Team Fortress 2: A Boo-rief History of Scream Fortress

Team Fortress 2's annual Halloween event turns 10 this year. Shacknews celebrates a full decade of Halloween scares by reliving the evolution of TF2's Scream Fortress.


Halloween is almost here and that means more and more games are kicking off their spooky holiday-themed events. There's Overwatch, Rocket League, Killing Floor 2, Guild Wars 2, and The Elder Scrolls Online, just to name a few games. But there's one game that was among the first to embrace the Halloween holiday and continues to do so to this day. That game is Team Fortress 2, Valve's beloved team-based shooter.

Back in 2014, Shacknews took a loving look back at this landmark shooter with Bonk! A Team Fortress 2 Timeline, which covered some of TF2's biggest milestones, some of which have left a mark on gaming as a whole. One of the items we covered was 2009's debut of Scream Fortress, the Halloween-themed event that changed up the usual formula for a few weeks.

For today, Shacknews is revisiting ten years of Scream Fortress, looking at some of the event's biggest hits (and misses) of the last decade. Because the time for scares has arrived and we're hungry for a history lesson. (And also candy. We're hungry for candy.)

Scream Fortress: The Start of an Annual Tradition

Scream Fortress first debuted in 2009, almost two years after Team Fortress 2 originally released alongside The Orange Box. This was all about Valve getting into the Halloween spirit, with the seasonal update's biggest feature being a limited-time King of the Hill map called Harvest, created by Sean "Heyo" Cutino.

Harvest featured a central capture point located inside a dilapidated barn. Players could try and go the direct route, putting themselves out in the sights of any enemy team member. Or they could try and navigate Harvest's haunted house before sneaking their way to the control point. The capture point's location has had its roof blown off, allowing for pesky Soldiers, Demomen, and Snipers to station themselves atop the haunted house's roof and rain down punishment from above.

Beyond the visual aesthetic, Harvest stood out because of the multiple pumpkin bombs that were scattered throughout the stage. Any bullets or explosives that went off near any of the stationary pumpkins would cause the pumpkin to explode, taking out any players nearby. Clever players could score multiple pumpkin kills on any unsuspecting suckers that walked by. On top of that, there was a ghost that would occasionally pop up inside the haunted house. Players who walked by the ghost would scream and comically try and run away, Scooby Doo-style, leaving them paralyzed with fear and open to a kill shot.

Of course, this wouldn't be a Team Fortress 2 update without hats. Players could pick up special hats, mainly paper bags with faces of each character crudely drawn on them. But there was also a special hat called the Ghastly Gibus, a spooky stovepipe top hat that Halloween players ran around wearing all year long as a status symbol. Sadly, the Ghastly Gibus can no longer be picked up and is gone forever.

And by "gone forever," of course I mean totally still a thing. Picking up a Ghastly Gibus is a simple matter of finding any player donning one of these classic hats. Dominate that player and the Ghastly Gibus will drop for you.

Harvest was just the beginning of Team Fortress 2's Halloween shenanigans and Valve was eager to top themselves just a year later.

Scream Fortress II: The Horseless Headless Horsemann Rises

For TF2's second Halloween update, Valve retained many of the ideas from the previous year, but wanted something to up the ante from the first Scream Fortress.

The big idea: A boss character.

And thus, the dreaded Horseless Headless Horsemann was born. Wielding a gigantic two-handed axe, this ghastly apparation is based on the literary Headless Horseman, with the difference being that this guy doesn't have a horse... and he technically does have a head, it's just a giant pumpkin. But ironic names aside, this boss was one of the most dangerous entities to hit Team Fortress 2 at the time.

Players would encounter this ferocious spectre in the new Mann Manor control point map. While the idea would be for players on offense to capture points, as usual, the Horseless Headless Horsemann would occasionally pop up and terrorize both teams. He would chase down players and lop off their heads in a just one or two hits. Sometimes, individual players would even be classified as "It" and would have to hit an enemy with a melee hit in order to tag them and make them the Horsemann's new target. The Horsemann could also let out a big "BOO!" to frighten surrounding players and set them up for a beheading.

This introduced an element of gamesmanship. Defenders could try and use the Horsemann to their advantage by trying to lure him into a group of BLU players. Likewise, BLU players could try and break down the opposing defense by getting the Horsemann to chase them into heavy RED blockades.

But the early days of this Scream Fortress update would mostly see both teams join forces to try and topple the Horsemann. After all, his literal head was on the line as a trophy hat.

Scream Fortress III: Eye Caramba

The first Team Fortress 2 boss character was a big hit. So for TF2's third Scream Fortress update, Valve returned with an even tougher boss.

