tf2


First, enjoy, if you can, this TF2/Overwatch comedy video thing.

When Overwatch came out, I said it was like TF3.  The similarities are obvious and deep. Yet it’s not a simple copy.

For one thing… you really can’t make a great game by slavishly copying another game. Cheesy imitations just make people want to go back to the original.  You can do the same genre, even use the same tropes, but if there’s enough talent involved it’ll be it’s own thing.

For another, the only thing that prevented Valve from making TF3 was Valve. Valve has lost its verve. They don’t seem to have any interest in innovating great new games, they’ve bled off their best writers, and their best idea for TF2 is basically “more of the same”.

And finally, let’s talk about differences between TF2 and Overwatch.

One: Valve humor is not Blizzard humor.  Valve’s humor is “everybody is dumb”– kind of like South Park.  It’s too cool for school; it doesn’t care about anything; every TF2 character is annoying and stupid. And that’s absolutely fine for a game! Their “Meet the…” series is brilliant, indeed far better than most of Blizzard’s videos. But their worldbuilding doesn’t go beyond “a pointless, endless battle between pinheaded idiots.”

Blizzard (at least in Overwatch, I’m not talking about its other properties) is almost painfully earnest. Though they have their comic elements, every Overwatch character is a hero, or a strangely appealing villain. As Tracer says, the world could always use more heroes. The backstory is full of drama and rivalry, and there’s a story about a human-omnic war that’s rather dark, but the overall tone of the game is still optimistic, even utopian.  And kind of by accident, it appeared just at a time when ironic detachment suddenly seemed tired and even suspect.

And the game wants the player to feel heroic, too. There are a lot of subtle things to downplay competition and feelings of loss, from the hiding of team stats, to the merging of kills and assists into eliminations, to the assembling of a personal highlights reel. Even the sound design cooperates: you hear your enemies squealing in pain as they die; you don’t hear the same sounds when you do.

Not unrelated is the commitment to diversity. TF2’s characters came from around, well, the Euro-American world.  All are men (which baffles me… Valve has endless energy for making hats and costumes, but can’t make female versions?).  Overwatch, unusually, has 13 male and 13 female characters, plus Bastion. Just 3 are American.  13 are non-white (counting Reaper as Hispanic). I don’t say they’re perfect at this, but they are putting effort into it.

Also worth noting: with all those characters, none are easily confused with each other, and they’ve taken enormous pains to make their silhouettes, voices, and animations distinctive and interesting.  If you play it, take some time to look at the first-person animations– the walks, the gun reloads, shooting. Each character is different, and everything reinforces their personality.

Also, I think Blizzard does so well at making its characters likeable that it’s easy to forget that this is not an easy thing at all. Disney, for instance, never quite got the knack: Mickey Mouse is just not interesting or likeable in the way Bugs Bunny is. A lot of TV characters are not really likeable, only amusingly grotesque, like the TF2 characters.

The TF2 aesthetic is absolutely stunning– for 2007. It looks wan and repetitive next to Numbani, Lijiang Tower, or Junkertown.  This is to be expected with nine years between them.  But again, Valve could have reimagined their game themselves in that time, and chose not to.

The simplicity of the weaponry (most characters can’t change guns) combines with the idea of ults to make the gameplay seem quite different from TF2. Teams are maxed out at six, and don’t allow multiples of one character, while TF2 teams can be as high as 12. All this focuses the game quite a bit.  In TF2, half the players can treat the game as deathmatch most of the time, and it doesn’t matter much. Overwatch requires a higher commitment to the objective, such that you really notice if your Hanzo or Widowmaker is indulging themselves rather than actually making their shots.

And precisely because teams are smaller, and characters can’t be doubled up, you can’t just turtle up, which was the strategy much of the time in TF2. If Blizzard studied TF2, surely one of the conclusions they came to was “don’t let the turrets dominate the game.”

