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TOM FRANCIS
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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.

Theme

By me. Uses Adaptive Images by Matt Wilcox.

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

The Greatest Team Fortress 2 Update

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

How I Feel About Team Fortress 2 In Graph Form

Lately, I’ve been playing and enjoying TF2 a bit. There was a time when I wrote about that game so often this site was virtually a fan blog, but it petered out a bit. It’s a combination of the natural drop off in interest in a competitive online game, and a drop off in the interesting differences the new content adds.

The latest update has bucked the trend a bit, but before I get into why, I want to explain what I’m talking about. I often wonder why my play time with TF2 dropped off even as the stuff in it got much better, so I have expressed the relationship in the only way I know how to articulate any feelings: through the medium of graph.

TF2 - Graph

Basically, I wouldn’t normally like a team-based shooter at all by this point in its life cycle, and that can’t help but have an influence. I don’t like competition because I’m too competitive, and I don’t like team games because I don’t like organising people. It’s a miracle I like TF2 at all.

The chunks of new content flying into the game have kept it fresher than it had any right to be, often because it genuinely made the game better, and the rest of the time just because it was new. That appeal ended with the money update: once they added a way to buy new stuff for cash, they no longer provided an easy route to get it for free. It ceased to be “Ooh, new stuff!” and became “Hmm, purchasing options.”

But the last update does have that kick of novelty: it’s a medieval mode where most classes are useless, since their high tech weapons are gone.

TF2 - Sniper Charge

Only the sword-and-shield Demoman and the bow-firing Sniper are great, and a few other classes can work if they happen to unlock certain new items, like gloves that make the Heavy tougher against ranged attacks, or a healing crossbow for the Medic. What I like about it is this:

1. It’s very, very different.
2. It’s so new no-one really cares about winning yet.
3. No-one can bitch at me for going Sniper when we already have five Snipers.
4. The only map for it is small, focused, and channels people into a beautifully designed chokepoint for the finale.
5. No sentries.
6. No stickies.

TF2 - Spy Stagb

I’m fine with getting skewered by an arrow, fine with having my head cut off, fine with being battered to death by a Heavy’s metal fists. Almost every other way to die in TF2, particularly by automated sentry fire, is just irritating to me. Nothing to do with the skill involved or lack thereof, it just feels annoying.

This mode pares back all of the ways to die instantly to a distant opponent, and so for the first time, my cause of death isn’t always “Walked round a corner, met three enemies”.

How long it’ll stay fun I don’t know, but variety like this is what I want from this game now. I think there’s as much value in taking things out as putting them in.

TF2 - Fists of Steel

Halloween 2010

Heroes Assemble #1Roughly from left to right: Craig as Dexter Morgan, Kim as The Scout, me as The Spy as Graham Smith, Jim as a witch, Anna as a witch, Graham as Minecraft Guy, Lisa as a dinosaur, Tim as a Murloc, Laura as Red Riding Hood, and Amanda as Sully.

World of Minecraft

I’m actually grinning.

"Blue Spy Stole The Pudding!"John made these amazing pumpkin desserts in little ramekin dishes, so he’s forgiven for coming as John Walker.

IMG_4195The wrap-around made this even scarier than I’d intended.

Grabby TomI eventually discovered for myself how disturbing it is to see someone else wearing your face.

Kim’s custom-made dog tags – “BONK!” and “I broke your stupid crap moron!”

Hide The KnivesI did not spend a lot of the evening with my mask correctly aligned.

IMG_4184Graham forgot not to sit down.

IMG_4197


And making this video is why Rich Cobbett is forgiven for coming as Rich Cobbett.


In reference to this.

IMG_4176Pumpkin carving the previous night.

IMG_4214This was mine, a dramatic departure from last year’s.

