cp_orange_x3 might just be my favorite custom map in all of TF2, for entirely the wrong reasons. It was there for me, man. From the beginning. And it’s always been there for me.

The oldest orange screencap on my computer, dated August 21, 2011.
The oldest screencap on my computer, dated August 21, 2011.

cp_orange_3’s immortal popularity is no surprise to me; it’s a memory featherwight. You can play it on anything. For two months after graduating college I lived in a 125-square foot apartment with two roommates in San Francisco. I didn’t even have room for a desktop, I could only use my laptop on my bed and steal internet from the hotel next door. The only map I could play was cp_orange_x3. Its simplicity is elegant. Just an orange tower flanked by a huge courtyard with two opposing bases, helpfully faced away from the battlefield and with no ramps or ladders to get back into spawn. Did you ever notice that the tower itself is the only thing painted orange? That’s an amazing design choice; it draws the eye and aids the player in where to go. Later orange mappers that slather the whole arena in color should have taken notes.

I mostly dislike orange spinoff maps, but this one was awesome. It had a butterfly that instantly heals anyone who can touch it. I owe him my life so many times.
I mostly dislike orange spinoff maps, but this one was awesome. It had a butterfly that instantly heals anyone who can touch it. I owe that butterfly my life so many times.

The simplicity makes it perfect for scientific tests, if you’re the sort of player into that thing. I use the tiled floor when I need to compare exact distances, perhaps to see which weapon I can get better range with. Or when I needed a straight line to test whether you can heal yourself with the crossbow. It’s also amazing for practicing explosive jumping; in my first year of TF2 I spent dozens of hours just sticky-jumping around an empty orange server and learning the ropes. In general, whenever I need to just nip into a server and try something real quick, I use cp_orange_x3.

That’s probably why I can’t play on any imitator maps and generally find them inferior to the original; they miss the point the second they add anything extraneous. cp_orange_x3 is the AK-47 of TF2 maps. It has the absolute bare minimum needed to be a map with a working objective and still allow up to 32 players to have a good time. The objective is another reason I like the map; regardless of how throwaway it is, it gives the players a goal to strive towards. There are always people trying to take the tower, and this provides focus for the action. It’s not just a blanket cluster everywhere like, say, trade_plaza. There’s room for strategy.

"There is no better revenge than spawning a RTD sentry in the middle of close combat." ~Oscar Wilde
“There is no better revenge than spawning an RTD sentry in the middle of close combat.” ~Oscar Wilde

And I guess that’s why I love it so much. It actually fills a role not covered by the maps of TF2 proper, a role that needed to be covered. It’s a saving grace for crappy computers, a beacon of simplicity for minimalists, a laboratory for TF2’s unofficial playtesters. And it still has so many little nuances that you might not notice even after years of playing it. Did you know that the courtyard around the tower isn’t symmetrical? The raised portion in my first screenshot is only on RED’s side. How about that BLU team actually can jump back into spawn? These are little things but the players who understands them can take advantage of them.

If you’ve played TF2, you’ve probably played this map. I encourage you to crank it up again. You may find there’s more to this dev-textured prison than meets the eye.