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|What the New Counter-Strike Is and Isn’t, According to Valve|
The next Counter-Strike, the one coming out early next year called Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, won't be called Counter-Strike 2, because that game would be "something different", two of Valve's top people on the new game recently told Kotaku.
"A lot of Counter-Strike: GO is taking Counter-Strike: Source and Counter-Strike 1.6 and melding it into a product that every side likes and also expanding the base by putting it out on the consoles," Valve's Chet Faliszek said, referring to the two most popular incarnations of the game. "Whereas Counter-Strike 2, at least internally, we think about as something different."
During a recent interview at Valve headquarters in Bellevue, Faliszek and CS: GO project lead Ido Magal let me play Counter-Strike: GO (for an hour) and then helped me narrow in on what the new game is and isn't.
It's clear that the new game, which will be released as a downloadable title for PC, Mac, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 early next year, isn't a full-fledged sequel.
"Counter-Strike: GO has this kind of objective of homing in," Magal said. "We're taking that competitive experience that's very hard to organize in Counter-Strike: Source... We've taken that and let everyone experience the fun of a five-on-five [game] where everyone is equally matched. The product doesn't span all of Counter-Strike. Counter-Strike is zombie mods and all these different things. This is more narrow."
The new GO will feature several classic maps, new weapons and tweaks that range from modified maps to a new casual mode that removes the in-game money restrictions on which weapons and items players can buy. It also will be supported by Valve's in-house match-making, an option that allows Valve to promise a controlled, predictable multiplayer experience for all gamers.
GO is being developed in concert with Hidden Path Entertainment, which is located just a couple of blocks from Valve HQ. That team was initially been assigned to work on a straight Xbox Live Arcade port of 2004's Counter-Strike: Source.
"We wanted to see what that would look like," Magal said. It looked good.
"We realized there was something more there that we could do, something that the community would be interested in," Faliszek said.
"And we got excited," Magal added.
Valve had expected the 2004 Source version of the game to replace the previous year's 1.6 iteration, itself a successor to a game that had been evolving since the late 90's. But many of 1.6's most ardent fans, including those who played it competitively, as a sport, resisted the Source version. Source "didn't do what we thought it would do, but we weren't disappointed about what it did," Magal said. "We thought Counter-Strike: Source would replaced Counter-Strike 1.6 but instead it generated a community just as large as the 1.6 community on its own."
Faliszek called it "an amoeba-like split."
GO is supposed to bring those crowds together and rope in console players who have only had an original Xbox version to choose from. Valve also assumes it has lost some computer Counter-Strike gamers who have moved away from PC gaming and wants to reach them on the consoles those gamers may have moved to (fittingly, the PS3 version of the game will even include mouse and keyboard support; and all players on PS3/PC/Mac will be match-made against each other.)
The Valve guys describe two of the goals for GO as lowering the skill floor—making it easier for newbies to have fun with game, hence the casual mode—and raising the skill ceiling—making meaningful, subtle changes to maps and mechanics that only pro-level players will notice and appreciate.
Valve is not trying to necessarily turn GO into an e-Sport. "That requirement doesn't exist," Magal said. "If it happens, that's nice." They do want to make sure those highest-level players can enjoy GO, though, so Valve is launching a PC beta for the game in October and having what Magal calls an ongoing "dialogue" with hardcore CS players "to fix the things that everyone agrees is an issue." For example: "The way the smoke grenades used to work in Counter-Strike: Source. We changed the rate at which it blooms and dissipates and everyone preferred it." And another example, also from Magal: "The maps Dust and Aztec aren't played competitively at all because they were so imbalanced in Source. We feel very bullish on changing them, so we did. Dust 2 is a wonderfully balanced map that we didn't need to change. We just gave it a visual upgrade."
And then there are the Halo and Call of Duty gamers out there, the FPS hordes who may wonder why a new Counter-Strike is at all relevant to them. What's the appeal of CS:GO for that crowd who already have plenty of first-person shooting to do in their favorite series? CS may have sold 25 million copies already (according to Faliszek), but Valve might still have trouble pulling those folks from their beloved franchises. What's a CS have to offer those people?
Magal describes the essence and value of CS in one word: skill. "I think where Counter-Strike differentiates itself is what impact skill has on your success."
