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PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Report lists Steam’s most popular (and most untouched) games">Steam graphs







Have you played every single game in your Steam library? No? Neither have I and that accomplishment is apparently just a small sand grain in the over 288 million games in Steam collections that have never felt a press of the Play button. That's a surprising figure from a new report by Ars Technica researching the most active and popular games on Steam straight from the recorded statistics of some of the platform's 75-million-strong community.



Ars' method for its number flood involves sampling registered games and their played hours via profiles and their unique Steam IDs. With the help of a server for computational muscle, Ars randomly polled more than 100,000 profiles daily for two months to pull together an idea of which games see the most time on everyone's monitors. In other words, your Backlog of Shame (don't deny it, everyone has one) probably took part in some SCIENCE at some point. Exciting.



Some caveats exist, though. The data Ars looked at for its research only extends back to 2009, when Steam brought in its "hours played" tracking system. Owned and played/unplayed games are thus slightly skewed to not account for older releases from the early noughties, and any length of time spent in offline mode wouldn't get picked up by Steam either. Still, Ars claims its results deliver a good picture of Steam gaming trends for the past five years albeit with some imperfections.



Predictably, Valve's personal products stack high on the list in terms of ownership and most played hours. Dota 2 takes the crown with an estimated 26 million players who ganked faces at some point in the MOBA, but free-to-play FPS Team Fortress 2 follows closely behind with a little over 20 million users. Counter-Strike: Source rounds out the top three with nearly 9 million players, but it's also collecting dust in over 3 million libraries.



As for non-Valve games, Skyrim wins in activity, barely edging out Counter-Strike: Global Offensive with 5.7 million estimated active owners. Civilization V kept 5.4 million players hooked for Just One More Turn, and Garry's Mod boasts 4.6 million budding physics artists.



Want to know what the most unplayed Steam game is? It's Half-Life 2: Lost Coast, the Source tech demo given free to pretty much everyone on Steam who bought or fired up Half-Life 2. It hasn't been touched by an approximate 10.7 million players. I guess that old fisherman is feeling pretty lonely right now.



My favorite stat is the total of played hours divided by game mode, more specifically the separate multiplayer clients of the Steam versions of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops. The single-player campaigns for each respective title sits modestly within the mid-20-hour range, but the multiplayer side balloons well into the hundreds of hours. It's a pretty obvious indicator of where the biggest chunk of popularity resides in FPS gaming, but it's not like you wouldn't get weird looks for claiming you play Call of Duty for the story anyway.



See more of Ars' results in both number and pretty orange graph form in its report.
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to How Counter-Strike: Global Offensive’s Overpass map evolved">overpass







The average player might not even notice the changes, but if you ve put a couple hundred hours into Counter-Strike: Global Offensive the evolution of the Overpass map makes a world of difference. As Valve explains, it is the first completely new defuse map designed with competitive play in mind, and since its release in December 2013, it has been updated seven times based on feedback and data.



Take for example the changes made to Bombsite A, which unlike most diffuse maps, is easier to defend from a distance. Retaking the site from the A tunnels was originally very difficult, because defenders could keep tabs on the area from many angles, Valve said in a post on the Counter Strike blog. Move the Terrorist s Target a bit so it s easier to reach from the tunnels, remove a car that was giving Counter Terrorists too much cover, and the area is completely rebalanced.



The post details a few of these small but fascinating changes that went into Overpass, and highlights them with fancy, interactive before and after screenshots. It s a good read if you re into Counter-Strike or map design in general. Even better is our three part series from mapmaker Shawn "FMPONE Snelling and pro Counter-Strike player/mapmaker Sal "VOLCANO" Garozzo, which reveals the inspiration and building process for their CS:GO map Crown.
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Building Crown, part three: collaborating with the Counter-Strike community">buildingcrown3-teaser







Building Crown is a three part series from mapmaker Shawn "FMPONE Snelling and pro Counter-Strike player/mapmaker Sal "VOLCANO" Garozzo, revealing the inspiration and building process for their map Crown. Their goal with Crown is simple: build the best competitive Counter-Strike map ever. In part three, Snelling talks about iteration in map design and listening to community feedback to improve Crown.



Releasing de_crown has been a fascinating experience for Volcano and I. When we decided Crown was ready for broader community testing, we released the first public build with the same mixture of anxiety and excitement that always accompanies a new map release. Thankfully, the launch went smoothly! Crown received over 1000 favorites in its first week on the map workshop (the highest rated map on the workshop is over a year old, and has about 1500). Crown ranked within the top five maps of all time virtually overnight. Crown was also the most played map on AltPug s community Matchmaking service during that time period, and the feedback we received there was generally positive.



The community was engaged, but Counter-Strike fans are used to playing high quality, nuanced maps with years of competitive polish. This is a high standard for any brand new map to compete with. Not all the news was positive. In public beta testing, several issues were identified which needed fixing, some of which such as the addition of a new path would require major surgery.









Generally speaking, I find that that the most effective feedback happens during a dialogue. I like to turn players into problem solvers, since many folks already have brilliant, innovative solutions in mind which I might never have considered.



As a result of one such discussion, we added a trick jump to Crown, which you can see below. This trick jump, though easy enough to implement, added a nice layer of richness to the B-Bombsite it s challenging to make the jump successfully, but will allow skilled players to go from lower B to upper B in seconds flat.





What are people REALLY saying?

Volcano and I participated in playtests and spectated matches anonymously in order to understand how players really felt about Crown, because people typically temper their criticism somewhat when they know they re in the same server as a map creator. We heard lots of people saying Crown felt big and too open, so we added more horizontal details at eye-level and new architectural features designed to bring the map down to scale, in addition to reducing or closing several sightlines. A lot of times, making these gameplay adjustments is positive aesthetically, too: the map feels a lot more natural now.