Valve Steal Sixth James Weapon Idea, Sell It

You can now buy stuff for real money in Team Fortress 2. First thoughts:

  • The world has ended. No further world can be built.
  • Oh wait, you can still get everything for free.
  • This is fine, so long as they don’t make the free route slower.
  • Hey, they made the free route slower!
  • Man, now they won’t even want to make a drop system that doesn’t suck – one that lets me work towards what I want, or ever gives me a hat.
  • I’m glad crafting the new stuff is pretty easy, though.
  • Wait a minute: finding a load of stuff I don’t want, plus easy crafting and trading, wavy-equals working towards what I want?
  • Yes – very, very slowly, and with no hope of getting a hat.

So it’s not nearly as bad as it could have been. But I think it’s been mishandled: if the point really is to channel money to community contributors, only sell community items. Add your own when players demand it. And if you don’t want to make non-purchasers feel left out, launch with a few Valve-made weapons unlockable with achievements, and make them the focus.

Because that’s how I feel, as someone who doesn’t want to burn through a lot of cash on this. TF2 isn’t a game for me anymore – the only people who get to play it all are the ones prepared to pay. It’s nice that there’s a lot to unlock, but in practise, even the much lower crafting requirements are way too high for someone like me. It takes seven items I don’t want to make one that I do, and that’s more than I find in a month.

Black Box 2

Even after months of play, I won’t have the +25 health that Scouts who pay do. The chances of finding all the items required for a set bonus, particularly the hat, are negligible.

I do really like the Black Box, though – a vampiric rocket launcher with a smaller clip. It limits your aggressive capacity, but suits the calculating way I play Soldier: safe distance, medkit near, Equaliser ready, Buff Banner steadily charging.

The item that’s closest to one of my suggestions, the knife that rapidly steals your victim’s identity, is a total bust. The ability itself is a satisfyingly stylish flourish, but they’ve paired it with a wildly disproportionate drawback: the inability to disguise at will.

That’s such a massive, constant pain in the arse for an advantage that’s really only useful when facing exactly two people, both of whom are looking the wrong way, and even then only if the second of them looks round less than a second but more than half a second after your kill. And doesn’t spy check.

They should have actually stolen my idea, rather than independently coming up with their own that has just enough in common for me to make false accusations about it on my blog. My knife had some trivial drawback that would rarely hinder anyone – it’d sell even better.

Valve Steal Most Of Tom’s Evening

Engineer night was horrific. I haven’t seen this many stalemates since Hydro. Everyone’s desperate for the new unlocks, but the achievements that unlock them either require the unlocks, or are based around Engineering in the context of a normal game. Stuff like supporting a Heavy while he mows people down. When your friends and opponents are all just static installations of angry metal gun, there’s not a lot of scope for that.

Dead Engy

For the lucky few who got them, the new unlocks looked amazing. You can Wrangle a Gunslung Combat Sentry, so your damage boost negates its reduced damage output, your shield negates its level 1 hitpoints, and your beam gives it seemingly infinite range. It’s as ridiculous as that collection of words.

Wrangled Combat Sentry

In the end, none of the individual unlocks matched the specs of any of my suggestions closely enough to justify my mock accusations of plagiarism. But the set of abilities these give you – deploy small sentries quickly, move them, shield instead of repair, and direct their fire manually – is just what I wanted from mine. If I ever actually earn the damn things, I’ll be extremely happy.

Sniper Bow

Valve Steal Fifth James Weapon Idea

Engy: Portable Sentry

Valve Steal Third And Fourth James Weapon Ideas

Not really, of course: the newly announced Wrangler is a more intricate beast than my Laser Pointer or Shield Spanner suggestions. It sounds ridiculous: not only do you get to direct your Sentry’s fire, but it’s also nigh-impervious to harm and twice as powerful. But of course, if you’re using the Wrangler, you’re not using your Wrench. So your Sentry isn’t getting healed, and it has to shut down for three seconds if you whip out your spanner.

I won’t pretend to know how this will play out, but I actually think this is how Sentries should always have been. There should be no auto mode. Having the AI spot and shoot human players robs the Engy of the satisfaction of doing it himself, and the victim the knowledge that they were caught out by a real opponent. Instead, a computer has all the fun, and the players it kills don’t learn much: the computer simply out-damaged them. Most of the time I die to a Sentry, my only other option was to hang back and do nothing.

