|CGSociety :: Game Production Focus|
Paul Hellard, from 1 December 2007
Valve is an entertainment and technology software company located in Bellevue, WA in the USA. The company is best known for its ‘Half Life’ and ‘Counter-Strike’ series of games, which to date, have received over 100 ‘Game of the Year’ Awards, and been called nice things like “Best PC Game Ever”, selling over 20 million copies. They recently released The Orange Box, which contains the latest episode of Half-Life 2, a new game called ‘Portal’ and ‘Team Fortress 2,’ a class-based multiplayer game.
First, some details about Valve Software. “We have around 140 people, although our individual game production teams are usually around 25,” explains Jamaal Bradley, Animator at Valve. “There are no middle managers, assistants, producers, or directors. Instead, we believe in a simple mantra: Whoever designs something, builds it. As a result, our design is entirely collaborative, made up of a wide variety of disciplines, where everyone in the room can contribute to the design knowing that ultimately, they'll be responsible for implementing it.
As a result, we look for highly self-motivated production folks who care about the product as a whole, and are able to prioritize and choose their own constraints, so they can work effectively when someone isn't there to manage them. We've hired veterans from places like Blizzard, Pixar, WETA, Sony Imageworks, ILM, Blue Sky, and DNA. Conversely, we've picked up motivated youngsters who've built interesting and innovative games, from FPS mods to college projects. We hire for the long term, not to fill some number of production slots.”
|Team Fortress 2 Background|
Released in 1996, the original game ''Team Fortress'' was a team-based multiplayer ''Quake'' mod developed by three Australian college students. ''Team Fortress'' popularized the notion of class-based multiplayer gaming, in which each player chooses to adopt an explicit role, usually defined by unique weapons and abilities.
Since it was a mod developed by a small team of students, the original ''Team Fortress'' had no real art direction beyond the look defined by ''Quake''. In 1998, the ''Team Fortress'' mod team was hired by Valve and produced the next incarnation of the franchise in the form of ''Team Fortress Classic'' using the technology of the ''Half-Life'' engine. Again, the team chose a modern realistic military style, but combined it with a saturated cartoon color scheme.
''Team Fortress Classic'' was built on a very quick schedule in just three months, so the team didn't have the time to try out alternative visual approaches, but that would all change with the development of ''Team Fortress 2''.
The initial art direction of ''Team Fortress 2'' again focused on a realistic contemporary military style, with all of the usual camouflage gear, tactical helmets, combat boots and hardcore weapon detail. After play testing the game, however, the team came to a crucial realization: the gameplay and art direction were fighting each other. Some of the most basic multiplayer problems, like visually identifying other players against the scenery, were failing.
In the real world, soldiers do everything they can to avoid being seen but, in multiplayer games, this can ruin the fun. Real world soldiers also wear uniforms, which tend to make them all look alike. Again, this conflicted with the core gameplay of ''Team Fortress 2'', which has nine distinct character classes. It is critical for players to be able to tell the classes apart at a glance, even in a darkly lit environment or at such a great distance that they end up just an inch tall on the screen.
|Beyond the visual differentiation of the classes, the ''Team Fortress'' franchise features a number of gameplay elements that make no sense at all in the realistic military world. For instance the medic class can shoot a healing beam into another player in order to boost the other player’s health. Right off the bat, a weapon that a player shoots at his teammates is a challenge for the player wielding it to understand. |
Then there are surrounding problems, like enemies needing to understand that the guy they're shooting at, is being healed by the medic via his healing beam. There weren't enough generally recognizable clichés that the team could leverage in the realistic military world to help players understand what they were looking at in these cases.