Jun 25, 2014
I want more people to play CS:GO. With caveats made for its flaws (64-tick servers, uninspiring stat tracking, the modest number of official maps, and imperfect cheat detection), CS:GO is the best competitive FPS on PC today. Until Evolve or Rainbow Six Siege come around, I expect that to continue uncontested.
But for the veteran player, someone who s thrown hundreds of hours at that competitive mode, a CS:GO Steam sale like today s $7.49 / 5.99 until Friday isn t a happy event. It s a harbinger of hackers and competition-souring smurf accounts.
CS:GO s price drop is an invitation for those who hack to buy one or several new copies of the game and tie them to new, unique Steam accounts. These secondary accounts insulate your main profile where you keep your game library and everything else that s valuable from the consequences of cheating. We ve recently investigated the seemingly healthy shadow industry of cheating in games like CS:GO, but it s worth underlining how especially disruptive cheating is in the second-most popular game on Steam.
What s challenging about hacking in CS:GO is that much of the onus is on the players to report and police themselves, but competitive play makes it inherently difficult or time-consuming to verify a hacker. Naturally, you re not allowed to spectate an opponent mid-match, so if I want to be sure that someone s playing illegitimately, I have to be mad enough to take the time to stop playing, load up my match replay, scrutinize my opponent s actions, report them, and then just trust that the system will catch them.
There s no immediate judgment or verification that you caught a hacker; users that receive enough reports, to my understanding, are simply passed along to CS:GO s Overwatch system, where a player (who s recorded at least 150 wins in competitive mode) watches excerpts of the match and makes a judgment. Reporting a hacker is like calling a 911 line that cannot talk back to you. It s an unsatisfying system even when it works, and I m upset knowing that CS:GO s sale will invite more abusers into the system.
You also can t simply leave a match to avoid subjecting yourself to a hacker. Abandoning a match for any reason penalizes you, preventing you from playing competitive mode for a period for days at a time, for frequent offenders.
But smurf accounts, at least from my experience, are the lesser but more ubiquitous annoyance that a discounted CS:GO stimulates. To the seasoned competitive player, the signs of a smurf are much more obvious than a hacker: you look for a CS:GO profile with very few achievements unlocked or custom weapon skins equipped, tied to a Steam account with CS:GO as its only owned game ( Wow, such dedication. So hardcore, I usually type mockingly when I encounter one of these players). Having one or more smurfs in your match is more subtle disruption but often just as bothersome as hacking: smurf accounts don t receive a rank in the matchmaking system until they ve won 10 games, allowing them to be matched with players that aren t at their true skill level.
It s a method of circumventing the matchmaking system (often as a way to play with friends who aren t near the same rank), one not unfamiliar to League of Legends players and other free-to-play games. When I m up against such a player, there s no tool within the reporting system for me to flag their account and why should there be? As far as Valve s concerned, that player is another legitimate customer. Solutions like IP banning would be over-aggressive: what if that account is legitimately a friend or sibling?
I want to see the CS:GO community grow, but I bemoan that the game I play most going on sale will probably mean that I'll encounter a few more cheaters and rank-dodging players in the next month or two. To give Valve credit, this isn t the cheapest we ve seen CS:GO. In December, January, and March (the latter coinciding with the EMS One Katowice tournament in Poland), the game was slashed by 75% to just $3.74. The 50% cut over the next two days may be a small compromise, but I don't doubt that it'll invite more players to circumvent matchmaking and play illegitimately.
Jun 25, 2014
We've now been living and breathing the Steam Summer Sale for a week, losing sleep for every flash sale, antsy with anticipation every time the new deals tick over. We're feverish from the savings, but it would be madness to stop saving now. Today's deals fuel our appetite for strategy, shooting, and launching valiant little green men into space on absurdly oversized rockets.
Don t forget to check out GOG s summer deals, too.
Reminder: if a game isn't a daily deal or a flash sale, it could pop up later in the sale for an even lower price. If you want to be safe, wait until June 30 to pick up a sale-long deal.
5 - The Banner Saga
50% off: $12.49 / 9.49 - Steam store page
One of the biggest artistic achievements in gaming this year. We love The Banner Saga s hand-drawn characters and how they animate on the battlefield, but we especially enjoy the way its detailed, Nordic landscapes parallax as your caravan of warriors and survivors march on. The Austin Wintory score is a cherry on the top.
