/me tips his hat. Good-bye old friend, you will be greatly missed.
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26 May 2002

TFC is not deathmatch !

I don't know if it's public knowledge, but TFC's primary goal is not to kill enemies but to capture the enemy's flag. Other scenarios have slightly different goals, but the principle is the same.

So killing the enemy is only a secondary goal, and not even a necessity to achieve the primary goal. A scout might very well steal and cap a flag without killing a single enemy.

Sure, the game's layout and mechanics does require to kill each other. But that's only an mean to an end, it doesn't serve its own purpose.

Killing as main goal, that's deathmatch. TFC is not deathmatch. So why do so many people mistake TFC for DM?

If you are bored with the concept of offense and defense, of concentrating in the primary objective of the game and all that comes with it, why the heck don't you move to a different game. You can find rocketlaunchers and sniperrifles in many deathmatch games as well.
If you only want to show a high killscore you are also welcome to do so in a different game. You're killscore is pointless in TFC! You're killing skills are worthless if they're not submitted to the objective of the game.
If you'd rather play DM with classes, or you're preferring a team-based DM you are also in the wrong game.

Play TFC for what it's intended to be, or don't play it at all!


   Dedicated to Honor, Sportsmanship and Team Play
Home of the Coalition for TFC Reform HQ

Monday, 15 July 2002 1600Z
Class balance pt.2 -Teatime

Hmm, apparently I took the second step before the first.

In the thread on the PF forums the question was raised why class balance was important in the first place, and if class balance was needed for the game to be fun.
I have to admit that the thought never occurred to me that class balance could be considered anything less than a fundamental element of TFC (But then again I always thought that TFC wasn't a deathmatch game either, so sue me for being naive). But on the other hand seeing that some people (most people?) don't see the element of class balance as a prerequisite explains a lot.

If you look at TFC you will find balance established on different levels.

The most obvious level is the one which is perhaps the easiest to be overlooked: The balance between teams.

Usually both teams feature the same number of players. I'm not too familiar with the clan scene, but I assume leagues regulate the numbers of people playing on each team. This is a simple act of balancing the game and to keep the game fair for both sides (in many aspects fairness is relying on or connected to balance).
There is also the issue of maps. Have you ever asked yourself why most maps (CTF- or CTF-related) are built symmetrically? And why the makers of those maps which are not symmetrical have either been put in a lot of effort not to favor one side or - when not - created flawed maps (casbah comes to mind). Good asymmetrical maps are rare because it's very difficult to balance them, to not give one side any kind of advantage over the other by design.

The next level is the balance between classes.

The game features nine different classes, all differing from each other in health, armor, speed, weapons and special abilities. It seems evident that each class was developed to fill a certain niche in the game, to assume a certain function which it can serve more efficiently than any other class. These are no absolute concepts, but in principle that's the design. A scout is a primary offensive class, who's main purpose is to grab and escape with the flag. He's not suited for defense and not much use on clearing enemy defenses. On the same level the engineer is a primary defensive class because of his special ability, and his low health/armor doesn't make him too useful for O (and sure enough some smartass will point out that an offensive engineer can work, but let's face it, it's rather rare on competent games, and that for very obvious reasons).
You can go through all the classes and quite well describe the main purpose they were composed to fulfill. The two classes which are found to play outside their original purpose are characteristically those which - IMO - are the least balanced: the soldier and the medic.

When you specialize a class to fill a certain niche you give him some advantages to serve this purpose. If you look at the special strength or advantage given to a class by its specialization you will often see that this strength is countered by the specialization of different class.
Like the engineer with his sentry, for example. The sentry is the most powerful weapon in the game and actually no class could go against it (this is simplified, I know, but allow me to make a point). But the deadliness of the sentry is countered by the ability of the spy to fool the sentry while disguised. In that aspect the spy is a balancing force to the sentry.
Another balance can be found in snipers and heavy classes. The main idea of snipers are to prevent heavy classes to go O. Due to the slow speed of heavy classes they are rather helpless against snipers. (The sniper's role in TFC sadly never lived up his status in TF)
Other examples of balance would be EMPs and pipes, spies and scouts, spy grens or the medic's ability to infect (Those do not have too much of an edge anymore today, but IMO those were, along with the c-grens, given the light classes as a - subtle - balancing factor when engaging the, usually heavy, enemy D. You know perhaps that originally the scout had flashbangs which were replaced by the c-gren because back in TF the flash-effect could be disabled by cheats - another example of the importance of knowing one's game's history).

So the main idea of the balance between the classes is that within all the diversity no class is too powerful, no class the ultimate class. If that were the case why bother with so many classes in the first place.
That is in theory, but of course that balance was always a main problem in TF(C) because it's so difficult to achieve and to maintain. Today we face balance shifts which IMO damage the main concept of the game. But to discuss the advantages or disadvantages of such balance shifts requires people to understand the basic idea of balance in the first place.

We're not quite finished yet.

Another level is the balance in each class.

Each class is a mix of strengths and weaknesses. In all cases you have a trade-off of health/armor and speed, making the stronger, more powerful classes slower than the lighter ones. Another balancing factor are the weapons. Strong, devastating weapons are rare, and often reserved to single classes (RPG, EMPs, pipes, mirvs). There is no logical reason (logical not in a realistic way, but in the way of the game's goal) not to give a scout or medic stronger weapons, like i.e. replacing the handgrens with mirvs. This would make the medic or scout more powerful and better suited for his role, but at the same time would make the class itself too strong and therefore screw the class' balance (and would additionally affect the balance between classes). Or look at the spy who's main advantage - the disguise - is lost when he grabs the flag.
The design of the class system requires a class to have a weakness, because that's often the point where a different class can effectively attack (which again also involves the balance between classes; both are highly interwoven).
This balancing even extends to the weapons itself: The power of the RPG is balanced by its necessity to be reloaded, the EMP only affects cells, a sentry has only a limited range of detection, etc.

