Why Can’t We Get TF2 Out of Our Heads?

By Alec Meer on June 18th, 2008 at 5:18 pm.

Team Fortress 2 is easily the game I’ve sunk more hours into than any other during the last year, and happily so. Still, isn’t a little weird that we’ve all spent the last week getting so excited about a cutscene and some stat changes for a half-year-old multiplayer shooter? We are geek, and we are legion.

It’s hardly a rare occurrence for a PC gamer to look at the more rabid 360 owners’ Halo fanboyism and scoff, but man, look how hard us lot have fallen for TF2. There’s no other game we’ve posted more about on RPS, and six months on from its release, there’s no sign of that slowing down. TF2′s an extraordinary game, and the importance of it introducing so much character to its crazed gunmen cannot be overstated. But.. what are we getting out of the videos and updates this long after release?

Well, quite a lot. A sense of belonging to a like-minded community (and one whose gods are very much in on the joke) and an awful lot of entertainment. For existing TF2 players, the Meet videos and the unlocks expertly drag us back in, clearly. I’m currently on something like my fourth intense steeping in TF2, having ebbed and flowed over the months, and being lured back again by every major update.

It’s easy, when giggling at the Meet the Sniper video (comfortably the funniest since Engineer, and arguably the most accomplished of the lot) to forget what it’s really doing is getting across how awesome the game is. The video makes you want to be a sniper – it emphasises his sense of remote invincibility, his patience and calm amidst a hail of gunfire, the relative clumsiness of the other classes by comparison to him, and that there’s a little of the Crocodile Dundee to him. His dad might doubt him, but we think he’s cool as hell. We want to be that guy. I’ll bet there were a few more Snipers than usual on the servers last night.

Still, I had previously been thinking “why are Valve still bothering to make these?” Surely most people who are likely to play TF2 are already playing TF2, making this an appreciated but (so I had at first presumed) non-lucrative pat on the head for fans – fans who’ve already paid for the game and don’t cough up any subscription fee. Is this continued investment worth it for Valve? Yeah, I reckon. Actually, there a lot of people who aren’t yet playing TF2 – Warcraft’s 10m subscribers prove that. EA’s plans for Battlefield Heroes prove that. Is every Digg reader, every Youtube visitor playing TF2? No, not by a long shot, but a shedload of them will stumble across Meet The Sniper’s stunningly Pixarian production values and hopefully be intrigued enough to try the game.

Sniper’s immediate effect may be to drag a load of lapsed players back, but more importantly it’s the advance guard for the upcoming free weekend. Funny video + free demo = game purchase. This many months in, TF2 may be a noticeably more hardcore affair than it used to be, but the game’s careful focus on a level playing field means it remains a relatively open door to a rank newcomer. It’s still a world away from the sudden deaths of COD4, Quake Wars, UT3 et al. While it’s very obviously not yesterday’s news, it’s not a new release anymore – but this could well be a game that’s only just started to make money. It’s a shame it’s a 2Gb-odd download, as that’s an immediate turn off for a curious newcomer.

What’s beyond this slow influx of new people, I don’t know. Valve’s leisurely development pace means it won’t just churn out a sequel next year, and were they to announce paid DLC there’d be uproar. Free updates are the likely future, then. Increasingly, the money we each spent on The Orange Box or TF2 is turning out to quite the bargain. It’s $20 on its own, for crissakes. One of the finest multiplayer shooters ever made, and it’s only a tenner.

Speaking of WoW (er, about seven paragraphs back), I’m acutely aware that TF2 plays the same role in my life as that did a year or two ago. The urge to immediately hit the servers every lunchtime and every 5.30pm is the same, as it the obsession with discovering new detail – those new achievements, the Sniper video… I can remember watching the Burning Crusade intro cinematic over and over when it was released ahead of the game, and poring over advance patchnotes, desperate to try out the new hotness they talked of.

