Team Fortress 2

Their dedication to the Team Fortress 2 community makes Valve's online shooter a blast.

Online shooters don’t evolve. They land on your hard drive, and if there’s a bug, or a new map, or a new gun, the developers or publishers might stick out an update. But they are as is, and they’ll eventually tire me out.

This was how I expected it to be when Team Fortress 2 launched in October 2007. And back then, at first glance, it was just a brilliant shooter. A few maps, nine classes, lots of fun, and I’d be done with it in six months. Even as I was enjoying playing the Spy, the invisible weakling capable of terrorising teams only when their backs were turned, I was wondering what game was next.

Make the Team
As it turns out, “next” was TF2. In January 2008, Valve showed me the new game mode, Payload, and the initial designs for the Medic update. As much as they’d perfected the game to the point where they were happy to release it, millions of people playing it had exposed weaknesses in their impeccable design.

This is why I still play Team Fortress 2. Valve’s unhappiness with their finished game means I’m never more than a couple of months away from a new reason to play, an extra gun to gain, a different map to explore. The classes have evolved: The Spy is still a weakling, but a new watch allows me to stay invisible as long as I need to. A new knife steals the disguise of the player I just stabbed. A Fez makes me ultra dapper. Every class has a similar story: the Demoman can be a grenade spamming death machine, or a head-lopping front-line warrior. The Sniper’s bow encourages him to wander the map, string drawn back, ready to one-hit-kill jerks.

The announcements of these updates are events in themselves. Everything Valve does has to be entertaining, including creating week-long reveals of what they’ve been working on. They’ve hid the Spy’s update in the Sniper update, having him slowly uncloak on the webpage; they set the Demoman and Soldier to war with each other, battling for the highest kill count.
New ground
Valve have changed the game so much, introducing crafting and a microeconomy, that it’s no longer just an online shooter: it’s a place where they experiment with the community, taking the game to places that you could never have imagined when it launched. Every change brings new life, new challenges to overcome if they’ve updated a class you don’t play. It’s now full of gnarly little encounters: Snipers were given a shield that protects them from a Spy’s backstab, so I got proficient with the Spy’s powerful Ambassador for headshots. Demomen now have a speed boost that they can use to charge into battle with their giant sword, but a Pyro’s airblast can frustrate the raging Scotsman by knocking him back the way he came from.

Which has resulted in my favourite game of the past three years, and nothing being able to topple it this year. I play mostly on the PC Gamer TF2 server. It’s a pub, but with plenty of regulars. When we started, 2Fort was where we spent most of our time. Now it’s the various payload maps that make up the most popular battlegrounds, Heavies can heal themselves; Scouts are hitting people with fish; people are trading weapons and hats. I’ve pushed that bomb cart countless miles, ridden on top of it pulling dramatic poses; I’ve dived in behind it as it was about to tip into a hole full of explosive barrels, stabbing everyone. I’ve flailed, missed my stabs, ran away from angry Pyros into a sentry gun’s range, raging as the kill cam zooms in to show a dancing Engi behind his little nest.

I’m there after every update, and as long as Valve keep updating it, I think I’ll keep coming back.
Team Fortress 2

The Team Fortress 2 Christmas event launched this weekend giving everyone a chance to celebrate Christmas in true Team Fortress style. The update adds a new medieval, melee-only map and a series of mysterious festive crates that can be unlocked to reveal new items, which are also available to buy now in the Mann Co store. It's all in the spirit of Australian Christmas. What the hell is Australian Christmas? Read on for details, and an overview of the new items.

It's all explained on the official Team Fortress 2 blog. Australian Christmas seems to be an excuse for everyone to meet up in a castle and bash each other. The new arena is a control point map is set in the ramparts of a medieval fortress. The catch is that everyone playing has to use melee weapons. The frenzied scenes of players running in small circles trying to decapitate each other are only improved by the the addition of lordly language to everyone's text chat. Verily, 'tis hilarious.

The update adds three new item sets for the Heavy, the Medic and the Demoman. You'll find the stats of each item listed below. All the Christmas items are for sale in one £19.99 bundle, or you can pay £29.99 and get the Christmas items bundled in with the Polycount Pack. Below you'll find an overview of the new items along with descriptions of their special abilities.