4 - Kerbal Space Program
40% off: $16.19 / 11.99 - Steam store page
We ve murdered a lot of aliens in games, but only in KSP have we stranded little green guys in planetary orbit due to our grossly incompetent management of a budding space program. The Early Access rocket physics simulator is one of the best games still under development, and already has a large community of engineers sharing stories of harrowing space missions, ship designs, and mods. KSP has even made its way into classrooms.
Read Ian s five-part Kerbal Space Program chronicle to see how he learned rocket-building basics and launched a mission to the M n.
3 - Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
50% off: $7.49 / 5.99 - Steam store page
The best competitive FPS on PC owes a lot to its skill-based matchmaking format. At any skill level, five-on-five Counter-Strike narrows the range of tactical choices available to you and the time you have to make them, creating a wonderfully concentrated competitive mode. Otherwise, CS:GO is mainly a vehicle for microtransactions: beware the allure of $400 virtual knives.
2 - Tomb Raider
75% off: $4.99 / 3.74 - Steam store page Flash sale: Buy it before 8 p.m. EST
Lara Croft returns in a gorgeous action game heavily inspired by Naughty Dog's Uncharted series. This younger, rebooted Lara doesn't have her predecessor's confidence or predilection for interesting puzzles the only tombs in this game are disappointingly short and simple but the shooting is by far the best in the series. Exploring Tomb Raider's island and crafting survival gear is also fun, as Lara is a nimble climber and each area is packed with interesting treasures to hunt down. For a challenge, forgo the assault rifle and grenade launcher for Lara's incredibly satisfying (and silent!) bow.
1 - BioShock Triple Pack
83% off: $10.19 / 6.79 - Steam store page
If you haven t explored the ruins of Rapture, you re in for a treat. BioShock s world is a revelation, an under-the-sea society that s crumbled under its own weight, and exploring what remains of it and shooting its crazy inhabitants in the face with fireballs is a delight. BioShock 2 goes even further, changing your perspective and adding a surprising amount of depth with its own story. Irrational s swansong, BioShock Infinite, may still be polarizing, but Columbia is just as beautiful and terrifying as Rapture, and well worth exploring. All three are included here in a bundle that s too cheap to pass up.
Other great deals today
Remember that games not categorized as Daily Deals or Flash Sales may be reduced further later in the sale.
Bastion (40% off) $8.99 / 6.59
Killing Floor (50% off) $9.99 / 7.49
Mirror's Edge (75% off) $4.99 / 2.49
Fallout: New Vegas Ultimate Edition (66% off) $6.79 / 5.09
Shacknews - Ozzie Mejia
We've previously taken in Chatty's perspective on Counter-Strike's milestone 15th anniversary. But some of our posters opted to remember Valve's shooter by sharing some memorable videos. Some of them show off some classic glitches, memorable rage moments, and classic mods. There are also a few others that celebrate Chatty's legacy, showing off some classic CS gameplay from years gone by.
Jun 23, 2014
Shacknews - Ozzie Mejia
It started as a simple mod to a classic first-person PC shooter. Taking Valve's original Half-Life, a pair of programmers tinkered with the game's script and worked to turn it into a team-based multiplayer romp. The result was a mod called Counter-Strike, which turned 15 on June 19 of this year. Since then, it turned into a retail release and quickly ballooned into a global phenomenon, becoming one of the most influential and beloved multiplayer experiences ever created. As a website with its roots firmly entrenched in PC gaming, Shacknews' Chatty community has some fond memories of battling Terrorists and Counter-Terrorists across the years. Their recollections range from unforgettable encounters, to funny bugs and glitches, to nights that just went on without end. This is a collection of memories from our community about Valve's Counter-Strike.
Jun 4, 2014
Source is certainly showing some wrinkles in comparison to, say, UE4, but CS:GO remains the premier competitive shooter on PC today. Even after a decade half of history with the franchise, we still love the look and feel of its classic maps and their modern iterations: Mirage's A bombsite, Inferno's "banana" path, or Dust 2's dim tunnel.
Firing up CS:GO on LPC, I decided not to go with a triple-wide monitor setup, so I arranged our three 27" monitors in portrait configuration. This gave us a combined resolution of 4320x2560 or 25 percent/3 million more pixels than we'd get at 4K.
