Monday, 29 July 2013

New Features

Let's spend some time going over some of the features that players will see in the TF2Center lobby system, because we think they're pretty cool. Lobbies now-a-days have many pain points that make them not as enjoyable as they could be, and we've spent time and effort to find these points and remove them as best we can.

Missing Players and connection tracking

It's frustrating, isn't it. You spend 10 minutes waiting for a lobby to fill and start, and then someone doesn't turn up. Or drops mid-game. And not only that, but the hassle it seems to cause people to actually report them as missing, you'd think they prefer to play with a huge disadvantage!

Well, not only will we be able to track and display each players current connection status (differentiating between not yet connected, crashed, and genuinely disconnected), but we use this data to automatically report missing players after a set length of time. We've tried to keep this from being too aggressive against players who connect slowly, but we can detect whether you're connecting or just not there, and handle the situation accordingly. This will continue throughout the match, so if someone drops during the match and shows no signs of returning, we'll automatically call in a sub. And if the sub drops, we call in another sub. You get the picture.

Mumble Integration

Everyone likes good team work - that's why we play competitively. Unfortunately lobbies can lack this, and having 9 headless chickens run around isn't fun for either team. In-game voice does a job, but the quality is poor and the delay of a few seconds can be important at times, and is especially frustrating when there are solutions out there that give so many benefits.

Mumble is one of the more popular solutions for TF2 team play - it's easy and free to install, doesn't use much in terms of resources, and comes with a nice discreet overlay that you can move or turn off as desired. As well as hosting a free mumble server for use by all our players in general, every lobby that is created will have dedicated team channels created to allow quick and easy communication. Obviously this only works if people adopt it, but seeing as the gains massively outweigh the installation time, we think it will be great.

Roamer / Pocket seperation

Sometimes it's the little things that make a difference. A standard 6v6 team has 2 scouts, 2 soldiers, demo and a medic. The soldiers are split into roaming soldier and pocket soldier. Well, so are the slots. No more getting into a game and arguing about who is which, decide when you take the slot!

Class restrictions and slot reservations

I've already touched on these in a previous post, but just to highlight the details here again (since we think they add so much). Certain slots can be reserved for friends by use of a custom password. We know this enables "lobby stacking", but it already exists -- it's just now, you won't be getting kicked for no reason over and over again!

Class restrictions add certain requirements onto a class, so that the important classes in a lobby aren't taken by people with no knowledge or experience. Lobby creators can choose to put restrictions on any class or the entire lobby, and restrictions are based on any combination of number of lobbies played, lobby reliability, or overall hours in TF2 (as reported by the Steam API).

Stock servers

There are times when players are calling for a lobby, but no-one has a server available. TF2Center will be hosting so-called "stock lobbies" to help with this, along with a lobby voting system. I'll go into more detail on this at a later date, but the general idea is that players can vote for lobbies they want to see created, and periodically if there are enough votes, we'll spawn that lobby on one of our own servers.

We want TF2Center to be an accurate representation of what the community wants in a lobby system. We have a pretty good idea based on our own experiences and what we've been told by players, but if you have any suggestions then let us know!

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Designs - lobbies themselves

Just a quick post today!
So far we've shown you the designs for the main lobby overview page, but now it's time to give you a glimpse of the inner lobby page. As with the last post, these are wire-frames currently. We have the full colour and detailed designs ready, but you don't get to see them...yet!
Figure 1 - The Highlander lobby page, as seen by players
As with the lobby overview, we are aiming to give as much information as possible here, while keeping the interface clean, clear and simple to understand. We want to make it simple for players to log on, join a lobby, select their class and play.
Figure 2 - The 6v6 lobby page, as seen by players
The 6s lobby page is very similar to the Highlander page. We've decided to split out two soldier roles - pocket and roamer - here since it removes confusion once the lobby has started.

One thing that you may note with both screens is the large amount of spectators - there is no limit to the number of spectators in a single lobby. No idle spectators holding up a lobby slot now, so if you're slow then you don't get the class slot, sorry!

The chat window stays available until after the lobby finishes, and so you can continue to ask questions or state issues ("I can't connect guys!") there for the players to see.

The final point of note is the lack of a ready button. The readying-up method used in TF2 Center is different to the method you may have seen on other lobby sites. More on that to come though...

Sunday, 7 July 2013


It's easy to say things are being worked on, without actually giving any information out. It's easier to not say anything at all, since if you fail in some aspects no-one will know. We, however, like the hard way! And it's because of this that over the new few posts, we'll be going into some of the designs for the site, and explaining some of the features. The designs here are all wire-frames at the moment; we do have full colour and details designs for most pages thanks to the hard work of Mother Tereza, but they're not quite ready for public consumption yet.

Figure 1 - The main lobby overview page
Figure 1 above shows the wire-frame design for the main page of TF2 Center. Users will spend the majority of their time there, and so it's important for us to get this page right. We're adding as much information as we can onto this, while (hopefully) keeping it simple and intuitive to use. It's a change to what lobby players will be used to, but we feel that's a good thing!

Figure 2 - Lobby summary, displayed on the home page
Figure 2 shows a lobby summary, and is typical of what you'd see on the home page. The basic lobby information is there - map, match type, location - as well as showing not only the classes needed but also how many of each.

We also introduce restrictions into lobbies. The above example shows that there are restrictions on certain classes, and from the homepage users can open any lobby summary (Figure 3) to see more details about that specific lobby, without having to go into the lobby or leave the homepage. There are a few things of note here that we feel will really enhance lobbies.

Figure 3 - Lobby detail, as seen on the home page
The first new detail of note is slot reservations. Particular classes can be reserved by the lobby leader during creation and protected with a custom password, so that your friends can join without needing to rush in. Players being kicked because the lobby leader is saving a slot will hopefully become a thing of the past, and will make the experience better for both lobby leaders and players alike.

Class restrictions are also introduced here. Restrictions can be placed on an entire lobby or on specific classes, and can be any combination of matches played on TF2 Center, match reliability, and playtime on TF2 obtained through the Steam API (either in total, or on a specific class). Restrictions are set by the lobby creator, and can be fully customised.

Hopefully you agree with us that this shows off some of the features we're introducing. We're aiming for a clean and clear user interface and if you have any thoughts or questions, as always please feel free to get in touch (either through comments here or directly over steam). In the next post, I'll be going into some of the designs of the lobby page itself, so expect to see that posted over the next few days.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Still alive!

We're still here!

Just a note to say that TF2Center is still very much alive and kicking - development is ongoing, but we want to make it great for the players before launch so it takes time. If you don't know who or what we are, check out our About page for more information.

Lessons were learnt from previous months - we won't be giving out a firm release date until we're sure we can commit to making it, but we will be posting regular updates here with progress updates and interesting news about the site.

Best to keep it short and sweet for now, but continue to check back here for progress updates and news!