CS:20 (almost)

I wrote about this game many times.

2000-2019. I joined with Beta7.

Prologue

I have been playing Counter-Strike for basically twenty years. I still play a match of two from time to time, against bots on CS:CZ because my machine can’t run CS:GO but whatever. Still watching pro games here and there. I spent a few years watching tons of pros play. Jumping off of my chair and stuff.

I’m struck at how the excitement of entering a large, dangerous area is still there, even with bots. Even after decades. Even after knowing absolutely everything about where to go, what to do. Because I’ll still get surprised and die stupidly or make the two best moves that allow me to place quick headshots. Crouch. Reload. Giggle (or not).

Only really great games carry excitement through emergent gameplay for that long. Many games do that for five years. Ten is a lot more rare. Twenty is quite exceptional. Only CS, Mario Kart and Go are there personally.

The Game

Counter-Strike is one of the best multiplayer game ever made. When it came out, I thought that we didn’t need any more multiplayer shooting games, or at the very least those with military things going on. Even though we got Call of Duty games every year since 2005, I still think CS should have been the end of that genre. From gameplay to matches’ length, it’s perfect.

Okay, Battlefield is fun too because it adds this entire new scope with vehicles and does it well. But to me it just makes gameplay more messy and clumsy for the thrill of doing silly things with your plane and your dune buggy. Nah. Essence, son.

When Counter-Strike came out the setting was actually refreshing, believe it or not. We didn’t have first-person games with current military stuff. At that time we had Half-Life, Tribes, Deus Ex, Quake, Unreal Tournament and other cyberpunk-ish ‘brosome aesthetics going on I guess.

CS was very different. CS was very subtle. CS afforded not very great players skill-wise to win games because they would play the clock, camp or bully you. It’s near impossible to win a 1 VS 2 or 1 VS 3. The first time you’re planting the bomb? Those few seconds where you’re absolutely vulnerable, while your teammates, hurt, are looking out for you, is one of the purest joy in computer games. Period.

CS is hilarious. As soon as you know the other team has no money to buy equipment, you know you have to be extra careful because them mofos will play dirty next round. Pettiness as gameplay. Nice.

I think that’s what made the game so viscerally human. The playing field was accessible where Quake or Unreal weren’t. I have many memories of always dying mid-match but satisfied because I knew I had HURT the team we were fighting and that I had had a big impact even though I was gone. That grenade and that submachine gun clip had done the job. The bomb was planted or about to. Mission completed (or close to).

But also, I think it’s the first and only game where sound –and the absence of sound- is a matter of winning or losing a game.

I can’t think of any game where it’s that absolutely crucial. It’s always about “I heard them”. Seeing the opponents means it’s too late. Pro games are so intensively quiet before the storm, it’s so unique and scary and exciting. Sound as game design. Dope.

The negative side of playing this game is well, teenagers. I was already grown when this game was being made, playing with brand new dads and young adults in a LAN setting. Being able to hear my friend I’d just eliminated shout “fuck!!” next door was good in many ways. “Come GET ME!” would yell my other friend next to me in the room, when he was the last player standing, with a shotgun –no range- in a tower. So many laughs.

Playing against 15 years old, weapon-lover, sugar-injecting kids online was different. Way different. Niggerrrrr different.

Gamedev

The story is of course, weird and dorky. Minh Le is Counter-Strike’s main designer and Jess Cliffe is the producer. They started the game, developed the game’s various designs, named it etc. Valve saw the potential very quickly and got involved in the first months of the beta.

One of the most important thing about Counter-Strike: the maps. They didn’t have much when they started and thanks to a few brilliant level designers, maps showed up and were almost immediately, perfect.

The interesting thing is that a handful of dudes created half a dozen maps that have been played for billions of hours. And most of those guys were Europeans, and not necessarily experts in level design! As often in this industry, they disappeared. Some worked on level design at Valve, some left, others quit level design all together…

Counter-Strike is very lucrative. Last time I checked, CS:GO –the last iteration, created in 2012- was bringing something like $200M a year and as I’m researching now and looking at numbers (Valve doesn’t disclose them), it appears that it’s probably closer to half a billion dollars a year? Yup. Lucrative.

The game is now F2P.

The two OG game designers worked there for years. One left, the other might have gotten fired over some catfishing scandal. It’s pretty disappointing to see. I’d love to read the full story of how the two designers met, what was the fire for them, what design decisions they fought for the most, which ones were the hardest to maintain, the different CS versions through engines etc. It’s probably super interesting. I want to know everything.

Left-Handedness

When I started playing the game, I felt uncomfortable with the weapon model stuck on the right side of the screen. Because Counter-Strike is a Half-Life mod and that you could switch models to the left side with that game engine, so could I in CS. And, that changed everything. It immediately felt natural and now I could focus on team work and actually aim properly. I just discovered that Minh Le is left-handed too and would switch its weapon model, just like me (which is why early screenshots of the game show lefty stuff).

The thing is that 20 years and hundreds of first person shooters later, CS is still the only game that allows real lefties to enjoy playing. It boggles my mind that an entire industry just can’t bother to accommodate left-handedness, pushing people away from enjoying games more. The software industry can be more rigid and conservative than a rock in Virginia while having all the latitude to change things: it’s just code. Sigh.

Criticism

I wish voice over wasn’t so skewed towards making the counter-terrorists speak English with no accent. It’s not about realism. Voice over was the same for both sides back in the day and it was just fine. It’s not a good design decision to play on that and make it “funny” for some people. There should only be a CT team and a T team and nothing else. Fuck your underlining pointless stories, it’s a multiplayer game. Honestly, they should even have gone with a paint ball theme, add some women models and go away from military settings. At least make a version like this, call it CS:SOFT I don’t care.

Enough military/police propaganda. Enough.

Anyway. Counter-Strike is still one of the most played/watched game on earth. And I kinda want to launch a game real quick now (I did; it was, as usual, fun).

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