Say hello to Monoculus, a giant floating eyeball. But he's not just any eyeball. He's the Demoman's missing eyeball, given life as a giant monstrosity by the Bombinomicon. He's much harder to kill than the Horseless Headless Horsemann, simply because of his ability to float above the field. He'll also fire off eye missiles, which explode on contact and kill in just a few hits. Monoculus will teleport back and forth, leaving momentary portals into the Underworld. Surviving the hell trail intact will grant players bonuses upon returning to the world of the living.

Like his predecessor, there's a great reward for killing Monoculus. Players can earn his head as a trophy hat for a successful kill. But more than that, Monoculus will also leave behind a portal to Loot Island, located in the heart of the Underworld. This grants players a chance to earn the Bombinomicon item... assuming they survive the trip. The Bombinomicon is one of Valve's first attempts at cosmetics beyond hats and remains a favorite in the game to this day, simply because of its ability to blow up player corpses into pieces.

The fights with Monoculus would unfold in the Eyeaduct King of the Hill map. This was a redesigned Viaduct, with the objective remaining the same. The key differences were the nighttime aesthetic, the multitude of pumpkin bombs, and the addition of the Monoculus fights.

The Bombinomicon gets a backstory in a special TF2 comic, signifying a renewed push into Team Fortress 2 lore. The comic also served as an introduction to TF2's third and final boss character, who would debut just one year later.

Scream Fortress IV: Meet Merasmus

The evil magician Merasmus was first introduced in the pages of the aforementioned Bombinomicon comic. He was the mischievous mage who ripped out the Demoman's eyeball and used it to create Monoculus. He was also the Soldier's roommate... for some reason. And with that in mind, roommates tend to fight. They don't label food, they ignore the sock on the doorknob, etc. Conflicts between roommates are inevitable, which is why it should be no surprise that the Soldier incurred the wrath of Merasmus just in time for Scream Fortress IV.

Merasmus is TF2's most formidable boss ever, which could explain why Valve hasn't tried to top themselves since. For Scream Fortress IV, he made Ghost Fort his home. This is a reimagined Lakeside King of the Hill map, which is decked out with pumpkin bombs, a bottomless pit, and a special new feature called the Wheel of Fate.

The Wheel of Fate spins every time the central control point is captured by either team. The wheel's landing spot leads to random effects. Some of these changes are cosmetic, like granting big or small heads. Other changes affect the map, like Zero Gravity, or players, like Critical Hits. There's even a spot on the wheel that lines up all players in the center of the map and has them do the Thriller dance!

In addition to the usual Halloween festivities, Scream Fortress IV was Valve's first opportunity to do something for TF2's new Mann vs. Machine PvE mode. Ghost Town saw players step into a redesigned Coal Town map, decked out with the usual holiday fanfare. However, the usual marauding machines were replaced by the undead. It was indeed part Team Fortress, part Left 4 Dead.

Scream Fortress V: Sibling Rivalry

By 2013, Valve steered its focus away from boss characters and back on the spirit of competition. Scream Fortress V focused on the game's lore, the central conflict between the Mann Brothers, Redmond and Blutarch. A special comic not only set the stage for this year's Halloween event, but it also did a phenomenal job in helping set up the entire narrative premise behind Team Fortress 2 as a whole.

The actual in-game battle is contested on the new Helltower map. This Payload Race is a reimagined Hightower and tasks each team with pushing a cart housing a corpse covered in dirt, heavily implied to be the Mann Brothers. Hightower isn't considered a favorite map by many TF2 players, so Valve decided to throw in an extra wrinkle to the festivities.

Players were given the ability to pick up and cast spells when equipped with the Spellbook Magazine. When placed in the Action slot, players can scoop up random spells scattered across the various Halloween maps. Some of these spells cause heavy damage, like the Fireball spell, while others offer stealth or allow for higher jumps. Spells also vary in rarity, with more uncommon spells allowing players to summon skeletons, lightning, or even their very own Monoculus.

Speaking of random effects, Scream Fortress V also introduced the Witching Hour. Certain Halloween maps will trigger random events whenever the clock strikes midnight. These events vary depending on the Halloween map, often spawning killer skeletons. Other times, the Witching Hour will open up paths towards in-map events or summon Monoculus to wreck everyone's night.

The good times were still rolling, for the most part, especially with over 100 new holiday cosmetic items added to the game. But Scream Fortress' magic would soon start to wane.

Scream Fortress VI: The Carnival of Carnage

The idea of teams banding together against one another in Halloween-themed maps was starting to go by the wayside. Valve had likewise tired of boss characters. The TF2 team wanted to try something new and different for Scream Fortress VI. The Carnival of Carnage was certainly both of those things.

The premise is that Merasmus wanted to set up an evil carnival. The problem was, he forgot to build it on an ancient burial ground. To make it a truly evil carnival, the ground needed to be littered with the blood of countless corpses. Fortunately, the TF2 mercs were around to kill each other repeatedly on the new Carnival of Carnage map. This Special Delivery game mode tasks players with delivering a briefcase of tickets to The World's Largest Strongmann Machine.