TF2 is the MMO that isn’t an MMO, another riposte to Spector’s suggestion that short games are the future – quite clearly, a lot of gamers do want one, endless game, and this is all the proof we need that bashing goblins really isn’t the be all and end all of that concept. Unlike most other multiplayer FPSes, TF2 is not static – that it’s this gradually changing experience adds a lot of MMO appeal. As well as unlocks for the remaining classes, if we take the bobblehead in the Sniper video as the hint it’s surely meant to be, we’ve probably got VIP escort maps to look forward to at some point. This one could run and run.

Chatting to a friend about how TF2 has neatly taken WoW’s place in my life, he observed that it’s an evolution of how people used to behave about D&D revisions or new races for Warhammer 40K. It’s the same type of gent to a certain extent, and the same sort of mentality – absolute excitement about detail changes to ruleset-based escapism. The difference is that, while the celebrations used to consist of small gatherings at a mate’s house or in the local Games Workshop store, now the internet allows this massive, global pile-on of enthusiasm. With today’s news that apparently the Romans used 20-sided dice, it starts to seem like mankind moves in circles. All this has happened before, and all of it will happen again…

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95 Comments »

  1. Meat Circus says:

    Royal We?

    I had stopped playing it of late, because my backlog of games unplayed has reached critical mass, especially since I got the PS:T widescreen patch to work.

    But it’s such an utterly perfect way to waste fifteen minutes/half an hour/an hour.

    It such an easy default to drop into and out of for short bouts of mindless ace shootybangbang, that it clocks up all those hours without my even noticing it.

    So: TF2 – yay.

  2. Fat Zombie says:

    I doubt, though, that Legionnaires ran about blasting each other with miniguns and flamethrowers either (although you never know).

    Still, TF2 = Awesome. And now they’ve released a Flare Gun for it, it’s twice as awesome (flare guns being one of my favourite weapons, as well as RPG launchers). I’m going to have to work for this.

  3. phuzz says:

    TF2 is helping me give up smoking.
    Well, sort of, but time spent playing TF2 is time enjoyed, and more importantly, time not spent smoking. It’s a start anyway.

    I’ve very carefully not gotten involved with any MMOs, because I know how easily I can get addicted to things, but if my brief dalliance with Eve taught me one thing, it was that I’m not social enough to really play most MMOs. On the other hand, healing some heavy that’s heading in the right direction is just the level of social interaction I can cope with after a day at work.

  4. Gulag says:

    I have long lamented the absence of the VIP maps to anyone who would listen. It was, and is, a brilliant concept, almost like a playground game, that demands teamwork and ingenuity. Can’t wait to see what the umbrella unlocks look like :)

  5. Nimic says:

    Great article. While I’m not as fanatic over TF2 as I was in the time after release, I do have my periods. I’ll probably not play very much right away, but when I get back home where my connection actually supports it, and where my equally geeky cousin also lives, I can definitely see us spending the wee hours of the night on TF2. Again.

  6. RichPowers says:

    For the past eight years it’s been, “Why can’t I get Team Fortress out of my head?” I’ve played Dustbowl — both the classic and new version — at least three times a week since the summer of 2000.

    TFC and TF2 offer immediate gratification. No matter which Dustbowl or Gold Rush server I join, there’s guaranteed to be an entertaining battle going on. And it’s worth playing through the first two stages just to enjoy the frenzied battle over the last capture point. (To this day, no other gaming experience is as exciting as a 32-man TFC game on Dustbowl’s final stage.) And unlike WoW and other MMOs, you can switch classes at any moment and have a totally different experience depending on your mood.

    Oh ya, TF2 is also silly as hell, especially when the pre-gate spawn room erupts with everyone spamming “That [class] is a spy!”

  7. The Fanciest Of Pants(Max F) says:

    The new content and “Meet the..” films certainly do their part to suck ME back in. Best 50 bucks I ever spent(that I can recall).

