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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.


By me. Uses Adaptive Images by Matt Wilcox.

Heat Signature’s Launch, And First Player Legend

A Leftfield Solution To An XCOM Disaster

Rewarding Creative Play Styles In Hitman

Postcards From Far Cry Primal

Solving XCOM’s Snowball Problem

Kill Zone And Bladestorm

An Idea For More Flexible Indie Game Awards

Teaching Heat Signature’s Ship Generator To Think In Sectors

What Works And Why: Multiple Routes In Deus Ex

Natural Numbers In Game Design

Naming Drugs Honestly In Big Pharma

Writing vs Programming

Let Me Show You How To Make A Game

New Heat Signature Video: Galaxies, Suction And Wrench-Throwing

What Works And Why: Nonlinear Storytelling In Her Story

My Idea For An ‘Unconventional Weapon’ Game

From Gunpoint To Heat Signature: A Narrative Journey

The Cost Of Simplifying Conversations In Videogames

What Works And Why: Invisible Inc

Our Super Game Jam Episode Is Out

What Works And Why: Sauron’s Army

Showing Heat Signature At Fantastic Arcade And EGX

What I’m Working On And What I’ve Done

The Formula For An Episode Of Murder, She Wrote

Heat Signature Needs An Artist And A Composer

Improving Heat Signature’s Randomly Generated Ships, Inside And Out

Gunpoint Patch: New Engine, Steam Workshop, And More

Distance: A Visual Short Story For The Space Cowboy Game Jam

Raising An Army Of Flying Dogs In The Magic Circle

Floating Point Is Out! And Free! On Steam! Watch A Trailer!

Drawing With Gravity In Floating Point

What’s Your Fault?

The Randomised Tactical Elegance Of Hoplite

Here I Am Being Interviewed By Steve Gaynor For Tone Control

Heat Signature: A Game About Sneaking Aboard Randomly Generated Spaceships

The Grappling Hook Game, Dev Log 6: The Accomplice

A Story Of Heroism In Alien Swarm

One Desperate Battle In FTL

To Hell And Back In Spelunky

Games Vs Story 2

Gunpoint Development Breakdown

Five Things I Learned About Game Criticism In Nine Years At PC Gamer

My Short Story For The Second Machine Of Death Collection

Not Being An Asshole In An Argument

Playing Skyrim With Nothing But Illusion

How Mainstream Games Butchered Themselves, And Why It’s My Fault

A Short Script For An Animated 60s Heist Movie

The Magical Logic Of Dark Messiah’s Boot

Arguing On The Internet

Shopstorm, A Spelunky Story

Why Are Stealth Games Cool?

E3’s Violence Overload, Versus Gaming’s Usual Violence Overload

The Suspicious Developments manifesto

GDC Talk: How To Explain Your Game To An Asshole

Listening To Your Sound Effects For Gunpoint

Understanding Your Brain

What Makes Games Good

A Story Of Plane Seats And Class

Deckard: Blade Runner, Moron

Avoiding Suspicion At The US Embassy

An Idea For A Better Open World Game

A Different Way To Level Up

How I Would Have Ended BioShock

My Script For A Team Fortress 2 Short About The Spy

Team Fortress 2 Unlockable Weapon Ideas

Don’t Make Me Play Football Manager

EVE’s Assassins And The Kill That Shocked A Galaxy

My Galactic Civilizations 2 War Diary

I Played Through Episode Two Holding A Goddamn Gnome

My Short Story For The Machine Of Death Collection

Blood Money And Sex

A Woman’s Life In Search Queries

First Night, Second Life

SWAT 4: The Movie Script

Tweak Fortress

Not for the first time, a post I was writing – a sort of ideal TF2 patch notes – appeared on 1Blog before I could finish it. In fact, this time Chris even wrote a sequel before I was done with mine.

I agree with all the ideas Chris and his commenters propose. There are lots of small, uncontroversial improvements you could make to TF2, and I know Valve agree with at least a couple of the ones mentioned on 1Blog. The reason they haven’t been done yet is not that they’re potentially problematic, it’s just a question of time and priorities.

But I say these perfectly reasonable ideas don’t go too far enough! I got thinking seriously about my ideal patch notes when Valve admitted the Demoman is “a little out of whack”, then I finally got Kritzed under ideal circumstances, and later started to come up against more teams that field four or five Engineers on Defense.

This is an attempt to fix all the main things that bother me in TF2 with five changes. The last one’s just a good idea I stole from the Steam forums.

  • Backburner: +50 health bonus removed.

    Update! They just did this!

    – Two sub-classes that look almost identical but have crucially different health values violates the clarity and immediacy that is the soul of TF2.

    – The Airblast ability is fun. You shouldn’t bribe players not to use it.

    – Pyros with this unlock automatically beat Pyros without it, even in a straight fight. That’s bad Unlockology.

sticky death

  • Sticky Bombs: Cannot be detonated until shortly after they affix to a surface. Neutralised if they take damage before arming.

    – The Sticky Launcher shouldn’t be an effective direct-combat weapon – it’s already superb for traps, jumps and defense.

    – The Demoman’s role shouldn’t overlap with the Soldier’s.

    – Engies should be able to defend their stuff from Stickies if they’re only coming in once every couple of seconds.

    – I hate that there’s no visual or audio indication of when you’re allowed to detonate a Sticky you just fired. They should light up and go bling! whether this change is made or not.


  • Sentry: Will not attack a target if another Sentry is closer.

    – Most frustrating rounds result from impenetrable nests of three or more Sentries.

    – Sentry counter-tactics aren’t effective when other Sentries are covering the first.

    – Sentry clustering makes Engineers more viable the more of them there are.