The big novelty of the Carnival of Carnage involved new post-game activities. These would see chibi-fied versions of the TF2 mercs step into bumper cars and take part in various competitions. Sometimes the idea would be to play soccer, other times the idea would be to reach the end of the track, and other times the objective was simply survival. The presentation for the Carnival was a little bit confusing at launch and remains so to this day. While one team can complete the main objective on the map, the losing team can win the Carnival mini-game and still be the ones to get the victory screen.

Worse yet, the bumper car controls proved unwieldly and awkward, leading to the novelty wearing off fast. This Scream Fortress wasn't quite the hit that it used to be and, for a while, it looked like Valve was going to let the annual tradition die.

But the Team Fortress 2 community is a dedicated one and it wasn't about to let this holiday tradition die.

Scream Fortress VII: The Community Takes Over

Valve cut things very close for Scream Fortress VII. While the TF2 team used to relish the Halloween holiday and post countdowns to the annual Scream Fortress event, the team was all quiet in 2015. There were no signs that a Halloween update was in the works and, in fact, Valve had stated that the team was too hard at work on the new Mannpower Mode to concentrate on any Halloween update. Instead, Scream Fortress would focus on the community's creations. A Valve-sanctioned Scream Fortress VII did eventually come, but the update didn't arrive until Halloween night.

With Valve tinkering with other elements of TF2, the community came through with the most robust holiday update in years. While Valve contributed a new comic, the TF2 community offered up four holiday-themed maps:

  • Gorge (Event) (Attack/Defense): A reimagined version of the original Gorge by Paul "puxorb" Broxup, where the team on offense was tasked with taking two control points.
  • Hellsotne (Payload): This is a reworked Millstone, itself a community-created map, by Tomi "ICS" Uurainen. Hellstone cleverly places a ghost on the payload, so if any of the RED team got too close, they'd be stuck in the frightened state. This featured a collection of Scream Fortress' greatest hits, including boss characters, Witching Hour spawns, and ghosts.
  • Moonshine (Event) (King of the Hill): This is a reimagined version of Moonshine by original creator Josh "HeyU" Harris, along with Harlen "UEAKCrash" Linke, Jake "Jukebox" Jackubowski, and Psyke. This map houses spells, along with the Wheel of Fate. Like Scream Fortress IV, the Wheel of Fate triggers a random effect whenever the central point is captured. It should be noted that if the Wheel lands on Dance-Off, all players are transported to the Underworld to perform their Thriller dance.
  • Sinshine (Control Point): As the name might imply, this is a reworked Sunshine, with original creators Rebecca "phi" Alies and Kimberly "iiboharz" Riswick joining up with Harlen "UEAKCrash" Linke to put it together. While it's inspired by other maps that utilize five control points, Sinshine manages to use its own distinct layout and decorate it with multiple clocktowers.

On Valve's end, they did make sure to toss in the new Merasmissions feature, building upon the idea of campaign achievements. Those who find the Soul Gargoyle can access Merasmissions and complete them for rare drops.

Despite Valve's hands-off approach this year, Scream Fortress had new life thanks to the TF2 community. And that's good, because Valve wasn't looking to do one the next year, either.

Scream Fortress VIII: The Community Takes Over (Again)

For the second straight year, the Team Fortress 2 overworked themselves to the point that a Valve-created Scream Fortress wasn't in the cards. With the team hard at work on a new Pyro Pack and an entirely new jungle theme for its future maps, there wasn't time to celebrate Halloween. Valve didn't even have time to create a bombastic landing page, making Scream Fortress feel like an afterthought.

That left the community to do the heavy lifting again. In addition to two new taunts, 24 new cosmetic items, and the return of Merasmissions, the community came through with three maps, now given the Valve seal of approval. Those maps were:

  • Brimstone (Payload): Tomi "ICS" Uurainen took the community-created Fifthcurve map and add some Halloween visuals to it. This incorporated some TF2 lore. The payload contains the remains of Redmond Mann and the object is to escort his remains through the interior of his quarters and send him back to Hell. The Scream Fortress bosses will occasionally show up to make things a little more difficult.
  • Maple Ridge (Event) (King of the Hill): Speaking of Redmond Mann, Berry and TheoF114 teamed up for a Halloween version of the community-made Maple Ridge map that's centered around the dead Mann's residence. The surrounding houses prove to be good hiding places for Soul Gargoyles.
  • Pit of Death (Player Destruction): Following the Invasion update, the community created a new mode called Player Destruction, with the idea to score pickups off of dead opponents and deliver them to a designated delivery point. In this case, the idea is to kill as many opposing players are possible and deposit their souls in front of the Underworld entrance. But the souls can only be dropped off during the Witching Hour.