So I’m glad the Wrangler sounds crazy powerful, because I’d like everyone to use it, all the time. I’d rather have a tougher but fallible opponent, and one that doesn’t rapidly self-heal, than the alternative.

I’m taking some time off at the moment (which will hopefully translate to some progress with Private Dick), but Jaz and the guys have been running an amazingly good days-long liveblog of every snippet of information that’s come out about the Engineer update.

What’s Wrong With Team Fortress 2’s Unlocks

I cooed a little about the amount of free stuff Valve have added to TF2 since release, but it’s not purely to fix or improve the classes. They’ve been experimenting with ways to leverage this free content to add an element of persistent progress and character customisation to TF2. But their experiments have been weird, and so far the resulting system doesn’t really do its job. If you’re all too familiar with why the current system needs changing, you can just skip to how I suggest changing it. Here’s what’s wrong:

hl2 2009-08-16 12-19-42-28

You can unlock weapons for a class by earning its achievements. That means everyone plays the same class when its new weapons are released, even before they’ve earned any of them. We’re bribed to play that class at the very time when TF2’s primary problem is inevitably going to be too many people playing that class. And we’re often bribed to play it in counter-productive ways to fulfill achievement criteria, some of which are just fun little jokes.

You can ‘find’ weapons and hats randomly. On the plus side, that sometimes gives you a weapon for a class you don’t normally play, encouraging you to try it out. On the down side, well:

  • A lot of what you find is duplicates of what you already have, which means that little gold message comes to be associated more with disappointment and absurdity than excitement or pleasure.
  • People’s fortunes vary wildly without any correlation to skill. Some people play for hours a night, rarely get a weapon, find only dupes, and have never seen a hat in hundreds of hours of play. Others consistently get unlocks every half hour or so, and have copious hats for classes they don’t even play.
  • Consequently, very rare and exclusive class items like hats don’t signify anything when you see a player wearing them. What does the mighty Camera Beard tell you about a Spy? Nothing, he just got lucky.

You can ‘craft’ items by combining lots you have to produce one you might not. Presumably meant to tackle the dupes problem with the random drops, but what we understand of the current system is totally bizarre. If you don’t have the Eyelander, you seem to need six copies of the other two Demoman weapons, plus at least eight melee weapons, to craft one without losing anything you need. In a given time period, you’re about 13.8 billion times more likely to just find an Eyelander than what you need to make one.

For a hat, you’d have to find eighty-one weapons you don’t need just to make a random one. To have more than a 3.4% chance of crafting the one you want, it takes a hundred and twelve. At the end of which, you’ve got something a new player might find in his first hour with the game.

TF2 Classless Update 13

That’s what’s wrong with the current system. I think it needs a few changes to work as an addictive RPG, as a way of customising your characters to your tastes, and as a way of showing off your skill or dedication in the way you dress. The unlocks system ought to make the repetitive violence feel like part of a larger goal, and give you a sense of progress even if you lose. Here’s how I’d do it:

Unlockable Weapons: You’d be able to browse these from the main menu to see what’s available, and select one you want to unlock. Each requires somewhere between 250 and 500 points, and once you select it all the points you score in-game, as any class, count towards that. That’s about 2-4 hours play – the Flare Gun might be 250, the Direct Hit 500. You need to be in a game with at least four non-idle players or bots for your points to count, but beyond that anti-exploit measures are probably futile.

On top of that, every five hours or so you’ll get a random weapon unlock that you don’t already have. If it’s the one you’re working towards, points earned so far transfer to what you pick next.

The idea: Every match gets you closer to something you really want, and the items you choose first make you a different player to those around you. At the same time, you can still get something unexpected for a class you don’t normally play that might encourage you to try them.

Achievements: I think they should stay – I even think the silly ones should stay. In fact, I’d get rid of the sensible ones, and just leave the ridiculous accomplishments – taunt kills, ironic deaths, corpse dancing and tortured puns (Slammy Slayvis Woundya? That’s what you’re going with?). But they no longer earn you weapons, they’re just an acknowledgement for any time you do something remarkable.

