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Capture the flag (CTF) is a traditional outdoor sport often played by children or sometimes adults where two teams each have a flag (or other marker) and the objective is to capture the other team's flag, located at the team's "base", and bring it safely back to their own base. Enemy players can be "tagged" by players in their home territory; these players are then, depending on the agreed rules, out of the game, members of the opposite team, or "in jail". (One variation of the game includes a "jail" area in addition to the flag on each team's territory.)


Capture the flag is played on some sort of playing field. Whether indoor or outdoor, the field is divided into two halves, known as territories. Players form two teams, one for each territory. Each side has a "flag" which is most often a piece of fabric, but can be any object small enough to be easily carried by a person (night time games might use flashlights or lanterns as the flags). The flags are generally placed in a visibly obvious location at the rear of a teams territory. The object of the game is for players to make their way into the opposing team's territory, grab the flag and return with it to their own territory without being tagged. The flag is defended mainly by tagging opposing players who attempt to take it. Within their own territory players are "safe", meaning that they cannot be tagged by opposing players. Once they cross in to the opposing teams territory they are vulnerable.

In another, more difficult version, the flag is hidden in a place where it can only be seen from one angle. It also might have some challenge involved. For example, the flag could be hidden in the leaves up in a tall tree, and the players have to see the flag, then knock it out.

Different versions of Capture the Flag have different rules both for handling the flag and for what happens to tagged players. A player who is tagged may be eliminated from the game entirely, be forced to join the opposing team, or be placed temporarily in "jail." The jail is a predesignated area of the group's territory which exists for holding tagged players. It is usually located a good distance from the flag in order to minimize the possibility of simultaneous flag grabs and jail breaks. While tagged players may be confined to jail for a limited, predetermined time, the most common form of the game involves the option for a "jailbreak." In this version, players who are tagged remain in jail indefinitely. However, players from their own team may free them from jail by means of a jailbreak. Jailbreaks are accomplished by a player running from their own territory into the enemy's jail. Such action may, depending on the rules, free all jailed players or simply those who are physically touched by the one performing the jailbreak. In general freed players are obligated to return directly to their own territory before attempting offensive action (i.e., attempting to grab the flag). While returning to their own side, freed players usually, although not always, acquire "free walk-backs", in which they are safe from tagging until they reach their home territory. The player performing the jail break, on the other hand, is neither safe, nor restricted from performing other actions such as attempting to grab the flag or generally moving about enemy territory. Sometimes, players in jail form chains, so that if your teammate tags one person in the chain, everyone is free. Simply leaving jail without being freed is considered poor sportsmanship and is severely frowned upon, often times leading to expulsion from the game. The rules for the handling of the flag also vary from game to game and deal mostly with the disposition of the flag after a failed attempt at capturing it. In one variant after a player is tagged while carrying the flag it is returned to its original place. In another variant, the flag is left in the location where the player was tagged. This latter variant obviously makes offensive play easier, as the flag will tend, over the course of the game, to be moved closer to the dividing line between territories.

When the flag is captured by one player, he is not safe from being tagged. Sometimes, the flag holder may not be safe at all, even in his home territory, until he obtains both flags, thus ending the game. But he has the option to return to his own side or hand it off to a teammate who will then carry it to the other side. In most versions, he may not throw the flag, but only hand it off while running. The game is won when a player returns to his own territory with the enemy flag.

Alterations may include "one flag" CTF in which there is a defensive team and an offensive team, or games with three or more flags. In the case of the latter, one can only win when all flags are captured, not only one.

Software and games

In 1992, Richard Carr released an MS-DOS based game called Capture the Flag. It is a turn-based strategy game with real time network / modem play (or play-by-mail) based around the traditional outdoor game. The game required players to merely move one of their characters onto the same square as their opponent's flag, as opposed to bringing it back to friendly territory, because of difficulties implementing the artificial intelligence that the computer player would have needed to bring the enemy flag home and intercept opposing characters carrying the flag.

A common multiplayer gameplay mode (usually with team-based gameplay, as with the real-life game) called "Capture the Flag" is found in many first- and third-person shooters such as Team Fortress 2, Quake, Urban Terror, Unreal Tournament, Tribes, the Halo series, the Call of Duty series, the TimeSplitters series (renamed "Capture The Bag"), and Metroid Prime Hunters. CTF is even in some sports games such as the Tony Hawk Pro Skater series, in the racing game Midnight Club: Los Angeles, and has also been implemented in the real-time space strategy game Spacetrace. Each team has a flag and the players attempt to take the enemy's flag from their base and bring it back to their own flag to score. CTF is most commonly played in multiplayer games.

