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.
The latest post on the TF2 blog has nothing more specific than “a bunch of exciting changes coming down the pipe for the next class update,” but the title of the post is:
Robin also jests about facestabs coming to Left 4 Dead, and generally I get the feeling they know how annoyed people are about the Spy’s erratic backstab detection. “Exciting changes” sounds like something other than just unlocks (which are more ‘additions’), so my bet is that one way or another, they’ll address the issue.
The prospect fills me with dread. The Spy class is where I live, and my home is about to be redesigned and twelve thousand strangers invited in. However much you trust the decorators, it’s a hard notion to embrace.
On the other hand, I’m a lunchtime or two away from 100 hours in those black gloves, so perhaps the timing would be good for a break. But Valve, I hope you know your ideas have to be at least as good as Doctor Disaster’s Sentry Spraypaint detailed towards the tail end of the comments here.
Either way, I think I have to post c) now.
Whomper: An alternative reading of the runes could be that the Demo comes next, as "exciting changes coming down the pipe" makes me think of pipe bombs. Or it could refer to the Soldier's bazooka, come to think of it. Or the new, as yet unannounced Plumber class, with a high-crit rate melee plunger and the ability to rod the underwater area on Well to dislodge spies.
Lack_26: I like the spy as he is, I'm fairly rubbish at it (even though it's my highest scoring class, mind you, I think they where all captures that life, I was just running around on Well capturing stuff whilst a load of newbs where desperately trying to catch and kill me).
J3553: What would be his upgrades? A super-knife that you can charge up so the next hit is a backstab? Overpowered weapons?
Dante: I'm hoping for the aforementioned spray paint sapper unlock and the ability to disguise himself as a dispenser myself.
Mr. Brit: Spy updates:
Primary fire shoots a grapple. It causes a small amount of damage if it strikes an enemy. The alternate fire pulls the spy towards whatever it is hooked on, enemy or scenery, at the speed just under a scout. This allows the spy to catch up with distant or fast enemies or escape from enemies when he is discovered,. This is of little use for getting to hard to reach areas, since the Spy has no long range offensive weapon. The grapple has a range about as long as the visible battlements are wide.
The Spycoptor is a small helicopter with a camera. When used, the spy is completely immobile, but he can work out enemy positions, or check for safe routes. However the coptor makes a distinctive noise, meaning anyone it is nearby will know one is around. To combat this it feeds off the spies cloak, allowing him to sneak it past large enemy formations. The primary fire, meanwhile, causes it to transform into a crit rocket and fire on the enemy. This sows confusion amongst enemy ranks, forcing them to check for soldiers, while the spy infiltrates undetected. The spy only has one of these before he must pick up an ammo crate forcing him to think tactically about when to use it. It also has limited range, about balcony to balcony on 2fort, after which it starts the screen fuzzes out and it crashes. It can also be shot out of the air.
The bio-weapon resembles a coffee flask with biohazard tape on it. Primary causes the spy to hit with it causing small amounts of damage. Secondary, makes him unscrew the top and place it on the floor. It produces an colourless gas that hurts and poisons enemies who enter it. This gas distorts the view when looked through so it can be noticed but only by the wary. Once poisoned, an enemy will continue to lose health until they die or are healed in some way, they are noticeably green when poisoned and their Medic calls appear green. The poison does not wear off and will damage at about 10 per second, giving a Scout 12.5 seconds and a Heavy, 30. It also affects sentries in range, slowing their turning speed as the gas clogs up the machinery. However the spy is no longer able to take down enemies on the fly, instead area denial or planned attacks are his method of choice. The spy can recover the Bio-weapon after 1 minute, which is when it dissipates, or recover one from an ammo crate which renders the old one unusable.
Sorry it's so long but I have has this planned for ages. I also have 35 achievement ideas but this is long enough.
Lack_26: My bro and I has some ideas for a Scout update, yeah, they're pretty baseball themed.
One of them should be a baseball glove (pistol replacement), right click allows the scout to catch a piece of incoming ordnance, left click allows him to pitch it back towards the enemy or you could right clicking again, this would make the scout toss it into the air,letting him hit it with his bat.
