Hello! I'm Tom. I designed a game called Gunpoint, about rewiring things and punching people, and now I'm working on a new one called Heat Signature, about sneaking aboard randomly generated spaceships. Here's some more info on all the games I've worked on, here's the podcast I do, here are the videos I make on YouTube, here are some of the articles I wrote for PC Gamer, and here are two short stories I wrote for the Machine of Death collections.
Playing Team Fortress 2 at the moment is starting to feel like being part of something. We play it in the office at lunch. Chris Livingston’s making a comic in it. We settle our grudges against the US edition of PC Gamer with it. Yahtzee’s making bad Garry’s Mod machinima in it. The other day a level designer at Ubisoft Montreal mailed me an incredible map of a film set he’d made for it. And when the update adding Badlands, the first proper new map, was due to go live, everyone hung out at the Steam forums making tenuous “X sappin’ mah Y” jokes until it was released.
Badlands is good. I can’t help thinking it would have made more sense to go with this instead of Granary for the initial release, given how similar Granary and Well are. Granary’s become problematic on public servers because so few people are willing to play defense, and the straightforward layout makes it incredibly easy to win quickly once the middle capture point is yours. Badlands staves off rush-wins like this by making the second-to-last cap a) time-consuming to get to and b) easy to defend.
Which is good. So far it’s lead to a lot more back-and-forth than either Granary or Well had, and those are my favourite matches. Even if we win, I hate a trouncing. But like all symmetrical control-point maps, the final point is so wide-open and absurdly fast to capture that it might as well not exist.
I assume that if you make the final point tactically biased towards defenders, you get a lot of stalemates. But I don’t see why you can’t make it slow to capture shortly after the second-to-last point falls, then become gradually less resistant to capture the longer the pushing team manage to hold the defenders back to their last point. Stalemates would be just as unlikely, but rush-wins would become much trickier.
I think the reason this type of map gets a lot of flak on the forums, while Dustbowl and Gravelpit seem generally well-liked, is that defeat has long felt inevitable by the time it comes. On Dustbowl, you always feel like you can hold it for that much longer. You always feel like you can cap it in the time you have left. Victory is as close to your grasp as defeat.
On symmetrical capture-point maps, I’m always in a “Oh fuck it, we’ve lost this” mindset long before we actually do. Comebacks aren’t impossible, but they’re both daunting and improbable. When defeat is close, victory is way, way over there. If we’ve sucked this hard so far, what chance to we have of making it now?
The good news is that Goldrush, the map that’ll introduce the new Payload game mode soon, falls firmly in the former category. In fact, it makes that knife-edge between a win and a loss all the more tangible, because you can see how close that damn cart is to the objective. That’s one less level of abstraction than looking at a coloured icon or countdown clock.
And more importantly, the gradual roll-out of unlockable items for every class is going to make the game even more like being part of something. The simultaneous worldwide release of exciting stuff is one of the great pleasures of Steam, a shared moment that fuses the community together. And here’s a way for them to be doing that regularly, for years.
I apologise, but only a little, for talking about Team Fortress 2 so much. If you’re a gamer, I can only say that it’s like when Deus Ex had just come out. If you’re not, it’s like being a film buff at the time of The Godfather. But it’s not really like either, and that’s kind of the point.
More Team Fortress 2
Seniath: I must confess, in between uni and Audiosurf, I've yet to actually try Badlands out...
ImperialCreed: Sing it from the mountain top Tom! Team Fortress 2 is the first online game I've ever really gotten into and tbh it's the most fun game I've played in ages. I suppose I have the PCG/Javaserver bunch to thank for that, but the whole shared moment thing is spot on. Right now the experience is pretty awesome, and I love the fact that it's set to just get better.
However, I do detest Granary and rather like Well, which I guess is a tad odd.
Graham: I just got out of a Badlands game where a single round lasted for over 45 minutes. I never saw how it ended, because no one could ever capture the last point and the clock never even fell below 9 minutes remaining.
The second-to-last point isn't that hard to capture, but it's incredibly difficult to hold. We'd get it, they'd take it back. We'd get it, they'd take it back. Occasionally, the tides would switch and they'd fight back, getting as far as capturing our second-to-last point. Then we'd take it back, and then they'd take it again. On and on.
This wasn't dramatic or tense. It was just flat and repetitive. It was a stalemate without the game being able to end and just call it that.
Tom Francis: The cap-rate on the final point could be a factor not of how recently the second cap was taken, but of the round time so far. So if you're standing on the final enemy cap within five minutes of first spawn, it's going to take ten, twenty seconds to capture. But if the round's been going on for twenty minutes already, it caps instantly. And similarly, but less so, for the second caps. They could even get harder for the defenders to re-cap if the match has lasted too long.
I think generally the life cycle of any new map goes from a) incredibly quick rounds because engies don't know where to put sentries, to b) incredibly slow rounds when no-one's learnt how to attack the awesome sentry positions the engies have found, to c) schizophrenic flitting from one extreme to the other as morons and pros join and leave.
I just had my first long round on it, with Seniath and Dan, and it was because Blue had four or so engies with sentries on the middle cap, but too weak an offense to push past our second. They weren't actually hard to take down, I just couldn't do more than two at a time with Seniath around. At one point there were so many Spies on each team, all taking the same path between the middle cap and the second, that it was just a mini Spy-war of us trying to shoot or backstab each other before we carried on.
It ended in a stalemate, but I would have rather kept playing. Maybe servers should be able to specify an 'ideal match time' (independently of a hard map time limit), to make capping more volatile and time bonuses lower once the match goes past it. I thought time bonuses already did decrease with each successive re-cap, but forty-five minutes seems steep.
Seniath: In all honesty, that was my first time on the map, I had no clue what I was doing or where I was going. The amount of twists and turns certainly does make for lots of 'awesome sentry positions'. Perhaps too many? Time will tell I guess. Still, much more interesting to play than Granary or Well (though that may just be the novelty talking).
Mike: Badlands took a while to grow on me. It initially seemed very complex and confusing, but the back-and-forth in the three middle points is excellent. A bit harsh on Spies and Snipers at the moment, I think, but those tactics are usually the last to emerge anyway.
Tom Francis: I'm finding it Spy-friendly, actually. There are several points in each building where you can stand to the side of a main route, unseen, without having to worry about your back, and slip in for a quick backstab as soon as someone walks by. Some routes from the second cap let you get to the mid-cap without using any cloak, too - you're not completely hidden from view, but far enough away from everyone that looking suspicious isn't fatal.