So far I have not explained why balance is important, haven't I? So far all I have done is shown that there are tons of balancing factors already established in TFC. I have never played TF, but I talked to enough TF veterans to know that TF went through a lot of experimentation to get to the class system which it eventually featured. All kinds of balancing factors have been tweaked, switched and turned upside down back in those days. What we have today is by no means perfect, but nevertheless it's the result of a very long and occasionally painful process. Most people who started playing TeamFortress with TFC, perhaps even with later versions of TFC, have seen only minor and rudimentary tweaking of the classes and the class balance, in fact rather bug fixing than actual tweaking.
But the fact that the complex composition of balance in the game is no longer hitting you in the face (which obviously was the case back in TF) doesn't mean it's not important. IMO it's the main factor which defines TFC! There are plenty of CTF games out there, amongst those some well designed and enjoyable ones. But none of those - if we ignore all those direct TF-descendents like Q3F for a moment - feature such an elaborate and sophisticated class system like TF. So CTF can be played in many ways. It does require some basic balancing factors (mostly on the level of level-design and team-numbers. But a class-based CTF like TF(C) can only work on the fundament of class balance. If you simplify the class balance you revolve backwards to simple CTF.

I'm not sure if that's a satisfying answer. As I said, to me it was always perfectly clear that class balance is a fundamental and inseparable part of TFC - asking if TFC needs balance is to me a bit like someone saying "Beautiful building, but does it really need those pillars and supporting beams?" - so maybe I still haven't succeeded in making my point.
Tell me, the discussion thread is still there ...


I guess I still have to comment on the question, if balance was necessary for the game to be fun. I'll make it short ...

That is of course a very subjective matter. People are having fun with all kinds of games. I'm sure some people prefer 'simply' CTF to TFC exactly because of the fewer balancing factors. I have also seen people having immense fun turning TFC into deathmatch with teams.
No, I think the question of 'fun' is leading us nowhere when it comes to the issue of balance, because balance is what defines TFC in the first place. IMO it's more important that people understand and accept the restrictions imposed by the design of the game. If some people feel uncomfortable with those restrictions, if balance is more a 'bug' than a 'feature', then perhaps those people should ask themselves if they are playing the right game in the first place.

Sunday, 14 July 2002 1630Z
Chess ... -Teatime

Or: A lecture in the principles of class balance ...

Disclaimer: This is a revised version of an editorial I wrote back in 2000 for a different website.

Chess is a game where both opponents control a set of 16 pieces, composed of a number of different pieces, with the goal to beat the other player by setting the king checkmate (or to immobilize him).

In chess there are 6 different kinds of pieces: Pawn, Knight, Bishop, Castle, Queen and King. The different kinds of pieces are mainly distinguished by their ability in movement, means the different ways they can move and the number of squares they can move in one move. Also the numbers of pieces in the set are varying.

Now let's call the set of pieces a 'team' and the different kinds of pieces 'classes'. Consequently you can say that chess is a class-based teamgame (though each team is controlled by a single player).

Looking at the different classes (I will stay at this terminology for the moment) you see that each class features its own unique strength and weakness, defined by its freedom and range of movement.
The Pawn is definitely the weakest class, with a very limited ability to move and a limited range of movement.
Bishop and Castle both feature a limited ability to move, but an unlimited range, therefore are a stronger class than the Pawn.
The Knight is a very unique class with both limited ability and range in movement, but it's the only class which is able to jump over other pieces. This might be called a specialization. So while the Knight could be considered weaker than Bishop or Castle this specialization gives the Knight a different quality.
The Queen and the King share the same ability in movement, but with different range. Despite this similarity these two classes represent both ends of the power scale, with the Queen being the strongest and most ultimate of classes while the King, depending on his role, is the most vulnerable.

Looking at a chess-set it becomes clear that weakness, to a certain degree, is compensated by numbers. The weakest class, the Pawn, is represented 8 times while the team features only one Queen, as the strongest class. The medium classes are represented twice each.
Interestingly enough the Pawn is given the ability to be transformed into a Queen once he moved all the way to the other side of the board. This gives the Pawn a potential quality beyond his original weakness (and - often - character of 'cannonfodder').

Looking at all this it's easy to see that chess features a well-devised balance between the classes. The central point of the class balance is the careful distribution of strengths and weaknesses to each class as well as between classes. For example the Knight is the only class which is able to threat the Queen without being in the Queen's line of fire (so to speak). An additional element to the class balance are the quantities of each class.

So, at his point let us shift the focus to TFC. The classes in TFC are also composed to feature a mix of strength and weakness, as well to each class as between classes. The classes feature different speed, different armor and different health. Weapons and special abilities differ.
You will find a very careful composed balance to each class in TFC: The engineer has a strong special ability, medium weapons and the health/armor of a light class. The sniper is also a light class but has a strong weapon. The strong classes, soldier and HWG, are both restricted by their slow speed. The demo has strong, but specialized weapons not suitable to each situation. The spy is a rather weak class with medium weapons which is compensated by his special ability.
There is also the balance between classes: The engineer with his deadly sentry can be effectively attacked by the spy. The sniper is the counterpart to the heavy classes with his ability to kill (or at least seriously hurt) even a heavy armored HWG. The scout's speed is his major advantage over medium and heavy classes.

The class balance in TFC is not perfect. The soldier is probably the less-balanced of all classes. Returning to the example of chess the soldier has much of the qualities of the Queen, but unlike chess TFC has no class-limits by principle. The changes in TFC during the last two years has also shifted the balance. The new netcode has increased the power of the HWG. C-jumping (which of course existed before) has replaced the scout in many cases by the medic, because the main advantage of the scout, his higher speed, has become secondary with c-jumping.
And of course TF(C) is looking back on a long history of tweaking the classes and class balance. There were a lot of try & error going on back in TF before the setup TFC features today was established.

So why am I telling you all this? Mainly because many people don't understand the principles of class balance. More exactly they have no clue that - as the word 'balance suggests - there must be weaknesses and restrictions to counter the strengths. Too many people consider those weaknesses and restrictions as obstacles and annoyances which should by all means be overcome somehow. Bunnyhopping is probably the best example for such a mindset. Bunnyhopping undermines one of the major balancing determinants, but most pro-BH'ers don't care because all they see is the advantage it gives to them, without considering the effect it has on the game (in the long run).

Allow me to return to chess. Let's tweak the 'class balance' of chess a bit. For example let us give the Castle the Knight's ability to jump over other pieces. That way the Castle would be able to threat the enemy King even from far away. We would have removed the balancing factor of limited range of the Knight and created a super-strong 'class'. This would shift the balance remarkably.
Or - as analogy to BH - imagine that each chess piece would no longer be limited in its range. Would be interesting to see how easy you can check a King which can evade over the whole board.

