Team Fortress 2 Beta Impressions
When my obsession with the original Quake was at its peak my favorite mod for the game was Team Fortress. Made primarily by a trio of Australians, the mod did what all great games do; create a new experience that is also fun to play. Character classes combined with team play made such an impression on me I sent in a donation to the original Team Fortress team (you can see my name among the "supporters" on the archived Team Fortress mod site at http://www.planetfortress.com/teamfortress/supporters.html). When word came that Valve Software had purchased the Team Fortress mod and brought the team to Valve's Seattle offices it validated the notion of creating a solid mod to launch a game development career.
Near the end of Valve's development of the original Half-Life game, they announced plans to release Team Fortress 2, a stand alone game that was designed as a step up from the original game in terms of graphics and features (Valve released the free mod Team Fortress Classic that was basically a port of the original Quake mod with Half-Life's graphical basis). At E3 in 1999 we saw a demo of Team Fortress 2, with character models that resembled U.S. Army soldiers and facial animation that was a huge step up from Half-Life's original voice animation features.
Until recently Valve has not been terribly open about the development of their games. Half-Life 2 was created in near secrecy until its debut at E3 2003. Team Fortress 2 was also created in near secrecy as well. At one point Valve wanted to put in a Commander role, in which a player would command first person troops in a kind of RTS setting, but Valve couldn't make that concept work. So instead of making a game with a ton of new features, Valve decided to refine what was already present in the original Team Fortress mod. They added classes and created some new gameplay conditions, but mostly they kept what worked in the original mod.
The result is the "new" Team Fortress 2 which is one of the three new games included in the five-game Orange Box collection that will be released by Valve next week for the PC and Xbox 360 (and for the PS3 a few weeks later). PC owners have been able to play a pre-release version of Team Fortress 2 for a couple of weeks now and our initial impressions are that the game is still an addictive experience.