The Theory of Gaming

May 5, 2008

Another take on the TF2 “Gold Rush” patch

Filed under: Game Analysis, Patches — Tags: , , — spotpuff @ 16:19

Achievements can be a bit of a mixed bag. When done right, they are a badge of honour; a mark to other players that you are either skilled or have way too much time on your hands and are probably obese with poor hygiene and smell funny. You know, the guy no one wants to sit next to at a LAN party.

When done wrong, achievements are the bane of any online game. They completely destroy any semblance of co-operative team play and instead degenerate the game to a state of achievement farming.

That’s exactly what happened with TF2.

There were a few problems Valve brought upon themselves with the release of this patch:

  1. They put achievements into the game, but only for medics, not for other classes.
  2. They put unlockables into the game. Unlockables are items you have to “unlock” to use, rather than being able to use them right away.

Now normally this wouldn’t be such a big deal, but the achievements are not practical at all. Some of them are not achievements you would get if you were playing medic as a team player. For example, needle gunning 50 scouts to death, or bone sawing 50 medics to death. These are NOT things that happen in a regular team fortress game. 99% of the time if you are a medic and you don’t have your medigun out you are doing it wrong. The bone saw has a place in spy killing and last-ditch melee attacks, and the needle gun is useful, just not against scouts. If you needle gun a scout to death the scout either sucks or you got lucky or both, but realistically you should have been healing someone who kills the scout for you. So why did you have the needle gun out in the first place?

After the patch team composition went out the window as people tried to get achievements. Joining a pub server would result in a team that was 90% medic trying to get achievements for the new toys, instead of having a balanced team that would be better at winning the game. If Valve had released achievements for all the classe,s then they wouldn’t have had this problem. People would play their favourite classes, end of story. I understand medic was the most underplayed class (and with good reason; the medic is boring as hell to play), but instead of making new achievements and unlockables for the medic they should have focused on finding ways to make the medic more fun to play.

Give medics an electric field that is only active when healing, so they can run into people and zap them. Make it so healing a target also heals or buffs the medic past 100% health. Something to make it so holding down the heal button and standing around trying not to get knifed in the back or lit on fire is not the only thing medics can realistically do in the game.

Even with the new unlockables, medics are first and foremost the healers of the team. The new needlegun does almost nothing to improve a medic’s killing power (it heals you 3 health per hit but also cannot crit) and the new ubersaw is just plain overpowered when two medics use it together, but bone sawing 4 people without dying is still a challenging prospect and getting two medics who both have the ubersaw to do an ubersaw train is even more unlikely now that the achievement_unlock_all exploit has been patched and people have lost some interest in obtaining medic achievements.

I have a problem with unlockables in general. I paid for this game, and there’s new content in it that basically is only available if you jump through hoops to get it. There is now an achievement farming map for medics called “achievement”. It’s basically a small map that will let you get all the medic achievements if you have enough people and enough time. This is not how TF2 should be played, on a server with your clanmates farming achievements; achievements should be unlocked through teamplay and skill. As I mentioned though, some of the achievments are plain impossible to achieve without “farming” them or prohibitively screwing your team out of a useful player for the duration of the game.

Part of the problem is a question of reward and entitlement. Should the players who spend the most time on the game be rewarded with gear that gives them an even larger advantage over their more time-constrained peers? Or should everyone have access to the same weapons and skill be the main determining factor? The more time you invest in the game, the better you should be at it anyways. It’s one reason I stopped playing World of Warcraft and started playing DOTA and TF2: skill determines how well you do, not time invested. The two are correlated, but not absolute. I am decent at TF2 and DOTA so I can beat some players who play more than I do based on skill, and that’s the way it should be. Unfortunately that’s not the way it is. TF2 should not be about who has more time to mindlessly grind out achievements, it should be about who has the better teamplay, individual skill and map knowledge to win. If Valve continues on in this direction TF2 will become a game of haves and have nots based not on skill but who has the most free time available to do stupid repetitive tasks.

