Bonk! A Team Fortress 2 timeline (Part 1)

The first of a two-part look back at the last seven years of Team Fortress 2, looking at how it's evolved the first-person shooter, the class-based multiplayer game, and video games, in general.

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Since it first released as part of The Orange Box back in 2007, Team Fortress 2 has remained a regular staple of Valve's multiplayer library. The class-based shooter has grown in a number of ways over the past seven years, but it's also proven to be one of the most influential games of this entire gaming generation.

Today, we look back at some of TF2's biggest milestones and how they changed Valve's shooter and also gaming, in general.

Meet the Mercs (July 19, 2006)

Fans of Team Fortress Classic were left stunned at 2006's EA Summer Showcase when Valve showed the first teaser for what would eventually become Team Fortress 2. The first game's familiar Counter Strike-like aesthetic had been tossed aside in favor of something noticeably more cartoonish.

The reception was mixed, with loyal fans unsure of what to make of the design overhaul. Little did they know what Valve would unleash in the next year.


The War Begins (October 10, 2007)

Valve released The Orange Box in October 2007 and it would prove to be one of the company's biggest releases ever. While it started a stagnation of the Half-Life franchise that continues to this day, it also kicked off two of the most beloved franchises of the last ten years: Portal and Team Fortress 2, the latter of which stepped out of the shadow of its predecessor and became a juggernaut all its own.

With only six maps initially released, players would select between the Heavy, Medic, Demoman, Engineer, Sniper, Pyro, Scout, Soldier, and Spy and do battle in various objective-based game modes. It featured some memorable map layouts, such as the now-iconic 2Fort, and some novel new features, like the Nemesis system.

But Team Fortress 2 rapidly became known for its Source-based animation style that would take expressive character models that would normally be reserved for cinematics and cutscenes and actually insert them into full-blown deathmatches. It was unlike anything seen to that point and this injected personality would be a major factor into why TF2 persists as a major force in gaming seven years later.


Vanilla, no more (April 29, 2008)

Roughly six months after The Orange Box first released, Team Fortress 2 unveiled its first major content update. In addition to adding a new game mode called Payload (in which the mercs must escort a bomb to its target) and a new map called Gold Rush, the Medic received a whole new batch of weapons. This began TF2's individual class updates and formally mark an end to vanilla TF2 on PC.

The Medic's new weapons included the Blutsauger, the Kritzkrieg (replacing uber charges with crit charges), and the Ubersaw. All the weapons would feature buffs and drawbacks, offer a small taste of what would come in the future. Over the course of the next couple of years, all of TF2's classes would receive similar updates with weapons of their own. It would add a whole new degree of variety to Valve's shooter.


A Golden April Fools Day (April 1, 2009)

Shortly after the release of the Meet the Sniper video, Valve decided to toss in a cheeky reference as a fun April Fools Day prank. Pointing to the number of urine-filled jars the Sniper fills up during the video, Valve jokingly introduced Jarate, the jar-based karate! The idea was that the Sniper would toss these jars of yellow liquid at his opponents, covering them in odorous humiliation. It was quite a funny joke for the folks at Valve.

TF2's player base didn't consider it so much a joke. In fact, they quickly started rumbling for the Jarate reveal to be real.

Valve was clearly caught off-guard by this bizarre demand for urinary weaponry, but the developer quickly pulled itself together. On May 21, 2009, Jarate was officially released as part of the Sniper vs. Spy Update. Not only did it fulfill the fanbase's 'number one' desire, but it also added mini-crits to the game for the first time.

This would mark one of the earliest instances of an April Fools update starting out as a joke, but quickly coming to pass. It's an idea that other game developers would adopt, with Bohemia Interactive's Arma 3 'Karts' DLC being the most recent example. The ball first got rolling with the Sniper's Jarate, but that wouldn't be the only thing Valve would introduce on this day in May.


Nice hat! (May 21, 2009)

In addition to new Sniper and Spy weapons, the Sniper vs. Spy Update brought a little something extra to Team Fortress 2. Valve concluded that while blowing up opponents is fun, blowing up opponents while wearing a cool hat would be even more fun. With that, hats were introduced for the first time.