    – Currently a computer-controlled class does more of the killing than most of the player-controlled ones.

    – This is silly.

This Is Bad, by Joe of Massive Crits
Best shot ever, by Joe of Massive Crits, via Chris.

  • Kritzkrieg: When activated, charge does not drain over time, but is instead drained by each shot the target fires.

    – Time-based charge drain encourages a rush mentality, which isn’t effective when the charge offers no protection.

    – It also penalises reloading classes, leaving only the same two who also make the best Ubercharge targets.

    – Currently an Ubercharge is more effective in almost every possible situation, and the 10% faster charge rate is insignificant.


  • Heavy: No longer knocked back by Sentry fire.

    – The Heavy is unpopular despite being both powerful and fun, because he’s useless against Sentries at most ranges.

    – Even when Ubered.

Ubersaw Sentry

  • Wrench: Swinging with right mouse button will repair a Sentry, but never upgrade it.

    – Father_G on the Steam forums had this idea.

    – I like it.

Whomper: I was well chuffed when Valve lowered the Medic unlock thresholds, meaning I got a new Kritzkrieg, but I've found it next to useless. Mostly it's a question of expectations - when people hear you shout "I am fully charged!", they think it's immortality time, and often charge into gunfire. Then when you do Kritz someone, such as a likely looking Solider, they don't really know what to do.

If you're seeking a willing Kritzer for further experimentation, I'm well up for it.

As for the Backburner - hells yes. The thing I enjoyed least about the Pyro Pack was the fact that, after the equality of the first night, I just kept endlessly losing Pyro vs Pyro fights as my opponent had the Backburner, and I didn't. This is a major part of why I haven't played for about a month.

TychoCelchuuu: I don't play enough demoman to comment on the first one but the rest of the changes sound spectacular. The kritzkrieg in particular would be like 10 times better. Maybe it oculd just drainr eally slowly when the target is not firing, because then you can't just sit in your base all day with a kritzkrieg waiting for people to show up.

roburky: Stickies: Yes. I hate that the change from can't-be-detonated to can-be-detonated is silent and invisible. There should be a flash of light and a beep or something, at least.

Sentries: This change could actually make grouped sentries more powerful, as one ubered pair running in will no longer draw all their fire. Anyone else will be slaughtered, so that one ubered guy will have to destroy them all himself. I think most attacks against multiple sentries are effective when lots of people push at once, behind the uber, to concentrate their fire.

Kritz: I like. My suggestion for the kritzkrieg was that the medic should become invulnerable when using it, because it's not fair that he gets nothing when using the kritzkrieg, whereas he gets the same bonus as his target when using the normal uber.
But I like your idea better. It seems to me that the kritz would is best when used carefully and patiently, at range, taking care and thought over each shot - an entirely different approach to the one the other uber requires. Removing the timer as you describe would encourage that.

Heavy: I don't know that that is necessary. There's an easy and perfectly effective technique to get around the sentry knockback on an uber (medic runs in front and draws sentry fire), which makes the heavy a perfectly servicable sentry-killer. It isn't terribly obvious, though, and you pretty much have to be taught it to realise it. So I don't know. It would be nice to not have to remember to explain it to my medic /before/ every sentry room when I play heavy. I keep running in shouting "Run in front!" and they don't know what I mean and we fail and there is sadness and despair.

Backburner: God yes. Or give the extra health to the normal pyro too. Or at the absolute least, make the backburner look wildly different to the normal flamethrower. It is crazy that all of the alternative weapons look distinctive and are easy to spot a a distance, except the backburner, the alternative weapon that has the most significant changes from the default weapon, and which is absolutely identical in appearance to the weapon it is replacing apart from a little dark scrap of metal on top of the dark scrap of metal that was there before.
If it's going to make him tougher, it should somehow make the pyro look bulkier. But I'd prefer the two pyros had the same health.

Wrench: Yes.

Newt Pulsifer: Nice post!

And awesome comments by Roburky. I hope that someone at Valve reads your blog ^^

Sentry Gun: Heavy should not be immune to knockback from sentries.

Not being able to kill sentries is part of our weakness. We're already insanely powerful as it is against every class, even our own, so long as you know what you're doing. Being able to tear through sentries as well? We'd be unstoppable. Which isn't good.

Demomen have the big role of sentry removal. They should get the uber against sentries, not us.

Also, the timing for sticky arming isn't hard to learn, and being able to detonate in mid-air should stay.

Sentry Gun: Actually, scratch that, every class except the sniper.

BearBoy: The KritzKreig idea is brilliant. I agree with all the others, but that is a wonderful solution that had never crossed my mind.

Dorian Cornelius Jasper: Sentry Gun, on Snipers:

And don't you forget it, mate.

Ten-High Charlie: The flamethrowers update need to be redone. Airblast is an incredibly useful tool and has changed the way I play pyro almost completely in numerous situations, and its pretty sad that Valve decided to just give players the option of forgoing it completely in favor of having more health and the chance kill someone from behind (and yet the hit box is still wonky).

- Valve should drop the health bonus for the Backburner, or at least lower it to +25. A Pyro with more health than a Soldier is crazy talk.

- Make the airblast universal for both flamethrowers. How ever as a trade off; add a recharge timer. 1.5 second recharge for the regular (about what it is now I think), 1 every 7 seconds or maybe longer for the Backburner (enough to help with some stickies or a rocket, but not enough to rely on). Leave the fuel consumption in. This could get players to start thinking, "Hey, this is pretty damn well useful!" and give them a reason to trade off now and again.

Sentry knock back should happen to the Heavy, except when he's crouching. Makes sense (kinda); he becomes an immovable tank but he can't get away. It still wouldn't help him in the long run when ubered, he'd be a play toy for a demo but it adds something I guess. Plus it gives people a reason to press that ctrl key for other than while jumping or pre-game spy-dancing.

