An Interview with the Person Behind Everything

"Damn, why does Valve keep on breaking servers?"
“Damn, why does Valve keep on breaking servers?”

In this article, we’ll be chatting with the mastermind behind the SPUFserver and the person who makes the Daily SPUF work! And he does lots of other cool things too. We’ll be discussing the stresses of running a server and how you shouldn’t bash server owners. Unless they’re servers running Pinion for the sake of making money. No, this wonderful person puts his own blood, sweat and tears into making us happy…

Let’s get to know you first. Who are you, where are you from and how did you get into TF2?

Well, I am thesupremecommander, often also called Commander, Supreme, SupremeCommander, etc. depending on who’s abbreviating my name. Just to make things clear, the name is completely independently invented from the game series of the same name, despite what everyone seems to think. I actually haven’t played Supreme Commander yet despite having gotten it in a bundle a while back.

I’ve never heard of the game, so that’s probably for the best.

Probably. I don’t even remember what it’s supposed to be about. Anyway… I’m currently a resident of the Atlanta area, probably the most modern area of the South here in the United States of America. What I love about the East Coast – it’s the East Coast, and we’re the intermediary between Europe and the West Coast. What I hate about the East Coast – it doesn’t have the West Coast timezone, which I am utterly convinced is currently the best timezone.

Why is that?

They wake up later than people on the East Coast, late night events on the East Coast hit them in the evening to early night, and they can play up until what is the early morning for us East Coasters. That’s my ideal time – I like waking up late and I like going to sleep late.

Huh, that makes sense. So how about TF2?

Ah, yes, TF2, or as it’s formally known, Team Fortress 2. I’m actually not one of the old-schoolers who played the game when it was first launched, or even before the game went F2P… yes, I joined after the Uber Update. I didn’t really play games that seriously for many years, and even up until 5 years ago I didn’t play PC games at all.

My classics are SimCity 4, Civilization 4, etc. I remember back in the day when I didn’t buy my games on Steam because of the whole scare about Steam games being on a subscription model or something… back in the days of Direct2Drive.

Ooh, F2P. Are you still free to play, and do you still play Civilization 4 and your other classics?

No, I think I actually went premium around the Halloween update. Let me go check on that… Yep, I went premium October 28, 2011. My first purchase was a Mann Co. Supply Key for $2.49.

Anyway, I built my own PC specifically to play games around the time of the Steam summer sale in 2011, and I did technically install and start playing TF2 at the time, but it wouldn’t be until the Halloween update until I really started playing.

As for playing my “classics”, no, sadly. Steam is OP when it comes to organizing games, and I’ve lost track of the games that were on other platforms. I think D2D shut down a while back. And SC4D was on a CD that got scratched… I did buy it on Steam, though, and I need to crack it open someday.

Shame about that disk. So, what’s your claim to fame in the world of Team Fortress 2? Are you a competitive player, a Youtube star or possibly a member of the SPUF Illuminatii?

Hah, I say, to all three claims! I guess I have dabbled in all three of them, though…

I guess the way that I’m most famous is as the server admin for the SPUFserver… I took it over last September when it was threatened by greedy game server providers, or so I’m told, and led it through its “Renaissance”.

So you’re a member of the SPUF Illuminatii? I didn’t know such a thing existed.

No, actually, I’m not… I officially have to say that such a group doesn’t actually exist, nope. Even if it did I was never an official member. And I also will claim that the nonexistent group never did successfully enact some dastardly schemes on the TF2 world.

You run servers. What are these servers called and how can I play on them?

The servers that I’m most “famous” for running are the SPUFservers… the long form back in the day was the “unofficial official SPUFserver”, now shortened to “the official SPUFserver” because why not. As for how you can play on them, there are several ways to find out about them. The most reliable way is the Steam group, which is SPUFpowered.

I’m also working on the websites for the Network, which I’ll soon officially unveil.You’ll be able to find out more at spuf.info/projects/tf and tf.spuf.info soon enough.

What’s it like, running a server? What do you need to know to run one?

Running servers is the most stressful, and yet the most exhilarating, experience ever. And I’m not talking about people who rent from GSPs… they have it easy.

What’s difficult about running the server is that you not only have to worry about the actual server software, but also the server it’s running on and the addons to the server software. So I have to make sure that my virtual private server, as it’s called, is not crashing or inaccessible or suspended or anything like that. Then I have to make sure that the server itself is working. Given the number of ways that Valve can break the server, and the number of ways they do, every update can be a nightmare.

I swear you just telepathically read my next question of “What difficulties do you face?”

And then you have to worry about the addons… for those that run servers, they’ll recognize the industry standard names of MetaMod: Source and SourceMod, which are the primary frameworks for Source servers. On top of running those, you run plugins like Freak Fortress 2, SourceBans, HLstatsX, etc. Since those addons are themselves depending on a certain understanding of the Source engine, the chance of the server breaking on an update are increased greatly. Especially on a major update!

While you players are out enjoying whatever new features are coming in the update, I’m frantically running around and looking for the latest builds to keep my servers from crashing. In fact, I remember doing exactly this while on the move during the last Halloween update when I was still relatively new to the world of server hosting.

Sounds like a huge amount of work!