.@wesleyfenlon has fired up Next Car Game on our ludicrous 3x27" portrait setup. https://t.co/JYOJGYvSdr— Evan Lahti (@ELahti) May 9, 2014
Click each preview image to view the uncropped, uncompressed PNG.
There are a number of small ways you can humiliate your opponents in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. A classic move is to knife your enemy even when it would be wiser to shoot him with a silencer, just because you can. It s a way of saying you re confident enough you can take him to have a little fun with it, like challenging someone to a fight with one hand tied behind your back. Yesterday, the folks at GameMuscleVideos took this idea to an extreme degree by playing CS:GO with a wheel controller.
Obviously, you re not going to be getting first place when you re playing with a wheel that doesn t even allow you to look up and down. The goal was simple to see if they could get anything above last place, and, amazingly, they did. I m betting that would really burn whoever did come in last if he knew, as well as anyone who was taken down by the player KILLED YOU WITH A WHEEL.
With the exception of some obnoxious narration, it s a pretty funny video, if only to see that it s even possible.
Apr 30, 2014
Zero is a customer service representative for one of the biggest video game cheat providers in the world. To him, at first, I was just another customer. He told me that the site earns approximately $1.25 million a year, which is how it can afford customer service representatives like him to answer questions over TeamSpeak. His estimate is based on the number of paying users online at any given time, the majority of whom, like me, paid for cheats for one game at $10.95 a month. Some pay more for a premium package with cheats for multiple games.
As long as there have been video games, there have been cheaters. For competitive games like Counter-Strike, battling cheaters is an eternal, Sisyphean task. In February, Reddit raised concerns about lines of code in Valve-Anti Cheat (VAC), used for Counter-Strike and dozens of other games on Steam, that looked into users DNS cache. In a statement, Gabe Newell admitted that Valve doesn't like talking about VAC because it creates more opportunities for cheaters to attack the system." But since online surveillance has been a damning issue lately, he made an exception.
Newell explained that there are paid cheat providers that confirm players paid for their product by requiring them to check in with a digital rights management (DRM) server, similar to the way Steam itself has to check in with a server at least once every two weeks. For a limited time, VAC was looking for a partial match to those (non-web) cheat DRM servers in users DNS cache.
I knew that cheats existed, but I was shocked that enough people paid for them to warrant DRM. I wanted to find out how the cheating business worked, so I became a cheater myself.
That s how I found Zero. After we finished talking, he reminded me to send him the $25 I promised him. I did not at any point say anything that could possibly even suggest that I would pay him for any reason. I asked him if he meant that was something I promised him or something that I should just do. Both, he said. I also advise you not to use this information against me. That wouldn't be wise.
How I became a cheating scumbag
Bohemia Interactive (Arma, DayZ) believes that only 1 percent of online players are willing to spend money to cheat on top of an already expensive hobby. Even by that estimate, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive alone had a potential 25,000 cheaters out of a total of 2.5 million unique players last month. Put on your green accountant visor, add up the player-bases of all the other popular multiplayer games cheat providers are servicing (Call of Duty, Battlefield, Rising Storm), and you ll see a massively profitable market.
I wanted to cheat in CS:GO. I was good, once, when I had a high school student's endless free time to pour into Counter-Strike 1.3. These days, if I can play with friends, it s fun. If I jump onto a random server I m cannon fodder.
I Googled Counter-Strike: Global Offensive cheats, and quickly ended up at a user-friendly cheat provider. Based on the size of its community and traffic, it s one of the biggest. I'm going to call it Ultra Cheats, a fake name, to protect the anonymity of the sources I talked to. Those sources, like Zero, have also had their online handles altered.
Ultra Cheats didn't accept credit (other sites did), so I used PayPal to buy a one-month subscription for CS:GO cheats for $10.95. This gave me access to the site s VIP forums where I could talk to other members, administrators, cheat coders, and download Ultra Cheats cheat loader, which checks in with its DRM server. It also gave me access to around-the-clock technical and customer support via TeamSpeak.
I followed a simple list of steps, including disabling Windows default anti-virus protection. I launched a new copy of CS:GO on a fresh Steam account belonging to Perry C. Gamble, loaded the cheat using the cheat loader, and entered a match. For the first time, I wasn't just another player, but a kind of god.
The most obvious of my new superhuman abilities was spying on other players through walls. In CS:GO, wallhacking is incredibly useful. Faceoffs around corners come down to millisecond reactions. My ability to see exactly when the enemy was coming, or to know exactly where he was hiding when I was coming, was unfair to say the least.
