Chet Faliszek is a writer at Valve Software and one half of the legendary Old Man Murry (sadly no longer updated). He has had his hand in the creation of the Half-Life 2 Episodes, Left 4 Dead, and both Portals. Chris and Craig tracked him down at the Eurogamer Expo for a chat about Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, the upcoming successor to the most popular tactical multiplayer shooter of all time. We’ll be previewing the game in detail as soon as the beta begins: the version we played was running on a PS3 and limited to a couple of rounds of Dust, and we don’t feel like saw enough to give you a comprehensive rundown. We won, though, for what it’s worth.
Why is now a good time to be relaunching Counter-Strike?
Last year we started playing with an XBLA version of Counter-Strike: Source, and thought we’d just release that – but as it caught on in the office and more people became excited about it, we decided to make a bigger investment and make more of a game out of it. Take the chance to look back and see, over the years, what worked and what didn’t work.
We have a problem with Source and [version] 1.6 in that the community doesn’t want us to change those games much. They’re very set in how they play them, so we wanted a new game so that we could blend the two together without breaking either one. But we always wanted to make sure we were making a Counter-Strike game.
So this isn’t so much Counter-Strike 3 as a variation?
We’re considering it the best version of Counter-Strike, out of everything that has come before. We’ve been talking to the Source pros, the 1.6 pros, we’ve been talking to some of the modders – the Gun Game guys – trying to incorporate all of that into one product.
So it’s sort of a greatest hits.
Although you position it like that, this is the first time that Counter-Strike has had a console release – apart from Zero …
Yeah, Counter-Strike came out on the original Xbox a little while ago, in 2004.
… so how much influence have you had to take from popular console shooters, to make sure that it fits that audience. Or are you just doing what you want?
We’re console players as well as PC players – I don’t think anybody’s really just one platform any more. We had a lot of success with the Left 4 Dead series [on console] and we wanted to bring what we learned there to CS: GO. It’s not about changing the game or making a different game, it’s about making sure that we’re bringing that Counter-Strike experience to the consoles, and with that we wanted to make sure we updated the graphics.
When you’re expanding the audience you want to make sure it’s inclusive. 1.6 is still really popular – it and Source are the most popular tactical shooters on the PC. But it’s not really welcoming to new players because of how it looks. So we wanted to make sure we updated the graphics along with everything else.
You talk about going back to some of the values of 1.6 and compiling the best systems of those games – is there anything that you’re taking this opportunity to fix?
There’s definitely some map stuff we’re doing. Dust, for example, which you played today – that had fallen out of favour with the competitive scene as well as the pubs, because in the underpass you’re going to get sniped, and for the Terrorists it’s kind of unfair where you like, spawn back – or could spawn back, when it was random.
There were some problems with the map – the chokepoint was a little much. We’ve added a way up out of the underpass, and some blockades so you can move through there. It’s things like that, where we looked at maps that at one point were popular but that are no longer popular and wanted to bring them back.
One of the things we’ve done is compressed the rounds. Counter-Strike’s been out for twelve years now, so we’ve got a lot of data that we can look at, and one of the things was what the guys running servers were doing. They were shortening the round times, which makes it a faster more engaging game. We’re looking at things like that as well.
Presumably you’re keeping things like running with knives, the quirks that have grown into the game over time?
Yes – so there’s this really important thing we saw with CS:S where we removed some of the complexity that let really good players distinguish themselves. When you have this matchmaking where it throws everyone in together – so in CS:S, right, you might be in a server with a guy who has been playing for seven years and you’re going to get your ass handed to you, or you may be playing with a newb who just bought it.
We’ve added ELO-based skill-ranked matchmaking, and with that we could put in all those little nuances like the running with knives and wall-spamming. You’re not going to have to worry about them when you start, because the guys you’re playing with don’t know about them either. And when you do learn about those things and get better you’ll be playing with guys who also know them.
So existing Counter-Strike players who drop in should be able to shoot up those rankings pretty quickly.
And that presumably will be rolled out on the PC as well as the console versions?
Yeah, on all versions. We’re going to be running our own servers – people can run their servers if they want, but we’re going to be running a whole host of our own so that people know they can drop into a game that’s not running some crazy mod.
And there’ll be support for community generated stuff? I’m thinking of TF2 and the way that has embraced mapping.
Definitely everything you can do on CS:S, we want to make sure you can do on CS:GO, so that level of modding will be there. We’ve already started talking with some of the modders out there, and at some point… well, the first thing is, make it a good game. Nobody wants to mod it if it’s a crappy game. But then we start talking to you guys and see what your needs are and start working with you.
You’re updating a game from a pre-ironsights era, on a very specific mechanical point, and it seems to me that where ironsights would be now, Counter-Strike has crouch.
When you do ironsights you’re slowing down the gameplay, and wanted to make sure not to do that. That’s not what we thought Counter-Strike was about. If there was a way to do that where it kept the Counter-Strike feel we would probably do it, but again, one of the rules we had – behind all the development choices – was “it’s Counter-Strike”.
There’s definitely some differences that people’ll have to pick up and learn, but we’ll have a training mode to help with that. There’s also single player with bots, and split-screen with your friends. There’s a few different ways in.
Thanks to Chet for his time. The CS:GO beta should be available in the near future, and we’ll be sure to bring you a preview as soon as we can.