The idea: Silliness absolutely has a place in TF2, and trying to get things like taunt kill achievements just makes the game hilarious for you and your enemies. But no-one should be bribed to go for them if they don’t want to.

Feats: This is where the sensible achievements would go. They’re things that genuinely benefit your team, so you’re rewarded each time you do them: some bonus points towards your unlock (but not your in-game score) and a little pop-up: “Medic Feat! Extinguished five team-mates, +2 points”. Things like multi-kills, capturing a point alone, setting light to a cloaked Spy, killing a fully charged Medic, or making the winning capture would always be rewarded.

The idea: By letting people know they’ll be rewarded every time they do this, it both teaches and incentivises intelligent play. Achievements already do this a little, but not reliably: plenty of the actions they suggest are actually pretty dumb.

hl2 2009-12-18 23-55-36-10

Unlockable Hats: These are handled separately, but again you choose which you want to unlock. When you do, only points and feats earned as that specific class count towards it, and the number required is in the thousands – twenty hours’ play for most, more for some special prestige items. You still earn points towards your weapon unlock at the same time.

The idea: A hat says “I play this class, I play it well and I play it a lot”. A Camera Beard says “I am amazing or crazy.”

Crafting: No crafting. I don’t think the system is entirely unsalvagable, and Chris Livingston does a good job of salvaging it in a much shorter post than mine. But ultimately any full crafting system hinges on finding dupes, which I think ruins the “ooh, I found something!” moment by diluting it with disappointment.

[FBP] Dirty Squirrel is looking good!_0002

Team Fortress 2 Updates In Perspective

There’s only one class left for Valve to update in Team Fortress 2, the Engineer. One by one, Valve have given each of the other eight characters a set of alternative weapons, and with each release there’s been a batch of new maps, game modes and features to play with. The amount of free stuff we’ve had since I wrote up the first details of the unlocks system at the start of 2008 is obscene.

hl2 2009-12-18 13-54-54-79 sniper

When the inventory system went down briefly before the latest update, we were temporarily stuck with TF2 much as it was in 2007. The feeling was, “Where did the game go?” Compare that to something like Halo 3, released around the same time, which has functionally barely changed and charged a total of £20 ($30) for its new maps.

One thing that hasn’t changed since that article (funny to read in light of how much has) is the spirit of the updates, framed there: “The unlockables aren’t just beefed up versions of the weapons, they balance major advantages and disadvantages to fundamentally alter the role of that class.” While Steam forumites have turned that ethos into an imperative law to be screechingly enforced by the limp fist of internet tantrums, the gist is basically universal: the unlocks are supposed to change the way the class plays in a meaningful way. How successful have they been?

revo is looking good!
Medic (April 08): decent – the Kritzkrieg is a nice idea but badly needed the large charge-rate boost it later got. The Ubersaw set the standard for awesome new melee weapon ideas with negligible drawbacks that would continue to enrage weird forumites for twenty more months without ever actually making the game less fun.

mann [cp] is looking good!
Pyro (June 08): great – the Backburner turns the Pyro into the ambush class he was always meant to be, but they also added the airblast ability to the standard flamethrower to make the trade-off more interesting. To this day there are two distinct breeds of Pyro playing properly different roles. Also, the Axtinguisher is the second best idea Valve ever stole from me (and somehow implimented in 19 days).

mr doudou  [-mini] is looking good!
Heavy (August 08): weak – the Heavy was one of the least played classes at the time, today he’s dead last. It’s not because he’s underpowered; he’s the second highest scoring class and the most deadly by a head. It’s just a very rocky experience getting those kills, because everyone seems to have an easy way of doing something horrible to you, and you don’t seem to have a way of avoiding any of it. He needed unlocks that would give him some flexibility, some get-outs or workarounds. Instead he got a gun that’s good against Scouts (rarely a problem in my experience), the admittedly neat Sandvich and some fun but impractical gloves. Needs a revisit.