An archway Volcano suggested



We also got tons of great feedback about Crown on Reddit. A few common themes about Crown which popped up on r/globaloffensive were that the map s rotation times were too long, the lack of a middle-connector was creating static gameplay, and the map s balance seemed T-sided. It was important for us to immediately make changes to fix these issues.



In many instances people took to Photoshop to actually illustrate how they wanted to see us implement the new changes (another example of how the community already has solutions in mind), and these illustrations were frequently very similar to one another, indicating that a consensus had formed.

Already Pro

Because Volcano is a professional Counter-Strike player in addition to being a level designer, pro feedback is cooked into Crown very deeply. I believe that Volcano and I make a great team because we know that if the other person raises an issue, that he speaks on behalf of a large segment of the community. I consider priority one of my job asking Volcano about the competitive repercussions of every design decision we initiate: leaving this window open vs. closed, the readability of this area, whether this area needs more cover, and so on.

The community was widely requesting a new path cutting from middle to CT courtyard due to lengthy rotation times and Volcano also felt that this was a necessary change to make. My stance was that I was satisfied with how Crown was playing, and that proper team coordination would give CT s enough time to rotate, especially once people were more familiar with the map. Volcano didn t necessarily disagree, but he was pretty certain that the community would be happier if we implemented the change, and that not implementing the change could ultimately limit Crown s variety in competitive play.

We had considered such a path early on in Crown s gray-box stage, but decided not to implement the path back then because we wanted to emphasize identifying fakes and making timely call-outs about what the Terrorists were doing. As it happened, the community didn t love the lengthened rotation times, perhaps because rotating places huge emphasis on the teamplay aspect of Counter-Strike, but truly relying on your teammates can be frustrating outside of a tournament-style setting.



I personally enjoyed the way Crown was playing, but sometimes as a mapper you have to accept that your personal preference might be in the minority. Sometimes you have to give the people what they want. Because Volcano was adamant that this was the right thing to do, because shortening rotation times was going to make the community happy, and because it would positively impact gameplay for players at all skill levels (especially in less formal settings like matchmaking), we implemented the new path.



View of the new path from Middle



View of the new path from CT Spawn



Another view of the new path from CT Spawn

The Ripple Effect

When major changes are made, other areas typically have to be adjusted to accommodate them. Here you can see the ripple effect the new path has already had.







We received some feedback that this sniper s nest felt overly large, out of place, and sort of pointless. Adding our new path mitigated those concerns.







We also needed to adjust the Armory area. We were told by Valve that Crown could benefit from some more lighting variety, and layout considerations required closing one of the walls in this area. Details like candles added some visual interest and narrative to the map while helping to sell the new changes.







Removing all vents was a top priority for us, because they hindered free and easy movement along Crown s various paths:











Here, much like on de_cache, players only need to jump one time in order to swiftly reach higher elevation at Middle.



We also added a well to CT Courtyard, giving players some minimal cover, helping the map s scale, and livening up the area.





Crown Continues

All in all, major surgery on Crown is now complete, but your feedback is still invaluable. If it weren t for the community, Crown might not have matured so much post-release. You made your voices heard, and Volcano and I were listening.



Check out the next page for a photographic tour of Crown's full evolution, from the blocky gray-box it once was, to the shippable, polished map it is now. We hope you continue to let us know how we re doing. Most importantly, we hope you enjoy the newly updated Crown when its big update goes live on the workshop very soon!



















































PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Building Crown, part two: layout design, textures, and the Hammer editor">buildingcrown2-teaser







Building Crown is a three part series from mapmaker Shawn "FMPONE Snelling and pro Counter-Strike player/mapmaker Sal "VOLCANO" Garozzo, revealing the inspiration and building process for their upcoming map Crown. Their goal with Crown is simple: build the best competitive Counter-Strike map ever. In part two, Snelling breaks down Crown s level design and the tools used to build map geometry and textures.



The first step in making a multiplayer map is creating a layout. But what is a layout? For level designers, a layout is the floor-plan of a level lurking in their brain, which they often draw out as a blueprint and then sculpt into a 3D grey box representation in-game. For everyday players, a layout is how they visualize a level s available paths and make strategic decisions.



We spent nine months refining Crown s layout into the final map it is today. And now Crown is ready for the public. It s available today. You can download the map right now  on the Steam Workshop and play it in Counter-Strike: GO. Read on to learn how we built it.



A top-down view of Crown's layout.



The sheer number of revisions Crown has gone through over the course of nine months reveals the enormous challenge of mapping an environment from your imagination. Grey boxing is very much like sprouting a new world out of thin air like a creative big bang and for that reason it is a frustrating, difficult stage of a map s development that many people never get past.



Volcano and I spent countless hours pondering layout details both in our grey-boxed version of Crown, and once the map evolved into a more visually detailed environment. I think almost every level designer in the world recognizes that no matter how well thought-out, a level will always go through a maturation process once it becomes a playable space. Thankfully, Crown s earliest stages are well documented, allowing us to show screenshots of Crown in its infancy.







Above: an early image of Crown as a grey box. Below: finalized version of the same part of the map. Can you spot the subtle changes in geometry?





The right path

Our primary goals with Crown s grey boxed layout was to maintain the spacious, open feeling of Dust2, without losing sight of the precise efficiency of Inferno s layout. It's also about the size of Dust2, making it a fairly small map. For this reason, Volcano and I decided to make the map s geometry imposing and impressive.



To focus on one area which evolved during our discussions, this path outside of CT spawn, for example, would become the focus of continued revision throughout Crown s development.



