Outside the Box

Outside the Box
Storming the Fortress

Nathan Meunier | 20 Jan 2009 11:53
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"The response [to TF2] has been great, both in terms of customers' direct feedback to us and in terms of sales of the game," says Walker. "Early on, I think there was some concern by customers as to what the scope of our ongoing work was to be, but at this point I think they understand what we're doing and why we're doing it."

Feedback is the key, as it's the players themselves that have been one of the major driving forces behind the continuous improvements implemented in the game.

The Push from Players
Walker and his team have found many players enjoy participating in the ongoing development of the game. They spend a lot of time putting together ideas, discussing them in forums and sending them to the developers directly. This feedback has had a massive impact on Valve's ongoing work. "Pretty much every day someone on the TF2 team brings up something from a player that we spend some time discussing," he notes.

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"There are many large-scale course corrections that have been heavily influenced by player feedback," says Walker. "Players have driven our entire approach to designing achievements, the way we tie unlockables to those achievements and the design of those new weapons themselves. The choices we made within the Medic and Heavy updates were very much the result of the ways that players have used that combination of classes within the game. The addition of the payload game mode came from players requesting an old Team Fortress Classic map called Hunted, and describing what they did and didn't like in that map. None of this is really that unexpected, though, because our internal expectation is that we are to be driven by the players themselves."

The team interacts with players in the TF2 community as frequently as possible by playing regularly on public servers, participating in tournaments, reading forums and blog posts and responding to emails. More recently, it called upon the community to brainstorm development ideas for the Heavy class update. The response was very positive, and it's something the team is likely to explore again in the future.

Coming Down the Pike
At first, each of the three class updates launched in two-month intervals, but things slowed down after the summer when some of the TF2 development team members were tapped to wrap up the competitive multiplayer component of Valve's zombie-centric shooter Left 4 Dead. They applied lessons learned from the ongoing development of TF2 to Left 4 Dead and have even brought back some ideas from the latter to potentially implement in TF2.

With Left 4 Dead now launched, the team is once again turning its attention to future TF2 updates. The Scout is the next class slated for the special treatment, and Walker expects the update will be available early this year. Additionally, the team is juggling a number of side projects at the moment, including finally bringing a year's worth of the downloadable content and upgrades to the Xbox 360 version of the game. A new Payload map is in the works, more community maps are on the way and the team will soon unveil a very different new game mode.

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