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16 Comments »

  1. […] over at the new blog The Theory of Gaming has a nice talk about the new medic gears and the unlocking thereof that is close to my own heart. Now normally this wouldn’t be such a big deal, but the […]

    Pingback by More Medic Achievement Hate | ubercharged.net — May 6, 2008 @ 6:06

  2. Nice post, I totally agree. I think that the game was nice the way it was… Valve should have focused on balancing issues and some class tweaking.

    I like the idea of new achievements, but not together with “unlockables”. Let me get the achievements because they’re and I like to have a 90%-100% record on my account. That way, I would still have fun, and those who don’t have the time, or patience, wouldn’t feel harmed.

    By the way, I found your blog at http://www.ubercharged.net. You should check it out, if you don’t know already.

    Cheers.

    Comment by Linus — May 6, 2008 @ 8:05

  3. I think your slightly missing the point, you don’t HAVE to get the new weapons, not any better than the current ones. Also, they didn’t bring out medic achievements first to promote being a medic, they did it because the medic is the class that could totally break the game if they made his unlocks too good, and they wanted to get it right. The medic spam has died down now, after only about a week and soon the next patch will be out, they are apparently releasing in pairs now to cut down on one class spam I.E Spy and Engineer, and valve are good listeners so they will probably make the achievements in the future a bit more “fitting” to each class, after all this hatemail they’ve been getting.

    Comment by LOOY — May 6, 2008 @ 11:40

  4. The thing with balance is, you can’t be totally sure things aren’t going to break until you release ALL of the unlocks. There’s nothing to say that just because the medic’s unlockables aren’t broken on their own means that combinations with other classes’ unlockables won’t be broken.

    Take for example an unrelated game, Magic: The Gathering. There are so many cards out right now that balancing based on what cards are already out is basically impossible; Wizards of the Coast can only balance on the current or recent sets and for “Type 1” play which allows all cards, they bascially just ban combinations as they come up… but they still do come up, in spite of their best efforts.

    Now TF2 isn’t that complicated, but my point is that they’re going to have to balance the future classes in mind with the medic ones anyways, so which class was “first” is largely irrelevant in terms of how balanced the medic is going to be later.

    Even if their intention was not to make medic more played (which doesn’t seem to have worked as you mentioned as “achievement fever” dies down), there are severe medic issues that need to be addressed to make the class more fun to play in pubs. I mentioned a few in my post. Playing medic is boring. Period. They need to make the class fun in order to have people want to play it instead of having to play it out of necessity. Since they aren’t going to be adding concussion grenades, I suggested some other alternatives which I thought would be a good idea to make the class more fun.

    Also, you can’t seriously tell me that the ubersaw is not better than the regular bone saw. A free uber for 4 hits (not even 4 kills) is an incredibly good weapon upgrade. I agree Blutsauger (or however you spell it) isn’t all that useful, but kritzkreig is VERY useful situationally, and especially on defense of gold rush (oh look, 4 people pushing the cart… uber rush!).

    I’m glad to hear they will be releasing the achievements in pairs, but part of me wishes they would just release them all and then tweak them as they go. I understand, though, that it is a huge undertaking to come up with new weapons, although Valve seems to have a whole team in place just for naming achievements and coming up with crazy things to do. I do appreciate the effort on their part to make the names entertaining, but only if it doesn’t take away resources from balancing the game itself.

    I did not hear the next patch for achievements would be in a week, but that is good news! Do you have a link for that info?

    Comment by spotpuff — May 6, 2008 @ 12:02

  5. LOOY, you have to get the new weapons. Your options are either intentionally choose to put yourself at a disadvantage or unlock the medic weapons, not much of a choice really. Just because Valve says “they are balanced” doesn’t mean they are actually balanced. If you play real close attention the Blutsager is more accurate (making it slightly better) and the ubersaw is flat out superior in every way. Beyond that, playing a game without all your strategic option enabled is a disadvantage. Think trying to play rock, paper, scissors without being able to use scissors.

