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Over the last week we've taken you through some of our thinking around maps, weapons and items. We thought you might find it interesting if we walked you through the process we use to ship an update to TF2.
There we go, update shipped.
Three weeks ago, we introduced an item import tool that lets item creators locally verify that their items meet a set of technical and performance standards. This helps item creators ensure that anything they create is more likely to be game-ready; and it also helps the community as a whole, by giving the TF2 team more time to devote to other aspects of the game.
Since we released the tool, this verification process (which grants items a “Gold Star”) has led to over 900 Gold Star Workshop submissions. We've been blown away by the speed and quality of the TF2 community's response.
Thanks to this verification system, we've been able to select a whopping 64 Gold Star items for this coming update. But how do we decide which to ship? Below, we've run this classy-looking Medic coat through a set of questions we ask when reviewing submissions. We hope this will give item creators and everyone voting in the Workshop a bit more insight into our decision-making process.
And remember: much like the game itself, the import tool is a work in progress. If you're a Workshop author and want to get advance notice of changes or to request support for new features, make sure to sign up for the brand-new TF Workshop/import tool mailing list.
*Note: We haven't seen Episode VII yet.
One of our goals as we continue to work on Team Fortress is to support a wide variety of play styles. In order to achieve that, it's been vitally important that the weapons in the game are fun not just to use, but to play against. We want players on both the winning and losing sides of an engagement to feel like their skill is being rewarded. In other words, when someone beats you, it's because they played better, either through pure combat skill, or through their strategic choices in selecting their loadout. Consequently, we are always reviewing both real world player sessions and player feedback to hunt down items that aren't meeting this standard.
We'll be tweaking the stats on dozens of weapons in this next update—but we thought you might find it interesting if we walked you through the decision-making process on a select few.
To start with, let's look at the "banner" items for the Soldier. The most popular of these by far is The Buff Banner, which provides an offensive buff enabling nearby teammates to do additional burst damage. Conversely, The Battalion's Backup, another Soldier "banner" item, is barely ever equipped. The Backup's owner-equip rate is well below what we'd consider healthy, with less than 15% of players who own it ever equipping it. If this data wasn't enough, the feedback we've gotten from the Backup's owners easily corroborates the lack of interest.
Clearly, we needed to bring The Battalion's Backup up to parity with the usefulness of The Buff Banner. Previously, The Battalion's Backup rewarded players for taking additional damage, making it a frustratingly high-risk item. We found that most Soldiers would die well before they were able to build a full charge. When the next update ships, The Battalion's Backup builds up its charge by dealing damage rather than receiving it and provides additional damage resistance while active.
Let's look at another example with the opposite problem: The Dead Ringer. At roughly 80%, the equip rate for the Dead Ringer is staggeringly high. Given the many other items available in this category, this means that players feel they don't have any other viable option but choosing the Dead Ringer. We've gotten emails from players who describe the item as frustrating to fight against, requiring too little skill from the Spies and too much from their opponents.
In our next update, the Dead Ringer will work generally the same way it always has, letting Spies feign death to escape from damage that would have otherwise killed them. However, now any damage the Spy takes after his "death" will decrease the maximum length of time he can spend cloaked. This gives any players chasing the Spy more of an opportunity to catch up and deal a real finishing blow, while also requiring more skill from any Spy trying to make his way to actual safety.
Finally, we'd like to talk about item sets. Historically, item sets have been thematically consistent sets of items that provide a unique gameplay effect when worn together. Unfortunately, these gameplay effects had two negative effects. For one, they limited player choice, making players feel like they would be underpowered if not wearing the complete set. For another, it was a balancing nightmare. An individual item that might be balanced as part of a set could feel underpowered (or overpowered) on its own.
One of the main goals of introducing a new weapon is to give players more choices that will help them explore the game in fun new ways. Set bonuses had the opposite effect, making many players feel constrained in their choices.
Set bonuses also required players to have full knowledge of other players' loadouts, including currently "invisible" items like melee-slot weapons. For example, the Croc-o-Style Kit set bonus gives any Sniper equipping it immunity to headshots. But there was no way for a Sniper to know whether a targeted Sniper had the bonus simply by looking. And this wasn't an isolated problem. Similar issues cropped up around the Scout's Milkman set bonus (extra health) and the Demo's Expert's Ordnance set bonus (extra fire resistance).
