If there's a tin-foil hat in the Mann Co. Store, the Team Fortress 2 fans aren't buying it. They've noticed Valve have been seeding information about something new coming to the game's rapidly expanding lore, but what is the so-called "Mann Vs Machine" update they're speculating about.
Update: 27th June
Valve released the Source Filmmaker to a few lucky fans. The files have clear views of the robotic heads of every class. There's a lovely gallery of them all for you to see here. Still no word on what the mode is: some fans are speculating that it's so you can tell the difference between bots and players online, but I don't think they'd go to this much trouble just for that.
Partly because the Pyromania update had another clue. The Doomsday map that dropped has another secret room in it, at the Blu Spawn.
As you can see below it has the same photographs, although what they show is much clearer now we have the files from the film-maker. But what's that map the (lady-skinned) Spy is pondering?
Bottom right it says "Cactus Valley", left it mentions "Death", and I'm pretty sure top right is mentions "Mann" in some capacity. Three maps?
Update: 20th June
TF2 players have begun to report of new items dropping for them. The items all contain hints that the Mann vs Machine mode is very close.
Last year's Christmas update included a very unChristmassy map, cp_foundry. The map's theme, a steel mill, jarred against the rest holiday-themed update (although I've been in Australia for Xmas and can assure you molten metal is a good present there), so why did Valve include it? Within the map there are a few clues. You'll need a private server to see them. Just start one running on your own PC and use the console (enable it in options and press '`' to bring it down) to enable cheats "sv_cheats 1" and enable noclip "noclip 1". With that set you're free to float around the map. Head to the Red spawn and look behind it: it overlooks a room that you ordinarily can't get to. On the left of the room, a soldier model is guarding a door. No biggie: an interesting Easter Egg on Valve's behalf. But he is actually guarding something: use noclip, head through the door and you'll see this.
What the hell are those grey looking blurs? They do appear to resemble some of the classes in the game, but they're not exact copies. There's a slightly metallic tang to them. Additionally there are some clues to be found in sound files in the game's code. Things like: "sound\mvm\giant_soldier\giant_soldier_step01. wav". Giant soldier? There's one each for a number of classes. Now while you're in the room turn and look around. Beside the door there's a decal. Now 1961 is obviously a year, but the following numbers aren't any date. 13 22 13.
If you take those to mean letters of the alphabet, you'll get MVM, which appears in the filename fopr all the sound files. “Mann vs Machine” is what the community has decided it means. It's compelling, if a little speculative, but there is another wonderful bit of information that points towards metallic, humanoid things. Elsewhere in the level there's a hidden room near the Blu Spawn (outside and to the right, if you're still noclipping). It's sealed off and even when you bypass the walls there appears to be nothing to see. Look.
Empty, right? But look at that poster? What is it telling us. Look at where those planks of wood fall, segmenting the word into three sections. If you take those middle letters as a word it says "Tobor", which is "Robot" in the crazy world of opposites. Now Valve did tease that TF2 was getting a big change in the coming year.
"The TF2 team is working on something brand new for 2012. We can't tell you what it is, because they won't tell us, but what they WILL say is that it isn't a hat, it isn't a map, and go away. From this we can only conclude that the TF2 team is working on some ungodly hat-map hybrid that you can wear on your head while you run around in it. You heard it here first. Also last, because they just told us it's not that either. But it's really cool."
So while there's some clear evidence of something coming to TF2, and it looks like it'll include robots, what would they bring? The Mann Vs Machine people think it's some sort of wave based versus mode, where you'd be fighting the robots and upgrading your character as you do. They think that because a) Valve have experimented with boss fights in TF2 with both the head-lopping Horseless Headless Horsemann in the Scream Fortress Update and the floating eye of death, MONOCULUS in the Very Scary Halloween Special. And b) more sound files talk of tanks and portable sentries, which sound like deployables.I doubt Valve would ever take Team Fortress 2 out of the first-person shooter genre, so expect all this to happen at ground level. My thoughts? The machines are bots using the TF2 AI to make a new tower defence style game mode, played in first-person. The robots start out small and end up giant. I hope there are giant hats.