It was also super fun. Maybe the most fun I've had with Counter-Strike in years. I was finally getting kills, more than one in a round, but I wasn't crushing everyone else. It was like a little boost that got me back into my high school fighting shape.
I wanted to see how far I could push it. I was paying for this. I wanted to feel powerful and get my money s worth. I turned on auto-aim, and auto-trigger, which fires your weapon automatically when you point your cursor at an enemy.
I played with these options and others for a handful of matches. They didn't seem as useful as wallhacking, or they simply didn't work as well, but I was vote-kicked out of a match before I could make an educated decision. Halfway into my next match, two hours total since I started cheating, I was VAC-banned from CS:GO.
VAC bans are usually irreversible. Perry C. Gamble would never play another match of CS:GO unless he opened another Steam account and bought another copy of the game. That s where the charm of cheating wore off for me. It was fun while it lasted, but I couldn t imagine paying another $15 for a new copy of CS:GO plus the ongoing $10.95 a month Ultra Cheats membership just to get easy kills.
John Gibson, president of Tripwire Interactive (Rising Storm, Killing Floor) told me plenty of cheaters feel differently. We see a spike in hackers after we have a sale on one of our games, he said. Their last 10 Steam accounts have been banned, and the game is on sale for $3, so they ll buy 10 copies for $30 on 10 different accounts and they ll keep cheating.
I told Gibson that I found that behavior mind-boggling. He isn t confused by it. He s just angry. Give me five minutes alone with a hacker or a hack writer, he laughed. That s what I think about that mindset.
Newell called cheating a negative-sum game, where a minority benefits less than the majority is harmed. It s obvious Valve and other developers take the issue seriously, but talking to Gibson made me realize it s also personal. Before he would even talk to me, I had to prove that I wrote for PC Gamer. He s been burned before. One of his first experiences with a hacker was someone who pretended to be a journalist with a fake, up-to-date gaming blog. He leveraged his early access to Tripwire and other developers games to provide hacks and pirate games.
He s in jail now for stealing credit card data, not cheating.
Gibson told me that, legally, it s not worth going after sites like Ultra Cheats. Most of them are based out of Russia, China (Ultra Cheats is registered in Beijing), or other places where extradition is, in Gibson's words, questionable. At the very least, Tripwire would have to pay another lawyer in that country, making it prohibitively expensive and complicated.
Criminal justice systems, perhaps understandably, aren't preoccupied with people cheating in online games. Especially when it s international, Gibson said. Then you re talking about the FBI and Interpol. If someone stole $10 million in diamonds, call them. If someone is hacking your game, they don t care.
If Tripwire, Valve, or other developers want to reduce the number of cheaters, they have to do it themselves. Note that it s reduce and not eliminate. Like Newell, Gibson knows that this isn't a battle he can finish. It s like the Wild West, he said. It s more about managing the risk and hacks without inconveniencing your legitimate players too much.
Tripwire s anti-cheat strategy is three-pronged. The first is technical, using both VAC and Punkbuster. This is one topic Gibson was secretive about, but he said Tripwire uses both because they handle things in different ways.
"If Tripwire, Valve, or other developers want to reduce the number of cheaters, they have to do it themselves."
The second is being a proactive developer. When Tripwire notices a loophole, it closes it as fast as possible. When Red Orchestra 2 first launched, it didn't do a whole lot of server-side validation on hit detection. The game was plagued by hacks that allowed your machine to tell the server you shot someone in the head even when you were clear across the map. Very quickly we put up an update that basically verified, within a reasonable margin of error, that they kind of have to be where you say you shoot them at, Gibson said. If they re not, then we know that it s a hack and we ignore that shot.
The third is having an engaged server admin community and giving them the tools to be the third line of defense. That s a huge thing for us, Gibson said. Hackers come in, it s obvious fairly quickly that they re hacking, the server admin bans them from the server and problem solved.
Punkbuster also allows server admins to take screenshots of what players see. If the server admin captures evidence of cheating, he or she can submit the proof to PBBans, a global database of hackers, making it very difficult for that hacker to join any Punkbuster servers.
This also allows server admins to pass along evidence of cheating to Tripwire, which can use the information to close more loopholes.
