From Australium to Zepheniah Mann TF2 didn't start with a lot of story. There wasn't room for one. But as the updates got more ambitious, we found the perfect way to explore the mercs' world: comics. Over the years, the comics have spawned ancillary characters, then assistants to the ancillary characters. Companies mentioned in passing became global empires three generations old. The game that started as a handful of guys in a desert shooting at each other slowly blossomed into the most labyrinthine story in Valve history.
—The TF2 Team
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Author Avatar: Many of the items are credited in supplemental material to "TF Industries", based in the same place as Valve.
H.A.V.E. Online/Microvolts, a Korean free-to-play game, has a trailer that shares a lot of similarities to the "Meet the X" videos. Gameplay itself is actually different (it's third person, there are no classes - only customizing weapons and appearance, it's got more in common with Unreal Tournament or Gunz The Duel), but there's still a lot it owes to TF2 (giblets and the weapons).
Blizzard Entertainment's Overwatch is obviously inspired by TF2, quite heavily in some places. The most similar feature is Torbjörn's turrets, which are functionally identical to the Engineer's sentries in TF2.
Expospeak Gag: Commenting on the first prize winner for the propaganda contest, the team wrote that "It's funny, it looks great, and it makes us want to kick a Demoman in an extremely precise area (that the bean counters won't let us mention because they're all such huge extremely precise areas)."
Fourth Wall Mail Slot: The Administrator/Announcer, the Soldier, the Scout, the Sniper and Saxton Hale have all posted on the TF2 blog. Also the Heavy, who replaced the Soldier when he was on jury duty. The Pyro has also made a post.
Administrator: [Re: the Propaganda art contest] I must grudgingly admit an astonishing amount of talent on display. I hasten to add, however, that I find it astonishing only because, in observing how you comport yourselves in-game, on the forums, and presumably in your day-to-day lives, one would be forgiven for assuming you bereft of the cognitive skills needed to operate a mailbox.
Soldier: This is the problem with the youth of today: too much time inventing nonsense words, not enough time taking a bullet in the lung defending a hill. I don't have to know what the hell twitters and texting and body sprays are to understand that they're not the sort of thing men should be engaged in. Like conversations, or painting things that aren't a house.
Saxton Hale: First, let me [/] COMMEND [ ] SWEAR VIGOROUSLY AT you...
Going so far as to have an actual mail slot, during several of the larger content patches and updates for the game there would be order forms for the in-game items that players could print out and send to Mann Co. These people would then get an invoice from Saxton Hale stating that the item they requested is out of stock, but something else was usually thrown in with the letter (a Scout keychain for the FAN order form, and a picture of Saxton Hale if the coupon was sent during the Sniper vs. Spy update).
They had to close this mail slot for legal reasons: the fans' order forms included actual payment for the items (that didn't exist).
BUT THE GREATEST GIFT OF ALL... was inside you all along. It's blood! Turns out you can sell it! See you at the plasma center! Merry Smissmas, everybody!
Large Ham: Whoever's posting as the TF2 Team. From one of the Smissmas updates:
" 'Wait, which holiday?' you may be wondering. "Australian Christmas? Or Smissmas?" Both! Read this comic to find out what happens when holidays collide! Two special days enter the squared circle! ONLY ONE LEAVES!"
When revealing that the Heavy's final unlockable weapon was in fact a sandwich, Valve prepared a video and a purchasable poster celebrating it.
They later lampshaded this, saying that they'd originally claimed that the video would be "our magnum opus," "over four hours long" and "make Citizen Kane look like something dumb a complete idiot would make."
No, Except Yes: In the introduction for The Second Annual Saxxy Awards:
What you don’t know is that we’ve decided to make the Saxxy’s a lot more like an illegal underground martial-arts bloodsport. That’s right: This year there are no rules. There are, however, a whole bunch of brutal laws, traditions, commandments and decrees, plus some rules.
Noodle Incident: It appears that the TF2 development team are so mired in disaster that they're on a First Name Basis with the police, the fire department and "the nasal extraction emergency response team at Overlake Hospital".