And I like being able to burst stickies in the air, its satisfying to launch and kill someone with a sticky mid-air. Its the regular grenades that need some work.

Ten-High Charlie: And the Kritzkrieg idea is brilliant. Have it either cancel out the Kritzkrieg power or halve the remaining uses the medic stop healing the one initially Kritzkrieged and it'd be god damn golden.

Ten-High Charlie: *When the medic stops healing the one initially Kritzkrieged, that is. Me and my grammar...

CloakRaider: You're right about the stickies. Giving the demoman TWO direct damage weapons is frankly insane, seeing as both of them are deadly if they hit.

If not preventing them from exploding in mid-air, reduce the fire rate so that it can't be used in a straight combat.

And yes, the backburner should keep the compression blast ability, but remove the health bonus.

But the sentry guns need to be made better. The problem is, people have worked out how to defeat them and no amount of good engineering can stop 4 stickies killing you and all your stuff. Having them being unable to knock back Heavies feels rather silly, as if the heavy gets anywhere near the sentry, it'll get ripped to shreds.

fry: - While I understand Valves demo-out-of-whack thoughts, I would disagree with CloakRaider that the sticky launcher is a direct damage weapon. It is, as you clarified, brilliant for traps, jumps and defense but I have never seen the sticky launcher used truly devastatingly in direct combat. The demo is my second most played class and I find if I attempt direct combat with the sticky launcher I invariably struggle. I think then I am probably biased against removing the stickies potency!

However I definately agree that you should have a notice of when the stickies are armed, that would help!

- I completely agree with removing the health buff that the backburner ensures, it is, as you say against the principles of clarity that tf2 was designed on.

ImperialCreed: Dear Fry, you've been lucky. I regular meet Demos who seem to use the sticky launcher almost exclusively - engaging directly and aggressively with ease. On a related note, Engineer is my most played class, but I haven't played properly as one in over a month because I'm sick of having my stuff blown to bits by bloody Demos every couple of minutes. It's tremendously frustrating, and something does need to be done to the class as soon as possible. Not a nerf as such, but they're currently just too damn good.

I say leave the backburner as it, but cut the health bonus in half and trial that for a month or two. Pyros have gone from being ridiculously vulnerable to terrifyingly resilient with a backburner and I don't think that's fair. As a class that really has to get in your face to do damage properly a health bonus unlock seems like a good idea, but +50 is too much. And, as has been said, it feels like a bribe not to use the awesome air blast.

The clarity thing is still a problem however - usually the only way to tell the Pyro's primary weapons apart is up close, and by then it's too late.

As for the Kritzkrieg - absolutely spot on. Should've been the case from day one.

Demoman: A good idea for the demo (possibly when the class pack comes around) would be a weapon he can use at close range. Currently, a demo at long range or short range gets pretty easily defeated because he has nothing that effective at those ranges. Stickies can be launched farther by charging them, but it takes too long to be effective. Long range battles are usually easily avoidable/escapable, but at close rnage he gets owned or owns himself.

And the main reason demos use the sticky launcher so much is the uselessness of the grenade launcher. They take too long to explode if you miss, and you only get four shots. Easier to pepper the ground near your target with stickies and detonate than try to hit a strafing scout with grenades. By the time your grenades detonate either you're dead, someone else has killed him for you, or your enemy has run off to steal your intel.

His melee weapon is all but useless because it's very short range and he doesn't have the speed to get in range in the first place.

He's pretty pointless as a direct assault class (unless you're sentry hunting) as most people try to use him, but as a defensive class he's unstoppable, particularly somewhere like 2fort, where you can put 4 stickies above each entrance into the intel room, just around the corner at one of them and behind the girder by the other, and await an enemy. He's also good for holding down stolen intel until it's returned because stickies can be hidden inside the intel, to be detonated from nearby as soon as you hear "the enemy has taken our intelligence".

Jason L: Yes, which are the two things (along with low-key area denial via spamming) that he's supposed to do. The problem isn't that he can't win situations he's not supposed to; it's that currently he can.

Draco_2k: I really fucking hope Valve reads this.

CheeseLord: Some of these ideas are good, but don't nerf the engineers and pyros.
Sentries covering one another are great fun to go up against, and if only the one closest fired then Engies would be building sentries in front of one another simply to get the kills. Besides, any decent Demoman or Ubered Medic + Buddy should be able to take down sentries with ease.
The Kritzkrieg ideas are all good.
Don't nerf the backburner, seriously, just don't.
The right-click wrench concept sounds nice.

J3553: Best shot ever is my phone's background.


Velvet Fist, Iron Glove: I'm not convinced that the demoman needs any changes. I do know some incredibly good demomen, but I can still usually defeat them as a soldier (shotgun them until in sticky range, then rocket jump and give them death from above is one nice tactic), and even often as an engineer -- harry him with your shotty, and your sentry will clean him up when he pokes his nose out. Any engineer who turtles behind his sentry when a demo's nearby deserves to die.

Tom: roburky: stickies do flash when they activate. I've only ever noticed the effect when I'm spectating though: obviously we don't normally stare at them when they're being laid at our feet!

Baggie: What I'd like to see done is severely cut the ammo capacity of the sticky launcher, and give the grenades a tiny nerf. Frankly demo is too over powered ATM, and needs a bit of nerf, especially seeing all the demos that only use stickies and forgo the grenade launcher. Sticky traps are fair, but right now the grenade tactic sort of makes demo into a faster soldier.

P.S. It's okay for me to say these things, I'm bla- I play demo second most :p

P.S.S Also buff the kritzkreig ffs.