It's the way skill factors into a CS match that makes it feel different from other shooters, Faliszek added. "It's clean. You died because you made the wrong choice." He explained that beginner CS players tend to use lots of grenades, but that veterans don't since it is "super-easy" to kill a player who is holding one. "There's not a lot of spam in there," he said. "There are a lot of clean kills. Most kills are gun kills. And it's about, 'Oh I didn't check that corner before I entered this room. I made the bad choice of trying to defuse the bomb before clearing the area. We rushed around this corner and we got ambushed.' It's always about making those kinds of decisions and not about, ‘Oh man, why did I die? What the hell? That's bullshit kind of thing."
"A small difference in skill between two players, the impact of that on the game will be accentuated," Magal said. "My experience in other games is that's not the case."
That's what Counter-Strike is: a game of skill. And this is what CS:GO is: an effort to put anyone who has or should play Counter-Strike into the same game. That's a big enough goal but not a grand enough one to merit the name Counter-Strike 2.
As we discussed possible names for this new Counter-Strike, I had to ask if they'd considered one other name, one that would be an inside joke for fans of Valve's Half-Life series whose third episodic sequel has been missing in action for years. Did anyone suggest, during those brainstorm sessions, Counter-Strike: Episode Three?
"No," was Faliszek's quick reply. Then a quick inhale of breath. This new GO may not be a full-fledged Counter-Strike sequel, but it's no joke.
|An Hour with Counter-Strike: GO|
I've played Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and can now say it's for me, too.
On the eve of the public debut of its newest game, Valve Software let me into their ever-expanding offices in Bellevue, Washington to give me a sampling of four classic Counter-Strike maps as they've been remade for 2012's Counter-Strike: GO.
This was, I dare admit, the first time I've ever played Counter-Strike.
Forget my shame, and let me tell you how terrific an experience it was. There is a lot to this game that will be interesting to veterans and newcomers.
Even I knew before I put my hand to mouse and keyboard in a Valve testing lab today that Counter-Strike is a classic team-based first-person shooter. One side plays terrorists; one are counter-terrorists. The most popular mode and the one I played today is Bomb/Defuse. One of five terrorist players randomly gets the bomb and can place it; any of the five counter-terrorists can try to defuse it. The match ends when one team is wiped out or the bomb goes off.
CS: GO will launch with five maps for Bomb/Defuse mode, and two for the other classic franchise mode, Hostage Rescue. Those combined seven maps are all based on classic Counter-Strike 1.6 and CS: Source maps, in other words, maps from the two most popular earlier incarnations of the game.
The maps will be recognizable to series fans. Valve's designers have kept the best of them nearly intact, applying a graphical upgrade but leaving most of the level layout intact. The classic Dust 2, for example, looks improved but plays the same.
Another map, Nuke, has had some of its dead space removed, Valve's project lead on CS: GO, Ido Magal, told me. Areas where players would get lost have been tightened. The classic map Aztec has been altered to give terrorist players more cover and quicker paths to bomb placement areas. Dust has had a "sniper alley" fixed so that players can now run through a trench in that map while trusting that some bridges that span it and other obstructions will give them some cover.
If you're like me and a Counter-Strike novice, you'll notice none of the subtle changes in the game's maps. Valve is partially making the game for us, but also vetting many of their big and little changes through pro players in the massive competitive Counter-Strike community.
Players like me can cheer for the game's new Casual mode. In it, money is no object and players can buy weapons for each round without worrying about cost. They will be playing with voice-chat open to all players, on both sides and the ability to spectate any player's actions, again, from either faction, should they die and be watching the rest of the round as it plays out. Casual is, Magal and Valve writer Chet Faliszek explained to me, part of their and partner studio Hidden Path's effort to "lower the skill floor" for new players.
Veteran players will ideally appreciate the game creators' efforts to also "raise the skill ceiling." The overall idea is that Counter-Strike is considered, at Valve, to be a game about skill, one that doesn't sand over differences in player ability and always lets the player feel like they know why they died. I sure understood why I died and also why I was able to achieve a surprising number of kills during our Casual sessions. Weapons recoil and headshots remain paramount. Character movement is swift and the pace is indeed fast. Maps are clean and easy to rush through. Valve clearly wants nothing to obstruct the clarity of the play of the game. To wit: Faliszek explained to me that smoke and dust effects, which are prominent in the starting area of Dust, appear less frequently and with less opacity, as the round gets underway.