A medieval bonesaw
On taunt, applies a healing effect to all nearby allies

Crusader's Crossbow

A medigun mounted onto a crossbow stock
Fires bolts that heal team mates and deal damage based on the distance to the target

Berliner's bucket helm

Medieval helm

Item set bonus

Medic wearing all items will regenerate 1 health every second

The Brass Beast

Gleaming brass minigun
+20% damage done
50% slower spin up time
-60% slower speed while deployed

The Buffalo Steak Sandwich

A great big hunk of steak
When consumed, temporarily increases movement speed.
All damage dealt and taken will be minicrits
Can only use melee weapons

The Warrior's Spirit

Hand mounted bear claws
+30% damage done
-20max health on wearer

The Big Chief

Native American Headdress

Item Set bonus

+5% critical hit damage resistance on wearer

The Loch-n-Load

Double barrelled grenade launcher
+10% damage done
+25% projectile speed
-60% clip size
Launched bombs shatter on surfaces
+25% damage to self

The Ullapool Caber

A stick bomb that is also a melee weapon "a sober person would throw it"
No random critical hits

Scotch Bonnet

Riot gear helmet

Item Set Bonus

+10% fire damage resistance on wearer

A series of festive crates will also be dropping from now until new year. To open these crates you'll need to buy a festive key from the Mann Co store for £1.99. The crates will contain a random surprise, so far people have reported receiving rakes, candy canes and occasionally, one of the new Christmas weapons. The festive crates will disappear on December 31st. All festive keys will revert to ordinary keys come new year's day.

For more Team Fortress 2 Christmas happenings check out the Killing Floor goodies that were recently added. Have you played the new map? Let us know what you think.
Team Fortress 2

Valve headquarters is full of secrets, and there's a constant stream of spies trying to infiltrate the inner sanctum. This is why Valve have splashed out on an extra bit of security for their lobby, a life size sentry gun from Team Fortress 2, complete with motion sensors. There's a video below of the sentry gun in action.

The sentry gun was built by the WETA workshop, a design and manufacturing company that has created props for the Lord of the Rings films and Avatar. Now they've turned their attention to Team Fortress 2, and created the remarkable machine shown in the video below.

Team Fortress 2

Valve's department of mad scientists have decided that they need more guinea pigs on which to test their insane schemes, and have decided to launch a Team Fortress 2 public beta. The beta will play host to massive game changing experiments and will let Valve test out new tech without breaking Team Fortress 2 proper. Read on for details on the first round of changes in the beta, and details on how to sign up.

These are the changes for the first beta release.

Three Natascha variants:

40% damage
25% damage, -25% health
Spin-up/down time increased, slowdown-on-hit effect falls off over distance.

Map changes:

cp_granary: new entrance added into the RED and BLU mid ramp room.
cp_5gorge: 5 CP version of cp_gorge.

Misc balance changes:

Players being healed by a medic are immune to movement-impairing effects generated by hit-scan weapons.

In future we can look forward to "higher level, game-wide experiments", like doubling all player health. The beta should prove to be an interesting insight into the ideas Valve have for Team Fortress 2's future, and also a good excuse to play TF2 with some crazy rulesets. The beta can be installed directly from your Steam games library, so it's dead easy to jump in and test the new changes. Full details on the beta launch can be found on the Team Fortress 2 blog.

For more on Valve's plans for Team Fortress 2, check out part one and part two of our huge Valve interview. What do you think of the first round of changes, and what rules would you put into the beta?
Team Fortress 2

Team Fortress 2 isn’t entirely about hats. Somewhere within is a game you can be good at. Some people are better than others. TCM Gaming have been sitting at the top of nearly every professional TF2 gaming league for the past few years, and as such they’ve managed to accumulate a vast sum of knowledge on how to not get yourself stabbed in the back, headshotted, blown up with a cluster of stickybombs, or killed by a sentry gun over, and over, and over again. They explain exactly what to do, and what not to do, below.

