Companies have different ways of generating hype. From the dregs of astro-turfing to the apex of ARGs, there are entire industries dedicated to stirring interest in a product and spreading a social media net as far as possible.
Valve is in the lucky position of owning a number of long-standing franchises that have years and years of development time invested into them almost entirely in-house, and this lets them splurge on the most niche level of hype: the hidden foreshadowing. Whether intentionally or for testing/convenience’s sake, Valve has a number of cases where they’ve added something into a game that seems innocuous or novel enough, but only later when a giant new mechanic/content pack unrolls do the dedicated fans realize the clues were right under their nose, sometimes for years. This hype is arguably the least useful since it can’t affect product sales due to only being retroactively recognizable by hardcore fans who would likely have sunk money into the new content anyway, but that’s part of why it’s so appreciated by those who realize it. It’s the tiniest of love letters, an insight into the developer’s mind that also unifies two disparate facets of the canon.
1. Killstreaks. When Two Cities came out announcing that new killstreak kits would be entering the market and allowing people to showcase their kills per life, the community couldn’t resist pointing out how they seemed to come out of left field. Not only is it strange for an objective-based game to care about killstreaks, it brings up unsettling comparisons to Call of Duty and doesn’t seem to mesh with what Valve did before.
Except Valve did this exact thing before. Two years ago, Valve revealed that the third secret promo box contained a hat called the Grandmaster. Running with the chess theme from the TF2 board game it was promoing for, the hologram on the top would upgrade to higher-ranked chess pieces as you scored more points in a single life. Sadly, barely anybody could get it due to extremely low sales for TF2 chess, so nobody was able to heed the signs.
2. Strange Bacon Grease. This was back when Valve was adding those ultra-rare divisible-by-ten crates, the reason stuff like the strange Kritzkrieg and Gunslinger and ludicrously expensive. People had been clamoring for a strange Frying Pan, since the melee reskin’s near-mythical status was already assured. Even back then the humble skillet was more culturally associated with TF2 than its origin Left 4 Dead 2. But at the time Valve didn’t do strange versions of reskins or unstatted promos. It was the law. Nobody was sure why, some theories were that they’d need to ask the promo company for permission for some reason, or that they wanted to get all the actual statted weapons in strange form first. (They still have not succeeded in that regard…)
Cue Crate 50 and it’s mysterious, ultra-rare drop “Strange Bacon Grease.” By requiring a unique version of the promo item to bind the grease to, Valve was able to bypass potentially taking sales from L4D2 while still releasing a TF2-only obtainable item. Most people correctly guessed what the item did, but while some hypothesized Valve could do a similar thing for other promos, nobody really expected the complete migration to strangifiers for all future strange weapons. Until they stopped for no reason and went back to dedicated strange weapons, which I truly don’t understand. Seriously, strangifiers were awesome, they should have done the opposite and retroactively changed all older crates to dropping strangifiers.
Speaking of Jarate…
3. The Insult that Made a Multi-Media Franchise out of TF2. This one’s a double-whammy. Up until April 1st 2009, TF2 was a very successful video game and not much else. It had a few Meet the Team videos, but they were seen as advertisements for the game, supplementary material.
Then on April Fools Valve released this. Everyone assumed that Valve must be trolling them, or just getting in the April Fool’s spirit despite having never done so before (or since). Nope! Jarate came out as a legitimate item later, and this was the first sign of a few things to come. Jarate was the first “silly” unlock, a non-weapon that really doesn’t make sense on a battlefield no matter how cartoony. The community’s acceptance of jarate was the first crack in the floodgates that let Valve add ever-more-creative but kooky stuff into the game.
But it foreshadowed more than just that. This silly one-page comic wasn’t just the first appearance of Saxton Hale, who would go on to become one of the most important supporting characters in the universe, it was also the beginning of TF2 Comics. Fast-forward to today where compilations are being published by Dark Horse Comics, and you’ve got a very impressive legacy for this small comic.
4. The years of MvM clues. Mann Versus Machine was going to be huge, and Valve new it. A complete departure from the PvP roots of TF2, this new game mode was going to add another whole dimension to TF2’s available gameplay, character models, and lorewise it was going to end the Gravel Wars and introduce a whole new villain.
Valve pulled out all the stops. The amazing much-trumpeted ARG sent the community into a tizzy, the new comic Blood Brothers brought Grey Mann into the fold, and the update itself was just as big as everyone had hoped. MvM in my opinion is a shining example of a majorly-hyped update that actually lived up to its name. Especially when you consider the many, many Easter eggs foreshadowing its inclusion that dated back years…
I’m sure there are others, if you know of any definitely leave a comment. I bet I missed enough to write a whole other article on them!