I don't want to say that such changes would make the game become unplayable, but it would definitely screw up a very carefully composed balance between the different classes. It would become a different game. And I doubt it would be a better game.

Now I realize that TFC is still evolving, though very, very slowly. I would promote and welcome some tweaking here and there because I acknowledge that the balance in TFC is by no means perfect yet. However, I'd prefer that people would take the effort to understand the basics of class balance before making unqualified suggestions or promoting questionable or even dangerous points of view.
And those people who dislike the idea that each advantage should be balanced by a certain kind of disadvantage should consider to move to a non-class-based CTF game, where balance is much less of an issue.

You might discuss this editorial here.


Monday, 09 July 2002 2300Z
Addon -Teatime

Okay, I'm not a kitten anymore, and some good ideas just popped up too late (read: after having posted the editorial).

Regarding the 'leveling the field'- and 'cheat or no cheat'-aspect of the discussion I remembered something which caused a lot of turmoil one year ago (plus/minus, don't bother me with accuracy).
When ASUS introduced their range of GeForce3 cards they developed drivers which enabled the user to switch to a wireframe-view during the game. In short they offered a driver-based wallhack which they even boldly advertised as an edge in online gaming (Dear ASUS PR-department: Nice idea, but terrible execution. Go to jail, don't move over start, etc). In response to public pressure ASUS removed that feature from later versions of the driver.

Now let's just imagine ASUS would have kept this feature (and of course would have used it on the GF4 as well) ...
In consequence one could argue that in order to level the field between ASUS-users and those of other graphic cards the use of wallhacks should be allowed. And I'm sure a lot of people would have argued exactly that way, with a quite similar reasoning than they do today with the underwater fog.

So where do we draw the line? Is the definition of cheat just bound to technical questions, completely separated from any ethical question, from any respect of what the game should be like? Does 'right' or 'wrong' no longer matter in regards of technical possibilities (or problems, as in case of D3D cards)?
And how can we uphold any ethical standards when we allow such issues to erode our understanding of a clean and fair game?

I understand that an issue like underwater fog create a difficult situation for leagues and how to create a compromise which keep games fair and even on matches. On the other hand do understand that I don't care (yes, I agree that I'm in an easy position here :-)). In my book removing underwater fog is a cheat and officially allowing people to use this cheat is a highly questionable approach towards the ethics of a game.
And what's worse is that it's giving way on the stand on cheats. It signals that - under certain circumstances - a cheat might be acceptable. So consequently some cheats might not be as bad as others. And maybe if that cheat is not that bad, maybe another might be okay, too.

Come on, that's not a path we want to follow. There's a line where cheating starts. Allow this line to be pushed backwards - perhaps repeatedly - and we'll end up having to argue what cheats would be questionable at all.

You can join the discussion in this thread on the PF forums.


Sunday, 08 July 2002 1900Z
Nemesis Hook -Teatime

After reading a few things about the nemesis hook I finally got around to take a look at it. For those who don't know: The nemesis hook is a dll-file which, when launched with TFC, will enable the player to make certain tweakings to the game. The features of the recent version are: Disabling underwater fog, flagstatus and -timer, speed-o-meter, winamp controls, switching between crosshairs, clock, disabling messagemode 1 and bunnyhop fix.

The hook has been discussed quite controversially before (here, for instance), but after giving it a try myself I felt like adding my 2 cents to the discussion.

Some of the features, like the integrated clock and the winamp control, are of no actual consequence to the game. Speed-o-meter and switching crosshairs are no big deal either. Quite frankly I don't understand which use the speed-o-meter serves, except perhaps to give a spy a reference when being disguised as a slower class. But then again a spy might alter his speed to match his disguise's speed in the first place. Or am I missing anything here ...?

Speaking of: I have no idea what the bunnyhop fix does. The description talks of 'blocky movements' on servers with BH enabled. But since I don't bunnyhop and loathe BH (by principle, mind me, not because I couldn't) I will probably never find out.

The 'disabling MM1' feature is not a bad idea, either. In most cases one doesn't miss anything worth mentioning on MM1. On the other hand I suspect too many people will just disable MM1 right away, and that, IMO, would be a mistake. There might always be some questions between the teams (e.g. suggesting an O vs. D game when there are only few people) or somebody asking questions, and heck, personally I like when people are exchanging 'gg' at the end of a game. So disabling MM1 should only serve as an emergency brake, but not as a default setting.

While all the aforementioned features are rather harmless the most controversial are the remaining two: Flagstatus and -timer and disabling underwater fog.

Personally I love the concept of the flagstatus and -timer being displayed on the HUD. The flagstatus is rather banal, since it could be requested by the corresponding command anyway. But having it on your HUD all the time gives the game a lot more transparence. The flagtimer on the other hand is something which could not have been duplicated by the game itself. So actually I would have to reject it because of that. BUT then again I think this is a great feature which adds a new level to the game. Both, flagstatus and flagtimer, introduce a far more controlled and transparent approach on tactic and strategy, and IMO could do a lot to give the game a new twist it could definitely need. I think it shifts the game to a sharper gameplay, removing some of the rather casual elements.
People always complain the game was getting old. Here would be a chance to give the game a new edge without changing anything of the game's balance or mechanics.
But of course this would only be true if everybody had the possibility of using such a feature. And since not everybody, for various reasons, would be using nemesis (and in the following you will see why I could not recommend it wholeheartedly) it would require Valve to integrate such a feature by themselves (the more as nemesis would trigger anticheat protection). And I'm afraid that's not likely to happen.

So it's time for the big downside of nemesis, altogether with a big flaming towards his creator:
The ability to disable the underwater fog is a cheat. Period.
I don't care if certain cards don't display the fog on D3D. The question if those people are cheating or not is a different discussion, and it's completely besides the point. The underwater fog is a feature on some maps which has been created on purpose. It was used by the mapmaker in his attempt to create an obstacle of sorts. Removing the underwater fog altogether means to tamper with the basic design of the map. And it serves as an unfair advantage to those making use of it. Some people fail to understand why clear water constitutes as an unfair advantage over somebody with underwater fog. But they might think the same about a wallhack. To a certain degree the effect is quite similar: You see something you are not supposed to see. And in some aspect it's even worse than a wallhack because you can already attack the enemy.

