[Insert ordinary praise for the game and a slow introduction here]
Have you listened to the developer commentary of TF2? As you’d expect from Valve, they’re clever and give you a pretty thorough look behind the curtains of the game. Unfortunately, some of it is out of date by now, and only serves as a reminder of earlier times. Times without paraphernalia better suited for games like Men of War.
Aside from featuring Hydro, a map I haven’t played in years, the commentary usually reflects exactly how I want a game to be designed. So let me quote the art lead of TF2, Moby Francke:
Having decided on a stylized art direction, we experimented with a variety of styles before settling on the example of J.C. Leyendecker, an enormously popular illustrator of the early 1900s. Leyendecker’s rendering of clothing and material provided a great example of how to add detail to a character while keeping the clean, sharp silhouette shapes that were key to our class identification. We used normal maps to craft folds of clothing, which provided a fine level of detail when seen up close, without detracting from color values meant to draw the player’s eyes to the all-important weaponry.
One of the best features of TF2 stems from this: thanks to the art style, everything happening on the battlefield is always extremely clear. You never mistake a Heavy for a Scout, even if they’re not moving. This extended to the weaponry – you wouldn’t confuse a bat for a pistol.
Yeah, or so it used to be.
It was the class updates which first started to make the game messy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a supporter of the updates, and wouldn’t have played on if it weren’t for those. But even those were flawed. Let’s examine a few cases.
The spy’s primary – if you can call it that – weapon is the revolver; its replacement is the ambassador. While not visually identical to the revolver, it’s darned near similar, and this difference will usually be completely missed in the heat of battle. Fortunately, the way the spy works, this shouldn’t change the course of the game too much.
The spy also has another revolver called the big kill. This one is identical in operation to the default revolver, but blurs the visual lines between the ambassador and the revolver even more. Which one of the three was the headshotting one again?
Her (let’s presume this) default melee weapon is the fire axe. The replacement for it is the axtinguisher. While it doesn’t look like a flamethrower, it does look very similar to the default axe. The effect, of course, is profound, because many players will completely change their playstyles to fit the axtinguisher. The visual similarity isn’t even main problem, as you cannot see what the enemy is wielding while he’s setting you on fire. Is he going to whip out the axtinguisher next? Is he going to continue firing?
And then there’s the homewrecker. Contrary to the big kill of the spy and lugermorph of the engineer and scout, the reskinned third weapon does act differently from the other two, and again, the playing style of this pyro may change accordingly. At least the visual style is different from the two axes.
All this amounts to one thing: even if I usually know who I’m fighting, I don’t actually know who I’m fighting. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a spy with a retro Casio watch or an even more retro Breguet watch?
Unfortunately, the deluge of weapons only form a part of the problem. You’ll notice that I haven’t actually talked about hats yet. Let’s.
The reason Valve probably think they can get away with adding LVI of the damned things is that they don’t do anything in the game. The problem in that reasoning is that most of the game doesn’t actually happen in the game, it happens in my brain. For my brain, the hats have a substantial effect. The clean and clear models Francke talked about got a big kick in the cock as 1) some of the hats can be worn by all classes and 2) they almost completely envelop one of the extremities of the model. The head is normally the part of the body we look at to recognise someone, and hence we do it automatically in the game as well.
All this in conjunction with making the game simply more overflowing with unnecessary detail is, for me, starting to make the game unplayable for me. Lots has been said about how pointless or asinine the hats are. What’s saddest about the whole ordeal is that they affect the game. You cannot opt out of it, because you can’t see your own model anyway. Playing on vanilla servers isn’t an option either, because they’re fucking *vanilla,* and that’s boring.
And again, it’s cheap. It’s immediately obvious that Valve are out of ideas to keep the game fresh if they’re telling their employees to concentrate on goddamned hats.
This is, of course, a potential problem with all multiplayer worlds. If they’re not static, i.e. there aren’t any updates or content addons, then an individual does not have any control over whether the current iteration works for them or not. MMOs are especially susceptible to this drift, and TF2 is looking more like an MMO with every update.
I know, I shouldn’t be against change. It’s good when developers try out new stuff. I’ve already played it enough and if I don’t like it there are always other games to play, books to read, wines to drink. And yet I miss it. Hence this eulogy, commemorating the better days of the game. Hats off to those days.