Team Fortress 2

It's a question that has troubled many a videogame scholar: Who would win in a fight, Team Fortress 2 or Overwatch? While the former gets points for being the original posse, the latter brings a undeniable sense of flair. It's a tough call, but we finally have a clear answer thanks to talented Source Filmmaker animator The Winglet, who made the video above to settle it once and for all.

Clocking in at just over eight minutes, it's a surprisingly lengthy (and hilarious) video that shows each cast of characters duking it out on one of TF2's Payload maps. I love that each character archetype, like Widowmaker and TF2's Sniper square off against each other as the larger battle rages around them. There's also a particularly hilarious scene involving Mei and Spy that I won't spoil. But damn, I couldn't stop laughing.

You can check out The Winglet's other videos here.

Thanks, Kotaku.

Team Fortress 2

Which games would make great movies or TV shows? That's the question we've put to the PC Gamer staff in this week's PCG Q&A, and almost all of us preferred the idea of TV series to films (perhaps because game movies are destined to be dumpster fires forever). Let us know your suggestions in the comments, too!

Andy Kelly: a Silent Hill anthology show

The cursed town is different for every sinner who's lured to it, and I think that's a perfect setup for a series of standalone horror/mystery stories. The supernatural nature of the setting would allow the writers to come up with some really twisted, mind-bending plotlines, and the town would provide some loose structure, making all the episodes feel like part of a whole: similar to the brilliant Inside No. 9, in which every episode is set in a house or other indoor setting numbered 9.

With the success of shows like Black Mirror, Electric Dreams, Inside No. 9, and Room 104, the anthology is making a comeback, and I think I prefer them to ongoing narratives that take 80 episodes to wrap up. So I'd love to see Silent Hill, which is basically an anthology series itself, get the same treatment on TV.

Tom Senior: BioShock

The next time Netflix want to embark on an lavish showcase project like Altered Carbon, perhaps they should take a look at the underwater city of Rapture from the BioShock universe. Watching one guy sneaking around firing bees out of his arms isn't going to be good television, but a show set during the fall of Rapture—before the events of the first game—could be great. You've got warring factions, competing philosophies, demented splicers and the oppressive threat of the ocean itself wrenching districts apart. 

It could be a decent horror show, though it will be tricky to find heart and empathetic characters among Rapture's central ideologues. It's nothing a little retcon can't fix. Follow a few good souls as they fight hard to stay sane and escape as society implodes. It might be hard to find room for a second series, but hey, Bioshock 2 turned out pretty well didn't it? 

Chris Livingston: BioShock (but it's a sitcom)

I'm thinking BioShock but as a Friends-style sitcom, set in Rapture just as everything is going to hell. The gang still meets for coffee (if they can scavenge it out of garbage cans) and wrestle with personal relationships but with the backdrop of a ruined and leaking libertarian paradise filled with lunatics where superpowers can be bought from vending machines. Episodes could include "The One Where Phoebe Dates a Splicer", "The One Where Joey's Corpse Is Harvested for ADAM", "The One Where Chandler Kills His Boss With A Swarm of Bees", "The One With All The Thanksgivings", and "The One Where Ross Discovers He Has No Free Will After Caving In Andrew Ryan's Head With a Golf Club". So no one told you Rapture's gonna be this way (clap-clap-clap-clap-clap) Your home's a joke, it broke, your best friend's D.O.A....

Tim Clark: PUBG or Fortnite as reality shows

The obvious answer is a PUBG or, better still, Fortnite reality show. Just a bunch of poor bastards on an island trying to rapidly build log cabins while their neighbours fire at them with sniper rifles from the tree line. In the current climate we’re probably less than 18 months from this show being commissioned by ITV2 in the UK. “C’mon Chad, stop sobbing, the frying pan is actually a pretty sweet piece of...” *BLAM* “...looks like we lost, Chad. GG WP.” 

Jody Macgregor: Team Fortress 2

I'm saying Team Fortress 2 because what I really want to see is more of the shorts Valve have made for it. Expiration Date was 15 minutes long and that was rad, and the Team Fortress 2 comics have been hilarious as well, so I'd love to see what they do with a string of connected half-hour episodes. I only ever reinstall the game to play it when they do their 'Scream Fortress' Halloween events, but I would watch the hell out of that. 