I'm hoping this won't jump on the pyro's feet, since you can only deflect one at a time, this could also lead to hilarity as the scout desperately tries to defend a sentry nest.
Although, more in keeping with character, you could run past the enemy lines with your captured rocket and lob it at some poor sod. Even better with a crit. This would be a fun counter to the demoman's stick traps if you could pick up sticky-bombs, then throw them back at the enemy (perhaps they explode when they hit a surface). This way you could disarm whole traps without the whole clattering of machinegun fire.
If you throw something back just using the glove then it has an arch worse than the pyro's flare gun, but a bit better than the medic's needler. However, if you throw the munitions up in the air (right click again) you can switch to the bat and it'll fly pretty much straight and true.
I don't think the scout should be able to pick up friendly munitions, too much ability for griefing and this could help buff the demoman (scout basically gets a flow of grenades, but capturing enemy stickies is far harder), rather than helping to nerf him slightly, since the demoman needs a class which can effectively counter it.
This also gives the scout a role on other maps, if you catch a crit rocket you could throw it right into a sentry nest, for example.
I've forgotten the rest of what we came up with.
Mike: Hmm. Spy's just become my most-played class thanks to a newfound enjoyment of it all, so I'm a bit worried about this. Not because of the tinkering, but because of everyone else playing Spy. There was something nice about Spy because no-one wanted to play it for very long. It was like being part of a very flammable club.
Cmdt_Carpenter: Unlike many people, I'm not going to throw out a random weapon idea for the spy. Because I don't have one.
The spy is one of the most delicately balanced classes in the game, with certain musts that can't be taken away from the class: he must backstab, he must be able to disguise, and he must be able to cloak. If not cloak, then perhaps back to feign death.
The main difficulty here is backstabs. To give the spy a good melee weapon (as all melees so far have been pretty much full upgrades) it must still backstab, but have some kind of buff while removing a slight thing. For instance, a quicker slash right in exchange for a very loud noise when a backstab is started.
You can't do anything with the disguise kit. No. Don't touch my disguise kit.
Hey. Don't touch my cloak either. Unless it's an emergency.
Revolver. Hm. I think the fake spy update idea is the way go go here. A gun that deals half damage from front, but crits from back.
Sapper. 3 sappers that can be thrown and deal twice as much damage overtime than a normal sapper. Can be knocked off in one hit, plus has a special icon.
Mr. Brit: I can justify all my ideas with genuine problems.
1) Grapple. When you get a kill and someone spots you or a pyro lights you up, you have no quick escape. I'm not saying make him invulnerable but give some burst of speed for a quick escape. The grapple fits the character and costs him his pistol which any good spy uses judiciously.
2)Spycoptor. You round a corner and collide with a pyro or the enemy have all gone another way. Spy needs a way of checking what's ahead and planning attacks. Spycoptor fits the charater but makes him almosr useless against buildings and much more backstab reliant.
3) Bio-weapon. You wait in a small alcove for an enemy but they've all gone somewhere else. Bio-weapon allows the spy to manouver enemies to suit him or cause chaos in the middle of a firefight. Lack of backstab is fairly serious looking back on it, so change it to have the standard attack always crit when behind and it should be balanced.
Ixtab: At the moment I get quite frustrated with spies that act more like attack classes than sneaky classes just using the revolver to take people out fairly effectively. The spy needs the revolver tweaked such that it's no longer viable to use as a full-on combat weapon, because that's not the spy's job, he needs something to help him get away or hide once he's been spotted rather than slaughter everyone.
Mr. Brit: Ixtab, perhaps some sort of grapple?
Justice: @ Mike: I share your concern. I've no idea whether I should embrace the updates and get the unlocks ASAP, even though that would involve fraternizing with several 'achievement-Spies', who aren't really interested in the class as a whole. Or I could wait until the update dies out, which, while noble, means I get the shiny shiny content later...
@ Cmdt_Carpenter: That's another reason why this update fills me with as much dread as delight (alliteration, fancy today!) How will the updates change the Spy? Fundamentally, which might be a bad thing, or hardly, which could also be a bad thing. Of course the next update might not be the Spy at all...