And puuhleease don't start with that crap of 'leveling the field' with those people who don't have the fog in D3D. There is no 'leveling the field' when it comes to cheats. There is only a degrading to the same level of the scum using cheats. Again, the problem with fog on D3D is a different - and complicated - matter, and I won't call those people 'cheaters' ... at least not per se. But if you're graphic card DOES display fog on your regular setting and you disable the fog - for example with nemesis - then I call you a cheater.

So in conclusion: As much as I like the flagstatus & -timer feature, which adds to the game, the underwater fog cheat sadly leaves a foul aftertaste.

Sunday, 07 July 2002 1400Z
Reporting for duty ... -Teatime

Hi folks, as you can see I have returned from my vacation. As expected it was interesting, it was expensive and it wasn't much relaxing. Vacations can be so exhausting :-)
I also had the opportunity to meet my buddy 12pack for a day. It's always an interesting experience to see someone in person the first time after knowing each other for more than 3 years, and this was very enjoyable (and far too short).

After my return the everyday routine caught up pretty quick again, along with some nasty incidents which completely spoiled any mood to either play some TFC or work on the Fort, until now. But life goes on, as they say, and there's still a community which needs some slapping around (and that's something to look forward to, don't you think?).

So expect some new material posted here soon (plus I have an interesting old editorial written a long time ago I intent to revise).


Thursday, 30 May 2002 2200Z
Vacation ... -Teatime

The Fort will not be updated during the next 2 weeks. Not that anyone would notice :-p

I will be on vacation. I will be visiting the States for the first time ever. This will definetely be very interesting since on the one hand I know a lot about the US but on the other most of this knowledge is second hand.
Hopefully I will not suffer a mental overload from Disneyworld and the shopping paradises (boy, this will defintely become expansive :-)) but also be able to relax a bit, so I can haunt you again with editorials.

Meanwhile keep the games clean and spice your gaming attitude with a little sportmanship and honour. Try it, it really makes the game more enjoyable ...


Thursday, 16 May 2002 1500Z
Online games and attitude ... -Teatime

Watching how people behave themselves in online games and treat others is a very sad affair.

Self-centered, egoistic, common use of bad language and insults, complete lack of respect for others, in some cases no moral concept for issues like cheating or lame behavior ... the list is long and, at a closer look, not very comforting.

The main reason for this general attitude is without doubt the lack of social control and social repercussion. People get away with a kind of behavior they could not show in presence of 'real' people (or at least rarely). But since online gamers sit alone at their homes they feel free to express themselves as they feel like, and usually that means a rather poor attitude. In fact, in cases of lamerism this is antisocial behavior, while cheating is nothing less than criminal behavior (on a very small scale, yes, but it's fraud none the same).

Now one could easily say: This is the world of online games, either you accept it or you better stay away, but there's no point in complaining.

You should better think this through more carefully ...
If somebody is displaying poor or even bad behavior, a questionable or bad attitude in online games why should one assume this person would show a better attitude in real life. Yes, as mentioned before the main reason allowing such behavior online is lack of social control, and real life is offering more social control. Yet, nobody's encased in social groups completely, and the amount of control differs highly depending on the group. A person will show a different attitude towards his parents than his friends, or his teachers, or strangers. And real life does also offer a certain range of anonymity, where your actions don't necessarily point back to you.

I'm asking myself if online games are amplifying the tendency of 'antisocial behavior' (to lump together the complete range of poor attitude up to criminal behavior).

Do online games - without any explicit intention - promote and even encourage this kind of behavior, the more as poor behavior will far too often dominate over a 'proper attitude' (since only a small percentage of servers are admined, and even admined servers don't necessarily enforce 'good behavior). What should keep kids growing up with such experiences from carrying over that behavior to the real life, at least in areas they feel they could get away with it. If somebody gets comfortable with insulting others in online games do you think he will do otherwise in real life (at least as long as he's safe from getting beaten for it)?. If someone is allowed to ruin the fun for others by acting lame in an online game what should keep him from doing the same in real life (though in real life he might be doing it more secretly)? If somebody is allowed to cheat in online games without any major consequences at all, is it reasonable to expect that this person will definitely not try to cheat in real life?

I'm NOT saying that online games cause bad behavior or poor attitude. But the lack of social control does amplify tendencies towards such behavior and since such attitude can be displayed without major consequences (if at all!) it encourages others. And I'm sure this will show in real life at well.

Online gaming has become very popular and very common, especially amongst young people. All this will reach a much higher stage once online gaming is fully implemented into console platforms. In just a few years we will have complete generations which have grown up with online games. And there's no use denying that this does have an effect on the socialization process of kids (the more as the former major social group - the family - is breaking apart which increases the influence of other groups).

Online games are not 'just a game'! It's a place of social interaction and it's a place of displaying social rolemodels. This might sound pretty thick, but it is true, as it is true for each instance people interact with each other (direct or indirect). In a way we - the gaming scene - are imprinting the behavior and attitude of adolescents, too. Consequently the industry as well as the communities have to be aware of that and should try their best to acknowledge a certain responsibility.

This editorial can be discussed here on the PF forums.

PS: I found myself struggling with the question if I should replace that word 'bullshit' I used above by something more appropriate, especially since I'm talking about the use of bad language on servers. But though this is bound to be used against me I decided to leave it in. While writing this word was my initial choice, and I have no intention to submit to any kind of political correctness, not even my own :-).


Monday, 13 May 2002 2100Z
Update ... -Teatime

You will remember that I reported in my editorial from April 29th about a German teenager running amok and killing 16 people.

Politics and media were very quick in blaming violent games since this teenager, Robert Steinhäuser, was an enthusiastic Counterstrike player. And while the public discussion is still raging, people from various fractions are demanding law changes, banning or further restriction of violence in computer games and media (as if Germany wasn't restrictive enough) and even are considering to raise the legal age to 21 again (which was lowered to 18 in 1975) something very interesting has been found out very recently.

The police has worked on a profile on Robert to discover the reasons for his amok run. And after two weeks of research and profiling it seems that those violent games and heavy metal music played a very minor role in that tragedy and has apparently neither caused nor triggered the amok run.