Experienced CS players may gravitate toward the game's Competitive mode, which drops the cross-team chat and spectating and intensifies the rounds, dropping round time from three minutes to two. In Competitive, money earned for success in a round does count and can be spent on weapons and armor for the next round.
For the new game, Valve will host its own servers. Fans can still host theirs and tweak the game, but Valve wants all of the players to be able to rely on having access to a consistent experience. On the Valve servers. CS: Go will play the way described here. And only on the Valve servers for PC and Mac—or on the console versions for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3—will players be matchmade based on skill. Valve is using a system called ELO and will prioritize that skill ranking when matchmaking in the Competitive mode. It will prioritize your friends list when matchmaking for Casual.
On PC and Mac, Counter-Strike: GO players can expect the standard options you get with a Steam game and any of the control options you would have with a computer. On the Xbox 360, players will use a game pad. On the PS3, players can use the game controller, the PlayStation Move motion controller or even a mouse and keyboard. PS3, Mac and PC players will be match-made against each other, clumped by skill, regardless of input device or platform. (Valve didn't demonstrate the PS3-PC.Mac cross-play to me today, but they confirmed that that enticing bit of networking is something they are striving to include in the game.)
What Valve showed me and will be showing at both this week's Penny Arcade Expo and next month's Eurogamer Expo is a lot of CS:GO's nods to the past, through classic modes and tweaked and graphically improved classic maps. In the future we'll find out about new modes and maps associated with them, innovations to the formula about which the Valve guys dropped no hints, other than to mention that for some reason, on some undisclosed map, some players will be in the role of professional bank robbers.
But even in the content now being shown, fans will be able to spot differences all over the place. They will see that character models are dressed appropriately for their level's environment and, in time, Valve will ensure that all of the characters have small visual variations in their wardrobe to distinguish them from each other. Veterans will notice that in Casual or Competitive, bullets will now fire tracers, helping players learn and understand where the ammo from the game's various weapons is going and coming from. This will visualize the series' various realistic streams and arcs of bullets as guns fire, recoil and are subjected to simulated laws of physics.
Long time players will also spot new weapons and items. Among them is a taser gun, an expensive, one-shot, instant-elimination gun that Faliszek described as a weapon that is used to humiliate. Players on either side can use a decoy, a bundle of firecrackers, sort of, that looks like a player on the mini-map and lets off the sounds of guns being fired. But it doesn't look like a player and doesn't make the sound of footsteps. A third new item is the molotov cocktail which fills an area with fire and smoke, briefly, the first CS item, Magal explained to me, that is designed to slow another team down. There will be more new weapons, but those are the ones I spotted.
The game is set to go into beta this October. Attendees of PAX and the Eurogamer Expo will get Beta codes they can redeem later, and Valve will provide fans other means, not yet announced, to get into the game. Through the beta, which is PC only, and through dialogue with more players of all levels, they want to tweak and perfect this game. As Faliszek and Magal showed me CS:GO, they frequently referred to stats in the game that might change. That's the point of the beta and the continued dialogue, to determine, for example, if bombs should detonate in 45 seconds, as they did in the build I played, or if that time will be shortened to 35 in Competitive mode. Defusal is currently 10 seconds. Decoys last about five.
The process of give and take is constant for this game, the Valve guys told me. For example, Valve was going to eliminate the ability to get armor, but was talked out of it by Source players. So they added them in, made them cost money for Competitive mode, made them free for Casual and they think they've solved the problem. For now, Valve is confident that they've made the right decision to eliminate random spawn points on all maps, a trait of the old games they think the community agrees led to unfair advantages. Feedback and the reams of data Valve has collected from players of earlier incarnations of the game can still change and influence any of this.
Valve and Hidden Path are attempting to expand the Counter-Strike audience with CS:GO, roping in more console players while also creating something that is supremely refined for computer veterans. I was impressed with how streamlined everything felt and how pleasant a session of Casual was, leaving me without the feeling of shellshock I often get during my rare dalliances with competitive shooters and instead with the satisfaction of playing an efficiently-made game with an amiable crew.
Counter-Srike: Go is scheduled for a first quarter 2012 release on the PC, Mac, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. It will be download-only. Faliszek couldn't tell me what it'll cost. They're worrying about making a great game first, he told me. They'll sweat the other details later. (But! Magal added: they won't be selling in-game hats.)
We'll have more on Counter-Strike: Go in the coming days here on Kotaku.
Counter Strike: Global Offensive will feature eight new weapons and seven classic maps.