IXTAB - don't take my revolver away! With it I can deal with nasty Pyros, Engineers, even a Heavy (if lucky)! I can't see how (or why) they'd use it as an offensive weapon, considering that back stabs net you two points, but it's very useful when you're running down the sewers in 2fort, disguised as a friendly Pyro... the last thing they expect is lead to start flying at them! Useful to back up and escape from an other-wise deadly threat.
PS: With the revolver I fulfilled one of Pentadact's dreams: Being Kritzkrieged as a Spy. Ahhh...
AlexW: Brit, if you overpush the grapple launcher any more I'll go Agent 47 on you and garrote you with it. There is no way in hell that Valve will ever give people a weapon purpose-built to get outside of level boundaries, whether you give it the 'horizontal escape' coat of paint or not. Hell, the team wallhack that is a tracer gun would be more likely.
Instead, how about a weapon that does no/negligible damage that can be fired while disguised?
spuzman00: I liked the fake updates ideas, especially the magnetic sapper (can't be knocked off, but does no damage, falls off after a while). It's a good shift from the normal sapper, and it is different enough that it isn't just copying the pre-existing one.
flatluigi: Spy updates:
Ability to recharge cloak through methods not including 'waiting a whole bunch'
Replacement of long, buggy backstab animation with a normal, melee-speed version
Contact has to be held longer than a slight bump to make the spy shimmer when cloaked
Screw the alternative weapons, I know what I want.
frag.machine: Sabotager: A special sapper that reprograms stuff built by the engineer to work to spy's team. Imagine sneaking into a sentry farm and reprogramming all of them to... Attack their own engies! yay!
Derrike: I personally wouldn't mind the ability to restock cloak in spawn cabinets and MAYBE ammo pickups. (Though that would mean that a spy is going to be sneaking around forever taking supplies right before your very eyes.)
I just don't like surviving an assault and then having to continually wait a while for my cloak to become of use.
Ten-High Charlie: So glad I'm a Pyro person right now.
I do feel bad for all the newly converted Heavy's though.
DoctorDisaster: Oh my gosh, I'm internet famous! Seriously, this is going on my Valve job application. "PC Gamer writer Tom Francis thinks I'm the shizz!"
Mr. Brit, I said it on 1fort and I'll say it here: that stuff is cool, but too complicated for TF2. The bio-weapon in particular is just impossible to explain visually. And anything that can "transform into a crit rocket" is going to be bloody useless as anything else, admit it. "Gee I have a choice between a sapper and an invisible aimable on-demand crit rocket that I can fire from across the map" is NOT likely to be listed among the top 10 gaming conundrums of our time.
Back to the original post, I have to say that it was even worse for us medics, because the whole achievement-unlock idea was untried. But after of a short furor of unaccustomed dime-a-dozenness, we medics made out like bandits, getting blutsaugers and ubersaws even if we never met the initial requirements for same. (I'm still one medic achievement short of the full pack.) Your class, too, will survive the glut and be stronger for it.
Tom Francis: Group hug! We'll get through this.
Dante: My picks:
Sapper - Dr Disaster's spray paint of doom
Revolver - Dart Gun (Enemies don't register the initial impact, but then start taking damage over time a la being on fire, healthpacks, medics and sandwiches can cure you)
Disguise kit - Scenic disguise kit (Allows the spy to disguise himself as various inanimate objects, including scenery, dispensers and turrets)
Cloak - ?
Knife - ?
Whomper: I'd like a Holo-Spy - a destructable decoy that draws fire while you sneak about. Let's face(stab) it, as soon as you backstab that heavy or sap that sentry people are going to start spy hunting, so why not give them an obvious target? It could be thrown, like a grenade, and be deployable while cloaked. Might draw the fire for the critical few seconds you need to stab the engie and ensure the sentry falls.
Matt: @Dante: I love your Scenic Disguise Kit idea, if only because all the "That dispenser's a spy!" jokes would become true. Being able to disguise as enemy buildings would be interesting, but really only useful on large teams, as it's pretty obvious when there are two sentries and one engi, and one of the sentries just let that soldier go by.