    Comment by Warskull — May 6, 2008 @ 12:42

  6. Saw you over at ubercharged.net…

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — FPS games like TF2 are ultimately casual games; all the tools you need to play are there when you start up — this is what makes them so successful and appealing. To introduce performance-based achievements, especially those with cumulative requirements, that have GAMEPLAY-affecting payloads severely hurts the casual player and all-rounder.

    Not to mention all the afore-mentioned hits to teamwork. FPS strategies are built on-the-fly once combat begins. Good team players are constantly re-evaulating their tactics on the field — “Oh, they’ve done x, I’d better go y class with z weapon real quick.” To have a team with an uneven (and UNKNOWN) distribution of equipment throws a severe monkey wrench into any type of planning.(“Hey, let’s go KritzKrieg to bust this bottleneck!” “Um… no one has it yet, sorry.”)

    Other games, including MMOs, have awarded their long-term players with… fluff. And damned if people don’t want that fluff. Those impressed/validated by such things will jump through endless amount of hoops to win a bit of pixels that does nothing but say “I have a lot of free time.” And I say this as a WoW player who has done some serious grinding to get a special mount / non-combat pet. Why Valve couldn’t have gone this route by awarding taunts / skin tweaks is beyond me. It would have been a best-of-both-worlds situation, IMO.

    Comment by Wossname — May 6, 2008 @ 12:50

  7. Spotpuff likes men!

    We were trying to legitately get blast assist in a real world environment and after watching my team mates fail 8 times in a row.. i felt pity for them….. i had to create my own server and let them get the bloody achievement.

    what’s the point in having achievements when a special circumstance needs to happen!

    You need to kill 5 people with 1 uberchage with rockets in the exact moment the planets align during a blue moon on Feburary 29th right when the Toronto Maple Leafs score the winning goal for the Stanley cup.

    How far fetched does that sound?

    First Do No Harm: Play a full round without killing any enemies, and score the highest on a team of 6 or more players.

    Then we have clan matches. what if 1 clan farmed achievements and the other didn’t. There is an obvious gap in equipment and ability since the ubersaw and kritskrieg is usefull.

    is it fair to penalize the team that farmed or did not farm the achievements?

    what’s goign to happen is that leagues will restrict the new weapons to even out the playing field.

    Comment by cdtrix — May 6, 2008 @ 14:38

  8. Yeah the 8 epic fails in a row for Blast Assist were fun. Well, I enjoyed it, don’t know if PK did…

    I still think my main problem with the achievements is they were not practical enough. If Blast Assist was “assist a soldier in killing 25 people with rockets while ubercharged” then that’s fine. But 5 rocket kills in ONE ubercharge? Good luck. At one point we had both a Kritzkrieg AND regular ubercharge on the soldier and he still couldn’t get 5 kills. Either the uber medic would get bounced, I would get sniped, or we’d run out of people to kill.

    First Do No Harm isn’t that hard to get if you have teammates colluding with you to leave the server as soon as your team is about to win and you stay on a server that doesn’t reset very often. But again, that requires collusion, and the hope that you just outscore everyone else on your team by playing on one server for an excessive time. There is no way you can get top score without killing anyone unless your team is exceptionally terrible, so you rely on people leaving, which again, seems like a stupid way to get an achievement.

    PS Of course I like men! Who doesn’t?

    Comment by spotpuff — May 6, 2008 @ 14:45

  9. Man, I haven’t even started on the achievements yet. I just re-read the list and continue to be amazed at how dumb some of them are.

    I don’t even think I can be bothered. Medic used to be my favorite class, but I’m thinking of giving it up altogether now.