James Davenport: Dishonored

They should make an anime out of Dragon Ball FighterZ.

But I think a Dishonored movie or HBO-quality series is a no-brainer. Frame it as a political drama and leave the assassin stuff in the margins. I'd love to see the world described in all the diaries and notes and books depicted on a massive scale. Season two or three can see the characters off to Pandyssia, the wild continent described in Sokolov's journals, in search of a lost friend or dark truth. Toss in some kissing and I think we'll have a hit on our hands. 

Andy Chalk: The Final Station

I struggled with this, because I'm not really a TV/movies guy, but I think The Final Station would make for a brilliant (if not particularly coherent) film. Action, drama, tears, Brutalism, and a weird future-train that's prone to breakdowns: What's not to love? I doubt very much that it could be pulled off in any kind of satisfying fashion, and if it was it would surely be a tremendous box office flop. But give me a cinematic experience that's equivalent to the game—the desolation, the mystery, the loneliness of survival in the midst of pure existential horror—and you'll get my money in exchange. 

Samuel Roberts: KOTOR

Since they insist on making Star Wars films until I die, why not adapt a decent Star Wars story that already exists? KOTOR is set so long before the Bad Trilogy that you could adapt BioWare's RPG without contradicting anything. You've got a great ensemble, a killer twist and an interesting backdrop. It sounds better to me than this Han Solo movie, anyway. Plus you can make a killer sequel, too. 

Team Fortress 2

It's the weekend, which means it's time for the PCG Q&A.  We ask a question to our PC Gamer writers, then you answer the same question in the comments below. This week brings out the worst in us all: What's the meanest thing you've done in a game? 

Wes Fenlon: Knights of the Old Republic 

Knights of the Old Republic 2 took a nuanced look at the differences between the light and dark sides of the Force, challenging what you think of as good and bad and the justifications for your actions. It was thoughtful enough to make me strive to be better, to do what I thought was the right thing, even when that thing had complicated repercussions. But the original KotOR wasn't that thoughtful, and its more traditional light vs. dark breakdown made the dark side way more fun

The powers! The powers were so much better. And the rewards were, too! Why do a fetch quest for some dumb alien for 100 credits, when I could then bully him into giving me 200? Why would I listen to Carth Onasi blather on when I can make him miserable, crushing his moral righteousness with every decision? Why let Bastila be Malak's servant when she could be my own?

I think I made the meanest possible decision at every point in Knights of the Old Republic, and was rewarded each time with a more entertaining story and cooler abilities. Honestly, though, making Carth miserable was reward enough in itself.

Chris Livingston: Team Fortress 2 

Way back in 2008, Team Fortress 2 released it's second major update, centered around the Pyro. One of the new weapons was the Axtinguisher, an axe that would result in a critical hit to an enemy on fire. At the time, to unlock the new weapons, you needed a bunch of achievements first. So, I went to an achievement server and started grinding.

Some of the achievements required teamwork, such as delivering a certain amount of damage while being healed by a medic. At some point during my grind, another player appeared and offered to help me out. For hours this extremely nice guy helped me grind out all the Pyro achievements I needed to unlock all the Pyro's new goodies. Finally, my eyes bleary, my wrist cramping, I ticked over into completion and had my new Axtinguisher.

'Now help me?' the player asked in chat, wanting to farm his set of achievements. I glanced at the clock. It was about 3 am. I had to leave for work in three hours. There was absolutely no chance of me helping this incredibly generous person who had devoted his entire night to being my assistant. I know, it's a terrible thing to just quit without a word and leave him stranded. But even more terrible is what I actually did. I wanted to test my new Axtinguisher, so I set him on fire, hit him with the axe, killed him with a crit, and then I quit without a word. Damn me. Damn me to hell.

Tyler Wilde: Rocket League

When playing Rocket League it is generally considered unkind to, while winning 8-0, score a ninth goal at the buzzer for no reason other than to watch your own replay, which as the timer hit zero will conclude with the match immediately ending. It's not the meanest thing in the world, but obviously unsportsmanlike, and I always feel bad about it, even when I do it on accident, and especially when I do it on purpose, which I only do because it's so hard to resist an open net. If that isn't mean enough for you, here's a college football game that ended 222-0, which is pretty mean.  