Zig13: I see Team Fortress 2 got number one in the PC Gamer top 100. When is http://www.pcgamerto... going to become active so that we can vote for our own top 100?

Blob: Not so sure about the Kritzkrieg idea...imagine a team of 6 soldiers and 6 medics charging in the pre-game period, then launching out and using their kritz any time and any place they want.
It would cause the game to have a LOT more criticals overall, and probably be quite annoying and unfair for people subjected to it.

Rodafowa: I'm sure you've seen it, but yesterday's TF2 upgrade has removed the Backburner's health bonus. Oh frabjous day! Calloo! Callay! And things of that nature.

Ten-High Charlie: Yay whining!

Tom Francis: We win!

Sorry I haven't been keeping up with these, I didn't expect quite so much feedback.

Tycho: Yeah, I cut this bit to keep the post short, but the plan is that the Kritz charge should drain very slowly over time too, just to undermine any cheap tactics.

roburky: I see what you're saying about Sentries, but in my experience it's more common that the uber himself does the Sentry destroying. Even if that's not the case, it would be now: he's only got one Sentry's worth of knockback, so he can be a lot more useful.

I know about the Medic-goes-first uber technique, but clearly not enough people have grasped this mechanic for the Heavy to rely on it. I can count the number of times a Medic's effectively done it for me on the fingers of one finger.

Sentry Gun: I think you have a vested interest against Sentry-killing buffs, but I'll adjust my suggestion. The Heavy should be able to move at moving-while-firing speed towards a Sentry while it's shooting him, but no faster. Bear in mind that Medic or no, he's still going to get shredded before he reaches it at any decent range.

Tom: Huh. In that case, obviously, the activation visual needs to be a lot clearer, and I'd still like a noise.

Zig: I think Thursday.

Blob: Tycho's suggestion counter's this a little, but as ever, the main limitation of the Kritz is that it doesn't protect its users. Those six Soldiers could get Sentried, sniped and backstabbed just as easily. Suppose the enemy also have six Soldiers, with six regular Medics. With six Ubers ready to go, they'd utterly shred the Kritz brigade.

Snooglebum: The Backburner nerf happened while I was playing. I respawned, and then realized: hey! I have the Backburner, but my health is back to 175! This is a good thing, actually. It means I can go back to using the normal flamethrower in good conscience.

Jay: I'm still not going to play the pyro. People never seemed to realise that the pyro is supremely effective in most of the stock maps before the update, particularly on Dustbowl where there are lots of tight corridors and sharp corners. It's particularly a problem since I've found myself playing spy more since the Soldier nerf, and pyros are far more paranoid then engineers about spies, simply because a lit up spy is an easy kill

DoctorDisaster: Yeah, Jay, when I made rock my primary, I realized that paper needs a nerf, too.

I love these suggestions except for the two sentry-related ones. Mostly this is because sentries are already pretty easy for two or three skilled or coordinated players to trump, and nerfing them is only going to make that worse.

Also, I don't think the heavy is unpopular because of sentries; the mark against him is that he's slow, and therefore a prime target for spies and snipers. People HATE getting instakilled. In my experience heavies are perfectly capable against sentries. Then again, I am primarily a medic and I have a strong grasp of "run in front," so maybe my viewpoint is biased.

Pixel Knight: I've figured out how Valve picks which class gets an achievement pack! They always go with the least played class at the time of their decision. The Medic was lowest before it's update, then the Pyro, and now the Heavy is at the bottom. It's so simple!

~Pixel Knight

Tom Francis: Doc: That's definitely the other factor: pain. It's not that he gets killed more often than other classes - he doesn't - it's just that every time he does die, it's in a really sudden and horrible way. But thinking about why he's my least-played class, despite liking him far more than Engineer or Medic, I don't avoid him because I'm scared of nasty deaths. I just never think to pick him because I never come up against a situation where he's needed. Every common obstacle seems to have a better counter in another class.

To the other point: something that takes two or three skilled or co-ordinated players to take down is too tough, if you ask me.

Jason L: What if it takes two or three skilled or co-ordinated players to set up?

Tom Francis: Then it's not so bad. It still means the game revolves around those things, and around that co-ordination, and personally I don't think the challenge of a game should be to try to persuade other players to do what you need them to do when the game provides no hierarchy, nor should it be to accurately articulate spatial positions when the game provides no tools to do so. But whatever.

My point was that the first Sentry takes friends or dumb luck to set up unharassed. But the second doesn't. They get exponentially easier to erect the more of them you have. And at the same time, they get exponentially harder to take down the more of them you have. And at the same time, taking one down becomes a less and less useful victory, since your team still can't break through and the enemy still have a defensive stronghold in which to construct a new one quickly.

Unless Doc's saying two or three skilled or co-ordinated players can take out an unlimited number of Sentries without taking damage. The enemy only need a couple of mediocre non-Engy players to ensure that's not possible.

Slamhound: Disagree with the idea that the Kritz shouldn't have it's energy drained unless firing. You may as well set the original Mediray to only draining when the target receives damage.

Soldiers would benefit massively from such a Kritz change, and the last thing the game balance needs is for Soldiers working with Medics to be able to have predictable criticals on tap.

Mr. Brit: Sticky's could be fired with the spikes retracted and they pop out when it is primed along with a small audial cue. I like the other ideas apart from the Heavy not getting knockbacked (Sentries are easy enough to destroy already!) and the sentry idea.
It doesn't really make sense. It seems odd that the sentry would be ignore someone because they are already being shot... the idea is to stop people getting by. It sounds a bit like saying Red has three havies in the intel room, and that is too unfair on Blu, we'd better make it so if one heavy is shooting, no other heavy can shoot...
Also it discourages engineers working together, which they don't do enough as it is. There'd be a race to get the best point and what happes when you set up a sentry and some asshole sets one up a foot in front. You lose any chance of getting kills and have to start again.