necromancer is looking good!
Scout (Feb 09): mixed – the Force-A-Nature and Sandman get changed, patched and bitched about so much that I have to assume they haven’t been totally successful yet, but I can’t get a handle on them myself. People can do things with the Force that I don’t even understand – suck me towards them or one-shot me – and yet it’s utterly useless in my hands. Bonk tackles the main problem with the class, survivability against Sentries, but it’s still not useful enough that I ever want to play the class once turrets crop up.

mibeshu is looking good!
Sniper (May 09): superb – the Huntsman transformed him from a stay-at-home trouncing twat to a roaming predator, powerful but vulnerable. Its viability at medium and near range leads to so many breathsnatching life-or-death snap shot moments against guys who’d kill him in a second if they didn’t have an arrow in their face. Jarate lets him help friends take care of threats he’s not suited to, or just insult his killer before an inevitable death. I don’t really see the point of the Razorback in a world where Spies can headshot, but whatever.

Raven185 is looking good!_0001
Spy (May 09): superb – the Dead Ringer creates an Action Spy subclass the likes of which we’ve never seen, and the Cloak and Dagger lets him be the methodical, oppourtunistic infiltrator his abilities always hinted at. Some clever thought about which kind of cloaks should recharge from ammo makes the choice a tough one, and better still, situational. Now that people have cottoned onto it the Dead Ringer noise is a little too loud – it might be fun if he masked it by calling out a random line of the class he’s dressed as: suspicious, but not conclusive. The Ambassador is effective but, if you ask me, too much of an overlap with the Sniper and pretty horrible-sounding.

suce la rape is looking good! soldier
Soldier (Dec 09): great – the Direct Hit finally makes rocket combat feel like a mindgame rather than a spamgame, and the Equaliser is way better than my idea: it’s the speed increase at low health that really makes it. It’s the one weapon I love to hear people complain about, because having been that Soldier who one-shotted them, I know how terrifyingly close to death he was. Bugle: indifferent.

hl2 2009-12-22 07-50-54-70 demoman
Demoman (Dec 09): good – the sword and shield don’t make a new subclass of Demoman, they make the tenth class. His massive resilience to explosions demands proper restrategising, and I love the way the Heads mechanic makes him one of the few classes with something to lose. The more lives you take, the faster and tougher you are, so the more you want to preserve your advantage and therefore life. Charging is hilarious. I do think the sound and feel of melee combat in TF2 isn’t quite up to doing a big sword justice, though: it feels wrong for its blows to be met with a quiet crunch, for its swings to connect in much the same way as a bottle’s, and to be able to whack a Pyro three times without killing him. I also think it’s a crime not to have provided a Grenade Launcher alternative: is sucks for all the reasons regular grenades suck.

It’s an excellent track record. The mis-steps haven’t made those classes worse, just failed to improve them – a failure that’s default in other games. The way these unlocks are earned has also changed, but strangely. For the sake of the scrollbar, I’ll save what’s wrong with that and how to fix it for another post.

hl2 2009-12-18 19-54-08-38

This Week

Woke up confused on Thursday morning, after a night spent talking to a dog with a human head, dodging feathers thrown by a woman on a rocking horse in the rafters, avoiding a man with a fox snout moulded onto his mouth, exchanging glances with a badger couple, and applauding a woman who set her nipples on fire with a candle lit by an electrified cucumber – the Future Christmas party. The text from Craig that woke me up said the new Team Fortress 2 update namechecked me. !?

party

The office is nuts at the moment because we’re just finishing the shortest issue cycle of the year, so we were already exhausted when we headed up to Reading for Play with PC Gamer Live: our big free LAN party. Met a lot of names I knew from comments here, as well as Twitter and the PCG blog.

logo

The event was partly to launch our PC Gamer Top 100 site. We’ve done our Top 100 article in the new issue, now we’re gathering votes for a gigantic public one. In the mag, Deus Ex has won for the first time ever – it’d be awesome to see it win the public vote as well. Vote!

