Game Design 2 – MDA & Tradeoffs

For Game Design 2, we had to take a current game and discuss its  MDA and tradeoffs. I chose Team Fortress 2.

Title: Team Fortress 2
Developer: Valve
Release Date: October 9, 2007

Playing a role & MDA

Class based games aren’t anything rare at this point in the gaming industry. However, what is rare is a game that gets it right. Team Fortress 2 features nine unique classes for players to choose from. What’s more interesting is that each of these classes has unique ways to help the team. The game uses a few verbs; shoot, run, jump melee. However, each class utilizes these verbs in drastically different ways. This variation in mechanics alone, doesn’t breed many dynamics, but when put in a team environment, there’s no shortage of interesting combination of mechanics. Below is a list of classes as well as their main class strength.

Class Name Specialty Abilities
Demoman Defense Can launch proximity grenades that explode on enemy contact. Useful for getting around corners or defending. Despite being defense, the mines are a great way to take out enemy sentry guns from a safe vantage point.
Heavy Defense High damage, high capacity mini-gun. While classified as defense, can also be very useful in offensive charges when paired with a medic.
Engineer Defense Can build sentry guns, resource dispensers and teleporters. Very helpful in pushing enemy forces back as well as fortifying a location.
Scout Offense Extremely fast and can double jump. This class is great for speeding past enemy lines before enemies have a chance to figure out what happened. The class’ speed also makes it a very dangerous melee class since he’s so hard to hit.
Soldier Offense Fires a high-damage rocket. Direct hits usually results in a kill. Can also use the blast from the rocket to rocket jump to extraordinary heights.
Pyro Offense Short range, VERY high damage. The flamethrower sets foes ablaze causing damage over time. Also has an air burst that can knock enemies back. Can also be very useful on defense against a team using spies.
Medic Support Can heal friendlies with the heal gun. A fully charged heal gun can trigger temporary invulnerability.
Sniper Support Has a high-powered sniper rifle that can one-shot foes provided the player lands a headshot. Great for taking out enemies who aren’t paying attention.
Spy Support Can mimic enemy characters, temporarily turn invisible, destroy constructs and one-hit melee kill from behind. Necessary against a team with multiple engineers. His invisibility also makes him a defensive threat.


As you can see, the player is able to take these mechanics and use them to not only suit their play style, but find a way to help the team. Whether their style is tanking, healing, defending or scouting, there is some variation on the game’s mechanics to suit any player. The game also allows the player to switch classes in between deaths. This means that if sniping isn’t working out or the team already has too many pyros, the player can play around to find the right class. Some of the best teams in the game are comprised of players who are finding interesting ways to utilize the class’ mechanics. Additionally, finding useful ways to use your class in conjunction with other classes completely negates the class specialties. That is to say that, alone, a sniper might only be support. However if the engineer builds a dispenser and turret to watch the sniper’s back. That sniper becomes a defensive force to be reckoned with.

Let’s look at a simple scenario: A heavy charges into the enemy base with his guns blazing. He might take down one or two enemies, but not enough to make a dent. Let’s say another player sees that the heavy is having issues so that player switches to medic and tries healing the heavy. The result is a little better, but now the enemy has a sentry gun which tears through the medic, leaving the team right back at square one. Add another medic to the situation and the healing chain can now bend safely behind cover, but that sentry is still a threat. Two medics and a heavy are definitely a spectacle and a viable threat to an enemy team. This means that a spy can easily slip past the enemy lines and destroy, or at the very least disable, the turret long enough for the heavy to do some real damage. This scenario is one of many possible combinations that create interesting, dynamic gameplay. Matches often escalate as teams rush to adjust to whatever the enemy team is doing.

What these dynamics do in turn is create the aesthetic of fellowship and contribution. Thanks to the specializations, players actually get a sense that they’re helping the team even if they’re not killing or capturing. It also encourages teams to adjust and seek out better dynamics to counter those of the opposing team.

Tradeoffs & MDA

The original version of Team Fortress 2 provided players with standardized classes. Every sniper was the same, every heavy was the same and so on. In subsequent patches however, Valve allowed players to not only customize their character visually, but also with weapon variants. These weapons, however, don’t come without a cost. This cost comes in the form of tradeoffs.

For the sake of keeping this succinct, let’s look at just the variants of the heavy’s mini-gun.

Weapon Name Specs
Mini-gun Standard
Natascha Pro: Slows enemies down on contact

Pro: + 50% ammo capacity

Con: – 25% weapon damage

Con: 30% slower spin up time.

Brass Beast Pro: +20% Weapon Damage

Con: 50% slower spin up time

Con: 60% slower move speed

Tomislav Pro: 20% faster spin up time

Pro: Silent spin up

Con: 20% slower firing speed

Huo-Long Heater Pro: Ring of flames sustained while deployed

Con: Consumes 6 ammo per second deployed


The table shows that each weapon has a very different benefit and downside. These tradeoffs also translate to secondary and melee weapons. What this means in terms of dynamics is that players can craft each class to suit their unique play styles. Given enough effort, a player can have a completely customized (both aesthetically and functionally) cast of characters. This gives players a sense of ownership over their characters. They are no longer one of many, they stand out and have special characteristics that others don’t. This also helps to serve playing a role. Since players are able to customize the way that classes feel, they are able to better play the desired role on a team.