Steven Messner: Runescape

Back in the early days of Runescape, long before its multiple overhauls, scamming was a pretty common and easy to pull off activity. There wasn't much moderation back then, so it was largely the player's responsibility to make sure that any trade deals wouldn't go awry. It was a lesson I learned the hard way after having a full set of adamantium armor—the second best at that time—stolen from me. The scammer used a well-known exploit to swap items in the trade window at the last second before both players accepted the deal, so thinking that I was getting an amazing deal for selling my armor, I instead got some useless bones. I was furious and looking for payback.

A few minutes later, walking along the road penniless and armorless, I spied another relatively new player wearing a set of steel armor. It was hardly expensive and I could've had my own set in just a few hours of grinding, but for a new player steel armor was a big deal. I wanted revenge, and this poor sap was going to be my victim. I walked up to him and asked about his armor and began telling him that it was possible for me to 'trim' his armor. At the time, the developers Jagex had recently rolled out variants on a few armor sets that had a cosmetic lining around their edges that looked pretty cool, so most players were after it. I told this poor sap that if he gave me his armor, I would return shortly with it trimmed. 

Of course, that was a total lie, it was impossible to modify already existing armor like that. Still, he handed it over and I walked off with my new set of steel armor. I didn't even wait until I was out of eyesight to put it on. About an hour later, I started getting messages from the poor guy eagerly asking if I had trimmed his armor and when he could expect it back. I didn't have the heart to tell him, so I just ignored him. Every day for about a week he messaged me, and every time I wouldn't reply. It was a heartless thing to do—especially because the armor was barely worth anything to me. I had replaced it for something better within the day. I'm a monster.

James Davenport: Kingdom Come Deliverance

I know I've done worse. I've selectively blocked these memories to maintain a healthy self-image, but yesterday's incident is too fresh to forget, I'm afraid. I'm no real monster like Steve or Chris, but last night during a session of Kingdom Come, I went through the woods just to see what I'd find. What I found was a hunter, someone I suspected of poaching due to how rude he was when I arrived. I walked up to say hello but he told me to get lost right away. I stuck around because fuck that guy. He brought out his fists, I brought out my sword, he brought out his sword, and I stabbed him enough times to send him running off through the forest. I could've let him go, but I didn't. I chased him for a few minutes, set on murdering the poor man. 20 hours in my Henry was a fairly virtuous kid, kind to strangers and non-violent whenever possible. But here I was running down someone because they were rude to me. Clearly I was imprinting a personal, petty desperation for revenge onto this Good Virtual Boy, and he would be my unwilling puppet until the deed was done. It took a few arrows to the back to slow the guy down, each smacking into his back with a dull thud. The final arrow dropped him to his knees with a groan. His body went slack and the woods were silent again. I didn't feel any better, but I made a decent amount of coin off flipping his clothes and weapons.

Team Fortress 2

Well, you can add Team Fortress 2 to the growing list of entries into the Steamed Hams meme. A mapper called Whomobile has created a Steamed Hams map for TF2, in which players collect steamed hams and deliver them to Skinner's house, which intermittently catches fire. Players, upon dying, drop steamed hams. (That's what Skinner calls hamburgers. It's an Albany expression.)

If you're not familiar with the Steamed Hams meme, it stems from an episode of The Simpsons called "22 Short Films About Springfield," in which Principal Skinner invites Superintendent Chalmers over for dinner, accidentally burns his roast, and attempts to cover it up by passing off Krusty Burgers as his own cooking. The skit culminates with Skinner's house burning down with his mother trapped inside while he pretends the flames are the Aurora Borealis, in an attempt to avoid embarrassment in front of his boss. The episode has been the source of a number of video remixes posted to YouTube, including a surprisingly good "Steamed Hams but it's Metal Gear Solid."

The features list for the map, at least, is breathtakingly honest:

  • Not Very Well Balanced!
  • Gigantic Sightlines!
  • Based off a meme that will die off in a month!