Instead the profile shows that the relationship between parents and son was not good, but rather cold. There seems to have been a lot of pressure on the teenager in regards of his performance in school. There are indications that Robert went through a series of disappointments and defeats, which found a sad climax when he was expelled from school half a year before his final exams for forging attests. All that explains why Robert didn't tell his parents that he had been expelled from school.

I can't help but think of Joel Schumacher's movie 'Falling Down', in which Michael Douglas after being fired tries to pretend his life would still be normal until he finally snaps. I think that basically something very similar has happened to Robert, with just the major difference that he was focused on blaming the school and the teachers for what happened to him.

But I'm afraid that those new discoveries will not draw much attention and will likely be ignored by all the people already satisfied with easy solutions and determined to rot out the perverse display of violence for reasons of enjoyment.

The discussion about violence in games or media is already difficult enough and heavily attacked from various angles (though never from the most honest one: That people try to apply a censorship of taste). This was more food for the supporters of more restrictions, and as usual they abuse the most sensitive lever to achieve their goal: The protection of youth. Basically there's nothing wrong with that, but the measures taken always have affected adults as well, and I expect this to get worse in the near future. And all attempts to label that as the censorship it is will be swept away by the concerns about the youth. And though Robert wasn't even a kid anymore, with 19 he was still young enough to stand vicarious for those younger people.

And it will be all so pointless because all violent games and all the bloodthirsty movies in the world could never achieve a fraction of the effect that lack of love or lack of understanding by parents achieves.



Friday, 10 May 2002 1730Z
Dead Horses pt.1: Scripts ... -Teatime

As the title suggests this issue has been discussed endless times already, with arguments pro and con raging against each other. So at one hand I can understand that many are tired of the discussions and I apologize for dragging this out in the open once more. Yet I feel I should try one more time to bring together a comprehensive look on the topic of scripting, since the issue - dead horse or not - will stay with us as long as we play TFC.

Definition: Scripting may be defined as any form of automation of one or more commands inside the game by using the game's own scripting language, used by the console or external configs.

By that definition basically the whole interface between player and game is scripted, since all configuration is done by the scripting language (and can be customized by it). Look at your config.cfg and you will find a script which is executed each time you start a game (in fact executed three times). The config.cfg shows a number of commands which configures game parameters (brightness, game-sound, net-parameters, etc.), hardware-settings (3D-sound, mouse- or joystick-settings, etc.) and controls (mouse- & keyboard-buttons).

For the sake of this discussion let us classify four different kinds of uses for scripting:

1) Configuration-scripts: Changing of game-settings
2) Communication-scripts: Predefined Communication-lines
3) Action scripts, this once again broke down into:
- a) Single Action
- b) Multiple Actions

Before we go into details allow me to take you on a trip into the past, as IMO scripting in TFC cannot be discussed without taking a closer look at the roots it derived from. So let me introduce you to Quake and it's most prominent MOD, TeamFortress.

Quake was basically designed with DOS in mind. While Windows95 had been released already Quake was very much developed as a DOS-game. Many DOS applications used cfg- or ini-files to store settings, since there was no central file, like today's registry of Win9x or NT/XP, to store 3rd party information. Also was DOS strictly a single-task-OS. You couldn't load two programs at the same time. So any kind of setup/config-program had to be run either separately or to be integrated into the game (DOOM, for example, had a separate setup-program, while Quake integrated the setup into the game).
Quake offered a certain degree of customization for the player. He could assign arbitrary keyboard-buttons for actions or change his name or skin for deathmatch within the game. To make this possible id had to define such parameters and to change/store them on the fly. This seems quite obvious, but it wasn't in those days. But id went one step further, heck, actually they went two steps further. They based many parameters in the game on commands which could be called separately and they created an interface to that command-area - the console - basically creating a commandline inside the game. This might seem so obvious today, as many games sport such an interface these days (and many still feature this - by now rather old-fashioned - commandline interface), but it was revolutionary back then. I don't know if any other game used such a console before, for me Quake was the first game I saw offering one.
Suddenly it was possible to change a lot of settings without even leaving the game. You could alter key-configurations, your player-name or load a new map within the game.

Fast forward to the MODs and to TF
This command-structure and the possibility to define 'impulse'-commands to execute separately programmed actions which then could be used in the game was a very important tool for the MOD-scene to create custom MODs. With that it was possible to create new items which could be used in the respective MOD. In the case of TF there were a number of items which were developed for TF while not having a counterpart in the original Quake, like the scanner or even the grenades.
But there was a flaw in the design. Since a MOD was loaded just as a modification of Quake it had to use Quake's interface. But the customizing-section of Quake offered no settings for new items, like using the scanner or grenades (because Quake itself didn't had them). The commands of priming and throwing a grenade were there, but you had to assign them to a key to use them. You could do that in the console. However, Quake's scripting language offered another neat feature: You could load external config-files from the console. And since almost every command which worked in the console could be used in configs it also meant you could load config-files from within another config-file. So instead of having to reassign the same keys every time you simply stored your personal configuration in a config-file.
The next logical step was to create different configs to use with the different classes (since each class carried different weapons and had different special abilities). And with time people created more elaborate scripts to adept the game to their needs and purposes. It also introduced the possibility to automate a sequence of commands to perform certain actions.

Another fast forward. Half-Life is created by Valve, using portions of the Q1 and Q2 engine. One thing they adopt is the scripting language and the console. Both are fully implemented, though access to the console was initially disabled (if I recall correctly there was no option to access the console without enabling it in the HL commandline, the 'console'-option in the game options was added later, I think). When TFC is released in April 1999 it makes full use of the scripting language, offering customizable configs for all classes and maps, which would be loaded automatically, plus another two user-customizable configs which would be loaded automatically when present (autoexec and mapdefault). Actually the valve.rc file is also a config-file which autoexecutes. All this excluding the config.cfg which initially was just designed as a temp-config to store your recent configuration data.
In these configs - once again - basically all commands of the scripting language could be executed and just as in TF one config-file could load other config-files. No major changes had been made to scripting when Valve ported TF to TFC.

Okay, after that history lesson let's get back to the initial discussion.

Scripting - as defined above - is an essential and necessary feature of TFC. Basically all customization is done by scripts, the configs for maps and classes are scripts and the VGUI, introduced by TF1.5, is also a script. So the discussion if scripting in general is good or bad is actually pointless, since it is an integral part of the game. In fact the discussion is rather revolving around the question (or ethics) of the use of scripts, or more precisely which scripts, or part of scripts should be used.

