In the early days of video games, developers relied on instruction manuals and promotional material to flesh out a story. The technology of the time simply wasn’t up to the task of mapping out a complex world. Oh sure, players could discern that a mustachioed man needs to run and jump through a world of bricks to save a princess, but the full details of Super Mario Brothers would be delivered through an instruction manual (along with cartoons, comics, and cereal boxes).
These days, the awesome power of technology has provided developers the means to tell a game’s narrative through cut scenes, spoken dialogue, and animated backstories. To the mutual delight and dismay of players everywhere, many games will force the plot through linear set pieces and unskippable moments that ensure the story is properly conveyed. Virtually no details are left out in the exposition-heavy titles of the 21st century. But not every game needs to rely on these methods to ensure a good time.
Team Fortress 2 is an oddball game that has managed to stay popular over the last seven years. In spite of the rise, fall, and replacement of so many other first-person shooters, TF2 has kept fresh through frequent updates and a thriving community. Certainly some of this success comes from the eccentric characters and the interesting art style of the game. Two teams of equally colorful mercenaries duke it out in cartoony arenas that would be right at home in the Rockwell-esque comics of the 1940s. In spite of the fantastic world at their fingertips, Valve focused their energies on polishing the gameplay while the narrative took a backseat, at least in the game itself.
Like the developers of earlier decades, Valve decided to provide backstory on their beloved Team Fortress 2 through external media. Promotional videos featured heavily into their strategy, handling character introductions through their humorous, “Meet the Team,” series. The characters and their designs were loaned out to several other games to garnish more buzz for TF2. But the biggest expansion to the Team Fortress universe are the numerous comics that have been uploaded to Valve’s website.
In 2009, Valve posted the first Team Fortress 2 comic to their website, giving players a deeper view to this unique world. Industry veteran Micahel Avon Oeming (Catwoman, The Mice Templar, Powers) was brought on to teach Valve, “about what it means to have a character and do character development in a comic format,” and his influence shows in the expressive TF2 comics. Valve has posted 19 different stories to their website thus far, each of them free-to-read and very fun. Every story is available as a PDF download, or they can be read online with progressive panels for each click.
In the past, I have dipped my toes into Team Fortress 2 and while I can see the appeal, I simply couldn’t get into this frantic shooter. But thanks to these fantastic comics, I can still enjoy this humorous game and its story from a different angle. And for those of you who need a quick catch-up on the plot, Valve posted a special comic to their website for the occasion of Free Comic Book Day (which according to Australian badass Saxton Hale, is called “Every Day” at TF comics).
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