The first batch of hats included the Batter's Helmet (Scout), Soldier's Stash (Soldier), Pyro's Beanie (Pyro), Demoman's Fro (Demoman), Football Helmet (Heavy), Mining Light (Engineer), Prussian Pickelhaube (Medic), Trophy Belt (Sniper), and Fancy Fedora (Spy). It would be far from the last one, because the cosmetic add-ons proved to be a major hit. In the five years since hats were introduced, over 500 cosmetic items have been added to Team Fortress 2, with more still on the way. It opened the door to a bustling trade market, with trading also making its debut on this day.

Valve later got the ball rolling on promotional hats by adding Bill's Hat from Left 4 Dead on November 9, 2012. It would be a promotional tactic that a number of future game releases would adopt, with TF2 players able to pick up special hats from games like BioShock Infinite, Sleeping Dogs, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Killing Floor, Poker Night, and many more.

A genie had been unleashed and it's one that cannot be put back in its bottle, as Valve had officially kicked off the age of cosmetic DLC. Numerous publishers and developers would adopt this model, offering cosmetic knick-knacks for a small fee in what would eventually become the modern day free-to-play business model. As for TF2, with demand for hats growing by the day, Valve would soon need to figure out a way to satisfy the cry for more hats. A temporary solution would be provided later that year.


Boo! (October 29, 2009)

2009 would be the year that Valve got into the Halloween spirit with Team Fortress 2. This would be the first year that the mercs would celebrate the occasion with special Halloween-themed maps that would only be active for a limited time.

The festivities kicked off with the Terrifying Team Fortress Haunted Hallowe'en Special, which opened up a special King of the Hill map called Harvest. The idea would be to capture and hold a central control point, but there would be some Halloween-themed obstacles placed throughout the map. Pumpkins would explode on contact and cause severe damage to anyone in their vicinity. Ghosts would also haunt the map, scaring surrounding victims into briefly putting down their weapons in fear. It was a fun variant of the traditional TF2 gameplay and one that caught on with fans quickly.

The Halloween updates grew so popular that they would return as an annual event. Valve would have new tricks and treats to trot out each year, including new hats, masks, and even stage bosses. Other games quickly began to follow suit with their own Halloween and Christmas-themed events, but few can hold a candle to Valve's annual party favors. Even those that have gradually drifted from TF2 will schedule time to come back for one more crack at the Halloween maps, not wanting to miss the holiday tradition.


Getting Crafty (December 17, 2009)

Team Fortress 2 was dangerously close to becoming a game of "haves and have-nots." It wasn't just hats that was the issue, but many players had played hundreds of hours without receiving the weapon drop they were looking for. Since trade servers weren't proving of much use to these people, either, Valve needed a solution. So they came up with a new crafting system.

The WAR! Update introduced special metals that could be created with excess weapons and items that were no longer being used. Aside from offering a formal sense of currency (with items measured in terms of Refined Metal), this system allowed unlucky users to put together all of their useless junk and craft the specific weapon they were looking for through unique recipes. Hats could similarly be crafted through this system, though they'd always be crafted at random. So even if a player had dozens of Refined Metals, there was no guaranteeing the result would be anything other than multiple repeats.

The system wasn't perfect, but it was certainly a good place to start. And Valve's crafting would prove to be a major influence on future game developers that would adopt similar principles for their own crafting systems.


Stick around later today as we look through the rest of Team Fortress 2's big milestones, including its jump to free-to-play, its booming economy, and its contribution to the world of machinima.

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?

From The Chatty
  • reply
    July 29, 2014 11:00 AM

    Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Bonk! A Team Fortress 2 timeline (Part 1).

    The first of a two-part look back at the last seven years of Team Fortress 2, looking at how it's evolved the first-person shooter, the class-based multiplayer game, and video games, in general.

    • reply
      July 29, 2014 11:12 AM

      i enjoyed this!

      • reply
        July 29, 2014 12:35 PM

        Me as well. More cool mini retrospectives please!

