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Source 2 and Valve’s History of Ports

Pondering whether Valve will port their multiplayer games to Source 2, and if so, how that will impact the economies of those games.

Over a decade ago, Source, the successor to Valve’s original engine (GoldSrc) debuted with titles like Half-Life 2 and Counter-Strike: Source. Now that Valve has officially announced Source 2, it looks like it will see the light of day this year.

What will that mean for their existing catalog of games?

If we look back to the release of Source, they drew some lines for porting. They ported the original Half-Life, mostly as an example of portability between the engines. It was a loyal port, without taking advantage of anything new to the Source engine.

They did a less direct port of Counter-Strike. Counter-Strike: Source was a mild evolution from the original mod-turned-product version of Counter-Strike. They also ported Day of Defeat as Day of Defeat: Source. Although I never played the original Day of Defeat, my impression is this was another mild evolution.

They did not port Team Fortress Classic. They did not port Ricochet, either. They waited to make Team Fortress 2, which was a reimagining.

What has changed since the Source release is mainly the addition of economies to games. Team Fortress 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and Dota 2 all have economies.

Economies create a fresh challenge for porting of games. Previously, a port was a way to revitalize an aging game, to improve on its graphical quality, and so on. But with players having a set of game items, how do you move them to a new version without either entrenching game-wealth by porting their items (thus alienating new players), angering players that have game-wealth (by not letting them carry items over), and make adjustments to gameplay (by eliminating or modifying old items to fit the new game)?

Not all those challenges apply equally to each of the games. In CS:GO, for example, the items are skins only. They do not have gameplay implications in the same way that TF2 items have.

Other challenges exist because of the economies that exist. If the new game is more popular (as is expected), the old version’s items suddenly become less valuable. This means that players will seek to cash out rapidly, which crashes the old economy further, while the scramble for the new items creates a bubble in the new game.

How to handle the economy problem for new versions of existing games seems very difficult. But the incentive to create new versions of games for new engines is likely too great to continue to adding content to existing games while also creating new titles in those traditions.

I suspect the solution will be some mix. Players can carry some value from their existing items, but not the whole value. That may be done through crafting or similar mechanisms. It will likely involve PRNGs (Pseudo-Random Number Generators) so that some level of risk is involved.

But Valve is very creative, so time will tell what solutions they find and how they are received.

Thoughts About the Heavy (and Medic) in TF2

Thoughts about the need and ability to balance the Heavy class in Team Fortress 2.

A lot of people think the Heavy Weapons Guy needs balancing in Team Fortress 2. Often seeming underpowered for gamers used to the pace of a Soldier or Demoman, the Heavy seems due for a buff (an increase in his abilities).

Meanwhile, the high-skill Heavy players present a huge challenge to that idea. They mow down whole teams, so the notion that a direct improvement of Heavy’s items can suffice misses the problem that Valve faces. If they direct-buff the Heavy, the skilled players will only become that much harder to beat.

Back before TF2’s Heavy update came out, Valve’s design problem was how to make Heavy less reliant on a Medic. The Heavy-Medic combination is very powerful, but lots of times there isn’t a Medic to help. So they added the Sandvich to compensate, and let the Heavy roam free of a Medic.

While that was itself a positive move, there was likely another side to that design problem: how to get more people playing Medic. Medic stands apart from the rest of the classes in being almost purely support. Medics do not get the same sense of achievement (that of actually getting frags). They can provide major help to a team, but without that reward of a kill it’s harder to quantify their ability.

If you play Soldier on a losing team, you can still see if you got a lot of kills and points. You made some difference. A Medic doesn’t have the same feedback, and being the one player that counts on others’ abilities makes Medic a niche class. Even using the Medic’s big ability of an Übercharge (making a teammate invulnerable for a period of time) still counts on them doing the killing.

A game like TF2 requires at least some damage-heavy classes. Too many Snipers or Spies sinks a team very quickly. There is something of a food pyramid to team construction. Roughly:

  1. Soldier, Demoman, Pyro
  2. Heavy, Engineer, Medic
  3. Scout, Sniper, Spy

It varies a bit by game mode, map, whether a team is attacking or defending, and a player’s skill in a class. But that’s the general shape of things. The first tier consists of classes that are good at dealing a lot of damage both offensively and defensively. The second group is area denial, slow pushes, support. The third is countering, distracting, and slowing the other team.