Tom Francis: Ooh, I like the spikes idea. It would mean they'd have to arm the instant they hit a surface, though (otherwise how's it sticking?), which in some cases would actually be sooner than they currently do.

Mr. Brit: 1) That's a good point, but that wouldn't really be a problem would it?
2) How does 'Velvet Assassain' play? You mentioned atmosphere but is the cyanide level any good, because I'm looking forward to this.
3) Have you heard of 'They might be Giants'. I like a lot of the songs/bands you talk about and this is one of my favourites, wondered if you liked it too (Or anyone, no-one I know has heard of them!).

DoctorDisaster: I'm certainly not suggesting skill and coordination are magic shields that allow you to leap into the midst of an engi-nest and emerge unscathed. Multi-sentry nests are definitely annoying, but I've never seen one that's insurmountable. If they're spread out, the architecture usually allows you to take them on piecemeal. (The exception is Badlands 5, which is why a scout can cap it in less time than it takes you to say "Hello, friend...") And if they're so close together that smart use of cover is impossible, a demoman can often annihlate them all with the help of a single uber.

I mean, think of the most common place for a multi-sentry -- dustbowl 3A leaps to mind. The first spot to go is always the little balcony from the spawn shortcut. The next two are the logpile behind the bunker and the staircase next to the balcony. After that you've got the overlook from the bunker. After that, probably another by the point or crammed onto the balcony. Add any more and we're straining credibility.

People who've played this point a lot are probably ALREADY visualizing the exact order they'll need to take these hypothetical sentries down. It's all about smart use of cover. And the more engis we've got running around, the fewer other classes the offense has to worry about denying them access to the cover spots.

Tom Francis: 1) Part of the objective is to reduce the Demoman's ability overlap with the Soldier, and if he can very rapidly put explosions at people's feet at close range, he's shares the Soldier's key advantage.

Tom says they start glowing when they're ready to detonate, and my screenshot does show that a mid-air one doesn't glow like a placed one does. I think the solution is probably just to make them flash brightly for a second as that glow activates, and make a small sound.

2) It has some interesting systems going on, but I'm not sold on some of the mechanics: binary visibility and restrictions on where you can drop down.

3) Yes. I like one or two songs of theirs, I can't remember which. Open to any specific track recommendations.

Doc: That's not the worst for Sentry nesting, because the easy to setup spots don't cover the cap itself, making it vulnerable to dirty Spies like me. But I have seen five-Sentry setups there that we weren't able to break except by luck. Two on the balcony, one on the stairs, one next to the stairs, and one by the cap. That still leaves seven players to harrass anyone trying to peer round corners to pile on Stickies and to protect the cap-guarding Sentry from Spies. And the crossfire from five Sentries gives those players a huge zone of near-total safety from which to fire.

My point is not that this is a perfect unbeatable defense, it's that if you've got five of the same class on your team and you're not getting owned, that class needs a change. I'm open to the idea that my change is utterly stupid, but not to 'leave them as they are' as an alternative.

Mr. Brit: 'Birdhouse in your soul', which is in Pushing Daisies, 'Boss of me' ,Malcon in the middle theme, and 'she's an angel' are good. Most of it is but they do some quirky stuff as well.

I see what you mean about the spikes, but if you're firing them close enough to you to beat the original time then you will almost certainly get damaged...

himmelstoss: All of the ideas are pretty nice except the sticky launcher idea.

Direct combat is possible but difficult as a demoman. Pyros already have such an advantage against demomen (demomen lack good mid-range attacks, and the pyro can reflect all his ranged attacks) it's ridiculous. Add in the low clip size and long reload times of the demoman and it's clear that the demoman has its weaknesses (especially against pyros and scouts).

Mid-air detonation of stickies is essential. It's a difficult technique to master, but an essential part of a *good* demoman's arsenal. TF2 is a chaotic game but that's where the fun is. Trying to slow down a class by nerfing an essential, but difficult-to-use weapon is just against the game's philosophy. Besides which, midair detonation is not a cure-all technique (it's mostly useless against sentries, for instance--which I may point out, are the demoman's primary offensive targets).

CloakRaider: The pipe bomb of the demoman is devastating at short ranges though. If he misses, hey, it bounces off a wall and catches you when it explodes on the floor.

But the main problem with it, is that, IT ISN'T HARD TO USE!
It's not a expert tactic! You just fire a sticky in their general direction and hammer down on the right mouse button until it explodes!

I mean, if you call having to judge movement as a hard tactic, then soldier and sniper both have "difficult to use" weaponry. And what the fudge do you mean a low clip size? His sticky launcher has 8 STICKIES. 8! He can keep popping them off at you, and his pipe bomb launcher has the exact same amount of ammo as the soldier.

Jason L: Man! A geek who's "heard of" TMBG!? Istanbul, Birdhouse In Your Soul, Boss Of Me, Shoehorn With Teeth, Someone Keeps Moving My Chair, Shadow Government (after a rough growing-on-me period when I kept failing to delete it from my player), Particle Man, Don't Let's Start, and Racist Friend (especially) are all in my rotation - and I've never even had the time to really check them out.

Mr. Brit: 'racist friend' is great too, but I'm not sold on particle man. Also 'Ana Ng', 'the guitar', 'the statue got me high', 'new York city', 'they'll need a crane', 'I palindrome I' and 'john lee supertaster'.
Also, i'm not a geek and they're hardly mainstream are they?