    And wow… a 2000 year old D20? I love that such a thing exists. :D

  8. Naurgul says:

    Well, it’s certain that Valve doesn’t do all these things (only) out of good will. Team Fortress 2 climbed to the first position of Steam’s top-sellers today again, after MtS and the update details were released, but before the actual update or the free weekend.

    Whatever crazy marketing strategy they’re using, it’s working in both drawing in new players and bringing back old ones. Also, it doesn’t cost a dime, so who am I to complain for being hypnotised to play the game again after months of absence?

    But I digress. The numbers of players/servers for TF2 is still a world away from COD4, not to mention CS, so in retrospect these crazy marketing strategies may not make much of a difference.

  9. mujadaddy says:

    (To this day, no other gaming experience is as exciting as a 32-man TFC game on Dustbowl’s final stage.)

    Really? I guess you’re not a RtCW:ET afficianado, then?

    I probably would’ve bought Orange Box for Portal & TF2 except for 3 things:

    1. No Friendly Fire – Seriously, this is a big immersion breaker for me. “LOoK, my MagicFire only hurts enemies!”
    2. No Grenades – Huh? Headscratcher.
    3. Random Criticals – Yikes. Unless all the info I’ve read is wrong, this is … umm… the wrong way to do it.

    HOWEVER, with that being said, _another_ Free Weekend has made me decide to d/l the trial. If it’s *as* or *more* enjoyable (doubtful :P) than RtCW:ET (which I still play 1ce-2ce a week, in 2008!), I can see myself migrating to a new FPS ;)

    Oh, btw, RPS? Love ya.

  10. cyrenic says:

    The comparison to Halo 3 made me think about how much greater monetary value you get from TF2 right now than Halo 3. You can pick up TF2 for $20, while halo 3 is still $60 most places. You have to pay the XBox Live fee to play Halo 3 online, Steam has comparable features and is free. You have to pay for every release of Halo 3 DLC, new maps and weapons on TF2 are free. I love being a PC Gamer. Not trying to start some platform flame war, Halo 3 has its strong points, just an observation.

  11. Dustin says:

    Hahaha….Battlestar Galactica reference.

  12. Chris Livingston says:

    I’ve been into and stayed into TF2 from the start, but I do hit periods of blah or boredom from time to time and take small breaks. I do really love and appreciate that Valve, having already made their sale to me, continue to add and improve the game and get me to Day 1 Level excitement all over again.

  13. liquidindian says:

    1. No Friendly Fire – Seriously, this is a big immersion breaker for me. “LOoK, my MagicFire only hurts enemies!”
    2. No Grenades – Huh? Headscratcher.

    Immersion isn’t a problem – I’m always aware that I’m playing against other people, but am in no way disconnected from the gameplay. You ‘lose yourself’ in a different way to other immersive games. And given how much I hate a skilful demoman, I’m glad of the lack of grenades.

  14. Fumarole says:

    Immersion? Surely you mean realism. That’s kind of a silly thing to look for in a game with rocket jumps and paper-mask-disguised spies.

  15. Theory says:

    Grenades blur the lines between classes, even accounting for their different permutations, and are also the vile, hated spam.

    I was delighted when I heard they’d gone: I never liked them, and I never liked using them.

  16. Mataway says:

    What I love about TF2 is no matter what mood I’m in I can pick a class to play that fits it. And if I get the least bit bored, a quick class switch has me playing a whole new game.

  17. KindredPhantom says:

    I agree.
    When i waver from TF2 i just check out my TF2 pics sideshow (click my name).

  18. Stick says:

    The video makes you *want* to be a sniper

    True. Even me. And I can’t pixelhunt aim for crap.

    (I suppose I might go Crazed Gunman when everyone else is burninating. Should be amusing.)

    Seems like Narrative and Character sell things way beyond Cool Feature Lists.
    Even in non-narrative-based games.