But skilled players can take their class of choice and push it up to the top tier, which is why Valve has to be careful about a buffed Heavy. If they found the right alternative (akin to Demoman’s shields), Heavy could straddle the line a bit more without making him too good for the skilled.

On the other hand, they could seek to tweak the Heavy to make him sit more securely in that second group. That would mean the players that can currently turn Heavy into an offensive powerhouse would find him in a more support-oriented role. It might not go over too well, but if that change involved new toys it might.

As for the Medic, it’s not clear what such an alternative would look like. Back in QuakeWorld Team Fortress the Medic could infect enemies. It’s not clear if that mechanic would do much or be something Valve is interested in reviving. Others have suggested making Medic a walking dispenser, but that would be overpowered unless the ammo dispensing capabilities were fairly limited. My guess is that a dispensing Medic is partly borne from the desire to see Medic have something more to do than just healing and Übercharging.

It’s also clear that the team pyramid is a good thing in itself. Small games need damage classes. Larger games need diversity of classes. I don’t think Valve will move away from that general landscape.

The Daily Show with Whom

Some thoughts on the type of person who could replace Jon Stewart as host of The Daily Show.

The Daily Show isn’t perfect. It holds its fair share of establishment-friendly positions. But it does try. It tries to remind folks about the financial fraud for which there has been no reckoning. It tries to remind people about veteran’s issues and gender equality. It keeps on raising the fact that our government isn’t nearly as representative as it should be.

And Jon Stewart bears a large share of responsibility for that. A sort of Eye of Sauron watcher for good, the show has done a lot to try to restore sanity and promote progress in the land of opportunity. All while making us laugh. But at some point a show that has been helmed so long and through so many stormy years has to change leadership.

Stewart took on the show in his mid-30s, and one would expect the man has saddle sores for days at this point. So I would expect that the show gets handed down to someone younger. That might mean a younger correspondent, or someone unaffiliated. But I do think it goes to a younger-ish person. Someone who can grow into it and let the show grow with that.

A show like this really needs young blood to keep the pace, to keep the audience from feeling like they’re watching an old guy tell them how it is, and to have somewhere to go with it. Stewart is accomplished, and that tends to give a level of surety and cautiousness to an entertainer. He knows the ropes almost too well, his calloused hands leave him roaming over familiar ground.

A newcomer is usually the best choice in this circumstance. Someone that will garner respect from the troops, but someone from outside. Picking a young-ish correspondent to move up can foster resentment. Especially from older correspondents and plausibly from the audience. “What, you’re my boss now, Diapers?”

Indeed, the correspondent pool typically grows up and moves on, rather than staying with the show indefinitely. There are exceptions, and those exceptions comprise a core contribution to the show that makes them invaluable. But many of the correspondents find their talents pushing them in other directions.

Going with an older, trusted correspondent might seem logical, but their career horizon just would not have the same staying force for growing the show.

All of that said, who will take over? I could be entirely wrong here. Bureaucracies don’t always do what seems best, and a choice that contradicts me might very well work out. In the end, it’s really a lot like picking a presidential candidate. You have what works best, and you have your pool of candidates. And sometimes you don’t have the luxury of the ideal candidate (as Stewart was when he took over).

Or sometimes loyalty gets the better of you and you give the candidacy to the guy who’s next in line. A sort of succession-by-blood folly that you can’t seem to evade. Who knows?

Is it discriminatory that I suggest a younger replacement? There are calls for the new host to have particular genitals. Is that discriminatory? For the record, I want the genitals to be older, but the rest of the new host to be younger. I’m compromising here. Consider it an olive branch. Oh, you don’t like olives? So consider it a eucalyptus branch.

No, I will be happy with a female head-of-funny at The Daily Show. Or an older kweeng (or qkuienegn or however you portmanteau queek and ning) clown. Just keep it funny.

Anyway, here’s hoping Stewart reprises You Wrote It, You Watch It (kidding?).