Jason L: Well, certainly not to the extent that 'mainstream' is an artistic pejorative; we're still talking about drawn-out whining with an accordion fetish. I've heard them on the radio, though, and I've never talked music with anyone near my own age who didn't at least know a couple of their songs. The reaction to quoting or excessive reference on forums I've frequented tends to draw roughly the same reaction as, say, Holy Grail or Hitchhiker's Guide - yes we know it's great, but stray from context or give the slightest impression that you think you're being novel and you'll earn Poseur Points. Maybe they haven't crossed the pond in force?

You probably know, Pentadact, but for the record they have a documentary, Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns. It has the This American Life folks in it, among many others. Selling point!

Mr. Brit: Ok, maybe none of my friends know of them cause i'm 15. They are culty like the mighty boosh and the league of gentlemen.
Sorry if I came off thinking i'm novel but i haven't met anyone who knows them well.

Pwnzerfaust: Pent, what about spies? A talented spy would easily be able to sneak past the sentry nest and cap the point with few issues. TWO talented spies and a competent team would be able to take down the sentry nest itself, no problems.

Maybe you should find some better pubs, mate.

Dante: The problem with spies in this situation Pwnzerfaust (and I say this with the full knowledge that I'm rubbish at spying) is that each Sentry has an engineer kneeling behind it, constantly repairing it. Backstab one and five sentries will be after you, lay down a sapper and they'll start shotguning everything, up to and including thin air, to catch you.

And that's assuming they don't have a Pyro with them.

DoctorDisaster: That's a fair point. Again, I may be spoiled by playing on a clan pub that attracts pretty skilled players. I think sentries might suffer from the same problem demomen do, only in reverse. To wit, if the general skill level on a server is fairly low, sentry nests are very difficult to overcome and demomen have trouble using their weapons effectively. As the general level of skill rises, players start working together to overcome sentries, while demomen stop worrying and learn to love the sticky bomb. So at a high skill level, sentries are little more than a nuisance and demomen are unparalleled destruction machines.

At the end of the day, I think nerfing stickies' direct-fire capabilities will temper the deadliness of high-level demomen. But for an engi rebalances, I want to see the creation of a skill curve rather than an across-the-board nerf or boost.

DoctorDisaster: The impenetrable problem of the engi skill curve has been plaguing me so badly that I feel obliged to offer some sort of brainstorm on how a more significant one might be created. What I've come up with falls firmly into the realm of unlock rather than rebalance, but we know one's coming anyway, right?

We don't want to screw around much with the engi's play style, so we've got to keep this focused on RTS-style placement and supply concerns. But we have to give the engi a more complex problem than "where do I put my three buildings?" (The irony-quotable "question" of where to put the TP entrance is so naw-durr obvious that it doesn't count.) Especially considering that deploying the dispenser and the sentry as a single unit is not only the easiest but often the correct answer, we need to give the engi brain more to chew on. We need something newbs can screw up but still engage with, something tactically deep enough for even experts to mull over, and please something a pro soldier can't solve by blasting a shotty at the ground and typing "sg there = we win." At the same time we want to make something conquerable by nubs but still potent against high-level players.

The simple answer to this conundrum is GOD STRIKE ME DOWN IT'S UNSOLVABLE.

As no smiting is in evidence, I'm obliged to at least try.

The standard sentry is a single gun which engineers can upgrade through three levels of potency. The starter gun does decent damage within its limited range, but fires slowly and can't take much enemy fire. Level 2 fires faster, has more range, takes more damage, and acquires a vicious knockback. Level 3 gets rockets and even more armor and range.

For the engi unlock, we split these stages into three different guns: the sentry, the knockback gun, and the rocket sentry. (We could give them cheesy names for color, like maybe the knockback gun is the bucking bronco?) Each of these guns has armor and range comparable to the level 1. The regular sentry is the regular starter gun, perhaps with enhanced damage if it seems too gimpy in playtesting. The knockback gun does less damage but sports the same kick as a level 3. The rocket gun does the most damage, but fires the slowest and is subject to the limitations of rockets, those being the possibility of missing and susceptibility to airblast reflection. The damage of all three guns firing in tandem whould be equivalent to a single level 3. It would also be interesting to playtest allowing the guns to share each other's range: line of sight permitting, anything being fired upon by one gun will be detected by the others.

I like this because it opens up whole new vistas of engi strategy. Clustering the guns is no longer a good option, because the knockback gun will put enemies out of the nest's quite limited range. Instead, you can use the knockback gun to kick enemies into the other guns' killzone, or tailor each gun's effect to a particular area, or scatter the guns unpredictably so that enemies can't get a good reading on your position. Keeping all the guns in good repair and supplied with ammo now requires tactical mobility rather than the squatting engis are used to. It's not so complicated that newbies can't understand it, but it is complicated enough that they won't be able to use it as effectively as experienced players. Even though the dispenser can still sit next to a gun, you now have a few choices of defended positions for it.

Splitting up the guns also means tackling engi nests is no longer an all-or-nothing proposition: you can damage and reduce his capability without having to completely defeat him. Reduced armor means it's really unlikely that an engi will ever come out of an attack unscathed: some of his guns are going to fall, presenting him with a steadier stream of tactical challenges.

There are major problems here, too. Other than the element of surprise, the triple-sentry doesn't gain much against experienced players. Because it's an unlock rather than a rebalance, it also doesn't prevent engis from doing exactly what they're doing now. It requires the creation of a lot of art assets, and is going to complicate the construct/demolish UI considerably. So I'm not saying this is ideal, I'm just trying to throw something out there.

Jason L: As you say, DD, that doesn't actually solve the problem, but it does sound like fun times.

