In January of 2014, Ronin and Bang! approached Fr0z3nr, senior admin of tf2maps.net, about sponsoring a competition for mappers. By using a public mapping competition, they gave the community at large the opportunity to make a map that had the potential to make it into the game, but without spilling the beans on what the maps were actually for.
Ronin and Bang put together a prize pool of $1,000 out of their own pockets to help galvanise the community and set the needs of the competition out. Then, Fr0z3nr was tasked with planning and orchestrating the 2014 Major Mapping competition: Mercs vs Aliens. Organising mapping competitions is always a mammoth task, but this particular year ended up being even harder than usual; it was at this time that Fr0z3nr was approached by McVee and YM from the End of the Line team to help them work on cp_snowplow, which ended up being released in the Gun Mettle campaign.
It was barely after the Mercs vs Aliens contest had begun that they launched the 72 hour mapping contest. The 72 hour contest is a gruelling weekend project - 3 days to create from scratch an entire, playable map. It's a tall order, and maps vary in quality, but because of the short timeline people aren't as afraid to be wild and creative with their maps.
If you want something interesting and new - such as, I don’t know, something involving aliens - a 72 hour mapping contest is not a bad place to start.
Released from the possibility of spending months on a map, only to realise it's fundamentally flawed, people often try things that they wouldn't do in their more serious maps. It worked. In the original 72hr Summer Mapping contest, all of the maps that were submitted to Valve were created. Interestingly, none of them actually won that original contest - those honours go to Inari by Freyja, Redplanet by Di Gorgonzola and Alex76 by Auwi.
Mappers were told that they could use the maps from the 72 hour contest from the Mercs vs Aliens competition from the beginning. With more time to work with, the maps produced for Mercs vs Aleins were expected to be significantly more polished than those that came out of the original 72 hour mapping competition. More art assets, including some gorgeous particle effects by MetroidFission, were provided and the rules included the caveat that the map must end with the Alien Mothership being destroyed, as per Ronin and Bang’s instructions.
The community didn't disappoint. In fact, the first round of voting ended in a 3-way tie for first place. To choose a winner, people were asked to vote once more, but only on the 3 maps that tied for first place. If you want to see all of the efforts that came out of this contest, I strongly recommend watching this promo video that TF2maps.net put together.
It was during talks with Valve, that they proposed a re-skin of an official map would be a lot of fun. Valve offered the choice from four maps and after some discussion, eventually the team decided on 2fort.
2fort is one of the original maps that shipped with TF2, and goes all the way back to Team Fortress Classic and - going even further - was originally made as a mod for Quake back in 1999. The nostalgia factor in giving 2fort a new coat of paint is totally worth every moment, especially for those who remember the days in which there were no hats, no alternative weapons and the pyro didn’t even have his airblast.
This project was undertaken by Bang, with some technical input from Egan. Reskinning a map is actually a surprisingly large undertaking - you can often open up someone else’s TF2 map in hammer, compile it without changing anything… and immediately lose half of the data and break the entire map. However, the final product took everybody by surprise.
The map was carefully kept under lock and key by Bang! and it ended up being one of the few things that there was absolutely no public information about at all before the update dropped. So as you wander onto the bridge once again, raise a glass to Bang! for bringing everyone back to where we began so that we can see just how far we have all truly come.
Throughout the map there are various easter eggs ranging from tie ins with the cosmetics to posters of adverts from Kritzkast's unused radio drama. If you think you try and tally them up (reddit will try) you will find the image to the right in amongst them. You'll wonder what relevance it has. Let us tell you. This was an image drawn by Ronin's child after finding out that their daddy would be making an alien themed update. Getting it in TF2 is better than putting it on the fridge
Not the long-awaited pro version of koth_casualbed, Probed is a King of the Hill map that stays away from what is often referred to as the "Viaduct formula" (raised point, lowered area behind the point, decks for the sniper at the back - as seen on koth_viaduct and koth_lakeside). Instead, the map is diamond shaped, where players are forced into a bottleneck centered on the point. This map features two new mechanics - firstly, there are the Aliens! Aliens teleport into the map randomly, and if you're unlucky enough to be in the same place as them when they appear, they'll even telefrag you, because they’re jerks like that. But, you can finally take out the aliens that may (or may not) be trying to steal your hats.
“It’s based off the Dwarf Fortress thing where they get this idea in their head and you have to give them the right materials or they’ll lose their minds. I sort of feel like that when I get a stupid idea.”
Crash goes into a lot of detail as to how he got the aliens teleporting into the map in a series of videos that he aptly named "Crash's Strange Mood". Very few TF2 maps have any form of interactivity with the map itself (with the exception of the objective) and Crash pulls it off with aplomb, with Aliens incinerating into satisfying chunky green explosions as you shoot them. Secondly is the mechanic in which the UFO will fly into the map and suck up people who are on the point every now and then. Reds and Blus are forced to face off in a straight up DM as they fight to escape the UFO. But, if you get out of the ship alive, you are rewarded with a health buff and mini-crits, making the entire endeavour very satisfying.
“The basic idea was from eyeaduct […] You’d teleport in and you were all running for an exit. I was like, the dumb part about that is how it’s both teams next to each other and you either have to be nice and just allow the other team to get through or you’re a jerk. So how can I make that better for a PVP setting?”
One of the interesting things about this map is that Valve actually created a new entity type specifically for UEAKCrash, named “tf_bomb_generic”. The way that the Alien-robot-things teleport in and work was surprisingly complex; they have to have instructions that teleport them in randomly (which is not a built in function in hammer), and they have further instructions on collision, explosion, and damage.
“It’s the most stupidly complex system to get it working. And if I can get this entity from Valve, I can just delete half of that. Oh God, it would be so much more efficient.”
