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The Team Fortress 2 Interview: The Evolution

n the second part of our Valve Team Fortress 2 feature we look at where Team Fortress 2 is today, and what exactly it’s evolved into. While the game has kept some of the core of what Team Fortress and Team Fortress Classic was, it’s focused on the definition of classes in a big way. In doing so Team Fortress 2 has omitted a number of TF staples such as game types in certain maps, and a major weapon – the grenade. We welcome back Robin Walker, co-creator of the original Team Fortress and current designer and engineer at Valve, Charlie Brown, Engineer and Project Lead at Valve, and Doug Lombardi Marketing Director at Valve to answer basically everything and anything we could throw at them dealing with Team Fortress 2.

What are the player classes? How many maps? You got rid of grenades? What about the console versions? What if I have DX10? All this and more gets all cleared up in our in-depth interview.

GI: You decided to bring all of the original player classes back. We’re there any thoughts of bringing in any new classes or getting rid of any?

Walker: The answer to both of them–yes. We messed around with a few different things. We really just play tested a lot of stuff. Some of the previous classes were buckets that were useful, not necessarily stayed the same. The Pyro is really different, the Scout is really different, the Medic, in terms of their role. We call the Scout a Scout and there was really some discussion if we should call the Scout something else because he’s so different, but it doesn’t seem to be too important, but the name still implies a role that’s pretty analogous to what he does. We were able to find a unique space for all of them. I think the trickiest ones were the combat classes. But that worked out really well. The difference between playing a Pyro and playing a soldier which is sort of the “these classes aren’t that different” in TFC. I think they’re more unique now. Seeing a Pryo instead of a Scout, your reaction is totally different than if you see a Soldier.

The gang's all here!

GI: Considering the fact that Team Fortress is basically 10 years old, you’re essentially going to be introducing Team Fortress and this style of play to a whole new generation, especially those in the console space. How are you introducing the type of gameplay and player classes to them?

Walker: We spent a lot of time focusing on better ways of making the game accessible. I really want to make sure people don’t confuse this with trying to simplifying the game. We felt that was the wrong approach. Instead we tried to find out ways to help people understand what was going on. Probably the best way to explain this is to point to specific features. The freeze-cam feature, when you die. We did a lot of play testing, and one thing we saw in TFC and other multiplayer games was the general confusion about death. A new player often dies. If we bring in a new player in and make him play any multiplayer game today usually he’ll die a few times and not really know what killed him. What we tried to do is eliminate that kind of problem. What are the problems new players face when they play these kinds of games, and how do we solve them specifically? “Who killed me? Why did I die?” We want to say, you died, here’s the person who killed you. Here’s what he killed you with. So on. We take that opportunity to tell you things – hey look you’re getting better at things—which is the stat panel. The persistent stats. All these things are about solving this core problem. Our approach to dealing with all these new players was to try and help them walk them through the game so they understood every step of the way what was going on. How they were doing, how they were getting better and so on.

Brown: It wasn’t just one way to do it. It was a combination–the death cam, the flags, the flag capture, capture points, knowing where the front line is. There’s all these little pieces and nuances that are coming together to give the player a total idea of what’s going on in the game. It makes them aware.

Lombardi: Even when you get to the class-selection screen and they’re grouped differently. You’re doing something there to help the new player break down the decision of what class they should play.

Walker: Offense, defense, or support. It’s a grouping purely to help the player decide what they like to play. It has no bearing on the actual gameplay. You can play an engineer on offense if you want. But trying to help players understand each step of the way what’s going on is key.  I think what people worry about when we talk about that kind of stuff is that we will remove core features or something like that. That wasn’t what it was all about.

Robin Walker

GI: You’ve done a lot of changes with the classes in TF2. How are these changes affecting the rock-paper-scissors mentality of the class based game?

Walker: I think we got a lot better at that. With TFC we had the problem of not clearly differentiating between the classes. It sort of resulted in people not really having weaknesses. The Soldier has sort of been the bane of my existence in terms of TF, because he’s a class who’s not as good at everything but he doesn’t have a significant weakness. As a result a good player in his hands, he’s so versatile that his rocket jump meant that in some maps he moves through the space faster than the Scout did even though that’s supposed to be the Scout’s defining characteristic. Damage-wise he’s really lethal, and so on.

Some classes are really well defined like the Spy and Engineer. I guess the point I’m trying to make is they have clear weaknesses. If it’s a Spy you know what your weaknesses are. As a Sniper you have weaknesses – if someone gets near you, you’re in trouble. With TF2 I think we’ve been much better about making sure everyone has those weaknesses. As a Soldier you really worry when that Scout starts jumping around you and you’re trying to hit him with your rocket launcher. I think we’ve done a better job through hundreds of small changes of ensuring that everyone has those weaknesses so that no matter what class you are, you have something to fear. You have this Achilles heel that you have to keep watching for, and making sure your core nemesis hasn’t shown up in some way.

Brown: And conversely those traits play the same way. People understand how they interact with other people in the world and it’s actually a great communication mechanism for other players to work with you because they know what to expect from you versus everyone kind of being flat and not knowing what to anticipate from your teammates. It makes it easier to work together.

Walker: Those weaknesses just make all the decisions more fun. If you’re a Scout and you’re running at an enemy base and a Soldier comes out then you’re like, “Oh” and you get a little tenacious. Or if it’s a Pyro that comes out, you’re like “Woah!!!” and back up. That in a nutshell is supposed to be what class-based gameplay is all about. It’s supposed to be about the decisions you make are going to be different with the classes you got into.  And similarly with classes you’ve got around you.  If you’ve got a Medic around you and you’re a Heavy by all means, walk right in, he’ll keep you alive. You’re going to do a lot of damage. But if there’s a heavy around the corner and you’ve got a Medic on you, you can totally take him. It helps that whole teamwork thing too because if as a Soldier and there’s a Scout coming towards you, you’re in trouble. But if there’s a Heavy on your team that’s around, that Scout’s toast – the Heavy is going to chew him up.

So yes, I think that part of the whole goal of the changes are about more sharply defining the rock-paper-scissors stuff. We don’t internally think of it as rock-paper-scissors, we’re making sure that each class has well defined strengths and weaknesses, and hopefully they’re exposed well at every sort of level. I should be able to, as a new player, look at the Scout and see that he’s weaker relatively to the Heavy Weapons Guy, just looking at him, clearly, that guy is much tougher and can take a heap more damage. Besides, his gun tells me something too. Everything about the game has to tell the player about those strengths and weaknesses. 

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