Another grey box shot of Crown featuring a fountain "prop."



The fountain is removed as final geometry begins to shape up.



To further highlight Crown s evolution, the window pictured in this (near) final image has since been removed.



Volcano s goal with this epic walkway was to include elements of verticality similar to a map like Nuke verticality which extends all the way into the B bombsite without creating awkward firefights where players are forced to look straight up at the sky. The path leading up to this vertical terrace was a challenge: although we wanted verticality, one consequence of creating higher ground is that it can make surrounding areas obsolete. Our perch needed to have drawbacks and limitations which would make the lower path viable. Over time, we added a slot above the terrorist entrance leading into this route which would allow an attacking team to coordinate smoke and flash grenades to block visibility along this long sight-line.



Much later in the development process, we added a route into the area commonly referred to as armory. We observed players having difficulty retaking the bombsite due to limited entry points and the additional route alleviated the issue and made the armory a crucial area to control in the bombsite.

The editor

 



The view from the Valve Hammer Editor



Counter-Strike: GO maps are made with Hammer, an aging tool which isn t easy to use. In Hammer, geometry is mostly composed of brushes, a fancy word for cubes, and mapping resembles playing with LEGO.



Walls or other flat surfaces can be brushwork. Other intricate elements you might see in a level such as a chair, a light fixture or an ornamental doorway, are props models imported from programs like Maya or 3DSMAX. Here you can see editor screenshots of Crown s brushwork, as well as flat screenshots which place emphasis on Crown s total geometry (brushwork + props).



Clockwise: Wireframe view, flat-lighting view, differentiating between props and brushwork, final lighting



Source unfortunately hits a brush limit fast. It would be difficult to make 1/4th of Crown with brushes alone; we needed to convert much of the brushwork of the map into models in order for the map to compile. Compiling is a process which converts the map into a file readable by the Source engine. In practice, compiling means sitting around at your computer for an hour and a half while lighting is baked. Every time you make a change in your level and want to see those changes in-game, a new compile is required.



Behind every map ever made for Counter-Strike, Half-Life, or Day of Defeat, was a level designer staring blankly at this screen. A level designer most likely staring, snoring, or eating.

Textures: the lifeblood of a map

Textures really are the lifeblood of a map. Simple geometry is nice, but a texture controls so much about the color of a map, the feel of surfaces, and the way our eyes process an environment.



Here you can see an excellent example of a common texture used throughout Crown, made by the artist PenE (from Crytek Germany), which I made some minor alterations to for the sake of color.







While I did make a few textures, most of Crown s textures are made as a favor by my friends. When texture re-use or borrowing isn t an option, I tend to ask myself what do I actually need to match what I see in a photographic reference?



In the case of this eagle plaque, I grabbed an open-source image of the Spanish army flag. I liked this image of an eagle because it conveyed the strong, resonant power Volcano and I wanted to echo throughout Crown. I then overlayed that eagle onto a marble texture used frequently throughout the map, on loan from the brilliant artist Kikette from Arkane (the developers who made Dishonored). From that point on, I focused on building a convincing diffuse map by painting on staining, highlighting, and other details. Although making custom assets is time consuming and difficult, I try not to make sacrifices in my own vision of an area, simply because GO s default assets don t resemble what I need.



The Crown eagle plaque, based on a Spanish army emblem

The fun part

Contending with Hammer is tough, but seeing your work come alive is a thrill. And thanks to GO s updated lighting engine, level geometry is lit so beautifully and naturalistically.



Here you can observe the way geometry, lighting, and texturing come together over time compared with our real-world reference.







Photo via Expedia.com



Above: Pathway to Crown's bombsite B and a reference photo from Barcelona. Below: Crown's Terrorist spawn and a Barcelona reference photo.







Photo via Tabitha and Dave's European Adventures blog

Gameplay, gameplay, gameplay

In summation, Crown went through several distinct creative processes. First, imaginary geometry was transferred from Volcano s brain, to paper, to the editor. Secondly, we refined our basic grey box map into something which reflected not just our initial visions of Crown, but also a practical map because you always notice things about a grey box you hadn t considered before actually making it. Thirdly, we tested this grey box. Fourthly, we tried to meld our grey box into a plausible approximation of Barcelona, Spain by using default assets or by creating what was needed. Finally, we tested and refined some more.



Then we had a map. Then we had Crown the real, playable level. You can download it on the Steam Workshop and play it now, and you can read about the inspiration for Crown's design in part one of Building Crown.



In the final article of this series, we will explore professional play testing, and the iterative process that happens when Volcano and I walk around our map. We will examine our approach to playtests, the expectations we have, and how we talk through changes to the map. Our goal is to give you insight into each step of the creative process of making a Counter-Strike map.
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Five awesome moments from the 2014 EMS One Katowice CS:GO Championship">Counter-Strike-Global-Offensive-1





Sometimes you have to watch the professionals at work to appreciate how brilliant a game is. After watching some of the highlights from this weekend s 2014 EMS One Katowice Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Championship, I was reminded how tense and thrilling Counter-Strike can get. Here are some of the best moments from the event in Poland, from some of the best players in the world.

My favorite video by far is of Janusz sNax Pogorzleski from Virtus.Pro (the team that also won the championship) silently taking down three NiP members. The restraint he demonstrates here, waiting for the perfect moment, is unbelievable:







From markeloff vs. Titan, a completely different, chaotic moment. Cornered and almost out of ammo, markeloff pulls through:





Four shots with the AWP, four kills. Brutal:



More incredible AWP skills:



And finally, here s Virtus.Pro winning the championship. Listen to that crowd!





