To stand out from the increasingly crowded list of titles that started as Half Life 2 mods and graduated to fully fledged standalones takes some doing, especially given Garry’s Mod, Dear Esther and Black Mesa are three such projects that made the successful leap. It’s unsurprising, then, that others are in the process of following suit. Recently we caught up with Mike Taret, one of the small but growing team behind SourceForts 2, a sequel to the incredibly popular build ‘em up tear ‘em down… ‘em up, SourceForts.
Yeah, that’s the thing about SourceForts, while its territory as a HL2 capture the flag mod may sound like well trodden ground, there’s a twist in having two separate phases: “a building phase, where players can spawn blocks… manipulate them [with a version of the HL2 gravity gun] and freeze them in order to build defences to protect their flag” starts Mike, and a combat phase where, simply, “the players just fight the other team and try to take their flag” utilising class-based specialities. So far, so simple, so undersold.
Source Forts’ success arose from its customisation, creativity and community, each an aspect that Mike and the team are looking to continue into the sequel’s development. Considering SF is a free mod, the sequel’s leap to a fully-fledged retail release means none of the aspects that made the original so popular can be overlooked. It’s welcome news then, that the team behind SF2 have a connection to the game, whether because of previous work (current sound engineer Kushkan wrote the track ‘Pulsar’, endorsed by Mike as “the best SF song ever”) or because they’re genuine fans.
Even so, the team has no fear of changing things up. Gone are the human players and recycled textures. In their place are robots and a post-apocalyptic setting which bestow a sense of realism to the gameplay. Sure, this is a game where players move blocks into hastily constructed defences but “seeing rebels spawning blocks and manipulating them by some magical powers seemed weird.With robots you can say “‘yep, they have the technology to do that.’” And with fresh characters come fresh environments. “We probably have a few maps that take place in areas that have been rebuilt,” meaning what with regard to level design? “Modern, sci-fi architecture.”
All of this ties into SF2‘s embracing of a greater consistency. Though Mike readily admits “story in a multiplayer game is not as important as the gameplay”, there’s still a basic semblance of setting; “the big idea is that we have 2 big factions each researching for a next-gen power source technology” potentially with the ubiquitous flags represent an in-demand resource. It’s not exactly as if the team are going to lose sleepless nights about tying narrative strands together across levels; the real focus is very much on getting a great game out there, but it’s satisfying to see attention paid to even the most inconsequential detail for the purpose of making it resonate with players.
Aesthetics aside though, what about the actual gameplay? Mike’s quick to confirm the introduction of a Capture Point mode, complete with unique blocks (Teleporters? Turrets? We don’t know) which “could be available when a team captures X or Y capture-point” – much like fighting over vehicle spawn points in certain FPS’s - and one further, more intriguing prospect: “CP-CTF”. How will it work? “That’s a surprise”. Like most fans, we’ve got our own ideas, but there’s an obvious desire to keep some of the more tantalising details held back.
Thankfully there’s some stuff he can expand upon. Most visible will be the fact that classes are redesigned to “have a specific role”. Addressing balancing issues, “the engineer will not be an OP killing machine that can do everything but [rather] a more supporty class. In the current version people rarely play scout, sniper or rocketer, because the engineer and soldier classes are the most unbalanced ones. This is the kind of thing we are trying to prevent.” It’s telling that community actions and opinions are so important.
Indeed, before development-proper the team put out a survey to see what the five most wanted features for the sequel were. The results came back as class balance, more blocks, easier building, more game modes and competitive scene support. So, has any of this had a direct effect?
Well, kinda. “We had already planned those before the survey” Mike admits. “Redesigning the classes will fix the class/weapons balance. Building has been simplified as well with a new building tool.” “Wanna reveal anything about that?” “One word: arcball.”Well, it’s better than “can’t really say” so let the conspiracy theories begin!
And as for the blocks? “Special blocks will probably be only for the CP game mode” whilst the matter of more generic blocks are still up for discussion. Ultimately though, it looks like SourceForts‘ specifications are being taken as the standard expectation for now.
I mean, if this doesn’t have you excited, nothing will.
In any case, SourceForts 2 is evidently far more than just a beautified version of its predecessor, even if the team “chose to use a different version of the Source engine, the Alien Swarm version of Source” to allow for “more detailed maps, models, etc…”
It’s worth remembering that this is far from the first time there’s been talk of giving SF a proper release – the original website still exists, but has nothing to do with this current incarnation – but as Mike explains with regards to stumbling blocks “the biggest one was probably inactive developers due to lack of time or lack of motivation,” something no longer a problem. Compare this to now and there are detailed plans, bi-weekly milestones and individual responsibilities; things bode well for fans.
Really then, there’s one final question: how much longer? “If everything goes to plan, 8 to 10 months.” Eight to ten months?! “We’ll probably have a beta before that.” Pfft, building Lego fortresses and shooting them with BB guns will have to suffice for now. That, or the existing Source Forts mod anyway. In the meantime, keep up to date with all things Source Forts 2 check out their Facebook page, or you can contact them on Steam, Facepunch or Moddb.