TF2: A journey spanning over 13 years

The cover art of the game. The character

Valve Corporation/Wikipedia

The cover art of the game. The character “Heavy” is posing in the center.

In a world where new games can’t maintain popularity weeks after release (I’m looking at you, fallguys), a game lasting for 13+ years is exceptional, but a game that lasts for over 13+ years with no major updates since 2017 (and since then has suffered a bot crisis, an economic depression, complete leak of the game’s code, and much more) still is in the top 10 most played games on steam at all times.

In fact, with the “Scream Fortress” (100% community-made, small seasonal) update, Team Fortress 2 ( referred to as TF2) has broken it’s all time player counts in the history of the game, peaking at over 130000 players at one given time. But what keeps the game so alive after all this time and why should you check it out? Well to know that, we must analyze the history of this game and what the game itself is.

Valve corporation started the Team Fortress series after buying the rights to a “mod” of the game Half Life. They developed the game Team Fortress, a game where nine classes fight each other on various maps. After this, Valve decided to create another Team Fortress game, but it spent over 9 years in what is called “development hell” (a term used when no one knows what is going on with a game). The game was originally slated to be a World War 2-esque shooter, bent on realism, but these ideas were scrapped later on in development to make a more cartoony videogame, filled with humor and satire, while keeping in the strong, raw gameplay of it’s scrapped predecessor, full of features such as rocket jumping, disguising and cloaking, double jumping, and much much more. These along with hundreds of weapons and playstyles allows for hours upon hours of countless and varied gameplay among many well-planned and thought out maps made by developers and community members alike. Some examples of such playstyles are “Trolldier” (a style in which you rocket jump across the map to whack people with a shovel), Demoknight (A playstyle in which you take out the explosive weapons of the Demoman class and instead use shields and swords to charge and attack players on the map).

TF2 is a game that takes place in a late 60s, early 70s world, where the world is controlled by two brothers secretly fighting each other to a standstill over desolate land that contains gravel in New Mexico with an atmosphere of extreme capitalism dominating human life. However a main contention of difference is the scientific advancement of society that had far outpaced ours with technology such as teleporters and mediguns.

The nine main characters (or mercenaries) are hired to fight for each of the brothers.  These mercenaries are The Scout (a fast-running, trash-talking Bostonian), The Pyro (A muffled psychopath who sees the world as a fairytale while burning everything), The Soldier (an patriotic American soldier who is xenophobic and mostly illiterate and has never been in the military), The Heavy (a big Russian family man of few words and also names and kisses his guns), The Demoman (a Scottish drunkard of African descent who loves explosives), The Engineer (a Texan good ‘ol boy who has 11 PHDs in building deadly contraptions), The Medic (a sadistic German doctor who has lost his medical license and cheated the Devil by grafting souls), The Sniper (an Australian “professional” who’s one of the more saner ones), and The Spy (a snobbish French spy agent who is constantly smoking and can disguise as other team members).

However, the brothers themselves don’t know the person controlling what’s going on is working for both sides, and that character’s name is the Administrator and her trusty assistant, Ms.Pauling, who are in turn aided by Saxton Hale, a hippie-hating, burly man with his chest hair the shape of Australia and his insatiable need to fight animals until they are extinct, owner of England, and the CEO of MannCo. The administrator’s main goals are never truly mentioned, but it seems to do with getting a hold of a rare metal called Australium, which grants intelligence and youth to those who wield it. The world of TF2 is mostly explored through the various media produced by Valve, such as the Meet the Team shorts, which were used to advertise the game and a series of online comic books. All of this helps to create a world rich in satire and over-the-top comedy that have never been replicated.

The characters in game are voiced by some truly amazing VA’s as they can be seen when using lines such as “put dispenser here” (commonly known as the pootis spencer) and various line such as the domination lines of spy such as mocking the Engineer (one of the characters) with a thick French imitation of a southern accent, “Why don’t we just give up pardner?” In fact, the VA for the Scout still regularly voices lines for the Scout and the community’s request in order to keep a sense of relevance in the community.

The community

But perhaps the main reason for this game to be anywhere near as popular as it was is its community. Most updates after its release in 2007 were partly–if not mostly–community made. Most weapons, cosmetics, and items in the game are made in the STEAM workshop. Imagine a game where people are willing to make your own products for you and then buy the same products they just made. 

But the love of the community can be seen in another form of media, Youtube. Throughout Youtube, the animation/sandbox program know as “GMOD” and a film program known as “Source Filmmaker” (or SFM for short) were used to create adventures and funny animations for these characters to exist and mess around in, the most recent example being “ Heavy is Dead”, a nonsensical short about why one of the characters died and how they figure out who the killer is, reaching close to 12 million views.

The love of the community can also be seen in remembering key figures of the community such as when the voice actor for the Soldier, (an illiterate, proud American soldier who has actually never been in the military and seems to suffer extreme schizophrenia and strong xenophobic tendencies) died due to complications from Covid. A statue was erected in all official Valve maps and they return every May to commemorate the VA. Another prominent example is the complete reanimation of “Team Fabulous 2” (A video that has over 25 million views) in honor of its creator kitty0706, who died of cancer in 2015. The community remade the video this year to critical acclaim in the community, a way to mourn while enjoying the joy this creator brought to the community.

But on a more serious note, many of the community have also taken it upon themselves to do what the developers haven’t done for the game: create their own updates and cosmetics and servers to give players something new to do every time they come. In fact, one member of the community I talked with stated that projects like creators.tf “have recaptured the magic I felt when I was a new player.”

While I have only scratched the surface of this game and its amazing journey and community, the only way to experience this 13+ year journey is through playing the game itself. So no matter whether you are a seasoned veteran, a community figure, or a new player looking to join for the first time, there is always something to do in the sun blasted Badlands of New Mexico.