One of the main games we played there was Team Fortress 2, so Craig got in touch with Valve beforehand to see if they could lend us some cheaty weapons to hurt our readers with during the event. To their enormous credit, despite being days away from launching a major update, they did. We were able to turn ourselves into slow but nigh-invincible Medics with eternally critting bonesaws, Scout-speed Heavies with deadly boxing gloves, and Soldiers with rapid-fire rocket launchers that do one hundred times the normal damage and heal us with every hit.

The next day the update was out, and I was determined to play fair. But then Robin, who sorted these ultra-weapons out for us, showed up in one of my matches and challenged me to a ridiculous weapon duel. I’d already seen him use the rocket launcher he loaned us, so I was picturing a jousting match with that when I agreed. I hadn’t considered what Valve’s personal versions of the new Demoman weapons might be.


He’s invincible, on fire and able to kill anything in one hit – even me. I’m the Blue Soldier here, the video is taken by a Red Soldier named Traxantic, who by rights should have destroyed me many times over.

Uberduel 26_crop

Powerful and on fire I can deal with, but invincible makes things tricky. It meant the match was primarily about stopping him from getting to me, which meant buffeting him with streams of rockets as he charged. Inevitably he’d get too close, and I’d have to rocket-jump away and spray a salvo down on the map as I flew.

Uberduel 29_crop

I apologise to the many, many people killed in the crossfire, and also the people I just shot. Not everyone in the game knew who Robin worked for or guessed that my weapons were probably his doing, so some names were slung. Sorry dudes!

Uberduel 43_crop

For those that asked, I’m afraid I don’t have my ‘special’ pickaxe to show you yet – looks like there are still some teething problems with this update that ought to be ironed out first. I think it’ll be a regular pickaxe with a subtle sparkle to it and eventually a custom name, rather than a cheat-o-matic megapick. I still plan to use it to the exclusion of all else.

The rest of the week was consumed by stuff you don’t care about, but it’s been awesome and exhausting in equal measure. I think we might finally be approaching the relaxing part of Christmas, so today I do nothing that doesn’t have ‘Fortress’, ‘Commander’ or ‘Trek’ in the title.

War Were Declared

wa

So the Demoman and Solider are getting three unlockables each next week, and there’s a seventh weapon that will go to whoever kills the other one more. They racked up 2.7 million kills of each other in the first sixteen hours of this competition, and currently the Soldier’s in the lead. I was trying to remember what I hoped the Demoman and Soldier unlockables might be, a year and a half ago, so I dug it out of the archive.

Both my suggestions for replacement melee weapons encourage and reward mid-air whacking after propelling yourself at the enemy with your explosives. I strongly suspect this seventh unlockable weapon, the one that could go to either class, is a melee weapon that critical-hits if used during or shortly after a rocket- or sticky-jump: it’s niche enough not to give the class it goes to a large advantage, and it’s one of the few areas of common ground between them.

My only suggestion for the Grenade Launcher at the time was its complete and permanent removal. I still hate it, but if I had to take a guess at a viable replacement, it’d be kind of cool to have one whose charges stuck to players and walls, detonating after a short delay regardless of enemy contact. Less useful for direct hits, but more useful for injuring pursuers while retreating. Here’s the others:

Demoman

demoman-creepers

Wee Creepers: sticky-bombs that roll slowly towards nearby enemies, faster the closer they are. If an enemy’s close enough, they’ll follow him at Demoman walking-speed (very slightly slower than most classes). He can only lay four at a time, and they stop for a while if shot.

Why? Almost every situation involving these conjours an entertaining mental image.

Why not? This would allow players on your own team to screw you over by luring stickies towards you. It’s hard to say how much of a problem that would be, because to an extent it would require the enemy Demoman’s co-operation. If you’re close enough to them to lead them at walking speed, he’s probably just going to blow you up straight away.

demoman-goodstuff

The Good Stuff: alternate whiskey bottle which, if not yet smashed, temporarily adds 50 health when doing the drinking taunt – even if it takes him above his usual maximum. The boost decays over fifteen seconds, during which time the Demoman is also immune to fall-damage. The bottle always crits while the Demoman has been airbourne for more than a second.