At this point it makes sense to come back to the different types of scripts I distinguished above.

Configuration: Usually nobody has a problem with using scripts to change game-settings.
Communication: Same here. Communication scripts, even the most complex ones, are widely accepted, which IMO is odd. But more on that later,
Action: Well, I guess nobody would argue against single-actions, since the game is mainly based on that way of configuration. The most criticized uses for scripting, however, is the scripting of multiple actions to be performed automatically.

The line of argument of scripting-opponents is basically that such a script is enabling its user to perform a more complex kind of action(s) with pressing a single button. Depending on the respective action performed those scripts are looked at either being cheap or cheating. We will have to discuss the issue of cheating through scripts more thoroughly later.

Now the range of such multiple-actions-scripts is rather broad. By that definition a number of regular commands are already in question. Each +command/-command is already a multiple-action command (replacing that by normal means would require at least 4 commands). So the sniper's special ability (zooming) is already a multiple action script. Same goes for priming and throwing a grenade (even if you use two separates keys, which is not the default).
So we have the problem that we either discuss integrated multiple-action scripts (created by Valve) vs. customized multiple-action scripts or 'bad' multiple-action scripts vs. 'good' multiple-action scripts. But frankly I tend towards a third interpretation, but I will come to that later.

Let's look at the first: Integrated multiple-action scripts (created by Valve) vs. customized multiple-action scripts.

So basically all multiple-action-scripts not created by Valve would be bad. That goes along the line 'everything not explicitly allowed is permitted'. While this would be a legit approach one has to ask 'why'? If Valve would not want scripting at such an extent why do they enable the player to do so? Why does Valve keep such a wide range of commands accessible to the user, including such basic movement-commands? If Valve had any reservations on scripting they could have easily reduced the number of commands available. They could have limited scripting severely during the last 3 years of TFC. So there is no indication that Valve has any problems with multiple-action-scripts. In past interviews with Valve employees I never read a single negative comment on user-scripting, quite contrary there were thoughts on integrating more multiple-action scripts (Rocketjump) into the game. And I might add that I participated on the beta-test for the TF1.5 patch and never heard any negative remark on scripting during those tests.

So when one accepts that Valve has no reservations on scripting all that remains is an ethical discussion of 'good' vs. 'bad' scripts. Problem is of course, that this is a highly subjective discussion. Using the 'zoom'-command (fov) for any class other than the sniper is usually a very controversial topic. This isn't even a 'multiple-action'-issue, yet is a good example for the different approach of both sides to the general discussion. The opponents argue that the sniper is the only class which has the ability to zoom in by default. So any other class using zoom would use an ability not originally intended for it. The supporters however argue that the command is implemented and accessible, so it might be used by each class. Or to put it the other way around: If Valve had intended to the sniper to be the only class to zoom why did they not modify the command in a way that it would work exclusively for the sniper (like 'disguise' or 'build', which only works for the spy/engy)?
Actually I can accept both sides' arguments for an ethical discussion in general, but it makes no sense to argue that using fov would be an abuse of the scripting language.

Let's move to a more appropriate example of this discussion: Rocketjumps.
The opponents argue that a RJ-script would enable its user to perform an action (combined of multiple single actions) with pressing a single button. They also argue that this enables the scripts user to perform an action he might not be able to perform manually.
It's important to separate those to arguments, since they point in different directions!
The first argument is flawed, since the script does nothing which could not be done manually pretty much the same way (quite contrary there's a common consensus that a manual RJ is superior to a scripted one). So for the game it makes no difference if the RJ was done manually or scripted since the result is (basically) the same. It makes no sense at all to criticize the method by equal result. Either one accepts RJ's in general or not, but for the game it doesn't matter by which means the jump was achieved.
More interesting is the notion that scripting would enable a player to perform actions beyond his manual skills. At that point we introduce a completely different subject to the discussion: The subject of technics (supposedly) replacing skill. This actually has nothing to do with an ethical discussion about scripting, it is rather a basic discussion about the game, and the perception of the game and the gamer.

That's a good point to pick up a few loose ends.
During most discussions I was under the impression that most opponents to multiple-action(MA)-scripts have no reservations at all against complex communication scripts. At first glance that doesn't make sense. When you insist on playing the game in the most 'purely' way you would have to condemn comm-scripts just as much as RJ-scripts and the like. TFC initially didn't came with any kind of communication. It wasn't until TF1.5 that TFC featured some (basic) predefined messages. And even today not all Valve-maps are covered by those messages (e.g. Avanti, Crossover). So I could argue that a 'purist' would have to type all messages by hand (or use simple binded messages at best), most definitely he would have to argue against the use of complex comm-scripts. But the MA-opponents don't.
And the reason is quite simple: Comm-scripts have nothing to do with personal skill! On the most basic level of gaming they don't affect the display of personal gaming skill. In that regard it makes sense that those people oppose scripted RJ since it blurs the (possible) skill difference between those doing them manually (which requires skill) and those using scripts (which requires no skill).

Those people want the personal skill of a player being projected on his playing as closely as possible.

IMO that's the aforementioned third interpretation on the 'anti-script'-party of this whole scripting discussion. It is absolutely secondary if a script is legit or not, as long as it doesn't impair the display of personal skill.
It was often referred to that those scripts would 'play the game for you'. This notion - being absolutely silly to begin with, since I have yet to see a script which would play the game for me - makes only sense in light of that. It neglects the value of tactical thinking, of group strategy or the value of communication and reduces the game to its simple roots as a deathmatch game.

