Opening The Orange Box: Team Fortress 2

Valve’s devotion to its customers, their unheard of desire to ensure that at every turn we are inescapably pleased with their product, is no more noticeable than with Team Fortress 2. Like doting mothers, they’ve been keeping tabs on how we play. Vast mountains of data stored in underground bunkers keep records of our every action - that time you were sniped on top of the bridge in 2fort? It’s in there. And all in the name of improving the thing more and more.

“Most of the time the stats tend to confirm things we already know,” explains Robin Walker, lead developer on Team Fortress 2, “but there are cases where our assumptions are incorrect, like players using one area more than another. Or the areas that are most lethal. We’re trying to find flow, where players are dying, where players spend most of their time, and where the areas of contention are. It helps us understand the areas that have the most traffic, and where we should be a little more careful with performance. We need to make sure that the areas where most of the combat’s happening is where we hold back on the amount of detail, so that we can leave as much of the frame rate free for the combat.”

Valve recently released many of these stats, purely as a point of interest for the players. Deathmaps showed hotspots - areas in which more people were dying - while other stats revealed which classes were more popular. Oddly, on certain supposedly symmetrical maps the Blue team seemed to be victorious more often...

“We’re not sure about that one yet,” offers Walker. “The tricky thing about stats is that you need to make sure they’re 100 percent foolproof before you run off and start changing the game. There are actually a couple of bugs in those stats that we know of already and that we’re going to fix. The weighting towards the Blue team is really interesting - you could theorise that it’s down to Blue being the first team on the selection screen, so on average more people are selecting Blue, meaning that the Blue team has slightly more players on it than the Red team. We really want to dig into the stats a lot more and see that they’re correct before we start tuning. Obviously if it’s something that’s just a result of human nature then maybe we shouldn’t be tuning it at all - it’s a tricky balance.”

Steve Hogarty

Steve Hogarty is a London-based freelance journalist covering games and technology. His bylines have appeared in publications including GamesRadar, The Independent, Yahoo, VICE, Eurogamer, and more. He is also the co-host of the pocast, Regular Features.