In addition to a giant trophy, Virtus.Pro also won $100,000 of the $250,000 community-funded prize pool.
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Building Crown, part one: the first look at the next big Counter-Strike: GO competitive map">crown-csgo1-teaser







Building Crown is a three part series from mapmaker Shawn "FMPONE Snelling and pro Counter-Strike player/mapmaker Sal "VOLCANO" Garozzo, revealing the inspiration and building process for their upcoming map Crown. Their goal with Crown is simple: build the best competitive Counter-Strike map ever. In part one, Snelling dives into the inspiration for Crown's design and the essence of a great competitive map.



This is Crown: a new map for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive nine months in the making. After over 100 substantial revisions across those nine months, Crown is nearly finished. It was designed with two goals: to make CS:GO s hardcore fans happy while disrupting GO s stagnant competitive map pool. It s inspired by classic maps like Dust2 and Inferno. But it s built to be even better. Just as CS:GO is a new evolution for the Counter-Strike franchise, Crown is a map which seeks to learn from the best and build upon the principles that have kept Dust2 and Inferno in competitive play for more than a decade.

Before Crown: rebuilding Cache

At heart, a map is an idea. Great maps conjure singular, iconic images in our minds. Dust2: the sandy desert village. Inferno: a labyrinth of grainy alleyways. Nuke: a towering facility. These places do not exist except in-game and in our collective consciousness.



Real-world inspiration for de_inferno



One map, Cache, only recently entered that collective consciousness. Cache was originally designed by Sal Volcano Garozzo for Counter-Strike: Source in Spring 2010. When CS:GO was released, Cache was ported to the Steam Workshop, where it became a staple of professional competitive leagues. After I created two GO maps of my own, I took a look at Cache and was impressed with what I saw. Maps like Cache have a unity to them a clean, simple flow. I wasn t surprised to learn that Volcano was originally a professional CS player, and a legend in the scene. What was surprising was that Cache was the very first map he ever made. This was someone I had to work with.



Before we tackled building a new map, we set about modernizing Cache. Cache has since been featured in two of CS:GO s Operation map-promotions, included in many of the game's most prestigious tournaments, and is played by thousands of players for more than 11,000 hours every day.



Even before our work on Cache was complete, though, Volcano and I were imagining that new, original project we had put on hold the map which would become Crown.







Dreaming up Crown: level design fundamentals

When Volcano and I were brainstorming a new map, we broke down what we liked and didn t like about the existing map pool. I have a confession to make: other than Cache, it's rare to see me playing any map other than Dust2. Just talking about Dust2 transforms into Captain Ahab from Moby Dick: the old sailor who got his leg bitten off by that white whale and forever-afterwards harbored a maniacal, obsessive grudge against it. I want to make a map better than Dust2 almost more than I want to breathe.



And then I talked to Volcano, and he actually prefers Inferno!



A timeless view of de_dust2's spaciousness



Volcano and I have slightly different perspectives. I dig Dust2 because it s easy to play, is spacious, and has a warm-feeling aesthetic. Volcano likes Inferno because its layout is probably the best in the game for competitive play: teams have a large number of different strategic choices, and they never feel predictable.



To boil it down, I was thinking sort of abstractly about visceral things how the map would feel to play while Volcano s emphasis was first and foremost on making a layout for competitive play. We both recognized, however, that a great map must have both of those elements.



de_inferno's pristine layout



Cache also influenced Crown substantially, but not how you might expect. Because Cache places so much emphasis on its middle area, Volcano told me that he wanted to create a map that went in the opposite direction completely: a map without a traditional middle.



This made me nervous. When Terrorists plant the bomb in one of two bombsites, any Counter-Terrorists on the other side of the map have to either rotate to that bombsite or flank around and kill any Terrorists in the area, while the bomb is still ticking, before they can try to defuse it. A map without a middle means there is no central path allowing the CTs to get to the ticking bomb more quickly.



Cache's infamously dangerous middle



Rotating on Crown is a special, stressful challenge. Entire Terrorist teams will have to either barge into one bombsite, or split up to create confusing diversions in both. Counter-Terrorists will need to predict the Terrorists' intent, or rotating will be down-to-the-wire or futile.



No other map used in competitive play will place as much emphasis on rotation, and I think the consequence of this will be game-defining sieges or Alamo-style defenses. It s going to be do-or-die from start to finish, and individual players will need to come up big for their team. Or their team will lose. For these reasons, we are confident Crown will place equal emphasis on skill and strategic play.

Eye on the Crown: back to the visceral

Many Counter-Strike purists are skeptical of maps with good graphics. I can't blame them. Nice-looking maps are often poorly optimized, which is an absolute game-breaker for competitive play. Nice looking maps are also often superficially designed they rarely take into account all of the layout features that make a league map actually work. Even if a nice looking map runs well and has a nice layout, it generally makes sacrifices in readability (the ease of seeing other players in a sea of detail).



Valve designed its TF2 characters around the readability of their silhouettes



Great graphics are not negotiable, though, especially if mappers are trying to get their map promoted in a Valve Operation. But because Volcano and I are so focused on league play in addition to promotion in an Operation, Crown is designed to maintain a high frame rate and be readable.



Crown sets out to please competitive players by choosing a setting which naturally defuses their concerns about readability. Barcelona, Spain has beautiful, classical architecture with smooth, clean surfaces. This provides a perfect back-drop for the easy identification of enemies. Much like the orange walls of Dust, the smooth, beige surfaces of Crown create a warm, welcoming and satisfying space for players.







Above: Classical architecture in Barcelona, Spain. Below: Crown.