Mr. Brit: AlexW, what is the point in a spy getting to some obscure location if he has no long range weapon with which to attack with? It would be so unproductive it would be left to the morons who already exploit the engineer to death.
Dr Disaster, Like I said on 1fort, I want soemething different dammit! Not a 'crits when...' or a 'slow but always crits' weapon that seem to be so poular. Something totally different like the Sandvich but I admit I might have leaned on the overcomplicated side. I had the spycoptor change into a crit rocket to provide some confusion in the ranks. It's a one shot that you don't get to see hit, that leaves the Spy defenceless while flying it. He can't take down sentries as well but it lets him check ahead and then confuse the enemy. If you want, make it resemble a rocket but do no damage or take the feature out.
I will not let this die until some equally intriguing ideas are suggested. Scenic Disguise Kit is definately one of those.
Cmdt_Carpenter: @Dante: I'll give you that the scenic disguise kit is awesome, but the coding would be pretty damn hard, you would be limited to about 10 disguises, you can't move while disguised with it (lest you give yourself away), and everyone has pretty much memorized the maps; you won't be fooling anyone.
@Disaster, MD: Painting the targets is awesome. That should be a default spy weapon now.
Also magnet sapper seems to be the only slightly fair replacement for the sapper, but you would have to give it an amazingly slow HP drain; it would never kill, but still damage, so that the spy can still get a destruction, or assist.
Tom Francis: Oh man, it should be called the Transmogrificator 3000, and it could turn you into a:
2. Ammo box
9. Tele entrance
And you should be able to move while disguised, when you believe it to be prudent.
Now we just need knife and revolver ideas we can all agree on, and we have a set.
I think there's mileage in a J'Accusinator Gun: a revolver replacement that causes the enemy hit to disguise as you in a puff of smoke, causing their team-mates to be distracted furiously spychecking them. It could bring back the thrill of the early days, when you could still sometimes convince someone that a mere Spy would have perished after those two spychecking shotgunnings.
I have lots of reasonable ideas for the knife, of course, but I'm not interested in reasonable. What I liked about Doc D and Dante's suggestions is that they're nuts, fun and immediately appealing. I think that's what the Heavy weapons lacked, and why they didn't cause a true resurgence of Heavy play. They're reasonable, practical ideas, but the concepts on paper don't set the brain a-tingle with the possibilities.
Dan2025: I kind of like the idea of a cloak that causes you to disappear in a puff of smoke whenever you use it, rendering you impossible to see in any way for a second or two, and then functioning like a normal cloak the rest of the time spent using it. As a trade off, you would get a bigger decrease in your cloak meter for those first couple seconds every time you used it.
DoctorDisaster: I love the j'accusinator! The combat handicap is huge if you're relying entirely on your knife, but the decoy effect sounds like it might actually be useful enough to offset that. The old stab 'n sap would be replaced by the stab-sap-j'accuse-flee. I also like that it makes the class a little more forgiving if you're playing for pure stealth thrills.
The_Danish: Drawing from the confusion-inducing crit rocket, I think it would be more balanced and funnier if perhaps the Spy's voice commands changed while cloaked, to mimic sounds of weapons and things like that. Perhaps trade the Sapper in for a whole sound/effects board, so you can run close to a Heavy with a Medic, make the distinctive sound of a player catching fire, and backstab the Heavy when he turns to check. Perhaps the sound of a crit rocket followed by an explosion around the corner, causing an Engineer to leave his Sentry so a teammate could destroy it easily. The J'Accusinator could be one of its effects!
Azzen: I think the weakness with some of the ideas presented here is that people will see them coming. Decoys work when the enemy has no idea, but when every player in the game gets news that the spy can now do that, the effect is compromised.
Still, these are interesting. And, to add to the scenic disguise kit, maybe Valve can randomize some pieces of scenery like boxes and crates every time a map loads?
Dante: Pentadact: Exactly, you can move while disguised as a dispenser if you want, it just might not be a good idea.
Did I mention the Spies teamates see him hiding in a box painted to look like a dispenser? Either that or holding up a sign saying 'free health here'.