All the different aliens also have 3 levels (smaller, bigger, biggest). So for the aliens to all teleport in in random places at random levels, be destroyable, play a particle type when destroyed and damage players (and so on and so forth) was really difficult to do and took up a lot of entities. When Valve added the tf_bomb_generic entity, this allowed crash to significantly reduce the amount of entities in the map and give the map a significant performance boost.
Designed by Egan and detailed by Bakscratch, Watergate is an entirely new game mode. PD stands for "Player Destruction," and the mechanics for the map were inspired both by Valve's sd_doomsday - where you capture the flag by going up a lift - and rd_asteroid, where you destroy robots for money.
“It’s like special delivery except that there’s multiple flags and you need to capture multiple flags to win and a new flag spawns every time somebody dies.”
But, as the old saying goes, you can't kill an alien with money. In fact, that space ship of theirs is so well protected, you probably can't destroy it at all. So instead, Egan provides you with a much better way to kill Aliens. You get them drunk...so drunk, in fact, that they do the job of destroying their ship for you and crash their own ship. (It should be noted that in real life crashed spaceships, while being a fodder for conspiracy theorists’ theories the world over, are also famed for being the inspiration for national drunk driving limits.)
“It’s like a beer factory so you’re getting the UFO all drunk.”
Every player is spawned with a bottle of beer. When you kill a player, they drop their beer, which you can then pick up. As you pick up more beer, you actually become stronger (just like in real life!), with your health regenerating over time. When the space ship flies over the map you can jump into the tractor beam and the aliens will greedily suck up all the beer you're carrying.
“There’s going to be… what are those… suction beam things?... What are those things? Tractor beams!”
The idea behind the mechanic is to make people's lives more valuable as you get more kills. When you die, you don't just drop the beer you were spawned with - you drop all the beer you've collected and your enemy can then pick it all up. So as you get more kills, dying becomes a bigger and bigger deal.
“The method of scoring isn’t just like putting up a rocket platform anymore. It’s putting it in the beam of the UFO.”
When you are carrying the most beer on your team, you are then highlighted through walls, similar to the payload, so that players are even more tempted to come and kill you, to grab all your beer all at once. It makes the experience that bit more intense as you become hunted by other players. The only good news about that part is that you cannot spill your beer - not without spilling your own blood first, anyway.
“It was complex, we’re talking 800 entities complex…”
Originally the game mode was made entirely in Hammer (the map making program included in the Source Developer's Kit by Valve), but the logic was so complex that it was causing performance issues. Later, the code that handled the game mode was moved to SourceMod, relieving the map of a lot of the complex tasks and solving a lot of the difficulties in making the game play smoothly and letting people really get to grips with the game mode.
Egan actually included all of the code used in SourceMod to make the map work on the servers he tested the map on when it was sent to Valve, to help them with turning it into a native game mode.
“I heavily implied ‘Maybe you guys could just program this in?’ I mean how else would they do it?”
The coding for this map was pretty complex, so in the end it ended up being custom programed by Valve, as Egan thought they would have to. But, as with all best laid plans - there were still problems when the launch date came around, so the launch date was pushed back. However, with the focus on content from this year’s Community Update, something that had previously been a sticking point with the TF2 community, waiting one week for an extra map with a brand-new game mode seemed like a sacrifice worth making.
Byre is an arena mode map with a twist. Generally, arena mode ends because most of one team are dead and the last couple of players are in a game of hide and seek. In these cases, the player with the least health is trying to simply stay alive and the point gets ignored - this makes sense, given that trying to capture the point provides the other team with what is essentially an indicator on their GUIs that says “Hey! That guy you’re looking for? He’s standing in this one specific big open space in the middle of the map, hoping you won’t get to him in time to shred his last point of health!”.
“How do you fix this conundrum? How do you make the point worthwhile and useful to capture in arena mode?”
Idolon takes on this challenge with arena_byre. Byre has two control points, both of which have very short capture times - just 2-3 seconds each. This prevents players from hanging back and playing only to stay alive the longest and instead creates a mad dash for the point, where rounds are over quickly and you don’t spend your life watching other people have fun, also known as Counter Strike Syndrome (CSS). Damn other people. It feels like what arena mode should be, short rounds packed with action where everyone jumps for the points.
“This map looks ****ing fantastic.” - Sir.Grey
Neither do men live nor die in vain
The cast of people who helped put together the Audio drama extended outside of just the Kritzkast hosts. Two notable voices are not members of the Kritzkast lineup; One of them was Benjamoose, who is a fantastic member of the TF2 community, and a voice actor on the side. He was responsible for all of the "Perfect Announcer" voices present in day 1. The other was the partner of Ruskeydoo, Ruth. As hard as we tried, none of us could fake a female voice convincingly. But, she was more than happy to help.
The spinning hat logo used in the youtube uploads of Kritzkasts' radio dramas was created by YGG, who is renowned for having a name whose pronunciation is impossible to predict without first having an awkward conversation with YGG. He graciously took the time and effort to render the Lofi-Longwave in SFM and add the other effects in on top of the raw video. Without it, our youtube videos would likely be accompanied by merely a static image. Granted, that would technically make it more like the traditional radio experience - since, radio with a moving image is better known as "television" - but, it would make it far less special.
“Excellent job guys. Love the title's reference too. Very cool to hear this all together.”
The aims of Day 3 were to go full-on apocalypse and show the world going to hell because of the aliens, hopefully leading onto the audience going off to play the update and defeating said aliens. Now we could do what we wished with the characters, Kill them off, Let them have future stories or turn them into cannibals. One of those came true.
There was also another small push at the end, calling out to item makers to make weapons for the update. The President's speech was almost directly aimed at the item making community to give them the motivation to make new and exciting weapons and items to fend off the alien invader.