“Hey, does anyone know how to get past the Octoheavy Boss on the Teufort level?” the 4-star SPUFer posts innocently on the forums. After a few minutes, people of various star rankings start shuffling in, typing away furiously (or not) at their keyboards, writing up their responses.
“Oh yes, I really struggled on that boss!” a 3-star poster sighs. “I tried it so many times then just gave up and switched to my level 20 Soldier.”
“What? THERE’S A SINGLE PLAYER MODE?” the newbie screams.
“Piece of piss!” the well-known 5-star SPUFer gloats. “It’s so simple. You just do this incredibly long and convoluted series of actions and you get a slim chance of beating him!”
“Or you just go through the sewers…” I smile.
Anyway, silly intro out of the way, posts on SPUF, chatting about imaginary campaign modes have been around for donkeys years. Even back when I was a little-known guy with a gimmicky name, one of these would pop up occasionally. As the thread would eventually peter out, after everyone realises that it’s yet another of these fake campaign threads, a certain question would always pop up.
Why has there never been a TF2 single player campaign? Or even a TF2 coop campaign?
Well, there’s lots of reasons why and why not. One of the major reasons is trying to make something balanced for each individual class. As damage varies between classes, you need to make sure that you can’t breeze through a campaign as Scout and struggle through it as Spy. There’s not many ways you can do that. One idea would be to offer a single campaign for each class, but if you want these campaigns to be of any decent length, you need to multiply everything by nine. A 3 hour campaign for each class would be a nightmare. An alternate idea would be to tweak the campaign to better match each class, but that’s made difficult by the hugely varied traits of said classes.
Coop campaigns offer even more difficulties. There’s that many more combinations, some of which are particularly weak (a Sniper/Spy team) which would struggle through a campaign and some which would breeze through a campaign with ease (looking at you, Medic/Demoman combos). How do you balance these things? It would take a lot of consideration. For all the work, you might as well make a new game.
That’s not to say that TF2’s engine couldn’t take it. Of course it could. With AI bots and bosses and actual NPCs (like the skeletons on Helltower) and ai nodes and map-making tools, I’m sure a campaign could be made to work with few problems aside from balance and maybe the odd game mechanic that needs tweaking. It’s all there.
But those reasons, the more mechanical reasons, aren’t the reason why I think Valve has never made a TF2 campaign. The closest thing we got was Mann VS Machine, but most of the story telling around that is outside the game, via comics and stuff. The problem is, if such a campaign was announced, our expectations would be incredibly high. There would be no way that Valve would be able to meet our expectations. We’ve seen what’s happened with Half Life. The series ground to a halt. It’s all been utterly silent for so long, and our expectations are so high that not even a deity could satisfy our cravings.
You don’t even need to look at HL. We’ve got our own version here in the Meet the Team videos. As each one came out, expectations reached higher and higher levels. So when Meet the Pyro was released, a lot of people felt confused or even saddened, others felt that the Meet the Team series ended on a low note. There were conflicting emotions. A TF2 campaign would probably end up in the same way, but on a cliff hanger and in need of constant updates.
That being said, you don’t know until you try. Perhaps Mann VS Machine was the first of many baby steps into a fully developed campaign mode of epic proportions. Or maybe it’s not. Either way, it’d be interesting.