DoctorDisaster: Some variations and elaborations on the j'accuser for you all to consider:
1. What if instead of disguising the enemy, you cloak him? You'd have to use this carefully, because it would burn your cloak power rather than ammo, but it would have the added benefit of disabling one enemy's weapon. For added fun, make it a beam you have to keep trained on your target -- who is, of course, invisible. The slight fade-ins as you struggle to keep a bead on him would look pretty convincing to spy-checkers. You'd have to limit it to one cloaked target at a time, though, to prevent the spy from sweeping a rank of enemies and disabling all their guns for a few moments. Drawback: enemy medics are NOT going to be happy if you cloak them right before an uber.
2. Back to the disguise gun: it occurs to me that a decloaking spy does not have a puff of smoke. While I love the puff of smoke, it might be more sensible to have the decoy character switch to the disguise instantly and without effects, just like a normal spy. For bonus points, the j'accuser should sound exactly like the normal revolver, so everyone assumes the "spy" has started firing. Maybe work the smoke in when the forced disguise wears off.
3. How to handle weapons when imposing a disguise on another character? You can disable their guns, like with the uCloak I suggested above, but it strikes me that a spy who decloaks but then stops shooting isn't very convincing. A spy shooting rockets around is even worse. So I suggest that we allow the disguised one to shoot, but no matter the weapon used, render its attacks as revolver shots. This leads inevitably to hilarity. Imagine a rocket-jumping soldier who looks like a revolver-jumping spy. Or an enemy spy who ubers himself and your heavy by shooting him in the back.
Tom Francis: 1. I did think of a cloak-gun at first, since it's more common to see disguised Spies cloak than undisguise. But I wanted that moment where all their team-mates are shooting the hell out of them and they can't work out why.
I hadn't considered actually making it disable their weapon, though - that's an interesting idea for a separate weapon. My instinctive reaction is that it's too powerful - it effectively lets the Spy survive any one-on-one encounter long enough to get back to his team-mates, assuming he can move while using it. Cloak only lets him do that if he can escape their fire and deceive them about which direction he's gone in.
But if it were to replace cloak mode entirely - that's an interesting decision. Although I worry that would come down to just how many players there are on the server - small pop, cloak gun; large pop, vanilla cloak.
2. I reckoned the puff of smoke just screams suspicion regardless, and not many players have the wherewithall to reason out which way the colours changed and whether that makes sense. If you've ever noticed how furiously a team spy-checks their own chap when he's carrying the enemy intelligence - pretty much the only guy on the battlefield who cannot possibly be a Spy - I'm hoping that's indicative of the confusion this would incite.
If not, I like your idea of making them fire their pistol. I like even more the idea of a gun which, when you click fire, causes no visible action on your part, but causes your target to turn into you, face you, and fire a gun like yours directly at you. But purely for the pleasing symmetry - obviously that would be fraught in coding and player-experience terms.
3. I was thinking the effect would be visible to everyone but the accused, so they only know they've been dressed-up when their teammates start shooting them more than normal. So I was going to let them shed the disguise by firing, so that it's only really useful when you're behind enemy lines. That makes it sound pretty weak, but the purpose is not to let the Spy genuinely confer all suspicion onto a real player, just to create a moment's bafflement in which he can go unnoticed.
The larger issue, of course, is that this kind of confusion might turn out to just be irritating as hell to everyone involved.
Tom Francis: Azzen - I don't think enemies being aware of a Spy's abilities necessarily means they'll see through them: we all know he can disguise, but it doesn't mean we always spot disguised Spies. These abilities all hinge on cases where the illusion is indistinguishable from the reality until further investigation.
Dante - lol. Yep, I've always wanted a Spy ability that involves a badly stenciled cardboard box. I think he should simply wear it on his head, though.
Dante: You're definitely right Pentadact, logic and reasoning take a back seat where spy paranoia is involved. Even more than the intelligence thing your own team are always furiously checking you when you're a spy disguised as someone else, despite the fact that I'm fairly sure that there's no way to disguise yourself as a masked spy.
