Before its most recent big update, Team Fortress 2 had gone over seven months without any significant content additions. For someone like me who plays TF2 regularly, that’s a long time to tolerate the same old set of maps and weapons as well as glitches and imbalances that become more frustrating to play against every day. When an update was teased by Valve, it was exciting, just as all teasers of this nature are. I’d hoped that they would focus on adding some new maps to the core TF2 game rather than Mann vs Machine, probably some popular custom maps from the community. I held a vague hope that maybe they’d add some new weapons and rebalance some existing items that are just too powerful – the Gunslinger and the Degreaser/Axtinguisher combo being top of that list. In my idealistic dream world, I wanted Valve to make some dramatic changes to TF2′s Steam Workshop, allowing us to download custom maps that are hosted there rather than disparate corners of the internet. This would make it much easier to keep pumping fresh content into a player’s game on their own terms.
Instead, Valve have given us a half measure. Two new maps, both contributed by the community: cp_process and cp_standin. Process is a popular map that’s been a part of the competitive circuit (both 6v6 and Highlander formats) for a long time, with professional players embracing its old school symmetrical five control point layout. The last time Valve attempted designing a map of that ilk was cp_foundry, which is too large for low population games. Turning to the community for the next step, then, was a smart solution. To an extent.
Where cp_process is a very astute addition to TF2, cp_standin is a head scratcher. The competitive community spent some time with Standin but rejected it quite quickly and, having played it, I can understand why. Standin is unique in that it’s not a standard control point map where you have to capture points sequentially to win the round. Instead, all three points are available to capture at all times and the first team to hold them all at the same time is the winner. It’s very similar to a Domination system, which doesn’t belong in TF2.
Part of TF2′s beauty is having a mix of classes all converging on a single point and engaging in dozens of different battles simultaneously. It’s part of why payload is my favourite mode, the action is focused in one area, but that area – the cart – is dynamic and constantly shifting. Standin does not provide this often enough. It’s conceivable for two teams to be fighting over three different points at the same time, which sounds exciting but doesn’t provide the desired level of chaos. The domination system also demands that each point be a good distance away from each other, which means that outside of well coordinated games, you’re rarely going to experience the thrill of a massive team fight. Oh, and it’s all grey – possibly the least aesthetically pleasing official map in the game.
The item rebalancing was very in-depth and ambitious, which is admirable. Although the Gunslinger received a minor nerf, the Degreaser and Axtinguisher remain too powerful and are still the obvious choices for a Pyro. In an update that tried to address a lack of viable alternatives for a lot of classes, this is sad to see (though the buff to the Powerjack was a step in the right direction).
And that’s it. Seven months to wait for what was essentially a housekeeping update featuring one good map. I can appreciate the effort that will have gone into modernising a lot of the pre-existing maps to accommodate all of the items and styles of play that have been created in the years since their introduction, but this ought to have been done long ago.
I also appreciate that this sounds like the first world problems rant of an over-entitled TF2 player, so I want to make it more constructive than that. But first, some context:
I watched a video from Salamancer recently, a competitive TF2 shoutcaster who met Valve in June to discuss the game’s competitive future and what Valve plans to do to integrate it more into the core experience. I don’t have any intention of playing competitively yet, but there were a couple of details in Sal’s video that really interested me (from 1:30 onwards)
For reference, those points are:
1) The TF2 team at Valve is populated by five people
2) Robin Walker no longer works on the game
I can understand why Robin Walker doesn’t work on TF2 anymore. He’s one of Valve veterans and I’m sure there are many exciting projects being worked on that are calling for his brain. But I’m more interested in the amount of people currently choosing to work on TF2.
On any given day, TF2 is the second most played game on Steam, consistently sitting around 50,000 players and peaking at 70,000. Is it really wise, therefore, to have a single digit number of people working on that game? There’s no finger pointing here, because Valve’s structure dictates that people work on what they’re interested in. If not many people are interested in maintaining and developing new content for a seven year old game, then that’s fine. But if that’s the case, it’s time for Valve to recognise that there’s an amazingly supportive community behind them who are and have been developing some incredible content for a long time now without recognition.
Recognition doesn’t have to come from being officially implemented into the game – just use the Steam Workshop as a primary hub for people to add content to their game. Accept map submissions, allow people to download and test them independently rather than being reliant on you to give them the green light. Of course, thanks to the Mann Co Store and TF2′s competitive aspect it’s still necessary to have an element of curation to the workshop when it comes to cosmetic items and weapons. But there are some cases where the community have submitted fixes for issues with certain items, only to be ignored. This is worrying.
So, Valve, instead of trying to run an extremely popular game with a handful of people, start allowing its passionate and brilliantly creative community members to have more influence on the game they love so dearly. We get to reap the benefits of adding content to TF2 on our own terms and you can start focusing on fun, innovative stuff again. Maybe then more people within the company will be compelled to work on this extraordinary game.