I return home from a noisy room in which a lot of people recognised my name but not my face to find an inbox full of strident missives about the latest Team Fortress 2 rumour/viral mill. This now fairly veteran game's ability to generate headlines and gossip is incredible - Valve have managed to create a second meta-game/fiction that exists alongside but outside of the now very familiar team shooter. All power to them, obviously, but I'm consistently amazed at how deftly they've managed to create so hint'n'potential'n'humour-fatted a universe from the slim concept of Red vs Blue. This time, it's a comicky book. A rather pleasing one, inevitably.
The curtain of the game is pulled back more fully than ever before, revealing the Announcer's appearance, allegiance, associates and overwhelming sociopathy in gloriously acidic detail. TF2 fanfic's never been quite so blessed with fact and hint alike to this extent before. I almost shudder to think how far some of you - YES YOU - are going to run with this. Rest assured, however, that more casual TF2 players won't be bewilidered, but will likely find it a cheery slice of sardonic fun regardless of the frothing of the more dedicated Valve-worshipper.
The comic's clearly building up to something we don't have the answer to yet, but there's four big things potentially in the offing come the end of it. 1) Solider and Demoman update packs at last, though their apparent friendship suggests some degree of sharing. Hmm - a co-dependent relationship to rival Medic wuvs Heavy? 1) Some kind of new, co-operative mode for the game, perhaps. Guessguessguess, guessers. 2) Saxton Hale, the mysterious man of abs and science who's been a much-discussed background feature of the last few TF2 updates, is creeping ever closer to centre stage. 3) There may even be some purpose behind the Red/Blue conflict about to be revealed - something beyond the simple, strange hueism that's driven it since launch.
Which, frankly, is a pretty odd and supremely ambitious thing to do for a game that's about shooting people wearing different-coloured shirts to you. But it's this kind of thinking that's made TF2 an ongoing success and an internet-wide talking point in an age where half the world's given up on big-budget PC gaming. Christ only knows what Valve are up, but they're frightening masters of the unexpected, of making patches into global guessing games. They know our weaknesses, and they know how to turn them into drooling speculation and expectation. But wIll whatever this is all leading up genuinely draw in more/lapsed TF2 players? Of course it bloody will.
Oh - and the "friendship ends tomorrow" line suggests this is all happening super-soon...