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!
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 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.
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.
Mar 7, 2014
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.
Feb 21, 2014
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.
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.