I had an idea today too, by looking at it (for some reason) from an RTS/Diablo perspective. The fundamental problem here is clumped up stuff, more specifically clumped up stuff distibuted across players so any clump penalty feels weird and unfair. In games, there are two usual design solutions for situations where clumped up stuff is annoying. The first is AoEs, especially splashy explosions. We already have lots of those, and at least according to the host of the post (with the most) they're not solving it.

Solution #2, often overlooked, is Chain Lighting in one of its various guises. Thus, I humbly present two words: Chain Sapper. If you want a light nerf, you could make it a Spy unlock. If, as I do, you consider a more fundamental change necessary you could patch it into the basic Sapper.

It's easy to think that these two solutions are the same, but the fundamental difference comes in what and where you have to hit. With AoE you have to be able to see or blindly hit a point that splashes everything; with chain anything, you only have to hit one of the enemies. This also has interesting implications for Dispenser placement.

It would still be suicide to Sap a big nest, but I think that's fair; a multi-Sentry nest may require little skill to set up, but it's still a big investment and it should still be scary. All we need is to shift a little bit of that fright back onto the defending side, increasing everyone's fun. By (re)introducing a second threat axis and pushing everyone apart a little, I think a Chain Sapper could do that.

As well as allowing nubs and permanubs to hilariously ruin clansmen's best laid plans by plunking down buildings in stupid places.

Alternatively, you could add an EMP effect to Demo grenades; I usually group EMP with Chain Lightning. Demoman would become even more of a go-to guy, but Sentry-killing is supposed to be his big role...Maybe if it was short-lived he would still require coordination with someone else.

Jason L: Posting that rapidly brought up another idea - a Sapper or Chain Sapper that very temporarily makes Sentries switch sides. Just a second or two - the ideal is for a buffed-up nest to kill one or two of its camping Engies, inspiring followup attacks and comic chaos, but for a lone Sentry to leave its Engie fairly well-off. It would also make camping more paranoid, possibly incentivising less boring time investment in things like Teleporter and Dispenser placement. Unfortunately even my radical stormbrain recognises this as a long-term, fundamental revision that would have to wait for a Spy unlock or revision pack, and therefore inapplicable to this short-term annoyance.

Dante: I really like that trip sentry idea Doc, it seems fun and interesting, which is what unlocks are about. I'd also pop in pentadact's 'laser pointer' idea in order to make the engie more active.

On the subject of strong sentry nests and crouching engies, how's this for a simple solution:

When a sentry dies, it does so with an almighty bang.

While this doesn't actually make them any easier to kill, it discourages clustering because one lucky sap or shot could suddenly blow the whole bunch at once and collapse your defence. Something acheivable if the attackers focus on a single one.

Incidentally, I have a new favourite way to deal with babysitter engies. Having never been fast enough to sap and stab myself I simply recruit a second spy and attack both engie and sentry at once, easy pickings.

Mr. Brit: what about an overall change that lets him have up to 3 sentries with the levels adding up to 3. Ie 3 level 1's, 1level 2 and 1 level 1 or a level 3. This doesn't decrease his overall power but allows him to spread the damage. This works well with your as the unlockable Doc. Maybe nerf or boost the level 1's to make them a third as good as a level 3.

Dante: Speaking of unlockables, I just did a big post about them on my own blog.


I'd repeat it here but a) it's really long and b) then I wouldn't be able to plug quite so shamelessly.

Pwnzerfaust: Dante: In this situation, the role of the spy would not be to destroy the sentries, he merely aims to disable them long enough for an ubered pair (or non-ubered teammates, if they're ballsy enough) to rush in. If the entire sentry nest isn't destroyed, at this point it is usually in bad enough shape for a demoman or medic/soldier combo to mop up.

DoctorDisaster: Jason: Chaining is a cool idea, but implementing it might be a little iffy. It would be really difficult to convey to an engineer just how far apart his buildings would have to be to prevent chaining, and a spy will have trouble knowing if buildings behind him will go down. Matters like which building was originally sapped and whether you have to wrench that one or any of them to fix it would also be difficult to show. And like my idea, it doesn't fully address the problem: far-flung sentries with overlapping fields of fire, which are already less vulnerable to demomen, won't be affected by chaining either.

The EMP grenades, on the other hand, I think could be really cool. I wouldn't want it to act like a sap and fully disable, though: then you're stepping on the spy's toes. Maybe just reduce the rate of fire? I also like that it gives the demo a reason to put away the sticky launcher for a minute and use the tricker-to-aim grenades. But would the inevitable reduced damage be worth it?

On a sapper that makes the gun switch sides, that's a cool idea, but it actually makes sentries a liability in crucial areas. Can you imagine having a turncoat level three overlooking your last point? The dustruction you'd wreak is totally out of proportion to what you can do with a normal sapper.

I think you might be on to something, though. How about instead of having the building actually switch sides and start killing people, it switches COLORS -- meaning its behavior stays the same, but any sentry in the area turns around and starts shooting at it? Like the sapper, this focuses the damage on a single building, and it doesn't turn the sentry into a threat to its own team. Well... mostly. You could gank a pesky engineer with his own gun by paintjobbing the dispenser behind him, and it offers a spectacular way to reduce the viability of multi-sentry nests. Slap on a cooldown meter and I think we've got a really fun unlockable.

Tom Francis: That I like! It adds risk to only the tactic that feels uncounterable: not necessarily Sentries right next to each other, but Sentries covering each other in an impenetrable network. It could be just a can of spraypaint. And it doesn't really have grief potential: you can only lose your Sentry to other people's by letting it get paint-sapped, which is your fault. It does affect the other Sentries, by distracting them, but with that comes the high risk of getting shredded in the crossfire.