1. Stick together
It’s not called Team Fortress 2 for nothing, and so it’s hardly surprising that you’re probably going to need to work as a team. But what does ‘team’ even mean? Matthius ‘Zerox’ Kühl thinks he’s figured it out. “Six individually great players won’t make it to the top unless they learn how to play together. It is important to attack and retreat as a group, help each other out or know when to flank the opponent during an attack. You have to learn how each player in your team thinks and reacts to certain situations and use it for your game. Therefore you also need to know how to play the other classes. Only when you understand the pros and cons of the classes your teammates have to deal with can you help them out or time your actions right. But even if you know your mates for years, you will never be able to read thoughts. That's why it is essential to tell everyone what you are doing or what you are gonna do.”

2. Find a team you can be friends with
Chums. They’re the best. They buy you a round when you are too stingy to buy one yourself, and they ubercharge you that second before you were about to die. Or they don’t, and you don’t speak to each other for weeks. “There are several ingredients to a successful team,” Says Jim ‘XMan’ Maguire, “but one of the most important one's is friendship, and actually enjoying each others company. Whenever we have a big game, be it online or LAN, I always tell the guys to go and enjoy their game. If you’re having fun you play with passion rather than repetition. All the skill in the world means nothing if you hate what your doing.”
3. Turn down the graphics
Aww, man, you just died because you couldn’t render that crit rocket fast enough. You need to upgrade. Make sure everything is running properly. Maybe even buy a new mouse. It’s ok, Zerox can help you out. “You have to have a good system to run TF2. This game is very demanding on CPU power and since it is essential to get the best response and feel from the game, even in the most frantic mid-fights, you need to have good hardware or tune down the graphics to run the game at the desired fps rate. What you will also want to do is turn off any unnecessary graphic effects like HDR. They draw to much power from your PC, but be aware that you don't disable effects which give you additional information, like shadows. Something that takes time to find is your own personal setup; the right mouse, mouse mat and sensitivity can make a lot of difference. There is a great deal of choice on the market so you need to find out what kind of settings you prefer.”
4. Buy a Headset. Use Intelligently
You know what I really hate? I hate it when the only thing I can hear in a game is the excellent voice acting of the TF2 characters. Sure, they’re funny, and they usually help communicate what’s going on, but they’re not people, and people have a larger, more eloquent vocabulary. It’s the truth. “Communication is a key element to winning in any clan you join.” Says Ahmed ‘Byte’ Fansa, communicating to me. “Make no mistake this game, when played at the top level, is very fast, so don't forget it's not just one player. It’s six ones. That's six different thought processes which may need to be communicated. So when one player starts transmitting useless information it scrambles other, IMPORTANT messages that may have been transmitted yet not picked up due to other useless comms. My best advice would be to keep it simple, keep it smart. Never repeat your communication more than two or three times.”

5. If you're practising a class, try deathmatch
Apparently it takes 10,000 hours to truly master something, so my paltry 300 hours of TF2 played means that I probably need to put in some more practice if I want to reach that high watermark. But it’s not entirely about how much you play, so much as how you play, says Byte. “The problem that some players feel is that they put in the time, but the fundamental difference is they use the right practice. There is no point in learning something if the method is incorrect, as it will in the long run be worse off for you. So if you are to dedicate time make sure you do it right and find out the proper techniques of achieving what you want to achieve. In the case of Team Fortress 2, if you are trying to master your own class individually then you should be thinking of playing on some death matching servers, watching some demos of the top players in that particular class, and then watch your own style to see how you can adapt and change.”
6. Earn Some Repute
Don't fall in the trap of talking your way through the community rather than showing your skill. Keep your mouth shut and buckle down. That’s the advice Byte gives when it comes to actually breaking through into the ranks of the TF2 professionals. “Reputation is key part of a player's profile being accepted in the community and being well known. My best advice would be to stay quiet, and build up your rank via your skill and own doing. This method is the hardest way to get recognized and have a great reputation, but then again think about it in life since when has getting a reputation ever been easy? No pain no gain."
7. Think, don't just shoot
You know that time you got sniped because you forgot there was a sniper up on the balconies in 2Fort? That was because you didn’t have sufficient Game Sense. Same thing when you didn’t realise your Buff Banner was charged, and your entire team got slaughtered. Byte let’s you know about the importance of Game Sense. “When you execute a certain game sense movement with your class, it can be the difference between winning the round or losing it." So what's the best way to improve your game sense? "There is no clear cut answer to the question as it requires various other elements being learnt properly. This includes dynamic play/awareness/anticipation. The game sense is like the outer bubble of your entire career in Team Fortress 2, sure you can have the aim, sure you can have the position and you can even have the advantage but what is the use if your game sense lets you or your team down?”
8. Learn to dodge
Just as important as killing the other guys, is avoiding taking damage, and being in the right place at the right time.“Practice your aim, movement and Rocket/Sticky-jumps," advises Xerox. "A Demoman for example should not arrive late to a mid-fight or half his team will already be down. Just as important as aim is dodging. The less damage you take the bigger your chance of winning your fights. Experience obviously plays a huge role in increasing your skill level. Playing with and against good players will improve your aim, game sense and confidence over time. I like to train on death match servers you can test different settings and its a good way of warming up your aim before matches.”

