Valve's Robin Walker on New Team Fortress 2 Content, Future Maps, and Awesomeball

In the midst of barroom chaos during Valve's party in downtown San Francisco last night, I pulled Team Fortress 2 director Robin Walker aside for a short impromptu chat.

Highlights? How about a TF2 map with a moving fortress? And don't miss his comments on the Shacker-created map CP_Redstone.

Shack: How did you approach the balancing of the new weapons?

Robin Walker: So the same way classes have pros and cons and strengths and weaknesses, you just adopt that here. We took that same approach with items, where items have those trade-offs. So the Blutsauger, you know, you add 3 health every time you hit an opponent, which is great if you're fleeing and you wanna keep yourself alive, but it never critical hits, and any medic who plays is gonna tell you that a lot of your kills with the Syringe Gun come from those critical hits, so there's this trade-off to make there. But we really wanted that kind of trade-off, the same trade-off you make when you choose a class, to be there when you're choosing an item.

Shack: My first reaction was to worry about how this might change the core game. Have you guys been play-testing this like crazy?

Robin Walker: We play-test this a lot. It's funny, this a lot easier of a problem than balancing the classes. Because you've got a fairly balanced case with the classes right now, and we can add an item and test, and see what changes. Whereas a year ago, when we were testing nine classes all at the same time, we had a ton of balls in the air. It was really hard.

Shack: Does the staggered release have anything to do with the issue of balancing?

Robin Walker: The staggered release is more actually--that's how fast we can get things done. This [first release] needed a lot of work in the backend. We have persistent data storage on the Steam backend now for what items you've unlocked--your weapon inventory is going to show up on your Steam profile, all that kind of stuff. So there was a lot of backend work for this that we're not going to have to do as we go forward, so we envision the next ones being done a lot faster than this.

Shack: Is it your priority now to finish up the rest of the class weapons?

Robin Walker: We're still pushing on new maps as well, because obviously map-makers aren't terribly involved in this stuff, but our programmers are crushing away on the big new achievements. Aiming for around 35 new achievements for each class, and the three unlockables. We're also going to be looking at ways that players can get items other than achievement unlocking. We really want everyone to sort of have that fun of choosing that trade-off, and obviously that gets more interesting as you get more items and so on.

And of course, as always, we'll be seeing how the community reacts to these. That's another reason why we like doing staggered releases, why we ship as fast as we can get done, because that way we learn as we go, instead of building all these achievements at once and then finding out that our entire achievement design philosophy is broken.

Shack: Before I forget, I couldn't help but overhear you a minute ago talking about [Shacknews community member -sk-'s map] CP_Redstone.

Robin Walker: So what we do is every Tuesday and Thursday we try and play through community maps, and we have a big list, but we haven't gotten to Redstone, so I feel bad. I don't want to make design comments, it's just, we were talking about it, and I was saying how one of the interesting things in the community--there are different maps which catch your eye for different reasons. Redstone's screenshots caught my eye because I thought it was a really good example of how, just.. it's really fun to look out there and see people who are just customers of TF, who can kind of pick up the visual style and start to sort of put their own touch to it, but still fit in really neatly. And I thought Redstone did that really well, just looking at the screenshots. Can't comment on the gameplay yet.

Shack: Are you planning another map with Payload gameplay, or will Goldrush be unique for now?

Robin Walker: We already have some plans for what we want to try next. We really want to try out a map where you're escorting a cart, and the cart's big enough that engineers are actually building on it, so you have a moving fortress. So we're going to try that out probably next.

But like anything else, we're going to listen to the community, see what they like. If everyone hated [Goldrush], we probably wouldn't do another one. That's one of the things sort of our philosophy--we never think we're smart enough to know what our customers like. So we want as much as possible to just get it in front of customers and listen to what they say. If they say they want more of it, then we'll do more of it.

Shack: I had something else I really needed to ask you, but now I can't remember.

Robin Walker: Have I played Awesomeball? Yes, I have.

Shack: You like it?

Robin Walker: [laughs] It's awesome, yeah.

For more on the TF2 content, check out the official weapon details, as well as our full impressions of both those and the Goldrush map.