Why counter-strike is one of the best game ever

Excellent note from Frank Lantz on the EVO tournament.

Fighting games are about jumping and punching, but they are also about science. They are about reverse-engineering the fundamental properties of complex software, exploring the limits of perception, decision, and action, mapping the borderlands between humans and machines. They are about strategic analysis and technical innovation, about forming hypotheses and testing them, developing theories and collaborating to build a shared body of knowledge.

Fighting games are about competition, but they are also about empathy, not as a fuzzy concept to pay homage to but as a guiding principle of absolute necessity – Yomi, the ability to see the world through your opponent’s eyes as they see through yours, to directly experience their pride, their fear, their knowledge, their ignorance, and to indirectly experience your own, to overcome them by becoming them, by becoming something that is neither one of you alone.

That is exactly what Counter-strike brings in, only you are not 1 VS 1 jumping and punching in 2D but 5 VS 5 running and shooting in 3D.

It’s insanely deep. There are so many things possible. Because it’s team based, because rules are so strict –you can “die” with one bullet- I’ve never seen more empathy in games than in CS: people buying weapons for their teammates, people sacrificing themselves for the team to win are common treats. Players would drop their weapons to make noises (and confuse the other team) and I’m not even talking about all the nasty lol-induced things you can do with grenades. It’s really about fucking your opponent team’s mind up, using bugs if necessary: you can plant a bomb on a map in a way that, it can’t be defused because it’s unreachable or how we all run with the knife to go faster.

Fighting games are about violence, but they are also about violence transmuted into something like poetry. This is the alchemical magic of games. Chess slows thought down in order to observe its properties, fighting games speed thought up to the point where thinking shades into acting, where the two categories stop being distinct, like a particle accelerator for the mind.

And CS does both. During a match, let’s say a quarter of finals or finals, players spend a huge amount of time placing themselves at the good spot. They temporize. They use silence as a massive pressure tool on the other team. Once everyone is at its position, it’s like a fighting game: it’s all about speed, coordination and breathing slowly. It’s super intense, it’s as if in a fighting game you could lose at each punch or kick you receive. The spectrum of social events and emotions in CS is amazing: companionship when you start, running with your buddies. Organization when you get ready to do what you have to do while having the back of your mates, talking, chatting, sending “affirmative” on the radio. Fear, suspicion, nervousness when things get closer. Pain, when you get hit so hard at the first exchange and that you know you need to retreat behind your team. Guilt. Losing trust when your teammate shoots you, a second time. Humility, when someone saves you because, it really means something in this game. The desperation when shit hits the fan and that you pretty much go kamikaze. The hilarity of dumb ass situations (two dudes running in circle, reloading). The sheer, massive joy when everything went like you wanted to (I read your mind, bitch! And my team rocks!). All that in a what, 10 minutes game? It’s fabulous.

I’ve never encounter any game that propels you into this zone and enjoyment of setting up things and then go go go with your four mates. It’s one of the most social game I have ever played because you really need to bond with your team. CS pace is a jewel.

That fighting games are a kind of cognitive artform tells us something about video games and about computers, but it also raises questions about other kinds of games – Basketball, Tennis, the “sweet science” of Boxing. Are these purely physical games as purely physical as they seem, or are they too, under the hood, more intelligent then they look?

Or course they are. Games are defined by rules and physical games –sports- have awesome tight, rules. For instance just the simple fact that in basketball as long as the ball is not in your hand when the buzzer buzzes you can score (it’s almost a hack, isn’t it?) gave us mind blowing games and emotions. Even how sports are often designed so that teams exchange field side during half time or how tennis is such a mental game (you can tell by watching games or if you played Virtual Tennis), show that they are far more than just physical activities. They are super heavily play tested games with very stable rules, to me. So they are very interesting.

Back to CS. Amazing balance (I wouldn’t be surprised if the 5 VS 5 came from basketball). What I notice between competitive games and sports is that they usually have hard rules with the less randomness, luck possible. Which is why they create such drama and attract people. Also, they are usually pretty easy to play and this is where to me that fighting games fail: it’s fairly complex today. Street Fighter II was deep, but easy to enter. Now listen to KoF XIII:

The first of the three is the new EX Mode, which convert each character’s super moves into more powerful versions that allows one bar from the player’s power gauge for EX Special Moves and two bars from the player’s power gauge for EX Desperation Moves. Another new feature is the Hyper Drive mode,

I mean, no. I don’t want to learn that shit. It’s easy to explain CS to a newbie and there are thousands of hours of depth behind. “you follow that dude to that destination, protecting him” “you keep your position so no one comes in”. Anyone understands that, it’s like soccer: the goal is this, you can’t do that, move. Moving in a 3D space is not harder than hitting perfect combos on gamepads and in CS it’s never been so fair: I’ve seen excellent Quake III players get eliminated as fast as newbies because their 3D skills didn’t matter: you still can be shot dead in one click while your rocket jump will not happen.

Finding a balance between a low barrier to entry while managing huge depth in a game is a very, very hard task. And that’s why once it works, you don’t freaking change anything, maybe upgrade it a bit (Street Fighter IV’s producer has stated that he wanted to keep the game closer to Street Fighter II).

Counter-Strike never really changed, for that very reason. I haven’t played it in ten years and it’s still in my mind. You change its theme, change the real bullets to paintball and to me it’s one of the purest, most social computer game I have ever played. And it will be very hard, like popular sports like soccer to take its crown away. This game is kind of perfect. Honest.

3 Responses to “Why counter-strike is one of the best game ever”

  1. Sara Says:

    +1!!

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