Return of the Beta

So 2014 was the year of the Beta. Or at least the return of the Beta. What Beta you ask? The Team Fortress 2 Beta. The birthplace of the Detonator. The testing grounds of the Overdose. That really weird thing that everyone ignored. Well, part of it is back. Interesting things lie ahead.

The TF2 Beta though died a long time ago. I have a screenshot of its one year death day somewhere. But the reasons it died were relatively clear. Instead of being part of TF2, you had to download another 12GB of TF2 Beta, most of which sat ignored and unwanted for most people. It did start off quite well, as Valve paid it a lot of attention and even doubled everyone’s health for a bit as an experiment. A couple of weapons came out of it too. But the Beta updates dried up and it was left stale for ages. What was worse was the lack of servers, since Valve didn’t add any Beta TF2 servers of their own. Before long, all there was were a couple of Orange servers and an Achievement_Idle server that did nothing at all since there were no drops to be had. Eventually Valve just deleted the Beta. It was easier that way.

Last year though, in 2014, the Beta came back. Valve had two maps they wanted to add, rd_asteroid and pl_cactuscanyon, and they wanted people to think that they cared about our opinions, so they added the unfinished maps to a new Quickplay section called, you guessed it, Beta. Both maps were undetailed piles of nonsense that needed us players to mess around in and try to break. Eventually, Valve took all our little hints and slowly improved the maps, making them both playable. Well, they did for rd_asteroid. The new game mode was tweaked to be more balanced and fun for all. For cactuscanyon, things weren’t as smooth. For starters, they removed the entire second stage of the map. Why? We don’t know. People liked that stage. Then the map recently got lost in the main Quickplay area, apparently in good enough shape to be played alongside Badwater and Barnblitz.

At the end of 2014, Valve used the word Beta again with the introduction of Mannpower. Like Robot Destruction, it’s a variant of Capture the Flag, but unlike Robot Destruction, it was thrown together on two refitted maps, Gorge and Foundry, both modified for flags rather than points and stripped of their cubemaps, the fancy map things that make maps shine in all the correct ways. Progress and changes have been slower on Mannpower, whether that’s because of the holidays or not, I’m not sure. But apart from the grappling hook, everything seems like a bit of a rehash. The maps are rehashed and the powerups are essentially spells. Really overpowered ones.

Honestly, I don’t feel that Mannpower is a good use of the Beta. Yes, the grappling hook is new for Team Fortress 2, but the idea of powerups scattered around a map is an old one that’s always been reserved for events like Scream Fortress. Heck, even the grappling hook isn’t that inventive, loads of games, including fast-paced multiplayer first person shooters, have had them, and in a class-based one like TF2, it breaks game balance exactly as much as the power ups scattered everywhere and generally in possession of the steam-rolling team.

There are loads of things the Beta could be used for. Weapon changes is a good one. If the Beta had been used to test the Demoman/Pyro/Heavy changes from the Love and War update, Valve would have realised that no one would like the changes and would have never added them. The same goes for all their other current weapon changes.

Another area where the Beta was needed was in 2014’s Scream Fortress. It was so buggy. Constant updating was required across everything, not just the new bumper cars but on the re-texture of an already existing map too! Of course, many would argue that putting all this stuff into a Beta would spoil the surprise. Scream Fortress has always been a surprise. You can always disguise this stuff though. Surely you want people to be surprised and happy, not surprised and angry?

So the Beta in 2014 was only partially well used. Here’s hoping that 2015’s beta testing will be more productive.

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