This visceral pleasantness is one of the less-obvious aspects of aesthetics I learned from Volcano when working on Cache. During that project, Volcano talked a lot about how surrounding players in a lively, upbeat environment would associate our map with positive emotions over time.



Our discussions about mood ultimately made Cache a less grim environment. While Cache still takes place in a somewhat grungy Soviet facility, areas of vegetation and overgrowth make it more satisfying to play.

Breaking ground: ready to build

With a setting established and our perspectives joined in a coherent philosophy, Volcano and I set to work on Crown with a distinct purpose. This new map had to echo with ambition. It had to be presumptuous not to politely ask to be considered alongside Dust2 or Inferno, but to boldly shoulder into them like an NFL linebacker, recover the fumble, score the touchdown and then spike the football. It had to be loud and self-evidently great hence the name Crown.



But that's just talk for now. Empty words until you play the map for yourself.







This was our vision. In the coming weeks, we'll show you exactly how a map like Crown is made. We'll dig into the nitty-gritty details in the next article, discussing 3D map tools, texture work, and the mechanics of level design. In part three, we'll dive into the feedback and iteration process that takes place over nine months of daily hard work. We'll also present a video tour of the finished map.



And then you'll be able to play it for yourself: Crown will be released on March 18th, two days after the conclusion of CS:GO s $250,000 EMS One Katowice tournament.
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive launches new Operation containing eight fan favourite maps">CSGO







Valve have released a new CS:GO 'Operation' pack, bringing unlimited official server access to a selection of community made maps. For Operation Phoenix, the maps were chosen by popular vote - and as such, round up some of the best battlegrounds featured in previous operations. Although, if you're anything like me, the quality is less important than the variety. When you're inevitably killed in the first few seconds of the round, it's important to have some nice level design to enjoy through the death camera.



The returning eight maps are Cache, Motel, Seaside, Downtown, Thunder, Ali, Favela and Agency. All will be available to play in Casual, Competitive and Deathmatch modes, ensuring a busy few months of battle in the constant war between terrorism and not terrorism.



Purchase of the $3 access pack also provides buyers with a Coin, which can be upgraded through playtime and wins. The Phoenix Coin is also a scorecard - giving players a complete run down of their stats across the included maps. Throughout the event, chests containing a selection of new weapon finishes will also drop.



Head over to the CS:GO blog for a statistical rundown of each map. Operation Phoenix will run until June 4th.
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Losing it: Why bad players keep trying with good games">csgo-gamesarehard



Image via Steam user MVDK.



Written by Matt Thrower



Fifteen years ago I thought myself the god of Unreal Tournament: an untouchable colossus of speed and firepower tearing through every difficulty level with consummate ease. So naturally, as soon as I got broadband I tried out for a high ranking clan. They wiped the floor with me, blowing my avatar asunder with the same insouciance I had playing against the bots and laughing as they fell before me.



It was the beginning of a long and illustrious career of being Very Bad Indeed at online games. Yet here I remain, regularly clocking hours on Left 4 Dead, Call of Duty, and DayZ and regularly left propping up the leaderboards.



I m hardly alone. Public servers commonly have their fair share of deadbeats alongside the clan members and twitch kiddies who rule the maps. The gaming demographic increasingly includes middle-aged people with kids and mortgages who want to kick back in the evening and have some fun, but don t have the free time to practice. And, predictably, the more experienced players slaughter them, time and time again. Why do we keep coming back for more pain?

Suckers for punishment

Lennart Nacke, who researches affective gaming and entertainment computing at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, suggests it might be connected to something he calls the feedback loop of self-regulation. We need four things to regulate our behavior: standards, monitoring, strength and motivation, he tells me. People in online games form their standard by participating in matches and monitoring their own performance. Every time they engage in another match they get feedback on their prior performance and adjust their current efforts.



But doesn t that mean that practice would eventually lower their motivation when they reached their desired standard? The randomness of the players and the randomness in the twitch games themselves mean the standard is constantly adjusting, he says. It keeps the players in a monitoring loop of their own behavior and this leads them to come back.



StarCraft 2: Making you wish you had extra hands since 2010.



This desire to practice and improve is a colossal motivator, an effect more widely known as positive reinforcement. Mia Consalvo, Research Chair in Game Studies at Concordia University, agrees and she has some data to back up her opinion.



In my research on why people cheat, I found that most players went to great effort not to cheat they wanted to earn their achievements in games fairly, via their own efforts, she says. This leads me to believe that often, players really want that sense of accomplishment that comes from their own efforts and skills via play. That suggests that such players are earnest in wanting to advance in the game. And here that takes the form of multiple plays, even without success.



There s substantial research to back up the hypothesis that, counter-intuitively, failure actually encourages further participation. A 2011 study of internet chess by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Sami Abuhamdeh suggested that players actively chose more capable opponents, and had the most fun against people that they beat only 25 percent of the time, on average.



This seemingly contradictory enjoyment of failure has a parallel in philosophy known as the tragedy paradox. Why do people actively enjoy works of art that prompt unpleasant emotions such as sadness and fear? There s no straightforward answer, but we re all familiar with the experience of bellowing the rage and frustration engendered by failure at the screen, and then quite sincerely telling our friends how great the game was.



Lennart points out that video games offer a uniquely good environment to explore this effect. They put us in an explicit rule context, where our boundaries are known and we can quickly observe the skills of other players, he tells me. This framing of a game allows us to set clear a goal for our behavior and it is much easier to monitor our progress than in real life, where the rules are not clear and the skills of our opponents would be unknown to us.





Raging against the machine

Lennart's explanation doesn't entirely explain why gamers like me, who ll simply never have the time or the reflexes to beat the teenage experts that throng the servers, continue to play in the face of repeated maulings. I know I m a hopeless case, so it can t just be the lure of potential improvement that keeps me going.



