An independent group of developers recently announced their intentions to port Team Fortress 2 to the upcoming Source 2 engine, and the early results of their work—an aptly named project known as Team Fortress: Source 2—already look amazing.
Team Fortress 2 originally launched in 2007 but quickly spiraled out of control as Valve expanded the game with new maps, gameplay modes, weapons, and of course hats. The class-based shooter was built on Valve’s popular Source engine, but as the company begins to flirt with the potential of the as-of-yet unreleased Source 2, it’s clear the 17-year-old progenitor has seen better days.
Enter the good folks at Amper Software. Previously known as the masterminds behind Creators.TF, which facilitated the development of new, unofficial content for Team Fortress 2 after Valve put it out to pasture, Amper has spent the last few months porting assets from the original game to Source 2. Why? Well, it looks better, for starters, but Team Fortress 2 has also gotten pretty messy under the hood over the years.
“Source, the engine that Team Fortress 2 officially runs on, is a two-decades-old compilation of code, written by different generations of programmers with different mindsets and ways to approach a certain problem,” lead programmer Daniel Basiuc-Brinzei told Kotaku via email. “When this many people work on a single codebase in such a long period of time, the game gets filled with lots of legacy code, obsolete systems and very poor design decisions that end up degrading performance of said game.”
“Migrating to a completely new engine means redoing everything from scratch,” Basiuc-Brinzei added. “Redoing everything from scratch, in our case, means redesigning the aforementioned poor decisions in a more optimized way. Which, in general means drastically improved performance with better visuals. In short, Team Fortress 2 on Source 2 would run much better than Team Fortress 2 on Source, while still preserving all the visual improvements of Source 2. And the goal of the project is to show that.”
The Amper Software team isn’t exactly working with the official Source 2 tools, however. Instead, they’ve been given early access to s&box, the successor to Garry’s Mod and the only known Source 2 game in development. So that’s where they’re building Team Fortress: Source 2. Much like its famously open-ended predecessor, s&box provides users with an unfettered toolset to create whatever they see fit. When key members of Amper were invited to preview s&box back in May, they knew porting Team Fortress 2 to Source 2 had to be their top priority.
Since then, the team has made steady and impressive progress. Although Source 2 supports the importing of some Source assets, the transition isn’t always perfect. Amper devs often need to fine-tune elements like shaders and particle effects on the other end to make sure they still fit the original Team Fortress 2 aesthetic. Skyboxes, the large images that fill out stage backgrounds, also needed to be manually ported from the old engine to the new one, a process that was necessary to maintain the original lighting.
“We have been studying the way Source 2 works, what the differences between this engine and its predecessor are, and how exactly one creates a game in it,” Basiuc-Brinzei said. “Team Fortress: Source 2 is a passion volunteer project, driven by the motivation to see the game we all love on a better engine and better tools for modding. We currently don’t have any explicit deadlines and there are currently no estimates on how long this project will take in terms of production, but we’re planning to take as much time as we need to make sure every single aspect of our creation gets enough care and attention.”
Of course, not everything has been smooth sailing.
Amper has made good headway on implementing the Team Fortress 2 classes and their base weaponry, but Basiuc-Brinzei refers to the bazooka-carrying Soldier’s ubiquitous rocket jump as the “final boss” of getting him working correctly. Source 2 has a much different physics engine than Source, and while the team feels as if they’ve nailed the act of actually firing a rocket, the Soldier’s ability to send himself flying with a well-placed explosion still needs tweaking to feel accurate to the original game.
Similarly, the Demoman provided a challenge due to the fact both of his guns are projectile-based and thus heavily reliant on the new physics system in a way the Sniper’s hitscan weapons, for example, aren’t. But comparing the video posted on the official site to my rapidly deteriorating memories of days playing the original Team Fortress 2, they seem to have mostly nailed the one-eyed Scotsman’s unique loadout.
But what happens if Valve announces its plans to officially port Team Fortress 2 to Source 2 tomorrow, much like the company did with Dota 2 back in 2015? Basiuc-Brinzei explained that this would just solve the problem of his team having to do it themselves. Team Fortress: Source 2 isn’t meant to replace Team Fortress 2, he said, but to highlight the potential of the Source 2 engine. Plus, having the official Source 2 tools available in Team Fortress 2 natively would be a godsend for modders looking to experiment further.
“A lot of us have been in the Team Fortress 2 modding scene for a very long time, and throughout all this time, we’ve been very limited in terms of what we can and can’t do in Source,” Basiuc-Brinzei told Kotaku. “Getting Team Fortress 2 to work on Source 2 breaks that barrier completely; we have full control over the entire code. And this means we are free to experiment with any kind of different features, despite how complex they are to implement.”
“We’re like pioneers that got to explore a new area that no one previously was able to explore,” he added. “And this is what excites us.”