I think functionally it's perhaps not as excitingly different as the chain-sapper - I can picture it being really satisfying to feel like you're fucking up a whole field of turrets from where you stand - but it makes up for that by being quite a graspable concept: paint their Sentries! lol!

The details of how long it takes to paint and how preventable/repairable it is with Wrenching would be up to testing, I guess. But it would have to be quicker than the Sapper versus one Sentry in range of two others, because it's useless against one on its own. And it presumably doesn't disable the Sentry while you're paintin'.

Jason L: That's hilarious, you have me convinced. I was mostly restricting myself to on-the fly changes that could be rolled out as part of someone else's patch, but that's such an elegant and funny solution to so many problems that it'd be worth waiting for the Spy pack.

Jason L: Do you think you should you be able to use it on players? I've imagined the result as a comically crude splotch of colour, enough to fool dumb robots but no problem for people.

Jason L: No, you stupid past version of me! Spraypainted bullseyes!

DoctorDisaster: As someone who primarily plays medic, this thought terrifies me. On the other hand, the spraypainted bullseye is absolutely hysterical. So torn!

DoctorDisaster: And the only cure for the spraypainted player would be the demo bottle; you can bet that whatever he's drinking might as well be turpentine. God I'm getting carried away with this...

Jason L: I imagine that even after Spray PAINt was commonplace, the initial reaction of surrounding players when the sentries suddenly attack in unexpected directions would be a visceral, spinning 'Snrk! Ah! Wha-Whe-Who?!' This weapon isn't even going to be made and it's still making me laugh.

Ludo: Spray painting buildings = fantastic. Robin Walker must know of this - to the Valvemobile!

I've oftened wondered about the possibility of a fake suicide pill for the spy. This would allow him to lie prone and play dead while disguised. This would enable him to deviously block enemy cart movement on Goldrush and lie in wait at sentry nests for the engineer to go wandering. For better or worse this would lead to spy-checking corpses. I guess it depends - when does paranoia stop being fun? Spy checking is already irritating for spies and non-spies alike.

Also the spy should have a radio that lets him call in airstrikes which would make all pyros and engies on the map explode instantly.

... 'scool.

DoctorDisaster: Time for me to play party-pooper. I've thought about spraypainting players and, hilarious or not, I just don't think it would work. A major check on the spy, a big boon for the engineer, and a central motivation for the feud between the two is the fact that you have to deal with the sentry before you start backstabbing people. Remove that and I can see spies intentionally leaving sentry nests in place and using them to go all passive-aggressive on the rest of the team. It's a huge motivation not to run engineers at all. Plus spies already have two remarkably powerful anti-personnel weapons at their disposal; the last thing we need is a people-sapper.

As for the suicide pill, I'm not sure it'd be much fun to sit there on the ground looking dead for any stretch of time, tactical utility or no. One of the great achievements of that class is making people playing spies actually feel and act like action movie spies. Harrowing intrusions, sudden betrayals, and death-defying escapes are the spy's lot. Taking incredibly sneaky naps? Not so much.

Jason L: I agree. It's fine, spraypainting buildings is nigh-hilarious while solving the problem, which is good enough for me.

It's funny how many 'suggestions' people come up with are features from TFC that got cut out, presumably with great deliberation. The Spy, of course, used to have a feign death command.

DoctorDisaster: I thought I'd heard that somewhere! But I didn't want to go out on a limb -- I already get enough "you never played TFC!?" grief from my clanmates.

Dante: Yeah, spray painting people clearly gives it an anti-personnel function, which wouldn't make sense for a sapper replacement. Plus you don't want to create a situation where a poor engy can seriously hurt his own team. Taking out other sentries/buildings is enough.

One question, I've never noticed this, but can engineers be hurt by their own sentries? If so a can of spray paint could put a halt to the classic dispenser->engy->sentry sandwich, spray the dispenser and the engy gets caught in the crossfire.

As for disguise kits, I once suggested a 'scenic disguise kit' that allowed the spy to disguise himself as various bits of background appropriate scenery, including dispensers and sentries. Not sure if it'd work though.

Tom Francis: Yep, Engies can be shot and killed by their own Sentries. As a Spy, you can sometimes kill Engies just by revealing yourself when they're between you and their Sentry - though it's wise to have some cover close by.

Dante: That must take balls of steel :D

I recently died in a similar way playing as a Spy, I was running up to sap a totally unguarded sentry in the tunnel to the right on goldrush one, when a very stupid medic charged in behind me. The sentry shot at him and caught me in the crossfire. Twice.


J-Man: Just did a post on the sentry with a bunch of really, really crap ideas. You have been warned of the effects of low blood sugar:

Ixtab: I like the spray paint idea, it could be beautifully simple to understand like the paper mask, and funny and usefull enough to encourage people to actually use it. The fact that it's useless against a single sentry means it's a viable trade-off for the normal sapper.

Also I like the idea of disguising as bits of scenery. It'd be like metal gear solid in your little box. "Oh no they're looking at me, better stand still." Of course the sad people that have memorised every rock on a map will have the advantage on these people, also some disguises would be rediculous in some places which makes it fun, know your surroundings and all that, don't disguise as a rock from dustbowl when you're playing on well.

Also I love the 3 sentry idea, it'd actually give me something to think about as an engineer, currently engineer is my lazy class, I plonk down a sentry and then either turtle it or get bored and run off looking for people to harass with the shotgun. This would add an element of planning.

The Prime Minister Of Sinister, by Tom Francis: [...] an unlock that let me use them in reverse: jaunt from the exit to the entrance. Speaking of which, Doctor Disaster’s Spurious Sentry Spraypaint is still better than anything Valve came up with for the [...]