Team Fortress was arguably the first popular online class-based multiplayer game, which goes a long way to explaining why at least 14 different versions exist. When you look back and compare the very earliest incarnation, is it really so different from the smooth and polished version released only last year?
The original Team Fortress was developed by Robin Walker, John Cook and Ian Caughley as a mod for Quake. They sought to develop a game which offered something different than the standard "deathmatch" experience. By introducing different classes, this offered a more tactical and strategic approach to the game and helped separate Team Fortress from other titles. Interestingly, the original release contained only 5 classes: Scout, Sniper, Soldier, Demo Man and the Medic.
Soon, a 1.1 update was released, which began to introduce the changes that created the Team Fortress most people know and love. The Heavy was introduced alongside the now classic 2Fort. It wasn't until version 2.5 that the Engineer, Spy and Pyro were added to create the classic 9 class line up. By the end of 1996 Team Fortress had a large internet following, largely from interested Quake players.
Team Fortress remained highly popular amongst online gamers and soon work began on a sequel for Quake II by the original trio of developers. However, regardless of the work which had gone into the project, it never saw the light of day. Yet, despite the set back Cook and Walker joined Valve and began working on a remake of the original game for the Half Life game engine, which became Team Fortress Classic.
This remake was released in 1999 as a free addition to Half Life and made some changes to create a slightly different game. In the original modification for Quake, the game was primarily about hiding and could be suitably tense, yet Classic altered this. Now, it became about a battle between the teams and became slightly faster paced in comparison. The emphasis on cooperation was still key to success and utilizing classes effectively was essential.
Classic contains a range of game modes, including the now obligatory "capture the flag" and "capture control points" as well as the interesting VIP mode. In this game, one team is tasked with protecting the vulnerable VIP (a tenth class with only a melee weapon) whilst the other team must assassinate them. After an update, a fourth game mode "football" was created, in which a ball must be captured and taken to the enemies' goal.
Team Fortress Classic also built upon the class system of the previous version by having each carry a unique weapon, as well as secondary and melee ones and a selection of grenades. Interestingly, grenades were often a source of friction when skilled players could often use them with almost unfair precision. The Demoman's "demo pack" grenade is now infamous, with its cluster bomb explosion often annihilating entire teams and even servers, as it wasn't 56k friendly.
Team Fortress Classic was now very popular, ranking alongside Counter Strike as the most played online game, with huge numbers of servers running it. From here, the modifications and different versions began to really multiply in earnest.
There were several notable modifications, but few managed the popularity of the original or Classic. Quake III Fortress never really managed to build up a large following yet remained popular amongst a small number of internet gamers. Similarly, Unreal Fortress, developed for the Unreal engine allowed for more equipment and 5 game modes. When Epic announced Unreal Tournament 2003 and 2004, new Team Fortress mods were announced but some never managed to make it past the Beta testing stages.
There were also a multitude of modifications for Team Fortress Classic: NeoTF, CustomTF and MegaTF being the key ones. Most of these included relatively minor changes to the gameplay, such as implementing a money system in order to buy weapons and equipment and the introduction of new gear. These small modifications proved popular with existing players who sought to tailor the game to their own preferences.
Whilst these mods were being developed and Classic was enjoying its popularity, Valve began work on a direct sequel, Team Fortress 2: Brotherhood of Arms. The game was set to have a much more realistic tone than the predecessor and promotional screenshots released for the game confirm this. There was even talk of one player commanding the battlefield from above in the manner of an RTS whilst others fought the battle below.
However, whilst initial talk and information seemed reliable, the game soon vanished from view. Soon there were rumours of vaporware and people began to lose hope of seeing it, as Valve busied themselves with the implementation of Steam and expanding their hugely successful Half Life series.
Whilst the official sequel remained hidden in the depths of Valve, a modding team began work on their version of Team Fortress built atop Valve's own Source engine. Designed to update Classic and keep the core gameplay the same, the team created Fortress Forever.
Fortress Forever stays loyal to much of Team Fortress Classic, with only minor changes and improved visuals. Interestingly some changes would appear similar to those eventually utilized in Valve's official sequel, most notably the Spy's ability to cloak. This was primarily implemented as it was now impossible to feign death due to ragdoll physics technology being used in the Source engine.
The team behind Fortress Forever had been planning the game before Valve released their SDK software tool and sadly their game was to fall victim to an unfortunate coincidence. After years had passed, in July 2006 Valve finally announced Team Fortress 2 and the development started in earnest after the completion of Half Life 2: Episode 1. When Fortress Forever was finally released in September 2007, only a month later Valve's official sequel was released, which meant Forever went largely unappreciated.
When Team Fortress 2 was released, the 9 year release was worth it. But early trailers hinted at a different game. Grenades were featured, including the Demoman's cluster bomb and the Scout appeared to carry a nail gun. Yet Valve decided to make Team Fortress as accessible and balanced as possible, and changes were made to create the game we have today.
The other key change is the unique art style, which gives Team Fortress 2 an impressive appearance. The cartoon visuals blend well with the excellent character design which really brings each of the classes to life. Here lies the other key change; most classes only carry 3 weapons, with a few exceptions, which have helped make the classes more distinct. The game is now so finely balanced that multiplayer games become as much a battle of strategy as individual skill.
Valve have decided to carry on developing Team Fortress 2 and are regularly releasing patches and updates, including new game modes and a new unlockable weapon system. Here players are rewarded with achievements which build towards new equipment which can replace their existing load out. Time will tell how much this effects the game, but initial reports are generally positive, with the exception of a small number of players.
The Team Fortress series has come a long way since the initial Quake mod was created 12 years ago, but it appears that the release and development of Team Fortress 2 is still going strong.