I didn't see anyone actually playing the map on any community servers, but I ran around it solo for a few minutes. There's an approximation of the Krusty Burger across the street from Skinner's house, and there's huge stack of newspapers in Skinner's garage area, presumably a nod to the episode where he got pinned underneath them and was presumed murdered.

Also, I sincerely doubt the meme will die off in a month, or ever. Memes are eternal. Plus, "Steamed Fortress 2" has a nice ring to it.

Team Fortress 2

Update: So it seems that the report below was incorrect. I initially wrote that Valve was banning Linux users with Linux usernames that included the word 'catbot', but Valve has said those claims were a "tactic employed by cheaters to try and sow discord and distrust among anticheat systems".

It's a bit confusing because a Valve moderator on GitHub, as you'll see below, initially seemed to confirm the story by saying that the banning of users was "deliberate". But another Valve employee has since clarified the matter in a Reddit post.

"VAC will not ban you for simply having catbot in your user name (either your Steam profile or on one or more of your Linux accounts). The bug report—and I suspect many of the posts in this thread—are a tactic employed by cheaters to try and sow discord and distrust among anticheat systems.

"VAC has many different types of detections and we cannot discuss what they do publicly because doing so makes them less effective. However, one thing I can disclose is that all detections require that the detection occur while a user is actively cheating and connected to a VAC-secured server.

"Linux historically hasn't been a problem for cheating--the base rate of cheating is significantly lower on Linux than it is on Windows. Unfortunately, a 'healthy' community of cheaters grew up around catbot on linux and their impact on TF became large enough that they simply could no longer be ignored. Those banned users are very annoyed that VAC has dropped the hammer on them."

Original story:

Catbots, if you're not familiar with the term, are player-created bots that flood TF2 servers, lining up headshots on everything in sight. They're all called things like 'catbot 1574', and they're a nuisance. But in an attempt to stamp them out, some players are claiming that Valve has crossed a line. Anybody with 'catbot' in their Linux username (yes, not their Steam username), will now find themselves with an automatic VAC ban, regardless of whether they've actually booted up TF2 or not.

Now, I don't know how many Linux users have 'catbot' in their username, but there is at least the potential for friendly fire here. On the GitHub thread where the issue was uncovered, one user said that their Steam account was VAC-banned despite claiming to never have cheated. Another said: "I installed Ubuntu on a virtual machine and named the computer catbot-918 and installed Steam, within an hour of not playing anything I received a VAC ban."

A GitHub moderator for Valve confirmed that the policy was in fact a deliberate attempt to combat bots, adding that it was "not open for discussion on Github" (which, on my reading, doesn't mean that the issue is not open for discussion at all, just not on GitHub).

Valve does have a responsibility, and a right, to stop cheaters playing its games. But as a lot of people on this Reddit thread discussing the issue have said, it does seem a bit ham-fisted to ban someone simply because of their choice of Linux username. And besides, it looks like catbot setups have already switched to a different username, which was inevitable. It's probably not the last we'll hear of it.

Team Fortress 2

Normally it’s pretty hard to halt an inferno, but Team Fortress 2’s Jungle Inferno update, which was meant to launch yesterday, seems to have been more of a small blaze. Valve is rectifying this, fanning the flames and adding some finishing touches, and it should be out today.

“Typically we ship updates on a Thursday, so those of you expecting the Jungle Inferno Update to flip live today, you might want to sit down for this next part,” a post made yesterday reads. “If you're already in a comfortable sitting position, you might want to sit up straighter, because we're about to tell you we're delaying a day and we don't want you to twist your lumbar.”

It’s almost finished, but Valve’s doing some stress testing right now. It will launch early today, says the developer. 

When it does arrive, you’ll be able to check out the new map, Mercenary Park, along with a bunch of community maps, taunts, war paint and Pyro items. Check out the full list of additions here

Team Fortress 2

Valve has just announced a new 'Jungle Inferno' update for Team Fortress 2, with the highlight being a brand new map. Dubbed 'Mercenary Park', it's a "new jungle-themed disease-ridden three-control point map" created by Valve. 

