Hydro developer commentary

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This article contains the developer commentary found on tc_hydro


(Order of commentary)

Welcome to Team Fortress 2
[Gabe Newell] Welcome to Team Fortress 2. After nine years in development, hopefully it will have been worth the wait. To listen to a commentary node, put your crosshair over the floating commentary symbol and press your use key. To stop a commentary node, put your crosshair over the rotating node and press the use key again. Some commentary nodes may take control of the game in order to show something to you. In these cases, simply press your use key again to stop the commentary. Please let me know what you think after you have had a chance to play. I can be reached at gaben@valvesoftware.com, and my favorite class is the spy. Thanks, and have fun!

Hydro Art Design
[Aaron Barber] Unlike maps in TF such as 2fort and Well, which have progressively blue and red sides, Hydro's four main arenas can be owned by one team or the other. We needed an overall theme that justified structures like rock walls and tunnels, but which also had a neutral color scheme. We chose a desert theme with a palette of reddish-brown rock, cool blue sky and neutral light colors that complement the surrounding area. The colors of the seperate areas vary slightly but still key together.

Map Replayability
[Jeff Lane] Multiplayer communities tend to focus on a small group of maps, playing them over and over again. Instead of producing a large number of maps, most of which would go un-played, we decided to try and build a single map with more innate replayability than any we'd built before. With most multiplayer maps, you know what you'll be doing before the map has even finished loading. In our case, we wanted a map where you couldn't predict even something as basic as your starting point, let alone what you would be doing when you got there. Hydro therefore begins with a randomized starting state. The emphasis on control of constantly shifting territories means the map rarely feels repetitive. Meanwhile, the explicit round structure keeps teams focused, and provides regular highs and lows as the teams gain and lose territory.

Map Boundaries
[Laura Dubuk] Maps require impassable boundaries, but unless we restrict the environments to either interior spaces or steep canyons, these boundaries can't always block the player's view of the outlying, unreachable area. In our more realistic titles, like HL2, these boundaries often require fictional and visual explanations. In the heavily stylized Team Fortress world, however, conspicuous artificiality is a core design principle and so we can simplify or altogether ignore these explanations without compromising the player experience. Playtesting showed, for instance, that these low fences leading to an empty expanse successfully conveyed the message that the area beyond the fence is uninteresting and out-of-bounds.

Visual Design
[Laura Dubuk] This area presented a difficult problem. Since the arena is primarily an interior, there wasn't much we could do to alter its basic structure, so we concentrated on careful management of the interior shapes to create an iconic space. The building is essentially a box with big rectangular windows, contrasted by round elements (generators) in the center. To create depth and parallax, we added linear elements such as railings and cables. We used contrasting values of dark and light on the floor, with walkways to create an interesting value pattern. All these elements work together to draw the player's eye to the flag--which must always be the focal point of the arena.

[Adrian Finol] One of the main changes between Team Fortress Classic and Team Fortress 2 was the removal of thrown grenades.
Most classes could carry a standard hand grenade along with a secondary grenade, tied more closely to the class. Team Fortress 2's focus on unique class roles led us to notice that the standard hand grenade was a more powerful combat decider than some of the primary weapons. This made the classes more similar in combat-not a desired effect. In addition, when we looked at some of Team Fortress Classic's map stalemates, they often resulted from large amounts of grenade spam. Two cases were particularly problematic: That of players throwing grenades repeatedly through doorways, hoping to kill any enemies who might be there, and players on the verge of death throwing all their grenades in rapid succession, hoping to get a kill after they die. Removing standard hand grenades made the game more fun almost immediately, especially for new players who were often confused as to why they died, when a grenade went off at their feet. When we examined the class-specific grenades, we found similar problems. Eliminating them from playtests gave us yet another boost in making the game more fun. Once we'd decided on removal, we analyzed each class to see what capabilities might have been lost as a result of the decision. In some cases we added other capabilities, where we felt a class had lost the ability to make some interesting decisions, related to its special grenade type.

Product-centric Art Direction
[Andrea Wicklund] The more your art direction can use well-understood visual representations, the less work you have to do to explain your game elements. The earliest version of TF2 had a heavily realistic art direction. As time went on, we found this was causing us a lot of issues. The differences between our player classes were hard to expose satisfactorily. Weapons firing anything other than bullets were hard to visualize. Our maps didn't make a lot of sense in the real world, where two opposing forces rarely build bases within fifty feet of one another. In addition, the game wasn't visually distinct from our other products. A stylized world had none of these problems: Put the massive Heavy next to the pinstripe-suited Spy, and players understand both the numerical health differences between the classes and their very different gameplay styles. The medic's healing beam was easily understood by playtesters when they saw the floating red plus symbols streaming into the target. A stylized fiction can easily explain why the team's bases are built right next to each other. Finally, a TF2 screenshot is easily recognizable, ensuring that no one will confuse it with another of our games.

The Announcer
[Chet Faliszek] The announcer for Team Fortress 2, Ellen McLain, has the rare distinction of being the only voice actor to perform in all the products in the Orange box. For her role in Team Fortress 2, we had Ellen try various reads on the same lines letting her ad-lib different personalities. On the 5th try, she came up with the winner. Her disappointed and slightly angry evil overlord clearly lets you know, in the world of Team Fortress a tie does not mean everyone wins, but that everyone loses.