What s particularly interesting is how this attitude contrasts with that engendered by overly difficult solo games. We ve all played games with excessive learning curves and uneven difficulty spikes, and often the response is annoyance and frustration followed by throwing in the towel. It seems to me there must be something qualitatively different in playing against other people, but what?



Consalvo thinks that it might just be me. I've known players that have attempted particular moves or levels in single player games up to 100 times, she relates, so we can't say they would just give up against the computer. It seems to depend on the persistence of the player and their investment in a particular game. Players will vary widely at their 'frustration point' where they will give up.



Quake Live: Browser play means it's even easier to lose than ever before.



Equally, some of those effects that make failure actively pleasurable when playing online also apply to the offline world. Nick Yee, a research scientist who s been studying online games for over a decade, points out that it used to be near impossible to beat games. Most people who played Pac-Man or Tetris never beat the game, but they kept playing because it provided a challenge and allowed them to sense their own improvement.



It s the same psychological feedback loop that we ve already encountered. Winning in itself isn't necessary to create engagement, Nick says. In fact, one could argue that not winning at Pac-Man and Tetris were precisely what kept people playing.



Lennart, however, suggests it might be related to the unpredictability of a human opponent when compared to a bot. If the standard of the game is too high, the frustration threshold will be hard to overcome for players, he tells me. But against humans, the randomness of the opponent influences how we build our standard and makes it harder to form comparisons, essentially keeping us engaged for longer because we haven t yet met the standard that we rebuild every time we engage in gameplay.

Friendship through failure

This was starting to chime a little better with my personal experience. Maybe the attraction is as simple as the humanizing element; the huge pull we have toward sharing activities, even if it s with faceless strangers who might be thousands of miles away and want nothing more than to repeatedly blow us to pieces.



Mia thinks that could well be the case. Being social is not always about communicating it is also about engaging in a shared activity with others, she says. Sometimes that means simply being among other people; it could mean engaging in a group quest or even PvP or other competitions.



The point that you don t have to talk or even text with other players online in order to feel a sense of companionship from them is also one that Lennart makes. They are just enjoying the company of other people and even if they could not communicate with other players directly, they are still enjoying the shared language of playing the game.



Dota 2: So complex, you can deny opponents XP by killing your own minions.



Lennart and some colleagues ran a study on this hypothesis, analyzing several months of log files from a large site that matches players for online board and card games. They found that while user s behavior mirrored many aspects of real-life socialization, they were forming only transient relationships and talking very little. What could explain their actions?



The main point here is that games themselves are a form of communication, he tells me. They allow us to communicate with other humans by monitoring and comparing our behaviors in the game to others and witnessing personal growth in an easy to understand constrained environment. Games, even the competitive ones, are in my opinion one of the most social ways we can interact using technology today.



And there s my answer. I play a lot of board and card games, and have long been aware that a big part of the draw for me is the enjoying the company of friends and family and gaming at the same time. I m no good at those games either, but I do have a fantastic repertoire of funny stories about my spectacular failures.



So I m happy to carry on being the bottom of the pile just to have the pleasure of knowing that behind all the nicknames on top of me are real people, and I ve contributed to their game, their narrative, their own repertoire of anecdotes. Whatever my losses in the game, I ve won a little victory in my real world life.
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Counter-Strike eSports documentary dares you to “Play Bravely”">DevilhackPLayBravely







If gaming can sometimes seem like a solitary experience, Spela Modigt // Play Bravely shows what happens when a group of players finds the chemistry and will to succeed as a unit. The new documentary follows professional Counter-Strike: GO player Jonatan "Devilwalk" Lundberg and his Fnatic team as it attempts to win the Dreamhack Winter 2013 tournament.



A support player in the Fnatic Counter-Strike squad, Lundberg likens himself to a psychologist or "shrink," as he puts it, in that a big part of achieving any goal is keeping people together and focused on a single objective.



"We are a team that doesn't really change," Lundberg says in the film. "We've had the same core players since the start of the year and that's really, really unique. People quit, people change lineups because they get in fights, can't resolve their issues. So they just start over, which is the wrong way to go I think."



As well as offering polished insight into some of the personalities behind a top eSports team, director Zacharias Dyrborg's film features some great play-by-play action of competitive Counter-Strike and works to explain the mindset of the Fnatic team before and after each match. For me, it showed that while skill will almost always show itself in highly stressful situations, success can also depend just as much on understanding how to take advantage of the emotional side of competition.
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to How to configure Counter-Strike: GO for the maximum competitive advantage">CSGO-teaser







Article by Jonny "Waffles" Fuller



Counter-Strike: Global Offensive s surge in popularity over the past few months makes now a great time to join one of the most competitive multiplayer shooters on PC. This visual guide will teach you how to set up your game for the maximum competitive advantage. There s no singular best practice, as a lot of configuration is personal preference, but there are tweaks you can make to graphics and network settings, keybindings, and more to help outplay the competition.

Understand your graphics settings





There s no consensus among the competitive community about which screen resolution is the best. Lots of players look towards the pros using ancient 4:3 resolutions such as 800x600 for guidance. However, there is no singular advantage provided by using 4:3 resolutions. Some hardcore players use these resolutions because they were optimal in the 1.6 era and allowed legacy CRTs to hit higher refresh rates, and pros are generally change-averse.



But when you re using a 4:3 resolution, your horizontal field of view is just 74 degrees. Some players prefer this narrow view as it allows them to focus centrally on their target, and positions the radar closer to center. At 16:9 the player has a 90-degree field of view, which allows more vision towards the edges of the screen. I value this peripheral vision over narrow focus, and thus use 1920x1080 (16:9). Ideally, you want to use the native resolution of your monitor while maximizing your framerate.