Plus, the two dozen characters make for far more interesting choices, as well as the constant expectation that Blizzard will shake everything up with a new character. I think TF2 made it far easier to slip into a comfort zone– e.g. I mostly played Pyro and Soldier. I have more range in Overwatch, though perhaps not enough, as many rounds of Mystery Heroes have demonstrated.

Finally, there’s the whole Overwatch League thing.  I’ve found these high-level matches pretty interesting.  TF2 now has ranked play, but I’m not sure how well it’d work as an e-sport.  Again, the turtling and the omnipresent snipers make it difficult for teams to coordinate a strategy.

None of this is to disparage TF2, which I played with great enjoyment for, omigod, like eight years.  It’s a great game!  But Overwatch has surpassed it, for me at least.

 

 

 

 

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So Li’l Guardian Pyro is up for a Saxxy award. I just watched all of the nominees, and it’s the best. But some others are very good, IMHO:

  • Chinatown Getaway is set in Koth King and feels just like a Hong Kong action film.  Makes me wish TF2 included parkour and expanded melee.
  • Frozen in Love is very clever.  Someone turned their lack of animating skills into a plus.  Plus why can’t we have female models already?  There’s already an insane amount of pictorial variation in the game.
  • A Fragile Dream is affecting.  Post-Apocalyptia is a little bit easy for generating pathos, but this is well done and very well animated.

Hat tip to my friend Samwise for pointing this out:

This is pretty much the best Source Filmmaker short I’ve seen yet. A little bit of cute overload at times, but it’s lively, clever, and totally captures the spirit of TF2.

A lot of TF2 shorts are good, but marred by wooden animation. This stuff is professional-level, and goes beyond merely re-using Valve’s art assets– the little pyro/spy/medic have all been specially rigged and animated. As I’m doing this stuff for my game, I’m aware of how much work it is.

And technical prowess isn’t enough; you also have to have characters and a story. The interaction between the characters is really well done here– lots of little details like the wordless frustration of the Pyro when he wants to be in two places at once, or the fact that when the Guardian Pyro is put back at the end, the other Guardian pyro is animated and looks at him. Really amazing work.

So there’s now a co-op mode in TF2.  I was a bit dubious when I first heard about it, because it has a pay-to-play mode which sounds really bogus.  (Seriously, $1 to play a round?  Haven’t faced that since playing Joust in college.)  Fortunately, you can ignore that, and MVM (Mann vs. Machine) is extremely addictive.

TAAAAAANK

In many ways it feels like a new game.  For one thing there’s no PvP: the humans are all on the same side.  Second, you have a six-man squad, which means everyone counts.  Third, there’s a tower defense aspect, as the enemy bots thread their way into your base.  Plus, you get weapons upgrades as you defeat each wave, and you can select which ones, which adds a whole new dimension.

At the same time, you have all the classes and weapons of standard TF2.  One of the clever bits in this mode is that the upgrades are a kind of wet dream for most classes.  Liberty Launcher with clips of 5?  Heavies overhealed to 700?  Ammo counts of 400?  An extra sentry?  Yes!  Of course, you need all the extra firepower, as you’ll be facing some very tough enemies.

In just a few days it appears that a good team can master the basic levels of all the maps.  But the advanced level is still mopping us up.

I’ve only played with friends– the matchmaking and lobby system is very unsatisfactory.  But you can run your own server for free, so that’s the best solution to the lobby problem.

(One meta-oddity… the comic introducing the game mode has a new Mann brother, whose color theme is gray.  And it shows Red and Blue teaming up to fight him.  Only in the actual game, the humans are all red and the robots blue.  I was kind of looking forward to a motley crew of red and blue players facing off against gray robots.)

There’s a new TF2 map out, Koth_King, set in the back alleys of a Chinese city.  I explored it a bit alone— it’s really pretty.  I’ve only had one chance to play it, and it’s a hell of a pyro map.

But the important question, as I’m sure you’ll agree, is, What do all the Chinese signs say?  Let’s find out!