  19. gromit says:

    3. Random Criticals – Yikes. Unless all the info I’ve read is wrong, this is … umm… the wrong way to do it.
    Crits work great in TF2. It makes you want to avoid any kind of enemy fire. Otherwise you would know “o.k. I can survive 3 rockets before I die” or something similar. And while they are random it’s not like skilled players aren’t rewarded.
    More playing less reading :p

  20. mujadaddy says:

    @gromit: OK, I can accept that. One of my gripes with FPS’s in general is that damage doesn’t “hurt” until that last HP.

    “(realism): That’s kind of a silly thing to look for in a game with rocket jumps and paper-mask-disguised spies.”

    That’s what I’m saying — I’ve been lead to believe that TF2 is too cartoony. Not that I’m “hardcore” or anything, but when I’m vicariously shooting people, I want penalties for vicariously shooting my friends. :) …and PaperMasks don’t bother me at all — Rocketjumping, however, does.

  21. cyrenic says:

    @mujadaddy

    They had to take team damage out of the game because it made spies too powerful if you can’t spy check teammates. If you don’t like your FPS’s cartoony TF2 might not be a good fit for you. However I’d definitely encourage you to play it yourself and see if you like it, no reason not to with the free trial :P.

  22. Deuteronomy says:

    TF2 was a massive disappointment for me. I spent about a hour played before shutting it down and going back to Quake Wars and RO. Yes I realize I’m in the minority but that doesn’t make me any less right. RO in particular is so far above any other online FPS that it’s a victim of it’s own greatness. Quake Wars is good if for nothing else that it runs on Linux.

    I dislike TF2 so much that I sometime suspect my fellow gamers of being pod people brainwashed some kind of subliminal messaging from Valve. In a way this ties into the Stalker thread – TF2 is the ultimate example of brightly colored western pap light on the gameplay and heavy on the silly. After trying WoW last night I realize the same comparison holds for it and EVE.

  23. Nick says:

    “Yes I realize I’m in the minority but that doesn’t make me any less right.”

    Welcome to personal taste, have a nice stay.

  24. mujadaddy says:

    @cyrenic:

    I understand — but that says to me that their Spy implementation is incorrect. Do Spies have their Spy Weapons showing, or do they have cardboard copies of their impersonated class weapons? (In Enemy Territory when you see a Medic with a Sniper Rifle, you know what’s up) If the latter, yikes, no wonder.

    Anyhow, as I said, Free Weekend Again makes Mujadaddy happy.

  25. Sam says:

    mujadaddy: Disguised Spies have the primary weapon of their disguise visible – which can be a giveaway if the class they’re disguised as doesn’t use its primary much.

  26. Lachlan says:

    I loved TF2 on release, but my interest dwindled with the arrival of the unlockables. There’s no way I’ll ever play the game enough to even get the most basic of the new weapons, except by very long slow slog, and seeing people run around with stuff I will never have is just depressing.

    This makes the Pyro update a bit of a sad moment for me. I’d love to play, I want to try the new stuff…but I’ll never get it. And that makes the game a symbol of annoyance for me, so I don’t play it.

  27. mujadaddy says:

    @Sam: “Yikes, no wonder” :P :)

  28. Dave says:

    @Sam: Yes, but who has time to watch that one guy near the dispenser just to figure out if he’s a spy, while you’re busy dodging rockets and staying out of the way of a sniper and trying to mute that obnoxious twit who keeps playing Rick Astley tunes over voice chat?

    As a mediocre FPS player, no friendly fire is one of the reasons I love TF2. Though the server mod that turns friendly fire on during the victory celebration is a hoot. :)

  29. Sam says:

    Dave:
    True. And, as a long standing Pyro player, I like to greet people with a puff of cheery flame as a matter of course.
    Still, sometimes it can be a little obvious, especially with Snipers…

  30. The Hammer says:

    “I can remember watching the Burning Crusade intro cinematic over and over when it was released ahead of the game”

    I had it on my phone, and I suppose I’ll have Wrath playing over and over again on my computer too.