The last nasal extraction emergency involved someone with a peanut M&M lodged up their nose, mentioned in an attempt to explain the delay of the Heavy update.
"All the signs are there. When you kill a man, you can actually see his last breath hanging in the chill mid-November pre-specialness air. Turkeys have retreated to their bunkers in a vain attempt to weather the upcoming onslaught of holidays devoted to gleeful turkey slaughter. And are those sleighbells we hear? Because our legal department assures us they aren't. That's right, TFers. It's beginning to look a lot like an upcoming holiday our legal department won't let us mention, but that rhymes with 'Smissmas'."
"What is it, Bidwell. Of course I can listen to you and type at the same time. Look. Still typing. What? What do you mean they can make the films about anything? Why would they want to do that? No, it's not arrogance, Bidwell, it's just common damn sense. If you can make a film about anything, make it about me. What? Because I'm Saxton Hale, that's why."
Running Gag: Lately, whoever is writing the game's patch notes must be tired of writing the same "Updated the localization files":
January 17, 2012 - "Did not update the localization files" February 9, 2012 - "Lokalisierungsdateien aktualisiert": "Updated the localization files" in German February 14, 2012 - "Hcqngrq gur ybpnyvmngvba svyrf": rot13 transforms to "Updated the localization files" February 23, 2012 - "언어 파일 업데이트": "Updated the localization files" in Korean March 1, 2012 - "Arquivos de localização atualizados": "Updated localization files" in Portuguese March 15, 2012 - A QR code that translates to "Updated the localization files" March 28, 2012 - "Did not update the localization files that did not need updating"
April 27, 2012 - "sǝlıℲ uoıʇɐʇɐzılɐɔo˥ pǝʇɐpd∩": "Australian" for "Updated localization files"
The TF2 Team also like mentioning Dracula.
Selective Enforcement: The Halloween 2011 blog post states that the development team decided to take the scares out of the Halloween event, although they make an exception regarding hats.
"For instance, one playtester thought the Pyro was a little scary, so well probably remove him as a class. Someone else swore he remembered reading something about somebody getting hurt by a gun once. And that sounded scary. So probably no more guns, either. Then Dracula called from the hospital. 'Hey guys,' he said, 'hats are pretty scary.' Well, now, that must have been the morphine talking. So we’re adding more hats just to be safe."
In one post on the TF2 blog, the Administrator describes the TF2 team as "goldbricking simpletons ... picking chiggers out of one another's hair". Robin Walker was depicted as a crazed megalomaniac after the leaked video (See above in Ripped from the Headlines) and often as a Cloud Cuckoolander with strange Australian ways; animator Matthew Russell was accused of laziness in the post aboutfixing the Scout's "Crazy Legs".
Take That: The dev team seems very aware of how broken their base is, and enjoys poking fun at people who yell about hats, or about "disappointing" updates. One of the more hilarious digs was the Classless Update. The first page of it was basically a long love letter to hats, calling them the ultimate status symbol, and explaining how having a hat made you better than everyone else. Each page also said something like "100% free!" "STILL free!" or "Holy crap! Better than expensive! It's free!"
Also, the page that shows us the Crafting System tells us to "say goodbye to those enjoyable evenings spent complaining on the forums about which item in your inventory was the most useless, spraying anti-Australian racist hate speech all over Robin Walker, his lovely wife, and his beautiful children." They also mention that anyone who loves all the weapons in TF2 is a "quiet minority", who could at least balance out the whingeing with a few nice posts.
The page prior to that has some jokes hidden in the blackboard, most notably "DROP=Infinity* (Robot/(1-Cat.3))" and "Fire=Q^2" (QQ, an emoticon for Rage Quit).
In the comic for the WAR! Update, the Demoman's mother scolds him for his idleness.
"The whole process came together surprisingly well, considering that the artists haven't been on speaking terms with the programmers since the programmers tricked them into playing SpaceChem ('It's sort of like Skyrim, but with more post-modern pointalism[sic]')."
The post about "Meet the Sandvich" explains that their draft was the script of Predator with the script of Road House in the middle. When this was rejected, the entire video was improvised by the voice actors, and the only lines added by the writers were stolen from those two films and The Simpsons.
