A desert map (level) for the Half-Life modification Team Fortress Classic. The map pits two teams against each other with very different goals: one to evade defensive strongholds and the other to hinder offensive progress through the territory. It is a beautiful example of taking an old standby and freshening it up into something more exciting and daring.

Since its beginnings as a struggling offspring of the original Quake, Team Fortress has always stuck to the capture the flag routine in its maps. A team's goal was to infiltrate the enemy's defenses, snatch it's flag, and dash off in a puff of dust for home to cap it--all while preventing the enemy from doing the same. It proved to be a hit. Team Fortress soon became the second-most popular mod in the Quake universe, after Threewave's Capture the Flag.

With Valve Software's remake of TF--Team Fortress Classic--many of the old concepts stuck in the new rendition. TF classics like 2fort, Well, and Rock made the conversion into Half-Life compatible versions. While some attempts were made in broadening Team Fortress' capabilities beyond CTF-style maps (like with TF remakes Hunted and Canalzone), capture the flag maps remained the rage.

Later, Valve released some key patches to TFC. The first included the map Avanti which had a revolutionary concept: one team purely plays defense while the other plays only on offense with all the various classes available. The map takes place in a town with a church on the top of the hill which was to be invaded and captured. It was a huge hit.

Another patch came later and it included more new maps: including Dustbowl. It takes place in a series of desert canyons divided into three areas. In the front of each canyon, the offense (the Attackers) starts each round, while the defense (the Defenders) starts in the back. The Attackers's goal is to take a single flag through the canyon to the Defenders's starting point. The defense's job is to stop the offense.

In the beginning, the teams are separated by gates. Right when the round starts, the tensions build. The Attackers know they face tough odds in the face of sentries, MIRV grenades, and Heavy Weapon Guys. The Defenders know that any sign of weakness will be exploited and the round could end in mere seconds if they're not careful. So the sentries go up, grenades are collected, positions are set, and sweat begins to trickle. The alarm goes off. The gates open.

Immediately, frags go flying by in the upper-left corner of the screen. Clearly, the Defenders have the advantage. They've staked out the territory and they have the higher ground.

Does this mean the Attackers will cringe and sulk in defeat? Hardly. The Attackers keep pressing: harder and harder. With each few seconds, the Attackers seem to be making ground. A sentry goes down. An HWGuy is clipped. The Grenade Pack is getting closer and closer. All of a sudden, the frag count begins to even out. Now the Defenders have their backs against the wall! The capture point is ever more vulnerable.

No other TFC map has this kind of tension. None of them. The whole Capture the Flag thing was becoming a little too stale anyway. 2fort in TFC consists of maybe two or three people trying to get the flag while the rest are just trying to frag others for the sake of fragging. Dustbowl is definitely not the sniperwars type that most CTF maps are.

As for the technical merits of the map, the architecture is just fine. While the lighting is a bit overdone (it is in a desert), it's never distracting. Plus the chokepoints in the map aren't impossible to break through. The spam pits only add to the challenge. The great thing about Dustbowl is the fact that the two teams don't start evenly. It's a concept that took to long to finalize. Dustbowl gives a good taste of what we can expect in the oft-delayed Team Fortress 2 game. It's a great map that forces teamwork and planning. While it's an easy map to get frustrated at, patience pays off in the end as the point totals soar.

I feel that a bit about the Half-Life ritual of "Humping the Pole" would be a good supplement to rookkey2’s excellent write-up.

Many newbies and even experienced players are ignorant of this long-standing dustbowl tradition. Its origins are obscure, but certainly lie somewhere in the pre-round boredom that so commonly afflicts the attacking team. As we all know, idle hands are the devil's playground.

To give the reader an idea of the time frame I'm talking about, there is a period of about 90 seconds before the gates open and let the attackers through. For an attacking player, chomping at the bit, this is an eternity. For the defending player, this is barely enough time to get his sentry gun set up, or plant his detpack. As you can see, this pre-round delay is a necessary evil.

Naturally, the attackers can put this time to good use by tweaking various settings, changing their class, or discussing strategy. Of course, most players on public servers want nothing to do with any of that; so, "Humping the Pole" was born.

The activity, itself, takes place just before the third and final stage of the map. Outside the respawn there is a signpost that says, "Capture Point", and has an arrow indicating the appropriate direction. This is the pole that will be humped. There are similar signs before the first two sections of the map, but they are not humpable.

To "Hump the Pole", first stand next to the pole facing it.
Make sure that the sign is above your head.
Now, jump up and down as rapidly as you can.
If you are doing it properly your head will be hitting the sign above you, causing you to rebound toward the ground.

To anyone watching, it looks as if your character is trying to molest the pole. The defenders, of course, are unable to see any of this, but they will hear an awful lot of grunting as you jump up and down, and are sure to know what's going on.

Humping the pole brings good luck to you and your team; so do it often!

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