The Theory of Gaming

June 6, 2008

Facestab explanation

Filed under: Game Analysis — Tags: , , — spotpuff @ 13:28

One of the big problems in TF2 right now is “facestabbing” where a spy will seemingly be in front of you, or even running right at you, but miraculously land a backstab one hit kill on you.

A thread posted in the Steam forums
has a brief explanation as to why this can happen:

The backstab problem is due to the time delay between when you fire and when the hit lands, and the discrepancy between whether it should be a backstab at the start and/or the end. If we make the start case authoritive, players get facestabbed if they turn around before the hit lands. If we make the end case authoritive, Spies claim they got screwed when they got a backstab animation and no instant kill. Right now we have a system somewhere in the middle, where we allow the Spy to keep the backstab as long as the receiver doesn’t turn to look almost directly at the Spy. This is something we’re still hoping to improve.

Latency and multiple client synchronization is an ever-present problem in online gaming.  The server has to decide how to synchronize the data coming in with all the clients it is hosting.  A soldier with 200 ping may see a spy in front of him when the spy is actually beside him, resulting in an apparent facestab due to the server accepting the spy’s data instead of the soldier’s.

Melee in general in TF2 is problematic.  I’m sure most people have had an experience with being meleed seemingly from 10 feet away due to lag.  On your opponent’s screen, they’re right next to you, but on yours they’re 10 feet away.  The server accepts their data and says you are being hit, and you’re busy trying to figure out what is going on while avoiding death.

There’s no real good solution here with the spy since everyone is going to have latency when playing over the internet.  Even if you’re lucky enough to have very low ping, your enemies may have somewhat higher ping.  And while 50ms doesn’t sound like much, in terms of melee movement and directional-facing detection, it can mean the difference between a facestab and a harmless melee attack.

Personally I feel right now the facestab detection is horrible.  Backstabs land in a 180 degree arc behind the player on level ground and from the bottom and top of the player.  To avoid a backstab you essentially have to face where you think the spy is going to be when the stab actually lands, which is practically impossible.  Plus adding luck into a skill based game is sort of annoying, although for whatever reason a certain level of randomness is included in most games in terms of damage ranges, but when a weapon is an instant kill, the stakes are somewhat higher.



  1. While latency is often a problem, the backstab problem seems unrelated to latency given Robin Walker’s comments. Rather it’s related to at what point in the spy’s backstab animation to decide whether it was a backstab or not.

    I think the problem there is just that: it’s an animation. There is no point where the knife actually contacts someone’s back (good, too, for that would be gruesome and unpleasant).

    In my experience I very rarely get facestabbed anyway, and when I do: so what? Give it around 20 seconds and I’m back in the game. I find backstabs more frustrating because I tend to be doing something ‘important’ when it happens (hence why I don’t notice the spy sneak up).

    Comment by Mike Tomasello — June 6, 2008 @ 14:34

  2. I personally find face stabs annoying because you can be looking right at the spy and still be “backstabbed”. The reason I say it’s related to latency is because the spy can appear to be in front of you on your screen, but actually be beside you. If this happens the spy’s client considers this a successful backstab if they attack, and the server seems to take that as accurate rather than your client, which says you were facing the spy when he attacked.

    When you’re doing everything right to kill a spy and still die due to a perceived bug and/or latency issue, it’s annoying. I’ve seen pyros running backwards lighting a spy on fire and get facestabbed by a flaming spy that was seemingly a few feet away. I’ve been backing up firing needles or rockets at a spy and been face stabbed as well.

    Yeah dying isn’t a horrible thing in TF2 because you come back 20 seconds later, but it’s still time spent waiting that you should be spending playing/fragging.

    The other issue with backstabs is the animations are so drastically different for the spy. Every other classes’ melee animation takes the same amount of time. The Spy has 2 animations with radically different animations and “contact” time. The side swing and straightforward stab are almost instantaneous, but the overhand backstab adds something like 1/2 a second onto the attack. I’ve been face stabbed by a spy who was attacking someone else, missed, and overhand “backstabbed” me to death. That seems a bit buggy.

    Comment by spotpuff — June 6, 2008 @ 14:46

  3. […] defending on Team Fortress for twenty-seven minutes then lost in the final seconds because I got facestabbed by a Spy with3 health left. I mean, for fuck’s […]

    Pingback by Pardon whilst I vent « Head Case — January 2, 2009 @ 17:40

  4. For me, the backstabbing issue is a real pain since I play Spy. There will be a split second between my downswing and the enemy, and instead of being instantaneous, will take a half second longer than most melee attacks and give the enemy a chance to move out of the way or turn around. When playing a Spy, timing that kill stroke is essential. If someone makes a wrong move, it’s over and you’re probably dead. I’m not saying redo the whole stabbing mechanics, but I feel that the Spy backstab needs to be quicker in order to make the gameplay more reasonable. They could just eliminate the facestab completely and replace the backstab to function with attacking from the side as well (but insert a percentage deal like with crits to see if it will take effect or not). That may be a little cheaper, but it would maybe work out a whole lot better than the Spy’s stabbing mechanics at the moment.

    Comment by Mason Jenkins — September 14, 2011 @ 21:22

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