When the dev team confront the writers with questions about how the Mac Update comic fits into the TF2 world, the writers take fright, shuffle their feet and make "a frantic search through the internet for fancy excuse words" before declaring it non-canon. The Engineer Update story is apparently intended to fill "a canon-shaped void in the lives of TF2's biggest story fans — our writers".
Actually Four Mooks: In media outside the game, there appears to be only one version of each character. Ring of Fired suggests there are only 9 mercenaries, yet one of the secret pages in the Pyromania Update notes that the Administrator has to sign 18 paychecks for the mercs. Also, both teams exist, and there are at least two spies. It goes back and forth.
Everyone Calls Him Barkeep: The Soldier vs Demoman update named several major characters: The Administrator's name is given as Helen; RED Demoman is Tavish Degroot; BLU Soldier is (apparently) Jane Doe; BLU Engineer is Dell Conagher; and RED Sniper is Mr. Mundy.
Writers Suck: The script presented for the "Meet The Sandvich" video is just the script for Predator attached to the script for Road House, and the writers fail to grasp why everyone else is unimpressed by this. Instead, the voice actors improvise, which the writers grasp as "other people doing all the work for us", though their attempts to join in are just lines quoted from other works (mostly Predator and Road House.)
Haunted Hallowe'en Special
Added Alliterative Appeal: All over the place in Scream Fortress. Mann Manor, Cadaver's Cranium, and the Horseless Headless Horsemann to name a few.
Lost In Transmission: The last article of the will reads "Lastly, to [obscured by sand]note later revealed to be "most trusted Elizabeth" I leave the entirety of my [obscured by sand]note later revealed to be "'miracle' gravel cache, uncovered with Barnabus during a trip to Terra Australis. My weakling son Gray resurfaced last year and has treathened to blackmail me for it. I give the gravel to you" and swear you to utmost secrecy in its keeping."
Our Ghosts Are Different On the other hand, Zepheniah Mann willed a curse that he would haunt those who "shoot over his bones" ... and he does exactly that on KOTH Harvest's event version.
Sniper vs. Spy Update
Ascended Extra: The camera beard, which was dismissed by the spy as being "ridiculous"... 3 months before it was given to him as an accessory.
Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: The Administrator before a round during the update: "All you ever do is disappoint and betray me. Cheating. Stealing. Friend-making!"
Body-Count Competition: Between opposing Demomen and Soldiers. Whichever class could kill the most of the other class by the end of the war gets a pair of shoes.
Rousing Speech: The BLU Soldier and the RED Demoman have one on their respective update pages.
Suspiciously Specific Denial: American Monkeynaut Poopy Joe was given the Eyelander, Buff Banner, and Equalizer before his journey into space. Mann Co. claims they were nowhere near the launch site of Poopy Joe's aircraft and had nothing to do with the explosion that occured moments later, and those three items were obtained in entirely innocent circumstances. Also, the company's seemingly rushed sale of a high-precision rocket launcher was not in any way connected with Poopy Joe's tragic death.
Right Hand Versus Left Hand: The update revealed that both RED and BLU are controlled by the same Administrator. The whole war was started just to prevent this fact from getting out.
Anachronism Stew: The Mac Update gives out iPod earbuds to mercenaries from the mid-twentieth century. The supplementary comic goes even further; the RED team finds an Apple store that includes flatscreen televisions, iMacs, and miniguns that set up blogs and post blog entries when they are fired.
Abraham Lincoln: the identity of the original 1850-era BLU team Pyro. According to the artist of the "Loose Canon" comic, this was one of the few specific characterizations that they wanted for the team's design.
Award Show: The winners of the contest were announced "live" (one winner every 5 minutes). The main page featured a countdown timer between announcements, and a subplot about how...
Bears Are Bad News: Saxton Hale accidentally let a bear loose during the ceremony. During the live-updating of the Awards page, the image of Saxton presenting the awards would occasionally refresh to reveal said bear slowly approaching the stage, only for it to get beaten to a pulp by Saxton himself.