DoctorDisaster: That's true about the smoke. I'm not bad enough that I'll shoot at my own flag carrier (except of course with the glowing tendril of love), but I'll pump full clips of needles into anything that has the gall to start smoking in my immediate vicinity.
As for shooting removing the disguise, my concern is that someone yelling "spy!" will cause the disguised one to start spychecking too, ruining the fun even if they don't realize what's going on. I also think letting people know they've been force-disguised would be an important learning tool for players who aren't familiar with the mechanic. Otherwise all too many people are going to live through a scenario where everyone around them starts shooting, so they start shooting too, then everyone stops shooting and the disguise victim has no idea what just happened.
DoctorDisaster: I just realized I missed a golden opportunity for a joke about doctors overreacting to second-hand smoke. Damn.
Azzen: Pentadact: Well, I mean, the stuff like the scenic disguise kit might not work as well as the regular disguise kit. People might not as easily spy-check a living, breathing supposed teammate, but it's probably going to occur a lot that they are to spy-check a non-moving dispenser or crate. It would be like the cardboard boxes in Metal Gear. Except there are pyros and heavies around.
Dante: Azzen - I always thought it would be the other way around myself. Not spy checking something doesn't mean you've thought about it and dismissed the idea, people are too jittery for that, it means you've run along without thinking about it because the spy has managed to blend into the background. All too easy if you ARE the background.
Personally I think people, even once they're aware, would spy check scenery much less than people. Even once they're away of the spy's ability a dispenser is less likely to flag 'danger' than a person.
The flipside of this is that a scenic disguised spy moving while people can see is incredibly obvious, he might as well hold up a giant neon sign announcing his presence.
Azzen: Azzen: @Dante: Yes, People are too jittery for that...But what about a tree? They don't move. Dispensers don't move either. And people would rarely turn their back to dispensers once they know that the spy can disguise as objects.
It is my humble opinion that once people know that objects can be spies, they will start to rigorously spy-check the objects because they happen to be very easy to spy-check.
Dante: It's an interesting piece of balance. I imagine the scenic disguise kit would offer both background items and 'active' items. A background item would be easily overlooked, but might stick out if placed if it's in a different place from how people remember it. Whereas 'active' items like dispensers could theoretically be anywhere, but are more likely to get people thinking about them rather than dismissing them out of hand.
Believe me, the first time an engineer gets stabbed by his own dispenser will make it all worthwhile.
Azzen: Only testing will tell, I guess.
Jason L: Letting the Spy disguise as a nonhuman object feels like too much to me. A stabbing dispenser is funny, but a moving dispenser is just...sad. Too videogamey. Yes, I'm aware I'm talking about a world where rocket-jumping happens.
Tom Francis: I know what you mean. My stance in general, though, is that I love Valve most when they're silly, when they do break a few rules, when they do ruin one thing or another. I like them least when they make sensible, reasonable decisions.
I like them most when they replace a shotgun with a sandwich. I like them least when they replace a minigun with a minigun that does slightly less damage but slows people slightly.
With the Spy in particular, I'll be so sad if we get a silenced pistol, a sapper with tweaked values, a longer cloak. It's not worth fucking with the game's fundamentals to make slight tweaks, if you're going to be spannering around in there, I want to see huge, crazy, hilarious changes. I think unlocks should be about keeping the game fresh, and patches should be about redressing the balance.
Er, most of that isn't aimed at you, of course, since you never suggested all changes should be small and sensible. I'm just trying to articulate why, despite agreeing with you, I think Dante's suggestion would be worth it.
mr. Brit: ^^ totally agree!
Regarding music; can I suggest 'the national', some very nice indie rock. Similarly, 'the arcade fire' are undoubtly awesome. 'Apartment story' by the former and 'in the backseat' or 'neighbourhood #2 (laika)'. Brilliant songs worth checking out. :)
mr. Brit: And to be clear the second two songs are Arcade Fire
Where did you first hear about the plumber class?
Gentlemen, by Tom Francis: [...] Team Fortress 2 update would be the Spy’s unlockable weapons back in September last year, I said the prospect filled me with dread. Now that they’ve ambushed us with info on two of his new tools, and the whole thing is much [...]