Level Design, Level Design Theory, Old vs New, Team Fortress 2

2007 vs Today, How much have TF2 levels changed?

As a long time Team Fortress 2 player and community member, I’ve always felt that certain maps rise well above the others. That the newer a map is, the better it gets. Is this a tried and true trend of TF2 maps or something we assume is happening?

For this blog post I will only be looking at Valve made maps and not community additions to see if the game’s creators have improved over time or repeat age old mistakes.

Case Study: Dustbowl

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Dustbowl, one of the first maps to launch with the game and created from the remnants of a map from the first Team Fortress sharing more than a name. The layout of TF2’s Dustbowl shares a lot with its 90s predecessor.

Sharing the layout (and basically being a 2007 remaster of the old map) meant that it also shared its many flaws in gameplay. For starters the way that Team Fortress Classic and TF2 played was different, certain classes had different mobility options and capabilities (but some did remain the same).

The updated Dustbowl in 2007’s Team Fortress 2 played worse than it does today, with many map exploits and chocky level design leading to a somewhat poor gameplay experience.

Engineers couldn’t pick up buildings, so the map had a few solid sentry spots that gave engineers a significant advantage if they placed it in a specific spot.

It also took significantly longer to setup buildings, so its understandable that the level design at the time would make up for a seemingly under powered character.

The map itself plays very badly today (sorry red robot that means its still a bad map for anyone to play on), but as the game improves visually and gameplay wise, do old levels become better with age? In this case not so much.

The map still suffers from being very chocky with bad flank routes with small and narrow hallways leading to singular open areas with no option of attack but forward.

This map is simply a relic of 90s level design ported over to a newer game, that is sadly outlived its lifespan but continues to be played anyway.

Case Study: Mercenary Park

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The newest shiny thing in terms of TF2 updates has been the Mercenary Park map from the long awaited Jungle Inferno update of 2017 right after the 10 year anniversary of the game. (Impeccable timing as always)

This map is all new content for the game and showcases the various improvements that valve has learned in making Team Fortress 2 maps. Firstly the map isnt based on previous work and is entirely original, from the layout to the jungle theme that came with it.

Now the million dollar question, how does this map stack up against its ancestors? Very well actually and here’s why.

Mercenary Park is not only visually appealing but also fun to play on as any class, it caters to the strengths of all classes ranging from stealth classes to damage heavy classes like soldier and demoman.

It has perfectly lengthed sight lines (the mapping community will hate me for saying that watch) for snipers to play with without being forced to their melee or handy jar of unmentionable fluid.

The map is in almost every single way a better map and it showcases how far the tf team has come in developing unique and fun content for the game (now how fast they do it is an entirely different matter)

Though the map isnt without flaw, some old issues even from Dustbowl persist on this map. Namely the final control point, where red team’s spawn has 2 doors (both being very small) and only 1 is really used. Attackers have 2 ways of entry, the main hallway which is easily a spamfest among the likes of Dustbowl last with sentry spots dominating the majorty of the area.

The alternate route takes attackers above the hallway into a small room above the point where attackers can in some areas outrange most sentry spots, a lesson learned from Dustbowl’s incredibly hard to flank sentry nests.

In Conclusion, things change

I’m sure even with age this map will slowly be less and less viable and fun to play on for skilled players as the game changes, but that is the nature of multiplayer games like Team Fortress, they change.

Hopefully valve continues to learn and produce better and better maps for an ever evolving game that has become a timeless classic among players.