Call Back: The rocket is similar to the one in "Grordbort's Crash". It contains weapons as well.
They were both part of the same promotion with "Dr. Grordbort's", a prop weaponry company run by WETA (yes, thatWETA). A third promotion is coming eventually, with weapons and cosmetic items for Scout and Medic, but these are yet to be released.
Alternate Reality Game/Foreshadowing: The ARG leading up to the update made reference to "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches", a Sherlock Holmes mystery involving The Reveal of a previously unknown heir to a sizable inheritance. Guess what Gray Mann is?
Chekhov's Gun: The Damaged (Barely-Melted) Capacitor from the Pyromania ARG was one of only two items that was not destroyed during Pyromania. In the Mann vs. Machine ARG, it became one of the main factors in solving the ARG.
Bilingual Bonus: Averted. The update page text either says the same thing as the English or is related flavor text.
Humongous Mecha: According to the update page, the Engineer robot will be over a hundred feet tall! ...While the parenthetical text says otherwise. The real reason is that the image is based on a movie poster — see Shout-Out below.
Player-Generated Economy: This update added the Steam Community Market, an organized trading system for game items and money.
Author Appeal: Cat Bountry has a soft spot for Engineer and Pyro being bros, Pomeranians, and the Heavy x Medic pairing. Naturally, Engie gets focus, a Pomeranian named Sir Butternubs is President, and Heavy and Medic are standing next to each other (she apparently asked The Heartsman, the artist, to draw them close together, and he did.)
Canon Discontinuity: In KritzKast's interview with the team that created the Robotic Boogaloo update, the comic's creators clarified that the comic is non-canon, but can be viewed as a possible Alternate Universe.
To clarify: the fact that the mercs have flawlessly defended Mann Co. for over a year, and that Grey is rapidly going bankrupt, is all canon. The half-hour's worth of events actually depicted in the comic are not.
Dartboard of Hate: Gray uses the cover of a magazine with Saxton Hale's portrait as a dartboard.
Money to Burn: The mercenaries have destroyed so many robots that they don't know what to do with all their money. The Pyro is shown shoveling a pile into the fireplace. The Soldier even eats a money sandwich!
Shaggy Dog Story: Just before Future Engineer arrives, Soldier was about to open one of the crates. After Future Engineer leaves, Soldier continues to open one of the crates. In other words, Future Engineer literally accomplished nothing by going back in time.
Stating the Simple Solution: Scoutbot tells Gray Mann maybe he could try building new robots that run on something other than money. Gray responds with what is either a Death Glare of "but that's NOT HOW IT'S DONE!!!", or an epiphany of a completely unrelated, still-completely-ridiculous plan.
Schmuck Bait: The time-traveling Engineer's warnings to the team not to open the crates just makes them want to open them.
Time Skip: Takes place almost a year after the Mann Vs. Machine update.
Torches and Pitchforks: Something Medic's family was (and still seems to be) on the receiving end of for generations. Seems to be a Brick Joke to the flavor text of Meet The Medic:
Not every mad doctor lives in a castle surrounded by villagers with pitchforks. Sometimes they live in the trenches, where there's plenty of spare parts flying around and a pressing need to get inventive with them.
Amusement Park of Doom: The setting for this year's event. Complete with carnival games and bumper cars! Possibly subverted, because it's not quite haunted yet (though the mercs will be quick to fix that) and Merasmus ended up using very un-spooky sandalwood scented candles for the ritual.
End of The Line
Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: Soldier is horrified when the train threatens to crash into explosive barrels. And an orphanage. And a kitten store. And a kitten orphanage.
Canon Discontinuity: Just like "Robotic Boogaloo", this update, or at least, the video it's centered around, is entirely non-canon.
Cute Kitten: Soldier is concerned that these may be one of the many casualties if the enemy train reaches their base.
The Not-Love Interest: The Heavy and Medic subplot is described as "romance action" in one of the update blurbs, before clarifying that it's more like "bro-mance action". James McVinnie said he intentionally left the video sans dialogue, so a lot of it could be interpreted however the fans wanted.
Silence Is Golden: No voice actors, in order to let the animation and music carry the mood.