For all of these reasons, as part of this next update, we've decided to change the way item set bonuses work. Players have traded for, purchased, and crafted these items, many in order to complete the sets and get these bonuses, and we're not abandoning the bonuses outright. Instead, we've moved the gameplay bonuses to specific items within the sets, and introduced new bonuses to these sets that won't affect gameplay balance.
We look at this as an ongoing process. We want to provide more choices, more variety, and more clarity—all of which will hopefully result in a game that's even more fun. But more importantly, we want the TF2 community to feel as invested in this as we are.
So please, let us know what you think.
If you'd rather not get spoiled on whether or not there's an update coming soon, you'd better not read the rest of this sentence, and you also might want to skip directly to the last paragraph of this post. Then also don't read it, because SPOILER: This post is allllllll about an upcoming update.
First off: this update is going to have a list of patch notes longer than a stalemate on Hydro. Rather than just dropping all of that in your lap with no explanation, we figured we'd spend a few blog posts taking you through some of the soon-to-be-released update content, so you'd get an idea of the process behind some of the changes and additions we're making. Let’s start with maps.
TF2 has been evolving since the day we released it back in 2007. Unfortunately, as players' tactics and abilities have grown, so have the bugs and exploits in some of the maps. For example, since Badwater shipped in The Heavy Update, TF2 has added more than 140 weapons to the game, some of which introduced new capabilities: sentry jumping, rocket jumping with no health cost, the ability to pick up and move your buildings. All of these are just a fraction of the many ways players can now turn maps like Badwater upside down.
It didn't take long before clever players discovered how to use sentry jumping to build on roofs, Jumpers to move quickly behind enemy lines and spawn camp, and sneakily place buildings inside of their spawns. While we love players coming up with new and inventive ways to win, let's face it: It's never fun to be gunned down from above and behind.
And Badwater is just one of the maps with fixes in this update. In fact, the majority of maps in TF2 have gone through the same process. By eliminating these exploits and bugs, players can once again feel like they understand threats and the dangers presented in combat spaces.
Secondly: Sure, it’s great to fix the old maps, but we’re also adding two NEW community-created maps by Ian Cuslidge that, and here's another spoiler warning, are fricking awesome. Introducing two all-new Capture Point maps: Process and Standin. Beyond a great polish, both of these maps offer unique and exciting gameplay; Process with its five streamlined Capture Points and Standin with its triple Cap Point free-for-all.
These maps were selected by the TF2 team in part for their straightforward and intuitive layouts, and in part because they were a hell of a lot of fun to play. These CP maps were designed with little visual noise, were easy to understand and fun to navigate through. If you're a community map maker and want to see us ship your map, here's another spoiler on how to do that: Make it better than these.
Since the Steam Workshop launched in October of 2011, over 1,200 items created by the TF2 and now the DOTA community have been made available for sale. That's added up to a whopping $10 million in royalties paid to item creators.
The thing is, nobody creates a TF2 item in a vacuum. Chances are if you've made something for the Workshop, you've probably gotten some amount of help and feedback from various toolmakers, communities and mentors. A lot of these resources have proven to be immensely valuable to item creators. We'd like to give you a chance to show them just how valuable.
What if we were to tell you that you can now compensate the service providers that've helped you by giving them a percentage of the sales from your in-game item? And then what if we were to notice you walking quickly away from us after we said that? So what if we ran after you and told you hold on, you didn't hear the important part: You'll get to compensate those service providers without any actual money coming out of your own pocket. That's right: The contribution will be made from a set percentage that is redirected from Valve to the service provider, not taken from your royalty.
Starting today, item creators like yourself can leaf through a wide variety of communities, toolmakers and individuals, and decide who most deserves a percentage of your item sales (again, not your percentage). Those who'll benefit are completely up to you—from forums to programs to tutorial writers. You can divide the money between as many or as few benefactors as you'd like.
If you already have an item in the Team Fortress 2 Workshop, you can add and set Service Allowances by visiting the page for your item in the Workshop. So get out there and pay it forward like Kevin Spacey did in that movie, Superman Returns, when he gave Superman all that kryptonite, and then Superman paid it forward into space.