Why? Bracing yourself for a good sticky-jump, whacking people at the end of it.

Why not… that swingy dynamite he had in the first trailer! I’m only guessing, but I would think that made it too easy to take out an Engy, all his kit and everyone defending him without actually entering line-of-sight. The swinging charge-up animation was interesting, though – I wonder if you had to stay still during that.

Soldier

soldier-lastditch

Last Ditch Digger: broken trench-shovel whose damage and attack-rate are proportional to the amount of health the Soldier has lost.

Why? Apart from encouraging unlikely comebacks, it makes rocket-jumping spade-attacks more effective. And fun things should always be made more effective.

soldier-screamer

Imploder: rocket launcher whose blasts suck people in rather than knocking them away. The actual damage radius is smaller than a standard rocket, but the ‘suck’ radius is larger than either.

Why? Lets the Soldier cluster large groups of people into a tight space for maximum damage, but sacrifices his ability to juggle enemies, keep them at bay or rocket-jump – though some wall-climbing and ceiling-sucking is doable by firing the rockets above you.

soldier-skeetshooter

Skeet Shooter: shotgun which only and always crits on airbourne opponents. Can be drawn, fired and holstered by pressing Right Mouse, whichever weapon the Soldier is currently holding.

Why? If you manage that, you deserve a crit.

Why not… grenades! Hey, good idea! It looks like Valve completely forgot to put these in TF2, despite how fun it is to get killed by speculatively flung munitions bouncing arbitrarily around corners by trigger-spamming morons! Thank God we reminded them!

Why not… heat-seeking rockets! Because aiming highly explosive projectiles to hit within a few meters of a target is still too hard! Not only should the modicum of skill required to play a Soldier successfully be removed, but it should be removed by an unlockable weapon that only the most skillful players will earn. Perfect!

Why not… a rocket-launcher that’s more powerful but has to be reloaded more often? Reloading all the damn time is the least fun part about playing as a Soldier, and dying in one hit is the least fun part about fighting one. Let’s not exacerbate either.

The rest of that post was here. War Were Declared is from, apologies for shakeycam, this.

Team Fortress 2: Classless Update Night

hl2 2009-08-16 16-47-27-23

hl2 2009-08-16 20-12-06-71

ryuken0083 is looking good!

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hl2 2009-08-16 20-49-49-04

hl2 2009-08-16 20-26-17-37

jamais vu is looking good!

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hl2 2009-08-16 16-31-25-09

[N.O.O.B] Paradise is looking good!_0000

The new TF2 update is a bigger deal than expected: today Valve suddenly announced a huge list of balance changes and fun new touches, and also that the update was, like, out. We played around with it tonight, and the highlight by far is the new set of animations for the losing team running around after the match is won. At one point I broke into the enemy supply room and found a Scout, on his knees, just sobbing.

TF2 Classless Update 03

The new mode, King of the Hill, is excellent – exactly what I wanted Arena to turn into. One cap point, quick rounds, normal respawning. More than half the matches I’ve played, both on Nucleus and the snowy new map, Viaduct, have been preposterously close. The control point sometimes changes hands two or three times after both teams’ countdowns are at zero, just because it keeps getting retaken during overtime. This, or some other glitch, is causing the histrionic announcer to declare “Overtime! OVER time! OVERTIME! Oooover time!” frantically for the duration.

TF2 Classless Update 12

Oh, and I got my Shafted achievement for the Sniper – the one for killing someone with the taunt animation for the Huntsman bow. I’d cleverly fooled myself into thinking I already had it, because I have a screenshot of me stabbing a Medic through the neck with an arrow, but of course that was during the humiliation stage so it doesn’t count. Usually my quests for the taunt kills are more epic, but the Spy’s I got while cloaked – killing an Engy while his dispenser kept me invisible – and this one was just a spur of the moment decision. Terrifying nevertheless: sacrificing that gleeful certainty of killing someone who hasn’t seen you for the ridiculous risk of making yourself vulnerable, deep in enemy ranks, to achieve the same result in a more flamboyant way. Sorry VokKz.