The video below doesn't really show much of the map, it being a new animated short providing some narrative colour to the proceedings. But the map isn't all there is: there are a handful of community-created maps as well, all jungle-themed, and for modes including Attack / Defend and King of the Hill.

There's a bunch of new taunts as well: the Yeti punch is what the name implies, and there are a tonne others too, all listed neatly over on this update page

This is all just the "Day 1" content – expect more stuff to roll out or be announced over the coming days.

Team Fortress 2

Valve's next TF2 update is going to be a biggie, overhauling some of the multiplayer shooter's most iconic weapons and fixing items that have been unbalanced for years. When Valve announced the changes in June it didn't say when the update was due. After a blog post from the developer yesterday we still don't have a precise date, but we do have a much better idea.

"We're putting the finishing touches on a mammoth new update, and it'll be shipping in the very near future, we promise. How near? Well, very. Imminent. Not this week imminent, but you know. Really soon."

Hmm. The language suggests that it could arrive later this month. I really hope so, because it's the first TF2 update for a while that I'm actually excited about. There's tweaks across the board but some classes, such as the Scout or Spy, are getting a lot of attention (the Scout's triple jump-enabling Atomizer bat is now much less viable, for example), while others like the Demoman are being left mostly alone. 

You can read more about the changes in Valve's "sneak peak".

Every player will have a different view of the planned changes, but personally I'm looking forward to a nerf to the Spy's Dead Ringer, a cloaking device that players use to feign death that is really frustrating to play against. Ammo kits and dispensers will no longer fill the device's meter, so Spies won't be able to use it as often.

How do you think the changes will impact the game?

Half-Life 2

The Orange Box launched ten years ago. It was undoubtedly the greatest bundle of games ever, with the simultaneous launch of Portal, Team Fortress 2 and Half-Life 2: Episode Two, alongside the existing Half-Life 2 and Half-Life 2: Episode One. The former three were instantly significant in the landscape of PC gaming: Portal was an influential puzzle game that many cited as the surprise highlight of the set, while Team Fortress 2 arrived as a fully-formed multiplayer phenomenon that would constantly evolve across the next decade. Episode Two, of course, was the last time we experienced a new chapter of arguably the greatest singleplayer FPS series of all time. 

It was a massive moment: imagine that many amazing games dropping at once now, from the same developer. It just wouldn't happen. Here, Valve's Robin Walker reflects on the factors that led to The Orange Box's release, and offers some behind-the-scenes insights on both Portal and Team Fortress 2.

PC Gamer: What did the release of The Orange Box mean for Valve at that time, and what does it represent as part of Steam's history?

Robin Walker: The Orange Box was a huge step for us internally because it was the first time we’d ever managed to complete more than a single product at a time. In some ways, the Orange Box was a company level 'hack' where we made three separate products that all consider themselves the same product for shipping purposes, which meant that people could rationally prioritize their work across all three of them. If you were on Portal, and everything was going well, but TF2 was struggling, it made sense for you to jump over and help TF2 out because all three games needed to ship together.

The Orange Box was also a great product to really highlight why the retail channel was reducing game developer’s options. We found with Episode One that retail really didn’t understand or like a premium quality $20 title—they stood to make less money per box, and they had a limited amount of shelf space in their stores. The Orange Box avoided this by combining multiple quality products into a single box that was worth that full amount, but in doing so it created other problems. Retail had never seen a new, high quality box containing more than one title. Historically, a box that contained multiple titles was a bundle of old or low quality titles.

So in terms of Steam’s history, to us the Orange Box represents the era in which distribution channels placed a huge amount of friction on what kinds of games were made, how big they should be, and how much they were sold for. These weren’t things that retailers should be blamed for, they were simply the side effects of operating in physical space. It’s great to be able to look around and see such an enormously wide spectrum of games being made today, many of which wouldn’t have had much of a chance to find their audience in that physical distribution world. 

Were you surprised by the response to Portal, in that a lot of people considered it to be the highlight of The Orange Box at the time?