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      July 29, 2014 12:02 PM

      all the new weapons they added just made the game garbage for me, by the time i quit playing it felt like i was playing TF2 while inside a jumping castle. knock back, air push air blast, stun, charge...sigh was such a good game

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        July 29, 2014 12:11 PM

        hmmm things that counter the heavy and venguard is mad

        yet heavy and medic combo is still the best in the game

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          July 29, 2014 1:13 PM

          They had already nerfed the heavy a while back you cant drop the sandwich anymore to heal, and you cant heal your medic any more with it, so that kind of sucks too.

          Its hard to explain what i really mean in how i feel about the game but ill try, when the game came out you know all the weapons what kind of damage they would do based on range and class, so when entering a room you could prioritize targets based on class

          A solder would be low as you would weigh up the % change to get hit based on distance and your area to move around, a pyro depending on range would be high in a small room and low in a large room, every class had a danger %

          Then came the patch that fixed alot of things that were wrong with game balance, pyro knockback and so forth, this still worked great, you just had to look at there weapon and again base your targets on there danger to your medic / you %

          Then came all these silly weapons that made the game all out crazy, there is no way to prioritize targets, every class had all kind of silly weapons that made the game less about being good to being just total random shit or randomness.

          Try image DotA2 having a random chance for your spells to crit on every hero (no items) or in SC2 units have a chance to do 2x damage, no player has control over this and it just make everything silly so everyone can feel like there amazing at the game.

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            July 29, 2014 1:20 PM

            the medic can pickup the sandvich still

            yeah theres too many items now, but I like it cause it attracts a casual demographic. was just on a server last night where there were 5 women playing, 5!, I've never seen one woman play titanfall or cod ever.

            I think if TF2 kept the same, it would've died, it is a 7 year old game after all. so they grew into a different niche of hats and funky weapons

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            July 29, 2014 1:46 PM

            I haven't played in years, and all the whacky new shit is one thing that has kept me from randomly installing it for old times sake. If it's kept the game going and people like it that's great, but I'd like it if there were a way to run servers with just vanilla TF2 (with all the balance tweaks etc). Or maybe that's already possible?

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            July 29, 2014 3:25 PM

            There's always an appropriate nerf for the new weapons.

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        July 29, 2014 12:26 PM

        It's still a really fun game, and still very much TeamFortress, there's just more variety now in terms of game mechanics. It would be pretty boring after all these years if everyone still had to use the stock loadouts.

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        July 29, 2014 1:48 PM

        I was more or less OK until Scouts and Pyros had equipment which gave extra HP, and thus could live through dual rocket hits.
        But now I have a Cattle Mutilator with a charge up disintegrator blast, so I guess it kinda balanced out.

        Also, I still remember that PDF they put out about all the effort put towards carefully crafting clear, obvious silhouettes and color shading. So you instinctively recognize what you're facing?

        Thanks, Hats.
        Thats.

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          July 29, 2014 2:37 PM

          Hats don't make it any more difficult to recognize a class, though.

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            July 29, 2014 2:45 PM

            But you don't really know what that class can do at first glance.

      • Zek
        reply
        July 29, 2014 5:20 PM

        I don't mind the weapons themselves but I despise the inventory/loot system. There are like a hundred+ weapons and you'll never find the one you want without playing for weeks, especially if it just came out. If you want to craft a specific item you need to find another specific item as an ingredient, so good luck if you don't have THAT one. Just give me an ingame currency like any other F2P game ffs.

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      July 29, 2014 12:09 PM

      [deleted]

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      July 29, 2014 12:21 PM

      Awesome! TF2 is still my favorite game.

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      July 29, 2014 1:38 PM

      That release night was crazy here. Slow downloads, crazy queue times, and incredible lag.

      I waited 2 hours to get into a Shack run server and stayed long enough just to get one kill as a Heavy.

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        July 29, 2014 1:39 PM

        I remember making the mistake of buying The Orange Box on Xbox 360 on launch day. It wasn't until the Gold Rush update that I took the $20 plunge on PC and haven't looked back.