IMO there's a major misconception on games like TFC. Certain people tend to compare playing a game like TFC with being an athlete, or players in a sport like soccer or football. They construct a direct relation between their personal (in an abstract way 'physical') abilities to their effect inside the game. This comparison is wrong!
A better comparison would be with a racing driver (or similar). Between the computer gamer and his game is a medium: the computer, just like a racing driver needs his car for a race. A racing driver is not exclusively defined by his personal attributes, but as well by the way he interacts with his car and - of course - by the car itself. A purist would have to insist that everybody drives exactly the same car, so that the personal skill reflects most accurately on the course of a race. But if you look at racing you will find that exactly that isn't true. There are certain regulations to prevent a driver of having an unfair advantage (in other words: cheating), but in the borders of those specs each car can be modified to serve the needs of the driver. All that without regards on the skills of a driver. He will adapt his car to support and increase his skills, but his skills are not defined by the car. And those skills are very much different from those of a athlet or football player, since he has to use his skill through the medium of his car.
To make a very clumsy comparison to RJ-scripts: If a driver would decide to use an automatic instead of gears (or whatever it's called :-)) there would be nothing wrong with that. It would not reflect on his skill as a driver, it would only affect certain aspects of his driving. And obviously it would not run the race for him :-p

Your computer is just a tool you use to play the game. Your configuration is just a tool. Scripting is also just a tool. A tool doesn't define your skill, it's your skill using the tool to its maximum effect.

I should not end this editorial without making a short comment on the problem of cheating. As soon as a script is performing an action which could not duplicated manually we are entering a gray area ultimately leading to cheating. In that regard using fov is not cheating since it can be done via the console anyway. On the other hand a RJ-script which actually allows you to 'look down' at an angle that you effectively look behind you so you are propelled forward instead upwards is very questionable (to put it mildly). The ethics of single scripts can be - and should be - questioned and discussed to determine if it is cheating or not. But that has to be decided for each single incident, it doesn't reflect on scripting in general.

If you like dead horses you can discuss this editorial here on the PF forums :-)


Sunday, 05 May 2002 1730Z
Popups... -Teatime

Popups are evil. Period.

I can accept that some sites use popup windows for navigation, like opening an option window for downloads while keeping the original page in the main window. Sometimes this makes sense. But I have no tolerance at all for popup advertisements.

Sure, we all have to get used to the idea that the concept of the 'free internet' is becoming more and more an idea of the past. Serverspace and bandwidth cost. Professional design doesn't come cheap either. And since the internet has turned to a communication and entertainment tool for the masses in the late nineties the resources have become more valuable, and consequently more expensive. In the near future we will experience more often that services will be offered only for some form of compensation. cddb, for example, just recently changed their license regulations for applications to access their database which basically made cddb unaffordable for smaller freeware or shareware programs.
Ads in various forms are common for commercial websites. I don't like them (because essentially 99% are plain uninteresting) but in many cases I don't mind them, provided they're integrated welll into the page layout. But popups are a different animal. I consider them annoying up to being dangerous. Annoying because I have to close them manually. It's harder - by nature - to ignore them (which doesn't mean I'd pay one bit more attention to their content - I don't). But more than that, they require system resources for generating the new window, they clutter the taskbar and often enough they carry mechanisms to get the focus to get on top of other windows.
It get's worse, though. Some popups are programmed to call new popup windows when being closed. If you are really unlucky you find yourself stuck within a loop of popup windows you can't get rid off without killing the browser itself. And a so-called popup-hell can by all means shoot down a weaker system just by occupying too many resources.

So while I accept advertisement in general I don't accept such an annoying and often aggressive ad-carrier like popups. IMO is just another form of spam. And it's really a shame when it gets so far that services are coupled with popups (I once visited a forum which only opened its threads when it was allowed to generate a popup. And it generated an additional popup each time you opened a thread. BLEH).

So now GSI has decided to start using popups as well. There have been integrated ads for some time now, but apparently those are not making enough money for good ol' GSI. So they went for stage 2. Interestingly enough the popup (yes, we are talking of a single popup window here) doesn't appear when opening the PF mainpage. It's hooked on the forums. Interesting because it indicates that GSI does not want to use popups on main pages (afraid of the negative image? afraid to scare away 'new customers'?) but rather use them on the already established community. Makes sense in a way, to make money from people actively using the site (in that case the forums). On the other hand I've always taken the view that it's the community which makes the quality (or lack thereof) of a forum. Without a good community a forum is nothing! So I don't quite agree in being annoyed by popups when I consider myself being one of those making the forums a quality place in the first place (granted, I did so more in the past than today, but the point still stands).

Okay, why so much fuss about a single popup? Simply because I don't trust GSI. Regardless if that one popup does earn them much money or not enough money, I expect them to follow this road further if they see any kind of prospect in it. In that regard I consider GSI ruthless. Maybe it's a second popup in three months, maybe the single popup refreshes more often. But I expect something like this to happen in the future.

I can perfectly understand that GSI is trying to make money. But I'd rather see them creating and selling more attractive and more intelligent services and applications to earn money. FilePlanet has always been unattractive because it was slow as hell. Don't know if it's still today, I stopped using it over a year ago (and I was sickened from the concept of 'Personal Server' from the start because a) it seemed just as a poor excuse to make money with a service others offer for free, and b) I suspect that GSI is consequently shifting resources from the free servers to the personal servers to sell this 'service').
Same with ForumPlanet. One can argue about the forum-design, but the slowness is just annoying. I don't know if it's a problem with the database or if the server is just crap, but the last few days the forums take almost minutes to buildup and to navigate (and in fact I'm unable to load it at all at the moment).
Or let's just look at GameSpy3D: I bought it 3 years ago when I started playing online heavily. In those 3 years GSI has only created one major update for GS3D, all other updates were basically for integrating support for new games. And actually calling that one update 'major' isn't doing that word any justice. The interface hasn't changed at all and to my knowledge no new functionality has been added in three years (though recently it appears as if GS3D would recognize reserved slots, which it didn't before ...). IMHO there is still a lot which could be improved on GS3D, which maybe would result in more buyers. But apparently GSI prefers the easy way.

Oh, and one more thing: As I understand it GSI has permitted to promote or even discuss the use of popup-killers on the forums. This, my dear GSI, is not only censorship but also so narrow-minded that it defies description. Yes, your forums - your rules. Take that rule and shove it up your butt. Until now the rules were there to improve the community. But this rule (which actually isn't even an official rule) only serves to protect your interests of molesting your visitors with your popup-ad.
I, for one, will not accept this.
So for anybody looking for popup-killer I recommend this site which links to a number of freeware and shareware applications to counter popups.