We didn’t really know what to hope for with Portal. We’d put it in front of enough play testers to be confident that players would have fun with it, but Portal didn’t fit any existing model of a successful game for us to know how it was going to really turn out. There wasn’t much of a history of first person puzzle games, let alone ones that combined a new gameplay mechanic with comedy. The Orange Box really solved Portal’s biggest challenge, which was to explain itself to players. By putting it in the Orange Box, we didn’t have to do the heavy lifting of explaining to people why they should buy this thing that was unlike anything they’d played before—instead, we could lure them in with Episode Two & TF2, and surprise them with the game they had the least expectations for.

Portal became incredibly influential to the indie games scene—its length, storytelling and environmental design are felt in a lot of today's games. Can you recall that process of the Narbacular Drop team joining Valve, and the key decisions that eventually made that game what it is?

By the time we saw Narbacular Drop at the Digipen student day, we’d already hired multiple groups of inexperienced developers who had built interesting things. When we hire those kinds of teams, we’re fundamentally more interested in the people than the thing they’ve built, and in our discussions with them, the Portal team seemed like a group of people with a huge amount of potential. We paired them up with some experienced developers at Valve, and let the team loose.

In any game's development, there are too many decisions to count, and many of them will ruin the game if made incorrectly. One decision that ended up being very important was the one behind GladOS. We had been working on Portal for about a year, and at that point we had 14 levels of the game in a state where they were being regularly playtested. There was no GladOS, the player just moved from puzzle to puzzle without any sense of progression or reward beyond the increasing complexity of the puzzles. The playtest response we kept seeing could be summed up as "This is really fun! When does the game start?". This was both great and terrifying. Players were having fun, but they seemed to consider everything they played as just training leading up to something else. Considering the entire game was really just a process of learning about the core gameplay mechanic, this scared us a lot, making us worry that we’d have to create a whole other section of the game afterwards.

But first, we asked ourselves what it was that was causing players to consider everything as training. After much discussion, we settled on the idea that it was the lack of threat or pressure. Nothing in the game pushed back on the player. There was no real failure, no cost to mistakes, nothing overall to fear, no larger goal to strive for, and hence no real reason to advance. We talked about various solutions, and in the end decided that introducing an antagonist made the most sense. The antagonist could start as a narrative tool for introduction & reward, and over time become the thing that pushed back on the player, eventually giving them the core goal of the game—"I want to learn all this because I need to be able to defeat X". We had little in the way of art production on the team, so it being a character that largely spoke to you via voice over was a straightforward production solution.

In the end, there are many important decisions after this that were critical to GladOS working as well as she did, such as her entire personality. But her genesis begins with a straightforward process of us trying to solve the core gameplay problem in Portal. Even today, it’s always fascinating to us that players seem to start Portal talking about the gameplay, but after they’re done, all they talk about is GladOS.

You've kept updating and transforming Team Fortress 2 over the years, and few competitive games have that kind of lifespan. What's been the philosophy behind that? How have you kept reinventing the game while still making it recognisably TF2?

The philosophy is pretty simple—listen to your players, pay attention to what they're doing, ship your work, and iterate as much as possible. But TF2's a strange thing. In some ways, it seems so different to how it launched in 2007, but at the same time, it still feels utterly familiar. There are still Snipers on the battlements in 2Fort having a fine old time paying no attention to what's going on with their flag in the basement. There's a much wider set of potential threats to deal with than they faced back in 2007, but they now have many more choices in exactly how they want to face them. And no matter what they decide, they can ensure they look different to all the other Snipers in the game.

So TF2's core gameplay seems to be fairly resilient in the face of all the horrible things we've done to it, and I think that's largely due to how we've approached our role in the process. We've always felt that our job was to support players in whatever they're trying to do. As a result, it's the players who've decided how TF2 should be played throughout the last decade. We've added all kinds of elements to the game, from both our and the community's minds, and the players have been the ones to digest and choose the way those elements ended up incorporated into the whole, even if it meant outright rejection in some cases.

You provided audio commentary for The Orange Box at the time, which was a really nice opportunity to let players get granular with the various games' creative processes, having previously tested it in Lost Coast. Can you recall the process of doing that? What was it like to examine your work through that lens as a developer?