    I’ve installed TF2 again today, and fully intend to play a hell of a lot of it with my mates. I’m an example of the kind of guy lured back by the updates and the “Meet the Sniper” video, and Team Fortress’s continued updates make me wish DoD:S received the same treatment.

    Whilst I’m not of the church of Team Fortress 2, it’s still one of my favourite online games I’ve played. It’s impossibly well presented, and oozes personality. It’s great.

  31. John says:

    But for reals, isn’t TF2 really immersive? Not realistic, no, but the cartoony setting makes you completely accept the strange things like rocket jumping. In that sense it’s immersive BECAUSE it is cartoony (As I’m sure was Valve’s intention).
    Also, am I wrong for disliking when people use voice chat instead of that voice command menu thing? I just think the characters loose so much personality when a demoman talks with a high pitched voice over a bad microphone. I know I wouldn’t last a second in a clan with that attitude, but still, the classes and their personalities are such a big part of the fun in this game.

  32. Easy says:

    I played original Team Fortress on and off for the best part of 2 years and it was a fantastic time in my gaming career. Makes me wish I was 18 again. Mind you, back then there wasn’t much choice in online FPS games. Broadband was unheard of and you were lucky to have a Voodoo graphics card.

    Perhaps it’s nostalgia or perhaps it’s me having moved on, but I can’t get into TF2 at all. Between TF, Counter-Strike and Asheron’s Call, I probably spent the whole of 1997-2002 addicted to one game or another. Now I just drift from game to game, without really stopping for long. I’m basically like The Littlest Hobo, only less hairy and without a catchy theme tune.

  33. Tasogare says:

    i played RtCW:ET few years ago and its a great game, when GoldRush for TF2 was released i was hoping for somthing similar to RtCW:ET version, but thous are 2 totaly different maps and 2 totaly different games
    (i really have lot of sentiment for RtCW:ET)
    but GoldRush for TF2 is now my favorite(i dont play any other map lately)
    as for Friendly Fire (i liked ff in RtCW:ET) it wouldn’t work in TF2 everyone would kill etchader :)
    if someone thinks that its stupid… maybe … maybe, but its fun :) thers probably no other game that can put a smile on your face when your die

  34. Alex says:

    The immersion is definitely increased by the cartoony style. As the dev team said in the audio commentary for TF2, they found that the exaggerated style fits the gameplay much better, considering that one of the classes has a gun that fires health and one can jump again in mid-air. I think that’s completely true, and this way it’s also a lot funnier.

  35. Dave says:

    @John: I dunno, people spamming “ze heavy is a spy… ze pyro is a spy… ze spy is a double agent… ze dispenser is a spy… ” doesn’t really do much for immersion either. Even if it’s funny. :)

    And it’s hard to communicate “red has a forward base in our sewers again” or “their intel’s on their sniper deck” with the chat menu.

  36. Trousers says:

    I apologize if I’m late in saying this, but does anyone else think TF2 was the most important/impacting (sorry, bourbon) release on the PC since WOW?

  37. Deuteronomy says:

    My mind is completely blown by the enthusiasm for TF2. And WoW for that matter. There are so many better (gaming)experiences out there.

  38. Al3xand3r says:

    Well, even though everyone and his mother and unborn children apparently love it oh so very much and think so highly of it and it’s the best thing since sliced bread, it still has a minimal amount of servers with a reasonable amount of players in compared to behemoths of the space like Counter-Strike Source (which in turn has less than the original).

    CSS has thousands of servers with players in at the moment, TF2 has less than 900 even though I listed servers that have even 1 player in them.

    In any case, popularity alone doesn’t mean importance and impact so I’d give that title to Portal as TF2 offered nothing new. It sure offered quality in what it (re)did but it wasn’t (isn’t) new. And they’re keeping the trend with their achievements addition which is once again taking an older concept and polishing it to match (though to me it looks unpolished and a clearly tacked on feature). For multi player only experiences I’d give that title to… Well, there hasn’t been a really impacting multi player FPS for several years really, it’s all rehashes of much older games. Maybe Left 4 Dead or The Crossing will give us something to be happy about in the near future.