9. Adapt And Evolve
You’re going to have to adapt, and learn how to react to the way your oposition is playing. XMan says you need to be constantly shifting strategies. “You will quickly find that other players and teams watch your every move and try to devise ways in which they can best you. Be prepared for other teams to have done their homework on you and to have prepared an Anti Strat to your winning play. The ability to adapt your tactics mid game and to change things up without losing your stride is the mark of a true professional. This could mean mixing several plays together randomly to achieve the same result, but keeping your opponent guessing is the key.”
10. Do Your Homework
No one ever said it would be easy. Part of being a professional means doing actual work, which means you’re not just going to be playing games all day. Sometimes you’re going to have to watch games. I know, life is tough. “To get the edge over other teams you need to figure them out. Specifically, prepare for the matches you have ahead, study your opponents tactics by watching demos and discuss them within your team. Spending half an hour on your server, going through the map-specific tactics is sometimes more valuable than an evening of pickups. It is easy to check out games from top teams and use their tactics for yourself but without understanding them they wont work for you like  they do for others. That's why being up to date is essential. Even on old and well known maps the game play still develops. If your opponent comes up with a strategy that you have not seen before it won't be easy to counter it on the fly during a match.”

Team Fortress 2

It sounds like the start of a joke. "The Heavy from TF2 and Tycho from Penny Arcade walk into a bar...", but that's pretty much the premise for Telltale's upcoming poker game, which pits an odd variety of gaming characters against one another and gives the player a chance to win some exclusive items for TF2. Telltale have released a trailer of the game, showing some of the banter we can expect from the motley crew they've assembled. They've given Tycho a voice! Hear his sultry tones in the video below.

The trailer teaches us that the Heavy is as serious about cards as he is about his beloved miniguns. Head here more information on the TF2 items that will be wagered. The game will be out later this month, and is available to pre-order now on Steam.

Team Fortress 2

Poker Night at the Inventory is a poker game that pits the Heavy from TF2 against Penny Arcade's Tycho, Max from Sam & Max and Strong Bad from, well the Strong Bad games. As you win hands, you'll be able to unlock a series of exclusive items in Team Fortress 2. Read on for details of the new weapons and accessories on offer.

At various points, special rounds will commence in which characters will throw the special items into the pot, and you'll have to use all your wiles to win them and unlock the item. Here's a list of the items on offer:

"The Iron Curtain" weapon, for use by the Heavy in TF2.

Max's Lugermorph handgun for use by the Scout and the Engineer in TF2; and Max's Freelance Police badge wearable by any player in TF2.

Wrist watch from Penny Arcade's Tycho for the Spy in TF2.

Styling "Dangeresque" sunglasses anted in by Strong Bad, wearable by Demoman in TF2.

Preordering the game on Steam also unlocks a poker visor hat for the Heavy. The game will be out later this month, priced at $4.95, which probably works out cheaper than buying four items at the Mann Co store. Here are a few images of the items floating in a red haze. The Heavy's minigun looks particularly neat.

Counter-Strike: Source

We've had a look at esports around the world and rounded up a few of November's hottest gaming tournaments. StarCraft 2, Counter-Strike, Call of Duty 4, Team Fortress 2 and Quake Live all feature as the month kicks off with the massive Multiplay i41 event in the UK, and ends with the even bigger Dreamhack LAN party in Sweden, where the prize pools are worth thousands of pounds.

05/11/2010 - MLG Pro Circuit Dallas StarCraft 2 tournament

3 day event
$17,500 prize pool
1v1 matches with 128 participants
MLG Pro Circuit site

12/11/2010 - Multiplay i41, Newbury UK
A three day event hosting the following major tournaments.