Honk if you love Hóngsè

It’s cool that the mapmaker did it right— all the shop signs make sense:

The fact that they translate ‘Reliable Excavation [&] Destruction’ makes me think there’s an equivalent sign ‘Builders League United’, but when I was grabbing screenshots I assumed that the red and blue signs were identical.  (Many are— e.g there are blue signs reading ‘Red Hotel’.)

More excitingly, after years of waiting, Meet the Pyro is out!

I confess (though I’ve watched it half a dozen times by now) to a slight cavil: it’s basically a one-joke film, though that joke is extremely well executed.  It doesn’t have the side elements piled in as in the production high points, Medic and Spy.  In that way it’s more like Engineer.  (I say those were the production high points to accommodate the view that the comedic high point was Meet the Sniper.)

But, major kudos for taking that joke and applying it in an amazingly thorough way to the game itself.  You can now experience the actual gameplay in Pyrovision.  Best bit: when you’re dominated by or dominate a player, the in-game notification changes to “Zompist is BEST FRIENDS with ___.”  I can’t wait to figure out how to enable Pyroland in my own maps.

If you look at each of the Meet The films in turn, it’s fascinating how each one is designed to make that player class look heroic.  Note how manly the Medic looks in Meet the Medic.  In Pyro the non-Pyroland portions beautifully emphasize the power and menace of the Pyro– he even walks taller than normal.

It’s also interesting that they completely sidestepped any backstory for the Pyro; we don’t even learn what he looks like under the suit.  Partly, I suspect, this is because they were trapped by an earlier joke.  The costume cabinet prop has a purse in his slot, which is an obvious and kinda dumb gay joke (pyro = flamer), but which many people took as implying that the Pyro was female (despite his obviously male mumble and figure).  Instead of going in either of these directions, they made the Pyro batshit insane.  Which, you know, will displease approximately zero Pyro players.

The Mefightclub server, for some reason, loves Warpath.  It’s a five-point capture map with some nasty chokepoints that make for long, epic battles. 

A few weeks ago I created a more warpathy version of Warpath: Warwarpath.  I tried to make it 9 points, but TF2 didn’t like that, so it’s just seven.  The new final points are in an added base behind the previously final point:

The red base

Warpath is pretty rudimentary-looking, so I rebuilt all of the buildings and retextured everything.  I was going to re-create all the cliff walls, but it turns out there is nothing more tedious than redoing terrain in Hammer (Valve’s map editor), so I left that alone… though I did add tops to some of the cliffs, since it always bugged me that you could see into nothingness if you rocket-jumped.

In blue’s chokepoint

I’ve learned all too much about Hammer… I actually know more or less how to optimize maps now!   The game can’t figure out all on its own how to optimize what is and isn’t rendered; it needs help from the map designer.  I used to ignore all that; now I can create a fairly well-behaved map.

 
I still find it hard to predict what will make a map satisfying or not.  Capture maps are the trickiest, I think; people often find them confusing and/or statematey.  The new point doesn’t actually extend play time much, because people get to it pretty quick.  I’ve only seen it defended a couple times.  Most times we play, there’s a lot of back and forth on the three middle points.
 
There’s a chokepoint in original Warpath– a single zone on the way to the opposing team’s base, without alternate routes.  As this can be frustrating, I added a teleport that creates another way into the base.  I’m still evaluating this, but I think it’s a good thing: the final points are too easy to defend, because of the chokepoint.  (The teleport is only available when you’ve captured 5 of the 7 points.)
 
Mapping turns out to be a lot like coding, in that there are all sorts of obscure bugs that turn up.  We’re on about version 13 by now, as people keep finding little things.  A case in point: tonight’s game was very stalematey, and one player suggested that the problem was that one of the spawn points exits too close to the second-to-last point.  On consideration I agreed and changed it: it’s generally bad design to let the defenders spawn right next to one of their caps.
 
Here’s an overhead view of Warwarpath with points of interest marked (such as both teams’ path from initial spawn to the point):
When you play it, it doesn’t feel quite so twisty.
 
Right now the map is only available on the Mefightclub server; the bz2 file is about 10M.  If non-Mefighters want to try it, mail me.

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