The single best way to increase your FPS is to drop your resolution, so let's dig into CS:GO's graphics settings.

Improve FPS with launch options





Make all your graphical adjustments with the knowledge that CS:GO is a CPU-limited game in general. There s no holy grail console or config command that can dramatically improve your FPS, but there are some slight tweaks we can make.



Drop all your in game graphics settings to low, disable anti-aliasing, enable multi-core rendering

Add these launch options to your launch parameters in Steam (see screenshot above):



-novid -console -high -threads 4



These commands disable the intro, enable the console, set the process affinity to high, and grant your cores to CS:GO, even though technically Source can only use 3 threads. Some players add the -processheap parameter thinking it will grant better fps, but because this substitutes Windows memory management for Valve s own code it is highly recommend to remove it.



The next step involves modifying CS:GO's config file. It's a bit more complicated, but allows us to make some really useful tweaks.

Adjust graphics settings in the config file





Find your config.cfg in the cfg folder within the game directory (default C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\SteamApps\common\Counter-Strike Global Offensive\csgo\cfg). If you don't already have file extensions enabled in Windows, you should enable them now to make sure that, when you edit the config file, it retains the .cfg extension. To turn on file extensions, click Organize in Windows Explorer, click Folder and search options, tab over to View, and uncheck Hide extensions for known file types. Now let's edit config.cfg. You can open it in Windows Notepad, but it'll be easier to read with a more advanced text editor, like the free Notepad++.



Now, edit these lines in the config file. For most of them, you'll simply be switching out a 0 for a 1, or something similar.



r_drawtracers_firstperson Set to "0" - Disable first-person tracers. Enemy tracers are still drawn.



mat_monitorgamma Set to "2.1" - The brighter the better so you can illuminate enemies.



mat_queue_mode "-1" - Auto-detect multi-core rendering



mat_savechanges Add this line to write video settings to the registry.



cl_forcepreload 1 - Forces the game to load all the sound and art assets on map load. This can help you if you experience stuttering when certain sounds go off, such as throwing a grenade into a bunch of props



cl_disablehtmlmotd 1 - disables those annoying ads when connecting to a server



cl_autowepswitch 0 - Disables automatically switching to a primary gun you pick up off the ground so you don t draw an unloaded weapon



cl_disablefreezecam 1 - Disables the annoying freeze on death so you can make proper calls to your team mates



You can save your changes, but don't close the config file just yet. Next, we're going to tweak the most vital of all CS:GO settings: network settings.





Adjust network settings in the config file





These network settings are the most important commands you will type into your config file. Find the following commands in your config and change their values as noted:



cl_interp "0"

cl_cmdrate "128"

cl_updaterate "128"



Also, add rate to your config file with the following value:



rate "128000"



Think of it like this: there are two versions of Counter-Strike being played, yours and the server s. The client version is (default) 100 milliseconds in the past of the "real" (server) version of the game world. The more updates you have, the less interpolation (prediction) is required by your PC to accurately figure out what the server world looks like. If the server and your client compare data, and the server overrides your hit, then what you think is a hit will be a miss. There may be times when you ll shoot someone and see blood, for example, but then the client reports 0 damage. This occurs because blood decals are client-side. Your client believes you scored a hit, draws the blood, and sends the packets to the server to be checked. If the server rules a miss, then the player takes 0 damage. This is why you want your client s perception of the world to be as close to the server s perception as possible.



Decreasing interpolation runs the moderate risk of experiencing laggy players models jittering. It is beneficial to lose smoothness to gain accuracy. The goal for competitive play is to always have the lowest possible amount of client side interpolation and gain the most accurate representation of the game world. So we set our cl_interp value to 0.



By setting it to 0 the game will automatically set the interp to the lowest possible value allowed by the server.



Next we want as many updates per second as the server will possibly give us. A 66 tic Valve matchmaking server defaults rates to 66. In case you ever play on a higher tic rate server we want to set our cl_updaterate to 128 and our cl_cmdrate to 128. You can use higher values, but it won t matter. With these settings, any time you connect to a higher value server, it will default you to the highest values allowed. The same goes with rate, which is the size of the packets. You want as much information as possible so we set this to 128000. Again, this will default to the highest amount a server will allow. You can never have too much of a good thing!



"Now," you might ask, "my monitor's refresh rate is 60hz and thus those extra frames are not drawn, do I still benefit?" The answer is yes.



There are other variables to consider, such as input lag, mouse polling, and a general overall smoothness. If you have a high framerate, your input lag will be infinitely lower, and your mouse will feel smoother, even if your monitor is not actually drawing those frames. The physics, the tics, all the send/receive commands are still triggering themselves at a more rapid pace, and thus your representation of the game world is better, even if the frames are not technically being projected into your eyeballs.

Set up hotkeys for buys and grenades





Using a simple syntax in the config.cfg file, you can set up hotkeys to buy specific loadouts. The brackets below are to demonstrate where you'd place a word or letter, so don't actually type the brackets into the config file.



bind buy



So, if you wanted to bind the up arrow to buy an AK or M4 (depending on team), the command would be:



bind KP_UPARROW buy ak47;buy m4a1



Or if you wanted the home key to buy armor or head armor (based on cash) the command would be:



bind KP_HOME buy vest;buy vesthelm



It is extremely useful to bind separate keys for different grenade types. This way, you can throw a counter-flash while completely blind, instead of fumbling through the grenade menu. It works the same way, but the command is use" instead of "buy."