The Multiplay Counter-Strike:Source Cup

£8,000 prize pot
128 teams
Counter-Strike:Source Cup site

The Thermaltake StarCraft 2 cup

£5,000 prize pot
1v1 matches with 512 participants
Thermaltake Starcraft 2 cup link

The Multiplay Call of Duty 4 Cup Sponsored by Rustlers Gamesafe

up to £8,000 prize pool
up to 128 teams
Multiplay Call of Duty 4 Cup link

The Multiplay Team Fortress 2 Cup

up to £9,600 prize pool
up to 128 teams
Multiplay Team Fortress 2 Cup link

13/11/2010 - GOM TV StarCraft 2 Open, Seoul, South Korea
An ongoing tournament, season two running since the 18th of October. Started with 64 players and already down to just 4.

Season Two Finals

£112,500 prize pool, with £56,350 going to the winner of this final

final is a best of 7

free to watch live online, $20 for a season ticket to access videos on demand

GOM TV StarCraft 2 Open link

25/11/2010 - DreamHack Winter
A three day event hosting the following major tournaments.

DreamHack SteelSeries StarCraft 2 LAN-tournament

Battlenet EU
$26,900 prize pool
1v1 matches with 64 participants
DreamHack Winter link

MSI Counter-strike Championship

$34,200 prize pool
64 teams
MSI Counter-strike Championship link

Kaspersky Quake Live Championship

£6500 prize pool
Quake Live Championship link

If you know of any other game tournaments we've missed, let us know in the comments and we'll add them in.
Team Fortress 2

Scouts are throwing bottles of milk at people. Snipers are dressed up like crocodiles, but they’re firing pee-filled darts instead of bullets. Spies are stabbing you with a knife that hides your body and steals your identity. Pyros are bludgeoning people with a car battery on a stick. Team Fortress 2 has, once again, gone utterly insane.

The Polycount Pack is 17 community-created items that Valve have introduced into Team Fortress 2, our favourite online shooter. To get them, you can wait for the items to drop, or you can buy them. You can buy individual weapons for anywhere between 60p and £3, and hats cost as much as £12. The Polycount bundle costs £30, and that’s a lot of money. You don’t have to buy it; you could just wait, or beg for items on friendly servers in your sexiest voice, but it’s definitely easier to just shell out the cash.

It contains items for the Spy, Soldier, Pyro, Sniper, and Scout classes. Each class gets a themed hat and a couple of items – wearing all of them confers a bonus. This means that the new hats actually impact the combat: if I want to wear my Respectless Rubber Glove instead of the Attendant cap, I don’t get to move 10% faster. That’s annoying.
Boxes and bugles
The Soldier receives the Black Box, a rocket launcher that can heal you for 15 health on every hit, but, frustratingly, only carries three rockets in its clip. The Battalion’s Backup is a bugle that charges up as you take damage, and when that bar is full, you can unleash a powerful defensive buff that protects nearby team members. Wear those with the Grenadier’s Softcap, and you can bask in the glow of a 20% damage reduction from sentry fire. Suddenly you’ve become the Medic’s new favourite pet.

The Sniper’s Croc-o-style set, when you’ve equipped all four items, makes you immune to headshots. Your rifle fires darts of pee that can’t score headshots either, instead dealing damage and coating the enemy in crit-yielding Jarate. Some of the other sets of items are more prone to switching up – the Pyro’s new Degreaser is a flamethrower that does less burn damage, but greatly increases the speed with which you switch weapons. This makes it ideal for your trusty Axtinguisher. Likewise, you might not care for the Spy’s new cloak- replenishing pistol or Fez hat, but his new knife is incredible. Stab someone in the back and it hides their body, instantly disguises you as them and makes almost zero noise.

Are these items essential? Nah: you can still own the enemy team with the vanilla weapons. The new items all have their drawbacks. On the other hand, are they fun to use? Do they give you great options without crippling your less cash- happy opponents? The short answer: yes. If only it was £10, I’d even say you had to buy it.