PS: I finished this editorial at the time stated above. But I couldn't update the Fort because I was unable to access the FTP server for more than two days! During that time (and even before) PF as well as the PF-forums on ForumPlanet were basically inaccessible (read: slow as hell). Right now it's Tuesday, 2310z and finally I can access the Fort-files as usual. No idea what the error was, but be asured that I'm impressed :-p


Monday, 29 April 2002 1600Z
Here we go again ... -Teatime

Last Friday a 19-year old boy ran amok in a school in Erfurt, Germany. He killed 16 people before finally killing himself. The victims were 12 teachers, a secretary, 2 pupils and a policeman, most of them killed by headshots from a handgun. The perpetrator also carried a pumpgun which he didn't used and 500 rounds of ammunition.

The boy had been excluded from school in February after being exposed to have forged attests to avoid exams.

As always with such incidents people are in shock and start looking for reasons which led to this disaster. And inevitably a certain aspect of this boy's life is drawing attention: He was an active computer-gamer and listened to 'Heavy-Metal'-music (favorite group: Slipknot). It was reported that he played a lot Counterstrike (a 'killer-game', as it was phrased by a press agency). For the sake of completeness he was also dedicated to weapons and member of 2 arms clubs, which allowed him to legally buy the gun.

Of course there's more to the background of this boy. Will we ever know what finally drove him over the edge to run amok? It was reported the family would have been 'intact' and 'normal'. I find that hard to believe. While I'm willing to believe the family was 'normal' so far that there was no constant quarreling and beating I could very well imagine that this boy was introverted, trying to seclude himself from others and was left alone by his parents who didn't notice what was going on inside of him. Are the parents to blame what happened? I don't know.

But the public, especially certain parts of media and politics are pretty quick to blame something else: Violence in the media, be it movies, music and - of course - computer games. A German TV station just made a poll if violent games should be banned completely. I missed the results of the poll, but apparently 80% of the participants voted in favor of banning violent games.

In the forum of the TV station somebody made a very smart remark: People who have violent tendencies are attracted by media with violent content.
Makes perfect sense, because those people would look for an outlet of their own latent violence, either more actively (in games) or passively (in movies) or a bit of both (music, on which can be reacted physically). I could also imagine that such people would be attracted to certain kind of sport events. Also there have been previous cases in which such people had been attracted by the nazi-ideology.

But can you blame computer games for such outbursts of violence? Do computer games like Counterstrike dull people, decrease their threshold for using violence in real life? Do computer games - on closer examination - promote to solve problems by violence any more than many sports do?
I think for each case where this might have been true there are thousands, or even tens of thousands cases where it is wrong. For each amok runner there are thousands of people successfully separating fictionous violence from real-life violence.

Actually I'm kind of glad the perpetrator was no longer a kid. The whole - and actually just starting - discussion would be much fiercer if the amok runner would have been younger. People easily forget that as far as violent content in any form is concerned legal regulations and restrictions rarely work (well, they don't actually forget, but they fail to acknowledge the necessary consequences) and that it all boils down to the parents actively raising their kids to deal with fictionous violence - and of course with real violence as well.

But people tend to prefer easy solutions to those more complex ones. It's much easier to blame aggressive music and violent games than to examine where perhaps the parents, the school/teachers or the social environment has failed, or at least missed any signals of upcoming of this tragedy.
Maybe it would have to lead to the realization that sometimes such tragedies cannot be avoided. Parents are not perfect, families are not always intact, school today is usually not the place where teachers can be concerned about every single pupil. Maybe these outbursts of violence are more a byproduct of our modern society in general. This necessarily includes the media, but only as one factor amongst others.

But here I am again, preaching to the choir ...


Friday, 26 April 2002 1700Z
Yikes, cobwebs ... -Teatime

It's pretty empty here in The Fort. And pretty silent, too. I left the drawbridge open when I left after the last update. Didn't matter, noone invaded and took over. Those cannons and weapons look rather rusty. They could use a bit more care. And maybe they should be used occasionally. Especially those 'Smart Cannonballs'. No, they are not called that because they seek their targets, but because they are aimed on dumb people. Heck, there's even no need to aim, because it's hard to miss those oversized and bloated egos.

To be honest I haven't played much TFC in the last few months. In a way I have become a little burned out, of the game and most definitely of the myriad of idiots playing it. Or any other online game for that matter. The biggest attraction of online games - to play against real people instead of bots - is also the main reason not to play online. I played some RTCW when the multiplayer demo came out. Looked very promising and was much fun. But the more people became attracted by it the more it stopped to be fun, because it turned too much into DM.
Meanwhile I have played a number of single player games. Kinda recharging the batteries. Medal of Honor for example was an awesome game. And it reminded me why I was looking forward to TF2 in the past years.

Well, speaking of TF2:
As so many others I have lost my trust in Valve to ever finish this game. Games like RTCW or MoH have already established excellent W.W.II scenarios, the first already with a (simple) class-based MP and the latter with great features and - IMHO - a far more interesting level design for MP. Engine-wise one can't help but wonder if Valve will ever come up with their 'new' (cough) engine. Unless they have some amazing as up their sleeve the new UT-engine will raise the bar to a new level. Maybe it would have been a smarter idea either to license one of the existing engines and concentrate on the game itself (and games like RTCW show that you can produce rather big open levels by now) or perhaps even to establish those ideas on the HL engine, which - while dated - is still a good engine. They could have improved the game later, ported it to another engine. Epic is obviously much smarter with their approach on UT. They took an updated version of their Unreal-engine to create and establish their MP-game. Now with UT2003 they could concentrate on creating a new engine and to modify the game to introduce interesting new elements and to eliminate game-issues from the old version.
Valve never seemed to have managed to get a clear idea how to approach TF2, got IMO too mangled up with different projects and now have to face the fact that many of their initial ideas have been used by other games. If RTCW would have used a more specified class-system it would have been very close. The main missing feature till today is the commander-class and its overview-feature.
The past lack of information from Valve on TF2 could have been past as secrecy (especially since Valve is pretty much PR-impaired). But not a single screenshot or a single info on TF2 for 2 years now has eventually deteriorated my trust that Valve is still working on TF2. Or if they are they aren't focusing on it.

Well, I stop to care. There is an interest (read: market) in a game like TF2. Others will come up with similar games in the future. Maybe there will be a MoH2 in a year or so featuring an amazing class-based MP. Maybe someone will license the UT2003 engine or the DOOM3 engine to create a great TF2-like game.
It will come eventually. And if it doesn't come from Valve but another company I won't give a rat's ass.

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