This was the most low-key of the Scream Fortress events to date, with only the community keeping the tradition alive. Valve wasn't about to pick things back up the next year, either.

Scream Fortress IX: A Clip Show

Just weeks before last year's Halloween, Valve deployed Team Fortress 2's biggest update in years, unleashing the Jungle Inferno update. With an entirely new map taking the TF2 mercs out of their industrial comfort zone, Valve's decision to skip Scream Fortress was more understandable.

With that in mind, Scream Fortress IX served as a celebration of everything that had come before it. All of the past Halloween maps were on display, with Valve tossing in a few Halloween contracts. But as far as new features, there was nothing to be found and Scream Fortress was more of an afterthought than ever.

Scream Fortress X: The Community Strikes Back

Team Fortress 2 has been out for over a decade. This is the year that Scream Fortress turns 10. With so much time having passed, Valve appears to have moved on to new endeavors. Following March's Competitive Update, it looked like there would be time for Valve to bring Scream Fortress back to its old glory days. But sometimes you can't go home again and it doesn't appear that Valve is interested in recapturing the classic Scream Fortress magic.

The community is doing its best to keep the Halloween tradition alive, contributing five new maps to Scream Fortress X, all of them stamped with Valve's seal of approval. Some of these are among the most creative Halloween maps to date. Those maps are:

  • Cauldron (King of the Hill): Lauren "Yrrzy" Godfrey, Harlen "UEAKCrash" Linke, Zach "Exactol" Matuson, Sebastian "Seba" Grus, Rebecca "Phi" Ailes, and Freyja all banded together to piece together a new version of the Bagel map. This map features a giant cauldron near the central control point. In a nice visual effect, the cauldron erupts whenever the point is captured and triggers a random effect.
  • Cursed Cove (Player Destruction): This is a massive collaborative effort between Louie "bakscratch" Turner, Juha "Jusa" Kuoppala, Sean "boomsta" Troehler, Jordan "Hex" LeBlanc, EmNudge, Zach "Exactol" Matuson, Nick "Bobby BodyOdor" Baker, Duncan "Magnus" Welch, Nathan "Yacanl" Dadey, Roniña "Py-Bun" Rodriguez, Stiffy360, and Deacon. Unlike the other maps of the past ten years, this one has a distinct pirate theme, where the objective is to collect player souls and deliver them to the ghostly Flying Dutchman and to Davy Jones. Even as players battle it out aboard the Flying Dutchman, the souls don't count for your team unless you're able to escape through the ship's glowing white door alive.
  • Gravestone (Payload): This is Tomi "ICS" Uurainen's follow-up to Hellstone and Brimstone. There's a giant cauldron waiting at the end of the map, where the BLU team must deposit the payload. This map features many of the best elements of past Scream Fortress maps, including ghosts and some of the boss characters. The Witching Hour clock is also active. Even if the BLU team successfully escorts the payload, they must then win the subsequent Bumper Car Race to claim victory. At the very least, they'll have a headstart.
  • Monster Bash (Player Destruction): Aeon "Void" Bollig, Fuzzymellow, PEAR, Donhonk, Harlen "UEAKCrash" Linke, Tim "SediSocks" BL, Liam "Diva Dan" Moffitt, Jennifer "NeoDement" Burnett, and Erik Colteh all band together for this all-new Player Destruction map. This contains another whole new setting, taking place inside a decrepit castle. The idea is to collect enough body parts (from your opponent's corpses, of course) and deliver them to the reanimator in the center of the castle. The reanimator is only accessible at certain points, which will often lead to firefights around the delivery point.
  • Slasher (King of the Hill): Andrew "Rogue13" Risch, Aeon "Void" Bollig, Lauren "Yrrzy" Godfrey, Martin "Chaofanatic" Ellis, Fuzzymellow, Tim "SediSocks" BL, and Killohurtz escort players to a haunted campground, where the idea is to capture the point at the center. All of the Scream Fortress bosses, as well as the Witching Hour skeletons, will occasionally pop up to make things tough. Fortunately, there's a door to the Underworld located inside the cabin to the side, which can grant crit bonuses after players successfully navigate their way out.

Valve contributed two unlockable cases with cosmetics and paint effects, along with a pair of taunts. But Scream Fortress X is mainly another community effort, showing nearly five years of effort that the TF2 player base has spent keeping this holiday event alive.

That's ten years of Team Fortress 2's annual Halloween event. Scream Fortress may not be what it used to be, but there's no denying that it made the PC gaming world a better place at its peak and continues to bring a sector of sentimental PC gamers together at this time each year.

What are your favorite memories of Scream Fortress? Join the conversation and let us know in the comments.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

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