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Posts Tagged ‘Valve’

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.

swiftwater

pl_swiftwater – a map that really should have been officially added to TF2 by now

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.

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So the last time I did a bloggity post I talked about how Valve were the best behaved bastards I’ve ever loved in their Christmas Steam sale, which overdraws millions of people every year. This time I’m going to be talking about a very similar thingy. Assuming you have any interest in Portal 2 and have had access to the internet for the last week or so, Valve have been running an ARG to promote it and that culminated today with a countdown. Speculation was rife that the countdown was to the release of Portal 2, but when it hit 0 all we got was another page; which GLaDOS has named ‘the final challenge’.

Potatoes are Valve's favourite fruit

The Potato Sack has been on Steam for a while, offering 13 indie games with strange, often tenuous links to Aperture Science involved. The final challenge requires that we (and I do mean we as a collective unit of gamers) play anywhere between one and all of these games in order to speed up the launch of Portal 2. Otherwise, it will launch on its previously announced date of April 19th.

Great, right? Well, no. Not according to some people.

Some people reckon that if Portal 2 is ready, why should its release be delayed? Why is it being surrounded by this marketing bullshit?

Here’s why I think you’re misguided:

Firstly, Valve are not delaying the game. We’ve known for a long time that Portal 2 will be released on April 19th. They are giving us a chance to play it sooner than that. In what universe does this mean the game is delayed? Heck, in what universe is this morally or ethically wrong to do? There are worse things to do to earn an early release of a game than play some indie games, after all.

Secondly, ‘marketing bullshit’ has never been quite so interesting. ‘Marketing bullshit’ is when Rio Ferdinand shows up to an event in London to play the game, claiming it to be the finest gaming video he’s ever played then leaving 20 minutes later to claim his cheque. This has been an ARG that has captured the interest of thousands. People have been on treasure hunts around Seattle, people from all walks of life have been chipping in with pearls of wisdom to help figure out the next stage and now we have this; an opportunity for hundreds of thousands of gamers to collaborate towards the release of one of the year’s best games. This isn’t standard rubbish you’d see a typical developer do, this is something that’s taken days of effort and coordination that only Valve seem capable of pulling off.

Don’t want to play any of the games in the Potato Sack? Fine, thousands of others will. Just realise this; Valve are doing us a favour, continuing to show us why [standard PC blogger gushing] they’re the best developers in the world. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you, lest you never be fed another potato again.

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Team Fortress 2 is still the FPS game to beat

Last week, Valve released Team Fortress 2’s most controversial update yet. Since 2007, the game has been patched and updated for free (provided you’re playing on PC and not the much-neglected console version). Sadly, with the Mann-Conomy Update, this has changed. Yes, you can still download the update itself for free, yet the game now has those dreaded ‘micro-transactions’, in the form of paying real money for in-game items. Surprised? Confused? Angry? You aren’t alone, the community was in uproar.

A couple of days after the update came out, I uploaded a commentary to Youtube of my thoughts on the issue. I came to the conclusion that while I wasn’t dead against the money issue, I felt it was a shame that Valve had suddenly gone down the ‘Activision / EA route’ of charging money in-game seemingly for the sake of it and immediately creating a division within the community. Valve have been the best developers for the PC for a long time now, and part of what made them great was their caring for the community, the way they communicated with us, and their free content for TF2. After all, what started as a game with six maps, two game modes and 25 weapons is now a game with 32 maps, 10 game modes and 77 weapons! Yet, people wanted things to stay the same. The people who had gotten used to this free content were the ones screaming the loudest. Here’s a few of the comments to the video I created which took people round the new Mann Co. Store:

“In my views, this killed the game.”
“Now the whole game is like a shit mmorpg.”
“Valve has sold out, they are dead to me now.”

Having seen these remarks, it puts things right into perspective for me. It really is not that bad. Not so bad to the point where the whole game has changed, at least. Almost all of the items that were added with the update are available through regular means, such as trading, crafting or finding. The items that aren’t available through those methods are purely cosmetic and give you no bonuses over other players whatsoever. To balance that out, there are also some items that aren’t available in the store but can be found, traded or crafted. Ironically, this is the least publicised aspect of the update. Funny, that. The second least publicised aspect of the update is that pretty much all of the new items were created by the community for a competition. The new items are the winning entries and part of the reason for them being available for money is so that the creators of these items can take a share of the money that Valve makes from them. If that isn’t being generous and supportive to your community, then I don’t really know what is.

While Valve have annoyed a lot of people who were once loyal customers in the last few days, there’s no denying that, for me, TF2 is still the ultimate online FPS experience. The community is still top notch, the weapons are still balanced more than most big-name shooters currently on the market and it still costs less to buy the full game than any competitor. While Activision give you £11 map packs for Modern Warfare 2, Valve have given you the option of paying 50p for that Flare Gun you carelessly got rid of and now really want again. Hats are more expensive but, seriously, hats? If hats provided you game-breaking bonuses then maybe I’d understand criticism for them being available for money, until then they’re just cosmetic. Chill, and you can get one in a trade from another kind player (of which there are many). If more developers were like Valve, even with this quite turbulent week they’ve had, there would be many more very happy gamers.

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