For example, let s say I want to bind f to put a flashbang in my hand. The command is: bind f use weapon_flashbang



Or maybe I want to use v to pull out a smoke grenade. bind v use weapon_smokegrenade



Here's a list of weapon codes in CS:GO.



Rifles

ak47 : AK-47

aug : Aug

famas : Famas

galilar : Galil

m4a1 : M4

sg556 : Sig aka Krieg



Sniper Rifles

awp : AWP

g3sg1 : Terrorist Autosniper

scar20 : CT Autosniper

ssg08 : Scout



Shotguns

mag7 : Mag7 CT Pump shotgun

nova : Nova Pump Shotgun

xm1014 : Auto Shotty

sawedoff : T Pump Shotgun



Pistols

p250 : P250

elite : Dual Berettas

fiveseven : Five-SeveN

deagle : Desert Eagle

tec9 : Tec9



SMGs

bizon : PP-19 Bizon

mac10 : Mac 10

mp7 : MP7

mp9 : CT MP9 (TMP replacement)

p90 : P90

ump45 : UMP



Machine Guns

m249 : Machinegun

negev : Negev Machine Gun



Utility

decoy : Decoy Grenade

flashbang : Flash Grenade

hegrenade : HE Grenade

incgrenade : CT Incendiary Grenade

molotov : T Incendiary Grenade

smokegrenade : Smoke Grenade

Customize the HUD





There s a few tweaks to your HUD you can experiment with in the config file.



hud_scaling (0.5-0.95) - Allows you to change the size of the HUD

cl_radar_always_centered 0 - A lot of players prefer the default 1 but as in-game lead I like being able to see the entire map on the radar

cl_radar_scale ".4" - changes the radar zoom size so you can see more

Customize your crosshair





There is no best crosshair, but I prefer small classic static. A static crosshair does not expand during movement. As the crosshair s expansion does not accurately reflect current accuracy values I recommend using a static crosshair.



Update: After talking to Matt Wood from Valve, who wrote "the same data that's used to determine the accuracy of your bullets is used to draw the spread of the crosshair (on the same frame)," Matt is definitely right and what I wrote about the dynamic crosshair wasn't correct. A dynamic crosshair in CS:Go does correctly show the accuracy values in real time, unlike in previous iterations of the game. I think most competitive players just do not use it because they are used to their legacy crosshairs, and the constant movement can be distracting. New players may benefit from the dynamic crosshair's visual feedback displaying how controlled movement improves their accuracy.



Again in the config file, change these values to customize your crosshair.



cl_crosshairdot "0" - This command disables the center dot

cl_crosshair_drawoutline "1" - I recommend everyone turn this outline on so the crosshair is more visible

cl_crosshair_outlinethickness "2" - Set to 1, 2, or 3 to adjust thickness. I prefer 2.



Crosshair style and color can easily be adjusted in CS:GO's Game Settings menu.





Choose the right mouse sensitivity





Want greater control and accuracy in combat? To find the right mouse sensitivity, lower your sensitivity to a level that feels uncomfortable to play at, and then raise it one notch. The lower your sensitivity the more control you as a player have over your accuracy. While you need to find a sensitivity that works for you, I generally suggest a complete mouse swipe should be around 120 degrees of in-game movement. Remember, in CS, if someone is behind you, you re probably already dead anyway.



You want to completely eliminate mouse acceleration. Mouse acceleration increases the distance traveled based on speed of the movement. This is not ideal for consistency. You want a 1:1 ratio between mouse movement and in-game view rotation.



In the Windows Control Panel, make sure your mouse sensitivity is set to the sixth notch. Disable enhanced pointer precision to remove windows modifiers and disable acceleration.



Disable all mouse acceleration in your mouse drivers, if you use special software from Razer, Steelseries, etc. If you use a gaming mouse and software which allows custom DPI settings, use the native DPI of your mouse so there is no interpolation. If your software allows, use a 500 Hz or 1000 Hz refresh rate on the mouse. 125 Hz = 8 ms; 500 Hz = 2 ms; 1000 Hz = 1 ms.

Selecting a mouse





There are six variables to consider when purchasing a competitive mouse: DPI, hardware acceleration, prediction, max perfect control speed, malfunction speed, and lift off distance. DPI stands for dots per inch. The higher the DPI, the faster the mouse will move per inch. A lot of gaming mice are sold at stupidly high DPIs. Be aware these products are not always ideal.



The other variables are much more important than a high DPI. Hardware acceleration is built in mouse acceleration. You want to avoid this at all costs. A lot of laser mice suffer hardware acceleration, as well as some older mice like the MX518.



Prediction, also known as angle snapping, causes the mouse to try to smooth out your input and create a straight line. Max perfect control speed and malfunction speed are related. The max perfect control speed is the speed at which the mouse begins to lose perfect tracking, and the malfunction speed is when tracking ceases to work. Have you ever flicked your mouse for a shot and your control spasmed? Your mouse s control speeds are too low and it is time to upgrade!



Lift off distance is the lift height required to stop tracking. If you do not want to do all the research I highly recommend a Logitech G400 at 800 DPI.

Selecting a mousepad





There s a million options available to gamers when it comes to mouse surfaces. There are two general types: resistance pads and slick pads. A cloth pad would be an example of a resistance pad. The friction of the cloth against the mouse skates requires more effort for the same movement, thus offering more granular control. Slick pads decrease friction and allow for quick snapshots. I recommend a cloth pad for new players starting out. If you have to use a laser mouse avoid black pads, as they can cause some tracking problems.



I use an 11 year old DKT fat cloth pad. Get_Right, arguably the best player in the world, uses a Zowie speed pad and Zowie EC1 Evo. The Steel Series QCK mouse pads are also incredible. It really comes down to personal preference.
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