More scenes from update night:

TF2 Classless Update 01

TF2 Classless Update 02

TF2 Classless Update 07

TF2 Classless Update 09

TF2 Classless Update 10

TF2 Classless Update 11

Also, holy shit, I’ve been nominated for another Games Media Award. I don’t have to nag you to vote for me this time, since it’s not a public vote anymore: this year it’s decided by a ‘panel’ of a hundred odd industry judges. Evidentally one or more of this mysterious cabal nominated me, and Graham, and PC Gamer, so if you’re reading this: holy shit, thanks!

If only I knew someone on this panel so I could show them an unrepresentative selection of my work and beg for their vote. Not whoring myself is weird, I don’t feel seedy enough.

Oh, that was the other thing, I’ve been made a Games Media Award judge. Anyone want to trade votes?

Ah, that’s better.

TF2 Classless Update 04

The Team Fortress 2 Experience

tf2 pie

Needle Exchange

found himSkulch.

second time luckySchlunk.

thunkWhunk.

felledThunk.

Heavy LiftedSklunch.

uberarrowedPtow.

sandvich surgeryNom.

arrow actionFwoosh.

standing roomSnick.

erkI appear to have been punctured.

Much as I suck with it, I’m still liking The Huntsman.

The Prime Minister Of Sinister

image001 (2)

The new unlock system -whereby players are awarded a random weapon they may or may not already have every few hours – is terrible. I love it. Because very suddenly, it awarded me the Huntsman. I certainly lust more fiercely after some of the Spy unlocks, but the bow and arrow is probably the newest thing in this update. I punctured a few Scouts on Arena: Sawmill before a friendly Pyro happened to run past flaming wildly, and caught my arrow on fire. Ace! I shot a Scout with it. Ace! He caught light. Ace! He burned to death. Ace!

The Huntsman taunt involves thrusting an arrow rather nastily upside an imaginary victim’s guts. I plan to engineer a situation in which this victim is not imaginary.

It really grates not being able to work my way towards the unlocks I want, though. It undermines the main driving force unlocks bring to the game: progression. Since it came up in the comments to the last post, my ideal system would let players pick an unlock to work towards, and tell them how many points they have to score to earn it – 500 for the Huntsman, say. Then there’d be a little toggleable bar on the HUD showing their cumulative progress towards achieving it.

image002

The sneaky Spy buffs in this update make him worth spamming even without the new unlocks: dressing as an enemy Spy, now that you appear to be wearing a mask, genuinely fools most players right now. It won’t last to that extent, but it’s nice that only one of his disguises is truly fallible now. Even their health is beyond suspicion, now: he appears as injured as the person he’s pretending to be, so no more blasting team-mates for being conspicuously half-dead.

I’m looking forward to using enemy teleporters, though I’d still love 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 Spy.

It is a source of sadness to me that the Spy’s killing joke – his fatal taunt animation – is the swishy knife fencing one. I’d suggested his flicked cigarette should permanently ignite anyone it hits, because it just seems classier. It is a source of some glee, though, that his murderous fencing can be performed invisibly: I taunt-stabbed a Sentry, then its Engineer, without being revealed.

spycrab2

This, too, makes me beam. Taunt a few times with your disguise kit out.

spysniper

It’s early to judge, but I’ve taken a powerful enough dislike to Pipeline that I’m actively avoiding servers running it. It seems to have some uncircumnavigable chokepoints and the open areas don’t inspire me somehow.

image003

Arena, on the other hand, is not as hateful as I remember. I can still never forgive a system that asks anyone, ever, to sit out a round. But it’s only happened once, and so far I’m really liking the two new maps: Sawmill and Nucleus. As I said before Arena first revealed itself to be terrible, the map format fundamentally appeals to me: last man standing deathmatch, with a single time-release capture point to bring things to a head if they drag on. The server we played on at lunch permitted teams of at least 11, so no whole team had to sit out, but individual players still did, and the next time that’s me, my renewed tolerance for this nonsense will end.