposed the same idea to David C., this time for the Shack audience. He was agreeable, having a bond with Chatty and the Shack crowd. We went back and forth for several weeks, discussing excerpts and ideas, and we finally came upon a format. Starting with yesterday's feature, we will publish several stories like that from the book on a regular basis. The grand finale will be Shacknews posting a full chapter from Stay Awhile and Listen, along with an in-depth interview with David C., over the course of a week beginning Monday, October 29.
We've pretty much agreed on the chapter (no spoilers here, sorry), but we'll tease you with stories from the development of the Diablo series, the Warcraft series (including that big MMO) and StarCraft, as well as tidbits from the days of Condor (later Blizzard North), and Silicon & Synpase (later Blizzard Entertainment). If the feedback to the first article is any indication, you guys should enjoy what we have planned. Thanks to David C. for being such a willing participant.
Unfortunately for Paragon Studios, one of its superheroes will not be swooping in to save it from villain NCSoft. The developer of City of Heroes will be closed, and operation of the superhero/supervillain MMO will be terminated by the end of the year. With Guild Wars 2 doing so well, maybe NCSoft can see clear to shuffle some of the displaced Paragon staff off to ArenaNet, which has its hands full with its well-received MMO. Well, it's a thought.
Black Mesa is finally coming (we hope). A countdown clock has appeared on the dev site a few days ago, with zero hour on September 14, and we can only hope the team behind the highly anticipated mod can deliver. It's been eight years in the making, and being teased with a leaked video didn't help. This is such big news that even the BBC reported it. The team has promised everything that Half-Life had to offer, but in a prettier updated-Source-engine package that offers some minor changes. Well, all except the Xen section, which will be added later. I'm not going to miss that part in the slightest, but I really can't wait to try it. As hanged_man called it, this has been the Duke Nukem Forever of anticipated mods. Let's hope it fares a lot better.
Random bits & Quick hits: If you aren't excited enough by Dishonored, Bethesda has offered you some more prodding. The free Rat Assassin app has you slicing and dicing plague rats and using your powers to get high scores. Dishonored is already high on my wish list, but I still like the app ... Okay, it's a sequel, but it's not called Final Fantasy XIII-3. It's Lightning Returns and Square Enix will bring an end to the trilogy. Are you excited by this or disappointed that there is nothing to report on FF Versus XIII? ... By all accounts, PAX Prime was a success, and Steve told me he has a ton of content to get to this week. Watch for previews and interviews from his trip.
Flashback: While the closing of Paragon is a shame for all involved, it got me thinking about the studio that I was saddest to see fold up shop. I'd have to go with Looking Glass Studios (loved System Shock and Thief so much), followed closely by Ensemble. What studio do you miss the most?
Have a great short week, Shack.
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You thought the day would never come, and it still hasn't quite yet, but Black Mesa now has a release date. After eight years of development, the fan remake of Half-Life in the Source engine will be released on September 14. Except it won't be quite complete; the team is still working on expanding HL's reviled Xen section and plans to release it later.
Come September 14, we should--in theory, if they really mean it this time--be able to return to the Black Mesa complex, project lead 'cman2k' announced on the mod's forum. The mod recreates Valve's classic FPS with all the polygons, shaders, particles, and gratuitous physics objects we expect from the Source Engine.
It's not an exact remake, mind. The team is adding extra touches like new lines of dialogue, while Xen will be far from the unpleasant little ending section we all know and hate when it arrives.
"Xen is going to basically be a complete game in its own right, it's not going to be just an epilogue to the game; more of a whole new chapter," lead developer 'Raminator' explained. "It'll be pretty well expanded." Work on Xen is already underway and the team hopes to finish it "in a reasonable timeframe," so hopefully we won't need to wait until the year 2020.
cman2k added, "We believe this is a great way to provide a complete-feeling 8-10 hour experience with a solid ending, make our fans happy and help us make the best overall game possible."
The soundtrack is now available for your listening and purchasing pleasure.
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.
Valve's first-person puzzler Portal 2 has received a significant update today. For months, players on PC and Mac have been able to create their own puzzles through the "Perpetual Testing Initiative." However, these creations have had to be solitary affairs. No more! Starting today, Portal 2 players will be able to design and play co-op maps.
In addition to adding co-op, the UGC mode has been enhanced with a new "Quick Play" feature that creates an automatically generated playlist of top-rated maps to play through. That should help appease fans that actually want to test maps perpetually. Current owners of Portal 2 will find a 75% off coupon awaiting them in Steam, so that they can wrangle in a new player to join in co-op puzzle antics.
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.
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:
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.