You have no idea. For all those that knock people who host servers, try doing everything yourself. Especially when you have to pour your own blood, sweat and tears into running the server just to avoid pouring all of your disposable income in…

Okay, you’re a telepath, my next question was about funding.

Alright. What’s the question?

The question is, what do you do about funding, does most of it come from your own pocket?

Well, how much funding you have to do depends a lot on how lucky you are. If you run a huge community with hundreds of active players, you probably will be supported by donations and such. If you’re a smaller server owner like me, you struggle a lot more. The SPUFserver is currently not financially stable, and quite a few times I have to step in with my own very limited funding to keep it from shutting down.

Now, of course, you have the third option, which is advertising. The household name (and universally loathed) is Pinion. Pinion basically operates by using the “Message of the Day” function, also known as the MOTD, which traditionally is used by server operators to convey rules and sometimes news. Instead of that the server owners can use that space to display ads to the people who join the server, often video ads, which pay a relatively high CPM.

You don’t use Pinion though, do you?

I personally do not use Pinion. I really dislike advertising, even though (paradoxically) I do not use an adblocker in order to support websites which I browse on the Internet. However, the lure of some money to help cover costs is compelling at times…

If I may rant, to all of those people who bash server owners who use server advertising saying that “you should either be able to attract enough donations or give up and pay for it yourself”, seriously. You really don’t understand. Yes, you do have those terrible servers that are really run as cash cows. I agree, those servers are terrible. But when you have server owners like me, who would rather be working on the server they’re running than on the money to pay for that server… It makes a difference. I will never run Pinion because I personally disagree with the use of forced adverts, but options that aren’t forced and that you can ignore are not unethical in my book. I’m not trying to make money, I’ve given up on that. But can I at least not draw my own blood to provide you with a server to play on? That’s all I’m saying.

That’s understandable. Running servers must be hell at times, as well as all the other fiddly bits and pieces. What made you want to host the SPUF servers in the first place? Do you regret looking after all this cool stuff? Does it ever make you want to kill people?

Do I ever regret server hosting? Sometimes. It’s an undue amount of stress and it really is a thankless job. But I do it because I love the community and it’s my way of giving back. And sometimes I want to maim the people who break my perfectly set-up server, yes. But I have to thank them for giving me the tools to run the server in the first place.

Why did I do it in the first place? A very fortuitous set of circumstances for the people of SPUF, as it turns out. Around the time that I joined SPUF and started participating actively in its various events, I was also on the verge of forming a gaming group with friends in real-life. In March this gaming group formed, and mostly centered around Minecraft, although I also learned to set up TF2 servers as a personal exercise since I had a great interest in TF2.

Unfortunately, the group lost steam and eventually went inactive, leaving me with a server and nobody to use it. Of course, by that time, it was the MvM update, and I offered my fellow SPUFserver members a private server. People reacted positively to it, and when the SPUFserver announced its impending shutdown due to financial costs, it was suggested that I could provide an alternative. I immediately seized upon the idea and organized an effort to get a server up. We elected some initial admins, and on September 1st, 2012, we were back in business! The rest is history, or so I’m told.

What a story! As we’re on the subject, give us a few reasons why we should visit the SPUFserver?

Well, for one, it’s the SPUFserver. Ostensibly, it’s where the fine denizens of SPUF come and play. Second, if I may say so… given the few resources I have to work with, it’s a pretty damn well run server. I pride myself on running it well. Third… I try my hardest to please a wide variety of players, and I am very responsive to requests and concerns. I think that makes me a pretty good admin, and I think that’s why you should play here. And of course the events. I think we run some of the coolest events out there.

Those are some fine reasons. I think I’ll pop by a bit later.

I’d be happy for you to! Make sure to bring some friends.

Okay, final question! Favourite cosmetic item, GO!

What are cosmetics?

You… You don’t wear hats or misc items?

I’m kidding, of course.

Oh phew.

I mean, I like hats and miscs, but I’m personally not too crazy about them. I like strange weapons more. I mean, if I had to pick a favorite cosmetic, it would have to be the Anti-Freeze Tyrantium Helmet that I was gifted as a recognition of my contributions to the community.

What’s your favourite strange weapon then?

I dunno about a favorite strange weapon… my main class is switching around so much that I don’t really pick favorites anymore… I mean, the first one I ever got was a Degreaser which I unboxed from a crate. But I’ve moved from Pyro to Engineer to Spy to Soldier to Medic to Scout to Demo, roughly. Nowadays you find me pubbing on servers as a pipe-bombing, sticky-detting, pain-trainin’ Demoman. Which I record demos of and then post to YouTube the less embarrassing parts of my performance. And in competitive the only class I’ve ever played (for the four weeks I did) is Medic.

So uh… to answer your question… I don’t really have one?

You’re an all rounder, then?

Eh, maybe. I’d hesitate to say all-rounder, but I am a jack of all trades, master of none.

Fair enough. Well, thank you very much for answering my questions!

No problem! I hope my answers were sufficiently lengthy for you… and I’d be happy to come back and do one at another time if you want.

Sure! Maybe we’ll delve deeper into the world of servers breaking when updates come alone…. And that was our lovely friend, thesupremecommander! Feel free to pop by the SPUFServer and bring some friends along, as it’s a damn good server and you’re missing out if you don’t give it a try. Head over to SPUFpowered right now!

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