The Scout
[Andrew Burke] The Scout is designed for players who are able to rapidly move around while tracking their target. Where other combat classes rely on high amounts of damage, the Scout relies on his high movement speed and double jump ability to dodge enemy fire. Much of his combat style is crafted through the features of his primary weapon, the scattergun. It does a large amount of damage, but has a wide spread that forces him to get close to the enemy for full effect, where he's also at highest risk of being hurt. It has a slow rate of fire that encourages him to pause to fire, then dodge, then pause, and so on, which gives enemies a higher chance to hit him at intervals. Finally, it holds a small clip and a slow reload time to encourage the Scout to pull out of combat to reload, something which he can do easily with his speed, and gives injured enemies a chance to run before the Scout returns.

The Soldier
[Dhabih Eng] The Soldier is a core combat class featuring versatile movement and terrific long range damage capability. He's designed to be comfortable in almost any combat situation, and to be the best long-range anti-sentrygun class. His main weaknesses are designed into his primary weapon, the rocket launcher. It has a small clip size, which forces the Soldier to carefully manage his reloads, and it fires relatively slow-moving projectiles, making it ineffectual beyond short range against any opponent who dodges well, like the Scout.

The Engineer
[Eric Kirchmer] Balancing the strength of the Engineer's AI-controlled sentrygun was one of more difficult design problems in Team Fortress 2. If the gun was too powerful, only the most skilled players would be able to counteract it. If the gun was too weak, the Engineer would have no chance against skilled players, effectively eliminating any reason to build it in the first place. Our solution was to make the sentrygun essentially binary in the sense that it's lethal to opponents who don't take cover, but can't intelligently deal with enemies popping in and out of cover. This forces the Engineer to use his own secondary weapons skill to compensate for the sentrygun's corner weakness, while still making the sentrygun a formidable obstacle for any opponent simply attempting to sprint past it.

Response Rules
[Eric Smith] For Half-Life 2 we developed something called Response Rules, a system that lets us fine-tune the way characters speak lines of dialog in response to game events that are not completely predictable. In Team Fortress 2, we extended Response Rules to the multiplayer environment for the first time. The Response Rule system works by listing speech concepts in a simple text file; the game code then makes characters attempt to speak when the rules or conditions defined in the text file are met in the game. For instance, when a player reloads his weapon, this signals the Response Rule system that now would be an appropriate time to speak a line about reloading. The Response Rule system checks the state of the world, and matches it to a set of rules that determine the best line of dialog to use for that speech concept. If the player's health is low, he may speak a different reloading line than if he is completely healthy. He could play a special line if he has killed more than two enemies in the last 20 seconds, another set of lines if he's underwater, and so on. Keeping dialog and rules in script files gives the game's writers the ability to add speech to the game without needing any code support.

[Moby Francke] Having decided on a stylized art direction, we experimented with a variety of styles before settling on the example of J.C. Leyendecker, an enormously popular illustrator of the early 1900s. Leyendecker's rendering of clothing and material provided a great example of how to add detail to a character while keeping the clean, sharp silhouette shapes that were key to our class identification. We used normal maps to craft folds of clothing, which provided a fine level of detail when seen up close, without detracting from color values meant to draw the player's eyes to the all-important weaponry.

Character Shading
[Moby Francke] In our early discussions of rendering styles for the characters, we decided we wanted them to have a look that was illustrative or stylized, without going to the extremes of most toon shaders. We wanted softer lines for shading than was typical for this sort of rendering. So, we used a 2-D texture to define the lighting on the characters, and at the point where light and dark meet, we added a hint of warmth to give it that burst of color at the transition. Once we had achieved the right shading model, we added a rim-term to the characters, so they would have a nice highlight around the edges of their silhouettes, which helps them to stand out from the surrounding 3d world.

The Pyro
[Marc Scaparro] The Pyro is designed to be the best short-range combat class, aimed at encouraging players to adopt an ambush style of play. To achieve this, we made the Pyro vulnerable in the open, which forces players to seek out enclosed areas and doorways. To add to the Pyro's short range lethality, we made the flamethrower effects visually noisy, which helps disorient opponents long enough for the flames to finish them off.

The Spy
[Matt Boone] The Spy is designed for players who want to outsmart their opponents. At a high level, his gameplay flow is to infiltrate the enemy team, move around while disguised, and use his instant-kill backstab to take out key enemies, usually snipers, engineers, and medics. His invisibility cloak is designed to help him in two key situations. The first is in getting past the frontline, where players are most vigilant against enemies and most suspicious of friends not heading in the right direction. The second is in escaping from enemies who have seen through his disguise while he's in enemy territory. His sapper was designed to allow him to easily take out unattended enemy sentryguns, forcing enemy engineers to keep a close eye on their buildings.

Visual Economy
[Robin Walker] With nine classes of characters, and so many weapons and unique abilities, one of our biggest challenges was exposing all these combinations to players without overwhelming them. Even the shortlist of essential information is intimidating, including map goals, the whereabouts of their friends, who's shooting them with what weapon, and so on. We didn't have any way to make all of this information visual, so first we had to prioritize and come up with an essential list of things every player needed to know in order to just have fun. Information they could learn by playing the game-such as map layout-was of secondary importance; but there was also information, such as the Medic's invulnerability charge, that would be completely invisible unless we exposed it. We tried to avoid attaching 2D elements to the HUD as much as possible, since we wanted players to be looking at the 3D world we'd built rather than some abstract representation. For example, players always see their own team's spies as a spy, but they need to know how the spy is disguised to the other team. We tried a quick hack where we put an icon representing the spy's current disguise floating above his head. The icon proved baffling to playtesters. When we tackled the problem by putting cut-out paper masks on the spy, it not only fit the humorous style of the game, but it let players get all pertinent information directly from a quick look at the spy's model, thus keeping them focused on the characters and on the action of the game. We took this as a lesson, in how holding ourselves to a strong design principle can often force us to come up with better solutions, than if we'd taken the easy route.