We approached commentary as a tool to explain our craft. In our experiences listening to commentaries of other creative works, it was the nuts & bolts of how they actually did the work that interested us the most. Throughout our years of developing games, we constantly found that problems we thought were going to be straightforward to solve turned out to be nasty, thorny issues involving complex tradeoffs between design and technology. Often, that complexity was hidden entirely by the solution. So we thought it might be interesting to players if we could lift the rock and show them everything that’s going on underneath all that apparent simplicity. We’re game developers, so hopefully players will forgive us for thinking that game development is a fun thing to talk about.

Also, that commentary and accompanying analysis was all written before the product launched, which means we didn’t have the chance to examine our work through the context of how it was received, let alone how it would fit into the gaming landscape 10 years later. Would Portal be something people would like? Or would it be some weird puzzle game Valve made that no-one wanted any more of? Without that perspective, we found it hard to talk about anything other than what we were confident in—what we did, and why we did it.

Team Fortress 2

This article was originally published in October 2017. We're repromoting it alongside re-reviews of some of the PC's biggest living games, looking at how they've changed over time.

Not long ago, every first-person shooter had to have a multiplayer mode. Part of multiplayer's job in the late '00s and early '10s was to extend the lifespan of your purchase—to keep Xbox and PlayStation owners' copies in their homes and off of GameStop's second-hand shelves after they finished a six or ten-hour campaign.  

It was a dark time for FPS players. We got underwhelming and under-supported multiplayer for games like F.E.A.R, Crysis, Singularity, Prey, Homefront, Far Cry 3, Medal of Honor, Call of Juarez, Duke Nukem Forever, Rage, and Syndicate. In the worst cases, the multiplayer modes of these games contorted the themes and designs into competitive forms. Spec-Ops: The Line lead designer Cory Davis described the multiplayer component of his game years later as "a cancerous growth," saying that "the game mechanics were raped to make it happen, and it was a waste of money."

One surprise to come out of this era was BioShock 2, which fully embraced the awkwardness of turning the intricate story and setting of Rapture into a deathmatch. You played as one of 10 unique characters living in Rapture at the outset of the civil war. Each had their own backstory, melee weapon art, and loads of custom, situation-specific dialogue that you'd hear during matches (Mlle Blanche de Glace, a French actress, might say "So strange on this side of the camera," when using the Research Camera to earn a damage buff against an enemy). BioShock 2 characters' appearance was tied to their progression—as they leveled up, they'd look more and more like a mutated Splicer, a reflection of their abuse of ADAM. The multiplayer lobby itself was a Rapture apartment, and your character would receive new, unique messages on their answering machine. 

The whole thing was framed as a prequel for the first BioShock, grounded in an idea that's only taken hold over the past few years: yes, you can and should put story into a multiplayer FPS.

image by RAGEPANDDEMOMAN

Talking it out

Credit for killing the trend of tacked-on multiplayer should go to Team Fortress 2. In the 10 years since The Orange Box, Valve's spy-fi FPS has made plenty of contributions to the genre, to Steam, and to the PC. But most significantly, it helped teach the industry, and games like BioShock 2, how to tell stories in competitive multiplayer games.

We take it for granted now, but in 2007, TF2's addition of dozens—eventually hundreds—of situationally-triggered character voice lines was innovative. Without watching a cutscene or reading a dull menu blurb, players would be hit over the head with the idea that the Scout loves baseball ("I'm battin' a thousand!"; "Yo, I oughta' be on a baseball card!"), or that the Soldier is an over-the-top nationalist ("You are now a conscientious objector to being dead, hippie!" after dominating another, apparently lesser Soldier; or "Your white flag does not stop American bullets," to the Spy). 

The Spy has his own set of lines that mock the Scout after a kill. I like "May I borrow your earpiece? [mimicking Scout] 'This is Scout! Rainbows make me cry! Over," but the best one has to be "Well, off to visit your mother!" a reference to the canon relationship between Spy and Scout's mom (this literally haunts the Scout's dreams) and a special reward for sticking a knife into the fastest character in the game. We'd see a similar system in Left 4 Dead just a year later.

The voice lines are more than gags: they're economical hits of characterization, taken passively in the breaths between TF2's combat, that lessen the repetition of playing 2fort for the two-thousandth time. One by one, they form a tapestry of connections between TF2's nine classes, reinforcing the hide-and-seek game that Spies and Pyros play, or the symbiotic relationship between the Heavy and Medic.

