TF2, for non-gamers, is Team Fortress Two — a highly stylized first-person team-based shooting online game by Valve Software. TF2 is often held up as a shining example of just how smoothly polished a game experience can be. This article is not a review of TF2, but rather of it’s nifty new video editing feature that was added just before TF2 went “free to play” (meaning you can play the game for free as much as you want).
It’s worth briefly summarizing why Valve’s TF2 is so good because it informs the reason that the video editing features make it even better. Valve carefully studies what worked and what didn’t about it’s own games and about mods people made to it’s games. Team Fortress (or the class-based shooter) started out as mods to several of valve’s games. TF2 is the result of many years of polish on that formula to make it nearly perfectly fun to play.
In the picture above, you see a depiction of the classes. Front and center is the “heavy” … he wields a minigun and has more health than any other character. This is balanced by the fact that he is slower than all the other choices and his gun takes time to “spin up” before it fires. Such is the case with all the classes. Each classes strengths are balanced with weaknesses. Moreover, each class is “foiled” by several other classes and is also strengthened by cooperation with other classes on it’s own team.
I’ll also mention that the art style, while deliberately not realistic (and fun in it’s own sense) leads to immediate recognition of the foes on the battle field. Each class as both a unique silhouette and motion on the battlefield making it easy for players to quickly assess the very dynamic state of the field.
But that’s all water under the bridge, so to speak. TF2 is great and any number of reviews have been telling you that for about 5 years now. I’m here to talk about TF2’s video editing, so here is my video:
I chose to upload my video to YouTube (rather than host it myself) as the YouTube posting might get me an achievement if 100 of you (or more) go watch it — so go watch my video now (I’ll wait).
You’ll note here that the camera moves around quite a bit (and not very well — I’m no James Cameron). When I played that short pyrotechnic life, the following video is what I saw (unedited):
Note that in addition to the camera running around, I edited away the first 30 seconds of me standing around stoned (while I was trying to figure out which key to press to engage the recording).
It’s not that there are no other tools to record your in game experiences. Fraps, for instance, will allow you to record a video of your play… and, indeed, it’s one of the more popular solutions. But Fraps is limited to recording what you see. You’ll note that the different camera angles (as poorly done as they are) do add quite a bit to the video play. You can see the soldier before I kill him after running across the railway trestle and you can see where the soldier that kills my pyro before I (the player) do. While it’s not immediately apparent in this video, the “replay” mechanism in TF2 knows the location of every player and every item that has been recorded. This allows (not shown) you to switch between a free roaming camera and any other players view for really dynamic storytelling on the battlefield.
People have also been making machinma movies using using various 3D engines for some time, though. The Unreal engine has even targeted these people with new rendering modes (less real time, more cinema). The real trick here is that it’s easy. Servers that enable this feature offer it to all players at the touch of a button. After the “replay” recording is downloaded, the user is given the opportunity to make video “cuts” of the replay — moving the camera largely. Then comes the one-button upload to youtube.
All-in, it’s a compelling package. Both easy to use and filling a gap where previously only elite users dare to tread. Another nail in the fortress from which Valve takes over the world? Quite possibly.