Team Fortress 2 | Valve | PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 | 2007
Without a doubt, Team Fortress 2 stands as one of the greatest success stories spawned from the depths of Development Hell. Nearly nine years after its release as part of The Orange Box, this stylish competitive shooter still carries a pretty hefty audience—and has received a staggering 568 updates as of this writing. That's pretty commendable, seeing as it stewed for nearly a decade in the Willy Wonka-esque game development studio known as Valve.
What makes Team Fortress as a whole especially impressive is that the project as a whole started as a mod for the original Quake, which released in 1996. Valve valued the work of developers Robin Walker and John Cook so highly that they scooped up their Team Fortress Productions and put the two to work on a version of their mod that would work with Half-Life's GoldSrc engine. The resulting game, Team Fortress Classic, entered the world in April of 1999, and soon became a mega-hit with the competitive PC gaming crowd.
Given that Team Fortress essentially debuted in 1996, fans of FPSes had every right to question the existence of a sequel as we approached Y2K. The inevitability of Team Fortress 2 made itself known as early as the 1998 acquisition of Team Fortress Productions, when Sierra Senior Vice President Scott Lynch stated, "Building TF2 on top of Half-Life's [engine] will result in a multiplayer experience of much greater depth and broader appeal than anything currently available."
That was the plan, anyway. At E3 1999, Team Fortress 2 resurfaced with the subtitle "Brotherhood of Arms," and looked much more realistic—by the standards of the time—than the final version. "If you wanted to look at movies we thought were more like it," said Walker in a 2000 Gamespot interview, "I think internally we've discussed our atmospheric goal as something somewhere between Saving Private Ryan and Calley's Heroes. I mean Calley's Heroes is this film where all the heroes are supermen. They're all these incredible guys, but somewhere between it, we want players feeling like they're in a war, not a horrible war—it's this sort of weird war where they can still have fun." Later, when the interviewer jokingly asked whether or not we'd see Team Fortress year before the far-off year of 2005, Walker joked, "You'll absolutely have it way before then."
Obviously, that wasn't the case at all. Team Fortress 2 essentially "went dark" in 2000, and reportedly went through a few iterations that, in typical Valve fashion, never saw the light of day. With Team Fortress 2 in limbo, Walker and Cook went on to work on other Valve projects, and this promised sequel would stay in hiding until a July 2006 EA press event revealed its cartoony, character-driven form. Being a far cry from the debut's slightly drab focus on semi-realistic warfare, Team Fortress 2 seemed like a risky proposition, but it and the amazing Portal would go on to be the breakout stars of The Orange Box, which Valve released in October of 2007. And in June of 2011, Team Fortress 2 became free on Steam, ensuring its longevity for years to come. That's good news for all of us: as time has shown us, Valve clearly thinks two is the highest possible number.