Overall, Gibson thinks this strategy works very well. I have over 1,275 hours in Red Orchestra 2 and Rising Storm, he said. I ve been on a server with about two hackers in all that time. I asked him if Tripwire downloads paid cheats as part of its efforts to prevent them. We re a proactive dev, he chuckled. Infer from that what you will.
After being banned from Counter-Strike, I spent several weeks poking around the Ultra Cheats forums hoping that someone would talk to me about how the site was managed. I only got real attention once I admitted that I was writing a piece for PC Gamer. I bounced from admin to admin until I got to Slayer, Ultra Cheats manager and lead coder.
Slayer didn't want to talk at first. I don t think any good for Ultra Cheats would come from this, he said. I promised him I wouldn t use any real handles or even the site s real name, and that I wanted him to respond to quotes from developers like Gibson. I suspect the notion that he d get a reaction from a game developer is what got him on board.
Like Gibson, he needed confirmation that I was really writing for PC Gamer, and he was more thorough about it. I gave him my real email address and name (not Perry C. Gamble s), Twitter, and an email confirmation from an editor.
Gibson was worried about hackers posing as journalists. Slayer was worried about giving legal ammunition to parties that want Ultra Cheats gone, and competing cheat providers.
We set a date to talk over Skype, but when the time came Slayer wouldn t agree to a voice call, just text, because he was worried about me recording him as well as other reasons. To my surprise, he brought along another Ultra Cheats administrator, Prophet, and they d only talk to me together. I guessed that this was to keep one another from saying anything they might regret.
They said part of Ultra Cheats money comes from a different site that it operates in Brazil (a huge gaming market) and reseller sites, which sell Ultra Cheats product under a different brand in exchange for a cut of sales.
Slayer said that Zero s $1.25 million a year was a little inflated, but that I could come up with a rough estimate of Ultra Cheats annual revenue by gauging the size of the community.
On March 20, over 2,500 members logged into the Ultra Cheats forums, almost all of whom are plainly listed as paying for standard or more expensive cheat packages. At an average of $10 per user a month, Ultra Cheats makes $300,000 a year. Add to this the fact that the forum has almost 150,000 members overall (though we don t know how many are active, paying users), the Brazil site, and resellers, and it s not hard to imagine Ultra Cheats breaking a million dollars a year. Slayer declined to share the exact number of their active users.
He said coders supply cheats on the site in exchange for a cut of the sale. These vendors, as Slayer calls them, take in about half the profits of the whole operation. Both Prophet and Slayer said that they get paid enough, but not enough to quit their day jobs. More than minimum wage, they said. Customer support, technical support, and other people like Zero who help run the site get paid as well, but less. Zero didn t want to say how much he makes, but admitted that he has a day job and that free cheats attracted him to the position.
I do this because I really think of the community and staff as a big family, Prophet said.
The rest of the money goes to the ownership entity, which Slayer and Prophet refused to talk about in any way. All they would say is that the entity controls the PayPal account I paid (and hence all Ultra Cheats' money) and that only Slayer knows anything about it. Anything between this ownership entity and the rest of Ultra Cheats goes through him. For all I know, this ownership entity doesn t even exist and Slayer and Prophet were the actual owners.
Rage cheaters and closet cheaters
Gibson said that if you cheat, you always get detected eventually. After talking to cheaters, I m not sure that developers are as effective at preventing cheats as they think. According to Slayer, there are two kinds of cheaters: rage hackers and closet hackers. A rage hacker is someone who uses cheats to their fullest potential, even employing features that kill everyone on the server instantly. They're the ones you notice and hate.
Zero said that if it wasn't for hacking, games wouldn't be fun. He said cheating is a rush, similar to the one he got when he used to deface websites. In life, you re always going to have rebels, he said. It s like coming up to someone and asking, 'Why do you rape or kill?' But in this case it s cheating.
Since he compared cheating to the worst crimes a human can inflict on another human, I asked him if that means he thinks it s a bad thing. He didn't answer. I asked him how he would feel if he was in a game with another player who was using cheats against him. Doesn't matter to me because he s probably one of our customers, he said.
Slayer agrees with Gibson that anti-cheats like VAC and Punkbuster, which work similarly to anti-virus software, are effective at catching ragers and detecting public cheats quickly. But their methods are so reverse-engineered it s not even funny, he said. Punkbuster's signature scans are easily dumped using public knowledge available on public forums. If you re smart enough and you know the methods they employ, you can get around it easily.