Jaz McDougall
Team Fortress 2

So we've had a chance to play around with the new Team Fortress 2 Halloween Update, which adds two maps, lots of hats, a new weapon, and a murderous AI known as the Horseless Headless Horsemann. There's a lot in it, and the way it works isn't like any other update, so we'll explain how to get all the new hats, masks, achievements and the revered Horsemann's axe.

Horseless Headless Horsemann's Head
Probably the easiest thing to get. The Horseless Headless Horsemann is the new AI-controlled boss character who pops up frequently on the Mann Manor map - look for servers playing cp_manor with at least 10 players. He has masses of hitpoints and kills you in one chop, but if you keep your distance and keep shooting him, you have a good chance of dealing some damage shortly before he dies. If you manage that, you get the Achievement and the Horseless Headless Horsemann's Head - a giant scary pumpkin that looks particularly awesome on the spy. Unfortunately it's only wearable during the Halloween event, and you can't trade it.

Horseless Headless Horsemann's Headtaker
This is the Horsemann's axe, a Demoman weapon that has the same stats as the Eyelander but looks much cooler. It can only be crafted, and the tricky part is, you need an Unusual Haunted Metal Scrap, and that's an item you can only find once. If you've got one, you need to combine it with 2x Refined Metal and a Scottsman's Skullcutter. The Skullcutter itself is crafted by mixing an Axtinguisher and a Jarate. If you don't have the Haunted Metal yet, here's how you get it:
Unusual Haunted Metal Scrap
Only useful for crafting certain special Halloween items. You get it if you hit the Horsemann with a melee attack, and stay alive until he dies. You don't have to kill him yourself. That gets you the Achievement, and the Achievement gets you the Haunted Scrap. Since you can only get Achievements once, this is the only scrap you'll get.

If you're feeling cheesy, you can actually cheat to get this on a private server you create. There are instructions on the Steam forums here. It hasn't worked for everyone, and be aware that Valve have sometimes been harsh on people who get items in ways they didn't intend.

The Halloween Hats

Horrific Headsplitter (for all classes): Craftable or purchasable for £7 or $10, wearable all year round.
Cadaver's Cranium (for the Heavy): Craftable or purchasable for £7 or $10, wearable all year round.
Spine-Chilling Skull (for all classes): Craftable or purchasable for £7 or $10 but only during the Halloween event. Wearable all year round.
Voodoo Juju (for all classes): Craftable or purchasable for £7 or $10 but only during the Halloween event. Wearable all year round.

The crafting recipe for all four hats is the same: when you combine one Unusual Haunted Metal Scrap with four Refined Metal, you get a random one of these four. It bears repeating: you can only ever find one Unusual Haunted Scrap, so think carefully about how you use it.

The Halloween Masks
There are ten of these, one for each class, and one for Saxton Hale. They're just paper bags with a crude picture of the class's face on it, a slightly weird departure from last year's amusingly scary faces. You only find them in Haunted Halloween Gift boxes that randomly crop up on the Mann Manor map - they pop up fairly regularly, but since you don't know where they are, someone else will often get there first. They're the only thing you can find in a Gift box, so you have a one in nine chance of getting the one you want.

The exception is the Saxton Hale mask, which can only be crafted. And you need all nine of the class masks to do it. Combining them all gets you the burly Australian's smug face on a paper bag to wear. The real advantage of this mask over the others is that it's the only one you can still wear after the event ends.

Luckily all the masks are tradable, so you can swap dupes in your quest to find all nine. And you can even trade Saxton's, which'll give you the Achievement for crafting it.
Novelty Items
The Noisemakers are 25-use items that play a sound to everyone on your server, annoying them slightly. They're cheap - 29p or $50c - and only available from the Mann-co store. Gift Wrap just disguises an item as a gift, so when you give it to someone they won't know what it is. It's also only available through the store, for 99p.

Most of this info was figured out on the awesome official Team Fortress 2 wiki and by folks on the Steam forums, and verified by us where possible. I haven't tried the cheating for haunted metal thing, and probably won't risk it - getting it legitimately doesn't seem that hard.

We had a hilarious time dealing with the Horsemann at lunchtime - he's genuinely terrifying when he comes for you, and he disrupts the normal capture-point game mode so completely that the servers have a real atmosphere of daft fun about them at the moment. He's only around till November the 8th, so I definitely recommend getting in some time on Mann Manor before then. How are you guys finding it?

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