    Comment by madlep — May 7, 2008 @ 6:43

  10. I totally agree that the weapons should be available to everyone and not unlockable, but I have no problem with the existence of the achievements themselves. If they didn’t unlock gear, only people who enjoyed playing medic would go for the more difficult ones. I, for example, had Medic as my second most-played class before the patch, and about half of the million heal points for Chief of Staff. I still don’t have that achievement, but I do have most of the rest. The scout one, for instance; the syringe gun is actually quite magical against scouts, and I often go offensive medic, only healing when someone is in dire need, and get in the top 3.

    So, I agree with you about the unlockables, but not about the nature of the medic.

    Comment by Aldrenean — May 8, 2008 @ 22:47

  11. Well said.

    Comment by panther — May 13, 2008 @ 13:02

  12. I’ve got 2/3 of the achievements so far, but I had to farm some of them. The million points achievement I had right off the bat, and about 90% of those I’ve unlocked so far I actually got playing…

    But it’s really a pain if you’ve always played medic, and now you’re not the best medic if you don’t have the unlockables; which you almost MUST farm to get. I don’t want to have to farm to get the uber saw… I just want to play.

    I guess the bright side is that since I play medic 95% of the time, I don’t have to worry about farming for everything else. 🙂

    Comment by sqrlking — May 16, 2008 @ 18:09

  13. I don’t understand how this is hurting “casuals”.

    The new weapons are slightly better. If they weren’t, noone would bother trying to get them. What they do NOT do is confer a winning advantage to teams who have them over a team that does not, as you seem to imply.

    The Ubercharge is universally better than the Critkrieg. The latter is useful in certain situations, but completely useless at the main use Ubercharges are put to (getting rid of sentries). I’ve got to tell you I get a sinking feeling in my stomach when I notice my Medic has it, because it means no invulnerability and almost certain death as I rush forward, trying to get the most of it, and getting pwned by people desperate to stop me. Give me the Medigun every time. The Blutsauger means very little except spelling bad news for nub Pyros. The Ubersaw IS good, but really, game breakingly good? As you say Medics shouldn’t be using the Bone Saw much anyway, and it’s 20% slower than the regular Saw, meaning Medics waving it around liberally are likely to get killed. The new weapons are therefore only decent cop if you play the Medic a lot and know how to use him well. Casuals will do just as well without.

    The achievements…well yeah. Some of them are a bit silly. Easy enough to find achievement servers though. I haven’t farmed at all and I’ve managed to get 22 of the achievements so far without trying.

    The idea behind the patch was not to persuade more people to choose Medic, but to reward people who play the game enough and selflessly choose Medic a lot. This article reeks of toys thrown out of pram. How DARE they release carefully thought out free new content and it’s not made immediately available to me? As you make clear you don’t like playing Medic anyway, and you were never going to get an electro-lab coat because then you’d be on here ranting about how imba they’ve made the German, so why are you that bothered?

    Comment by Bogworth — May 29, 2008 @ 22:01

  14. Two medics with the ubersaw are unstoppable. The server I played on has two VERY skilled medics and they just run around with ubersaw and uber each other: one attacks with ubersaw until they have uber, then the other medic switches to his ubersaw while the other med switches to the medigun and triggers his uber. There is almost no way to break them apart. The tactic was eventually banned because they were literally unstoppable. TF2 is just bad. I’ve had to stop playing it because of so many balance and weapon issues. For example, as a pyro you set people on fire–but the fire is so weak that lighting five people on fire usually results in the pyro dying.

    I doubt the new pyro weapons will do much to help. The axe-tinguisher was implemented because the flame thrower on its own is just too weak. I bet the new flame-thrower will cater to the pyro/anti-spy relationship–possibly allowing players to burn off sappers from friendly sgs, dispensers, and teleporters.

    Bogworth: It doesn’t matter what the ideal plan was. The point is that the patch failed to enrich gameplay and actually ruined it for a short time. Are you actually trying to argue that a plan doesn’t fail if the end-result doesn’t correspond with the plan’s intention? That’s like avoiding a recall of a defective hair dryer because hair dryers aren’t supposed to explode and kill people–even if a certain brand does.

    Comment by BAH — June 11, 2008 @ 1:09

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