Some of this is owed to how integrated Valve's writers were into the development of TF2 during this part of the studio's history. "[W]e don’t have a strict wall between design and writing," Valve writer Erik Wolpaw said in 2011. "We’re all together in the same room, designers and writers." You can see the fruits of this integration of writers in TF2's biggest updates, which made new patches not simply 'content,' but richly-themed events led by their fiction, rather than their features.

The massive WAR! update in 2009 solidified the template we'd see for years to come. Even by today's standards, the patch was an avalanche of lore, weapons, new systems, and excitement that made the seven days it lasted a special experience for players. The highlights:

  • Kicked off a weeklong contest between Soldier and Demoman players. Via the TF2 wiki: "A kill tracker appeared in the HUD of anybody playing as a Demoman or Soldier, with the counter increasing each time they (as a Soldier) killed an enemy Demoman or they (as a Demoman) killed an enemy Soldier." Whichever side won would earn a new weapon for their class.
  • Launched an official Propaganda Contest, calling for fan art (that in turn helped market TF2 to the wider gaming community) focused around the war between Demomen and Soldiers. The winner of the Propaganda Contest, J.Axer, received a one-of-a-kind cosmetic item, a Towering Pillar of Hats with a ribbon pinned to it.
  • Six new items, for either the Soldier or the Demoman, were made available.
  • Valve published a 21-page comic that formed a backstory for the update: the Demoman and Soldier had become friends, which in the eyes of TF2's in-game announcer, the Administrator, had to be put to an end.
  • Published a series of web pages that colorfully housed all the information around this update, which also included easter eggs like the Shakespearicles portrait.
  • Oh, and crafting was added.

Framing the addition of a new item as a time-sensitive dramatic event in the TF2 timeline that players themselves had to participate in in order to resolve was a brilliant act of marketing, and we see this concept replicated in competitive games like Overwatch, Destiny 2, CS:GO, and Dota 2. "A secret, exclusive seventh weapon has also been developed by the TF2 team," wrote the TF2 Blog. "In other words, either the Soldier or the Demo (but NOT both) is walking out of this update with one more weapon than the other. If you want your class to have it, you're going to have to fight for it." 

The Soldier and the Demo were natural rivals that, up until that point, hadn't had their yin-and-yangness formally expressed. They were both splash-damage classes with different styles: firing parabolically, or firing in a straight line. They could both use their weapons to propel themselves forward. An ordinary sticky bomb kill on cp_well, scored that week, had new meaning, adding to the overall body count.

All of this fun helped to soften the introduction of a new crafting system, laying the groundwork for TF2's item economy. Valve would use this technique again when it introduced paid items and loot crates a year later not as a storefront, but in the form of a fictional character entity: Mann Co. Although it wasn't without controversy and uproar, again, narrative framing and ample humor softened the landing microtransactions made on TF2, a much riskier and more novel concept in 2010 than it is today. You weren't buying items from Valve, you were buying them from a shirtless Australian.

Made to last

It's true that plenty of Team Fortress 2's storytelling has been done outside of its .exe, in comics, short videos, blogs, and marketing imagery. But in widening where its story was being told, Team Fortress 2 broke an old way of thinking, that a singleplayer campaign was the beginning and end of a game's fiction. It's part of the reason we've stopped seeing multiplayer shoehorned into shooters like Prey, Wolfenstein, and Deus Ex.

That approach has produced some of the most well-rounded and memorable multiplayer characters ever, ones that rival protagonists and villains from conventional games. When Blizzard announced Overwatch in 2014, game director Jeff Kaplan said “If people want to compare Overwatch to Team Fortress 2, we would take that as the world’s greatest compliment," said Kaplan. “We love that game; it’s probably one of my favourite games of all time. Those guys are geniuses," he said.

Not many FPSes are being played enthusiastically by a million-and-a-half people 10 years after release. But Quake, Unreal Tournament, Counter-Strike, Rainbow Six, and Battlefield don't have 15-minute short films about fighting giant loaves of mutant bread.

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