    Also, TFC had its high peaks of popularity in its time but it soon fell flat on its ass aside from the hardcore fans so let’s wait and see what happens to TF2 because with its current popularity I’m not too optimistic about its future, achivements added or not.

    On the other hand, everyone enjoys these videos thanks to the style and humour, many of them possibly more than the actual game, leading to this “can’t get it out of our heads” impression :P

  39. Rosti says:

    I’d be very surprised if TF2 is the only gaming experience most players have on the go at any time, really. I personally hate online FPSes, what with not having the reflexes, but TF2 actually let me enjoy myself in that environment. For that reason alone, I’ll be anticipating each content patch being so generously given to us.

  40. Thundara says:

    Glad to see that Steam is recognizing games as a Service, not just a Product.

    On a note I think the author might have forgotten to mention, Valve has also gotten a lot better at releasing these upgrades of sort. The first big expansion took quite a long time to polish and send out, but the pyro and co. updates have come at us a lot quicker than I expected. (6 months)

    I wonder if they’ve stepped up their speed on other projects like Half Life 2 Episode 3?

  41. Wolfman says:

    I must be more geek than the rest of you! I spotted the Red Dwarf reference! We are indeed Legion. :)

    -wolfman

  42. Andy Johnson says:

    I was a huge player of CS Source, which I played well in excess of a thousand hours of all in all – I was also leader of the PC Gamer Forum Clan for quite some time. It kept me coming back night after night because of the enormous polish on the maps (except that I maintain that de_dust is CT-biased, but that’s another story) and the great community I was a part of.

    More recently, TF2 has really sucked me in. I’ve only been able to play it for about a fortnight now, on account of having highly restricted internet access at uni, but I’ve already fallen in love with the sheer hilarity of even random public games and the huge amount of quality and character Valve have managed to inject into the maps, classes, weapons and general mechanics. Hell, even the menu music is lovely.

    If only the Medic achievements were, well… achievable. Still, an awesome game that thoroughly deserves all the praise it gets.

  43. monchberter says:

    @ Deuteronomy.

    Horses for courses. Define ‘better’. I think TF2 puts the ‘game’ back into gaming. I fell out with the po-faced-ness of most PC games, let alone FPS’s and TF2 represents a sublimely designed refreshing change to me.

  44. Radiant says:

    What’s RO?

  45. runningwthszzors says:

    @alec
    type about:robots
    in your address bars…
    for all those who upgraded to Firefox 3. (BSG mid-season finale was great)

  46. Ixtab says:

    I used to play a lot of CSS and then went off it and all online FPS for a long period, then TF2 came out, at first I played it and didn’t like it, then people were talking about it a lot so I gave it another go and got hooked. TF2 is easily my favourite multiplayer game because if you get bored it’s easy to just change class so you play differently. Although it is sometimes a problem when there’s already a lot of the class I want to change to so I feel I probably shouldn’t.

    I also tried playing the DoDS beta thing the other week and really couldn’t get into it. It took itself far to seriously, and with the grenades every class is a bloody demo man.

    Also Thundara, they said that all unlock updates after the medic would be faster because they already had the basic system in place for the medic so it just needed tweaking, where as to get it up for the medic initialy was a lot more work. Also they didn’t build a map to go with this one which is a lot of effort.

  47. Majorb says:

    Yes, what is this mysterious RO?

  48. Matt says:

    runningwthszzors, that is amazing!

    Also, I cannot wait until I can push people around as pyro.

  49. Naurgul says:

    RO = Red Orchestra. Look it up. It’s a realistic WW2 FPS. I personally did not like it but people who are into this kind of games seem to do.

  50. ack says:

    @runningwthszzors:

    Gotta love those about: pages! Anyone able to spot the references besides Asimov and Army of Darkness? (OT as sh**t, sorry)