Halloween is back! As Valve recently announced, all five of the previous Halloween events are playable! (I’m not sure why that’s news, they always make the old Halloweens playable, but it’s still appreciated.) However, as much as I want to get into the Halloween spirit, the one thought plaguing my mind is, “Are those darn presents going to screw me over again?

Most of the old Halloween maps come with presents that grant the player who picks it up some sort of event-restricted cosmetic reward. And that’s about all that’s remained consistent over the years, except for the number of complaints the present system has managed to accrue in its various formats.

The Ghost Fort presents are the worst because they’ve got the most valuable stuff in them. Instead of various flavors of Halloween-restricted hats, the Ghost fort gifts include all the spells that alter pre-existing items by adding glowy colors, footprints, and voice changes. These have always attracted the attention of everyone who likes customizing their stuff (which is almost everybody) and these presents have always been a source of consternation to that effect.

In 2010, when they were first added with the inclusion of cp_manor_event, the present drop system was completely different from today. Back then a single present dropped on the server, visible to all, and whichever lucky player managed to find the thing got the prize. You could play the entire event and find yourself unable to secure a single gift, especially when there needed to be at least ten people on the server for gifts to drop. However, not too many people cared because the presents themselves were these pretty lame paper bag masks. At minimum, if you cared enough to get the achievement you stuck it out, but otherwise it really didn’t matter if you weren’t able to get the presents. (Also at the time just having someone trade you the Saxton Hale mask unlocked the achievement. So even then it didn’t matter.)

2011 added a few complaints mainly because the map, Eyeduct, had present spawns in the underworld, which was an unreachable location for most of the time. If the present had spawns down there, you couldn’t reach it without jumping through one of Monoculus’ warp portals whenever he chose to create those. But there still weren’t that many complaints; most criticism was again addressed at the cooperative nature of the boss because unlike the Headless Horseless Horsemann, Monoculus required both teams to stop shooting each other and cooperate.

It was 2012 that first met widespread complaints about the drop system due the much-beloved halloween spells that now resulted from successfully finding the present. This Halloween was not-so-fondly remembered as The Month of the Scout because every Ghost Fort server was chock full of the speedy little bastards trying to give themselves every possible advantage to getting the gift. Thankfully, the gifts dropped every 30 minutes roughly so you got pretty fair amount of shots.

Meanwhile, complaints regarding cooperative bosses were worse than ever. The first version of Merasmus had damage resistance so high you needed two teams of 100% cooperative Huntsman snipers to even hope to defeat him. Picture by 2K11CiNCo.
Meanwhile, complaints regarding cooperative bosses were worse than ever. The first version of Merasmus had damage resistance so high you needed two teams of 100% cooperative Huntsman snipers to even hope to defeat him. Picture by 2K11CiNCo.

The spells themselves were loudly advertised as disappearing in their entirety come November 12, and that’s exactly what happened. Except some users found out that the spells were only wiped once TF2 started up and were not wiped from items after that day, meaning that if a TF2 account with spells traded one into an open TF2 account, and then the receiver immediately applied it onto an item, they can retain the glory paint and have it work forever. This turned spell paints into the elite-tier paints that made everyone jealous.

2013 rolled around, and the presents’ drop system was changed. Now, whenever a present dropped it would only appear to a single player on the server, and if that player could find it in the (severely reduced) time limit before it disappeared, they got the item within. This was considered awesome because finally Ghost Fort wasn’t full of nothing but scouts and Gunslingers. However, at the very end of the event, Valve suddenly and, in my opinion, quite unfairly addressed the latent issue with people retaining their spell paints by waiting until the event was over and slapping an Untradeable tag onto every Halloween spell. Now it was impossible to use your spells without turning on TF2 and watching them poof into the ether. I really wish they had given people maybe a few days of warning so we could have at least used the spells instead of storing them in alts.

And now here we are in 2014. The big special secret Halloween event is currently unrevealed, and we’ve had some time to play around with the old ones while we wait. The leaked name has me hoping that Team Fortress Classic factors in somehow, and the Steam Community Market has alleviated most of the complaints regarding the presents (though you should have seen the forums on the few days before spells became marketable. The new 3-hour period between drops was not appreciated.) It’s pretty safe to bet that new cosmetics will have something to do with the next generation of presents, due to a “Scream Fortress 2014” Workshop tag being the only clue we’d received up until the recent blog post, but for more specifics, we’ll have to wait and see. I just hope Valve’s execution doesn’t cause too many complaints.