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Critical Essay Series: Team Fortress 2 (Part 1)

This is a special two part entry in the Critical Essay Series. In this part (Part 1) we examine how the design decisions in Team Fortress 2 have made it an online multiplayer FPS that everyone can play, from the loyal obsessive to the casual observer.

Sumantra Lahiri, Blogger

November 1, 2009

6 Min Read

When playing any multiplayer FPS there are always two types of people, those who are getting dominated and those who are doing the dominating. If you have ever played a game like Halo or Counter Strike you know if you are the guy jumping off the ledge with your rocket launcher taking out three players before you even hit the ground or the poor soul at the other end of that onslaught waiting for the respawn timer to wind down so you can repeat the process all over again.    

For that reason, those who are not savants at online multiplayer games, but really enjoy the experience of online play are left with one of two options. Either sacrificing precious hours of your life to master a specific game or become a moving target to the before mentioned fanatical zealot. This is why most people are discouraged to even venture into the online community of most games. After all, who wants to be on the other end of a “killtacular” in Halo? So while the, “hardcore” have their Halos and Call of Dutys of the world, the rest of us have Team Fortress 2.  

Yet why is Team Fortress 2 so different then all of the other multiplayer shooters out there? Other then aesthetics, Team Fortress 2 looks to be just like all the other multiplayer shooters with a rabid/loyal fanbase and designed around performance based perks. However, the answer lies in how Valve approaches the multiplayer aspect of an FPS by making sure everyone has a purpose.  

What Valve has done in creating Team Fortress 2 is they had stepped back from conventional game designs of other multiplayer FPSs and reevaluated what they thought were essential ingredients in making an enjoyable online multiplayer FPS that everyone could be a part of.  The answer that Valve came up with is to design an online FPS that is accessible to all players, but at the same time not sacrificing the depth that makes these types of games worth while.   

One of the game design elements that makes Team Fortress 2 more accessible to people is the way that each class of character plays in the game. For those of you who are not as skilled in FPSs, there are many supportive roles within the game that still make you a critical part of your team. Roles like the Medic and the Engineer make the game very accessible to players who do not necessarily want to be on the front lines, but can still be a part of their team’s success. In fact many would say in Team Fortress 2, Medics and Engineers are vital and if not the difference makers in close games. Yet the genius here is not the idea of having different classes that are accessible to all kinds of players, but how Valve has approached the way classes are played in the game. 

Instead of trying to make the game more complicated, it stripped the game down and made it simpler. I know many of you who love online multiplayer FPSs believe that more “stuff” makes a better game, but in this case Valve showed that by making the classes do only a specific number of tasks rather them being a “Jack-of-All-Trades” made it more accessible without sacrificing depth which veteran players look for.  This can be seen in the way different classes play and interact with each other.   

A good example of this would be the class of the Medic.  In the game the Medic plays a vital role in the team’s success in healing team members and using ubers when to help an offensive minded player break through enemy lines.  Every “good” Soldier or a Heavy Weapons Guy understands that you need the Medic to get the most out of your class and since the Medic has a very specific job in the game, new or less skilled FPS players will be able to play with this class without feeling overwhelmed. Also, since the Medic is necessary for a team’s victory, the class plays a very vital role in each and every game.  However, the game’s design elements are not only what makes this game approachable to the masses, but the look of the game really adds to this idea as well. 

When Valve first showcased this game many E3s ago, it had a very realistic and gritty look that harkened back to the original Team Fortress on PC.  Valve knew very well that they had captured the interest of those who had played Team Fortress Classic and Counter Strike with their initial “realistic” take. Yet they clearly wanted to gain a wider audience of players. Valve was clearly looking at the bigger picture by attracting those who would not usually be interested in a “hardcore” online multiplayer FPS.  

So with Valve deciding to go with the idea of a more classic Warner Bros. cartoon aesthetic, many who had never been interested in an online multiplayer FPS were suddenly intrigued.  The “Roadrunner-esque” look made the game more inviting and less intimidating to newer players, plus this appeases the more experienced players for bringing more players into the fray as well.  Not only that but the different character designs makes it easier to distinguish from the different classes, which veteran players will be able to use different tactical strategies by easily determining what kind of class they are facing in the game. Regardless of what you thought of the game’s initial aesthetics, I think it is safe to say that the current look makes the game feel approachable to new players, yet at the same time adding depth for those who play on a regular basis.              

Game developers should take notes on how Valve had developed Team Fortress 2 as a multiplayer online FPS. Valve has proved that sometimes the simplest design choices are the most solid.

 [Team Fortress 2 is a multiplayer PC game developed by Valve Software and is available on the downloadable distribution service Steam.] 

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