Possibly the first first-person shooter to feature CTF was Rise of the Triad, released in 1994, while the first real-time strategy to feature CTF was Command & Conquer in 1995. One of the multiplayer modes was called Capture the Triad, and conforms to the objectives stated above for CTF games in first person shooters, with the exception that the items to be captured and defended were triad symbols. Note that in FPSes, unlike the children's game, players can be harmed irrespective of whether they are in their own base.

CTF was popularized when it was first introduced as a modification to Quake by the company Threewave. CTF is also a popular mode in the Team Fortress and Team Fortress Classic mods for Quake, the standalone Team Fortress 2, and Half-Life respectively.
Flag from CTF in the online game Quake 2
CTF mods are available for multiple first person shooters, including Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, which is a free download using the game engine from the popular Return to Castle Wolfenstein.

Compared to a deathmatch game, CTF scenarios often feature some sort of transportation tool that can be used to travel faster and to reach areas which the player wouldn't normally be able to reach without this extra aid. Such tools might be a grappling hook or a portable teleporter. In Battlefield 1942 CTF the many vehicles available in the game serve this role, though in ETF the vehicles move slower than the players, and are vulnerable objectives in most missions. The usual reason for including such equipment is because it allows players to outmaneuver the flag carrier on his way home, as the flag carrier is often not able to use transportation tools. In Unreal Tournament 2004, for example, only players in ground vehicles can hold and thus capture the flag, whereas using air vehicles or the Translocator (a personal teleporter) will cause the player to drop the flag. The Halo series takes this concept a step further, preventing the flag carrier from using weapons at all, unless the carrier willfully drops the flag, though the flag-carrier can still board vehicles as a passenger (Halo 2 and 3) or as the driver (Halo 1 only). This feature gives the defenders a slight edge, thus making the game sessions last a bit longer. Unreal Tournament 2004 introduces a Vehicle CTF mode, differentiated from normal CTF maps by the presence of vehicles and in Unreal Tournament III and the replacement of the Translocator with a Hoverboard.

In Gears of War 2, CTS is giving a new twist, each team's "flag" is now an actual player that is armed and able to move. Opposing players must avoid being killed by the flag player, down them, and take as a meatshield to forcibly drag back to their homebase.

In the MMORPG Silkroad Online, players can play capture the flag free every 2 hours in the game. It is the same as capture the flag except the players attack the other players on the opposing team with their obtained skills. Also, to get the flag, players must kill monsters on their side of the field until they obtain a key that one of the monsters is holding.

In the MMORPG RuneScape, paying members can play a mini-game called Castle Wars, which includes the basic principles of capture the flag. In another MMORPG, World of Warcraft, the Warsong Gulch battleground implements CTF-style gameplay.

There are also CTF variants for more than 2 teams (4 teams most commonly). In that case, the scoring system can vary greatly.

Computer security

In computer security, capture the flag is a computer security wargame. Each team is given a machine (or small network) to defend on an isolated network. Teams are scored on both their success in defending their assigned machine and on their success in attacking other team's machines. Depending on the nature of the particular CTF game, teams may either be attempting to take an opponent's flag from their machine or teams may be attempting to plant their own flag on their opponent's machine. CTF was popularized by the hacker conference DEF CON. Currently the DEF CON CTF competitions are run by Diutinus Defense Technologies Corp.

Contests are generally executed in a hotel ballroom or meeting room. A typical contest will have an area for each team playing, arranged around a central area reserved for the contest administrators. Projectors will display a scoreboard on the wall, which will be intermittently interrupted by witty or humorous video clips. Music is usually provided by a PA system during the contest.

CTF contests are usually designed to serve as an educational exercise to give participants experience in securing a machine, as well as conducting and reacting to the sort of attacks found in the real world. Reverse-engineering, network sniffing, protocol analysis, system administration, programming, and cryptanalysis are all skills which have been required by prior CTF contests at DEF CON.

CTF games often touch on many other aspects of information security, such as physical security, regulatory compliance, and software licensing. Successful teams generally have extensive industry experience and are capable of addressing these issues, even when raised by surprise in the middle of the contest.

An international, academic CTF was created by University of California, Santa Barbaramarker in 2004. There have been 6 iCTF exercises since then. The 2008 edition occurred on December 5, 2008 and involved 39 teams from across the world, making it the largest live security exercise ever performed on the Internet.

Urban Gaming

Capture the Flag is among the games that have made a recent comeback among adults as part of the urban gaming trend (which includes games like Pac-Manhattan, Fugitive and manhunt). The game is played on city streets and players use cellphones to communicate. News about the games spreads virally through the use of blogs and mailing lists. Urban Capture the Flag has been played in cities throughout North America.

See also


  1. USSSP - Games - Capture the Flag
  2. UCSB International Capture The Flag

External links

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