if you guys haven’t watched the Meet the Team videos yet, you really should, even if you never play the game and never will. i’m gonna post em here. they do a good job highlighting exactly how Valve is so incredible at what they do, and why TF2 in particular has been out ~4 years and is still one of the most popular online games.
the Meet the Team videos use in-game models. incredible.
these are in chronological order:
Meet the Heavy, which was the first one and was intended as an animation test. notice how even though the models are low-poly compared to usual cutscene puppets, even though this is the first animation produced for tf2 and is by far more crude than the ones that came after, and even though this was made 4 years ago, it has more life, humor, nuance, and character than almost anything that has come before or since. the only comparison i can make favorably is with Psychonauts or maybe Brutal Legend, two nearly unplayable games with really triumphant art and design. tf2 marries that level of production with a game that’s so fun and so well-balanced that you can play it for 4 years and not get bored.
also notice the incredible sound effects in this video, and how real they make everything feel. valve creates their sound effects in-house, using a vast collection of firearms they keep around the office. i’m not making this up.
Meet the Soldier came out a few months later, and was already several order of magnitude beyond what Meet the Heavy had been. The whole thing takes place on an in-game map, and like other Valve videos, while it initially appears to be a promotional stunt, it is actually a tutorial as well: these scenes teach you how to play Soldier, when and how to use your rocket launcher, when and how to use your melee weapons, but couches it in an exploration of the Soldier’s character. We also get to hear some of the incredible music the game has.
Meet the Engineer came out a few months later, and is more subtle. The star of this show is Engineer himself, the way he moves and settles his body, the careful motions of his face, and the placement of his fingers on his guitar. How often do you see an in-game model so well-produced that it can stand up to this kind of scrutiny? look at the way his mouth hangs open gently through his whole monologue, in that down-home, shucks-howdy way that his character has been designed to embody. look at the way he settles and resettles his guitar on his lap, as he shifts on his box to kick that severed hand into the gunfire. that’s incredibly well done. it’s beautiful, in fact.
Meet the Demo ended 2007’s run of Meet the Team releases. It gets back to video-as-tutorial mode and does a decent job of teaching anyone who’s actually paying attention, how to play the game. It shows direct pipe grenade hits (vital), the demo’s role in taking out engineer nests, and the demo 101 tactic of turning a doorway into a stickybomb trap. i always feel like demoman is the most heavily-gimmicky character, and that he hasn’t had a lot done for him either by valve or the fandom because of it. this is still a good video.
Meet the Scout started the 2008 bout of releases, and is all comedic timing. The Scout is such an inholy irritating character that using him for slapstick was a natural choice. The face he and the Heavy make during their scuffle are wonderful. You can also see in this how all the Meet the Team videos go a long way towards filling in information about the characters they’re not even about. Heavy is strongly characterized in this, as is Soldier.
Meet the Sniper is where things started to get truly impressive. This is the first time Valve hinted at a larger world outside the bounds of the maps and characters themselves–it goes even farther into the world outside the game, introducing a new character in the form of a nod to the original Team Fortress Classic, the “VIP” that’s the bobblehead on Sniper’s dash. notice that Valve right away sets the animation up for being exceptional, as they go so far as to have Sniper wet his lips before starting his monologue. then he checks his fucking blond spot before signalling and making his turn. if this were any other game company, sniper would be leaning back into his seat with one hand on the steering wheel, probably looking sideways into the camera and being “cool”. you can really see how these men are being portrayed as human beings, and how they become attractive, interesting, even sexy because of it. the nod to steve irwin is there with the “i think his mate saw me–yes, yes he did” line, and Sniper’s parents show up in a telephone conversation we hear one side of. the slapstick here is superb, i especially like the sequence with demoman.
Meet the Sandvich was a cute little video that came out after Sniper, about a new in-game accessory for the Heavy. it’s animation made to go over the top of an improv session the voice actors got on tape.
Meet the Spy came out a year after, and refined the new formula even further, with parts of the BLU base that we’ve never seen before are used as sets, and a new character is introduced: BLU Scout’s mother. She because an instant hit in the fan community due to being an older woman, not oversexualized, and the lover of the RED Spy. She is now regularly cosplayed at conventions and has reams of fanfic and fanart devoted to her. Her characterization, extrapolated from that of Scout’s, is that she is not unlike Carla from Cheers, but in the embodiment of Jackie O’Nassis. her similarity to Dr. Girlfriend was probably intentional.
notice the rapidity of motion in Spy as he performs his “You’ve seen what he’s done to our colleagues” monologue. The snappy facial movement, the microexpressions and twitchy motion, those are incredibly rare in most CG cinematography. the biggest problem with all CG animation is that feeling of “floatiness”, as if all the characters and their clothing and hair are underwater or in low gravity. Valve does a pretty good job of keeping a lid on that.
Another little piece of trivia here is that the wound Spy inflicts on Sniper during their brief fight, the slash across the face, suddenly appeared on Sniper’s in-game model after the video came out. Valve pays attention to detail, and this is why they’re great.
Finally, after years of tearing their hair out, fans were rewarded with the penultimate Meet the Team video: Meet the Medic. It successfully combines every lesson learned in the preceding movies, and is richer, denser, funnier, and more referential than any of the other so far. So much so that I think making a list of the little details would be tiresome, so just watch it yourself and enjoy.
now everyone is waiting for Meet the Pyro. i’m guessing Valve still hasn’t decided what to do with it. Pyro is such a cypher (and clearly female) that making any definite statements about her is goin to have to be extremely carefully handled.