"In life, you re always going to have rebels. It s like coming up to someone and asking, 'Why do you rape or kill?' But in this case it s cheating.' "
Punkbuster is basically defeated, Slayer said. If I write cheats and give them away on a public forum I can have my cheat up and running in 20 seconds because I found out exactly what they detected. If I was smart I would build that into my cheat and have my cheat fix itself on the fly, which isn t a stretch. Call of Duty dropped Punkbuster for a reason.
I asked Slayer why Valve, for example, doesn't download his cheats, track the server, block it, and come after him. If it wasn't obvious already, I wasn't a Computer Science major. Slayer is, and my questions amused him. You could do that, but what if I cycle my server IP every day, or every hour? Or I could reasonably and securely move DRM to the client with check on a less regular basis, or I could just spoof what VAC sees :). To be honest Emanuel, I can rent a server using a prepaid credit card via a VPN in another country and you will NEVER find who rented it.
Closet hackers hide the fact that they cheat. I'm proof that cheaters do get caught Steam banned me after a little more than two hours of aggressive, blatant cheating but members of the Ultra Cheats community told me that I was simply doing it wrong. In one of the most friendly, polite exchanges I ve ever had with online strangers, especially in the gaming sphere, they gave me tips on how to cheat without being detected.
Play like you re not hacking, one user who s been cheating in CS:GO with the same Steam account for over 250 hours told me. Play as you would normally, only you re able to see through walls. Act.
That means don t stare at walls, don t use an aimbot (since it moves the camera erratically and results in unreasonable kills), and make sure someone kills you in every match. He also believed you re less likely to get banned if you buy in-game items and get some hours in before you start cheating. He suggested that next time, I should launch the game and let it idle for a few hours before I do anything.
Another cheater suggested I practice cheating in free-to-play games. That s what I love about free games, he said. You can just keep coming back and there s nothing they can do about it.
If you re a good closet hacker you also won t get caught by statistical anti-cheats like FairFight, used in Titanfall and other Electronic Arts games, or Overwatch, another, peer-review layer of CS:GO s anti-cheat strategy, where approved players view flagged replay footage and vote on whether another player was cheating.
Image via free-hacks.com
Tripwire closes loopholes as fast as possible, but Ultra Cheats is fast too. If a vendor s cheat stops working, Ultra Cheats stops selling it and the money stops flowing. Detected cheats come back online within hours, days at the most.
And these are only the cheats that we know about. Anti-cheat can t detect what it can t get its hands on, as Slayer said. Between that and the proficient closet cheaters, I can guarantee that you ve played with way more cheaters than you think.
Supply and demand
If closet cheaters aren't trying to crush other players, why do they turn to cheats in the first place? Prophet started cheating so he could play with his kids. He s over 50, and suffers from a serious visual impairment. He says that without ESP (extrasensory perception), part of the wallhacking cheat that highlights enemy players with bright red boxes, he wouldn't be able to keep up. If I did not use cheats I would not be playing at all, he said.
Slayer said that they've heard from a few other people with disabilities who use cheats this way. It enables them to enjoy a game like you or I would normally, without cheats, he said. But even if there weren't players with disabilities cheating to rise to a normal level of play, as Prophet calls it, the reality is some players will always feel that they want special assistance.
If matchmaking worked perfectly and everyone always felt like a capable player up against equally skilled opponents, maybe there would be fewer of the closet cheaters that make Ultra Cheats a profitable business. When matchmaking works, you won't win every game, but you'll never feel dominated. It s like a friendly neighborhood basketball game. When it doesn't work, it feels like being mercilessly dunked on by LeBron James. That's not fun.
Image via 47r-squad.com
At that point some players dedicate a significant amount of time to get better. Others quit. A small minority turns to cheats. Even Slayer admits that what he does isn t good for games, but as long as there are enough of the latter he ll provide supply where there s demand.
Ultimately, the most effective anti-cheat strategy is to make cheating feel unnecessary. That means either more sophisticated, accurate matchmaking or some kind of handicap system, which some fighting games (Street Fighter IV, Smash Bros.) already implement.
Similar solutions in other games won t stop ragers. Nothing will. But they'll get caught, eventually. For closet cheaters, it might offer a legitimate way to play with others and undercut the paid cheats business.
Until then, this cycle is unstoppable, as Slayer said. If we didn't do it, someone else would.
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.
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.
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.
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!