Wednesday, April 4

Defining Class: Team Fortress 2

Team Fortress was a first-person-shooter mod for the original Half-Life over 10 years ago. The game enjoyed much popularity and sucess, and apparently, still does. But with a second Half-Life already well established, Valve is re-creating Team Fortress for a whole new generation of gamers and PCs. GameInformer online recently ran a great three-part series of articles on Team Fortress 2. The Valve team first spoke to GI about Team Fortress Classic; the team seemed rather disappointed with the game's design. Their primary criticism (of their own game. It is important to look at one's past work objectively) was that there was not a clear definition between the player classes. The abilities and values of each class was of marginal significance. And at times, a class's intended skills could be outperformed by a different class altogether. Similar to the employment of categorization by WarioWare: Smooth Moves, Valve has approached Team Fortress 2 with a focus on class definition and differentiation.
Classes left to right: Pyro, Engineer, Sniper, Spy, Heavy, Demoman, Medic, Scout, Soldier

Every class is designed play differently from another. Robin Walker was a co-creator of Team Fortress Classic and is now a designer on TF2. Walker said the following of class differentiation.
With TF2 I think we’ve been much better about making sure everyone has those weaknesses. As a Soldier you really worry when that Scout starts jumping around you and you’re trying to hit him with your rocket launcher. I think we’ve done a better job through hundreds of small changes of ensuring that everyone has those weaknesses so that no matter what class you are, you have something to fear. You have this Achilles heel that you have to keep watching for, and making sure your core nemesis hasn’t shown up in some way. . . .We don’t internally think of it as rock-paper-scissors, we’re making sure that each class has well defined strengths and weaknesses, and hopefully they’re exposed well at every sort of level.
As Walker explains, the balancing is not so much rock-paper-scissors as it is a well-defined set of weakness and strengths. I don't believe in comparison, I like things to be appreciated based on their own merits. Even so, each class is best at one trait, and worst at something else. The Heavy will have hard time actually hitting the Scout, for example, whereas the Scout will be susceptible to the Pyro. The reasons for this are not so much class specific, as they are in ability. The Heavy aims slowly, the Scout moves fast, the Pyro has a wide range of fire (literally!). Valve is working very hard at creating an accute and fair balance. In addition, each class is marked at the selection screen as either offensive, defensive, or support. This is primarily for noobs, it seems, but the added "classification" is a most welcome feature. Balance in general is sensitive, but I feel even the most creative of players will have a hard time offsetting it. This is because of Valve's dedication towards clearly marking the territory that each class can make claim to.
Prepare. To Get. PWN3D.

Aside from ability, the other aspect of class differentation is graphical. It goes without saying that each class is distinct in their physical attributes. Walker explains more:
I should be able to, as a new player, look at the Scout and see that he’s weaker relatively to the Heavy Weapons Guy, just looking at him, clearly, that guy is much tougher and can take a heap more damage. Besides, his gun tells me something too. Everything about the game has to tell the player about those strengths and weaknesses.
Each class has a distinct height and apparent weight, clothing style and weapons loadout. Each class is even uniquely animated. It will be impossible to see other players with out immediately knowing the ability and limitations of their class, and whether or not to turn-tail and run. The flip side is that teammates will also know a classes specific ability, and will be able to formulate tactics on the fly. The graphics in Team Fortress 2 are completely integrated with the gameplay. Aside from the awesome art style, the characters and their skills are immediately announced with a quick glance. Also, the teamwork that will arise from this game will be extrordinarily interesting. People are creative, they will most certainly discover unique and effective class combinations with which to battle. See you in the Dustbowl (I'll be the one by whom you just got Sniped)!
Its going to be scary as heck to turn the corner into this behemoth.

Welcome to Class
What is the purpose of defining each class so distinctly?
How does the approach differ from most other multiplayer first-person-shooters?
-Do you think this approach is better than others?
What class will you be?

GameInformer Articles
Team Fortress 2: History
Team Fortress 2: Evolution
Team Fortress 2: Game Test

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