It's a game that helped shape the first-person-shooter market, and to date the entire franchise has over 25 million players. It's simple, addictive... and now Valve want to bring it in the modern era of gaming. Counter Strike: Global Offensive is the official 'sequel' to 2000's iconic terrorists vs. counter-terrorists shooter. We talk to lead man Chet Faliszek to get more details:
Strategy Informer: So, Counter Strike: Global Offensive - Why now?
Chet Faliszek: Well, it is the oldest franchise that we haven't updated - those people who complain that there's something else we haven't updated yet, Counter Strike is actually the oldest. We'd been looking at having a version of Counter Strike on XBLA, and it was going to be a straight Counter Strike: Source port to XBLA. We started playing it, and then remembered how fun it was, and thought well maybe we should make a bigger invest and come back to that, and come back to it in a bigger way.
So we started looking at everything we'd done in Counter Strike: Source, everything we'd done in Counter Strike 1.6... where we went wrong, what was working, what wasn't working. We can't really change those communities much, communities are really sensitive to change, and are used to playing their respective version the way they like it. So we wanted this new version where we could make changes and not rock the boat much.
Strategy Informer:Global Offensive is now multi-platform, is that just a carryover from your initial wish to do a CS port on XBLA?
Chet Faliszek: Well, yeah - we're looking to expand the audience. One of the things we need to do there.... there's still a lot of people who play 1.6. 1.6 and CSS are still the number one technical shooter on the PC. But as new people look at those games, they think that it's a bit dated, looks a bit ugly, so a graphical update is very important. People are used to a certain fidelity level, so we wanted to make sure we made the best looking game.
Strategy Informer:Obviously the FPS market has changed and evolved in the last decade - we know you've been updating the game over the year anyway, but for CSGO, is there anything you've seen in the market that's influenced development?
Chet Faliszek: Really, it's kind of the opposite - we've seen what's been going on and realised that there's still a place for Counter Strike. There's not a lot of shooters that are simple, purely skill-based games. There's a reason that Counter Strike became the E-sports game that it is, it's because it's about clean competition, it's about you vs. the other person... so we wanted to make sure that we brought that over.
One of the problems we had working on CSS - when looking at things we'd want to change - without kill-based match-making which is what we have in CSGO, it's hard to make a game where the really good players face the really good players. You're going to be punishing people who are just learning the game. In CSGO you can enter into a match, and from the off be playing people who are of a similar skill level. They may not know about wall-spamming or other advanced tactics, but they'll get to learn as they play better people. That was real important that we have that feature.
Strategy Informer:You mentioned E-sports - is there anything you're doing in this game to specifically cater for that part of the franchise?
Chet Faliszek: We're talking to a lot of the guys, right? We talked to a lot of the CSS guys before we even announced it, now we're talking to a lot of the E-sports people, and we're asking them what they think would help the game. As the beta rolls out, we're going to have a private area where we can discuss directly with them their feedback. In that way we're looking towards what we can do, but you can't just say "we're making this E-sports game and you're going to like it", they're a really smart community, and they will make the best judgement as to what's good for them, but we think this is the best version of Counter Strike, and so should be the obvious choice.
Strategy Informer:It's been stated already that there will be cross-platform play between PS3 and PC players - is that an extension of the deal that was made back with Portal 2, when Steamworks was brought to the PS3?
Chet Faliszek: Yeah that came out of Portal 2, and we were looking at what that would do between different platforms. We wanted to make sure that one platform wouldn't hamstring the other - they've got to be kept in sync. So that's a goal to have that, and we just have to have to work with our partners and work through that.
Strategy Informer:Obviously Counter-Strike started life as a mod - are you going to continue your support of the modding community going into CSGO? How will that affect cross-platform play?
Chet Faliszek: Yeah, so in some ways the PC will be a different beast anyway. There will be servers that we control, but then on the PC there will also be support custom servers, and at that point they'll be able to mod the game. The way it's set up now on CSS... you could enter a game and have no idea if the guys are going to be surfing whilst they're shooting, or doing other crazy stuff. So we want to there to be a basic core experience, and equally if you want to go mod, you can.
We've been talking to the community, and we're actually going to be incorporating 'Gun Game' into CSGO itself, as that's the most popular mod out there at the moment, we wanted to give people a chance to approach the game from that angle.
Strategy Informer:Can you just briefly go through, specifically, what features this new Counter-Strike is going to have?
Chet Faliszek: Well there's the graphics update, obviously, the game just looks a lot better. There's also a lot of subtle gameplay changes - some are map based, others are gameplay base - a good map example would be... say you're playing 'Dust'. We could look and see that Dust was no longer being played competitively, and that it dropped in popularity. We analysed why and made changes based on that... but if something is really working, like Dust 2, we leave it alone.
We've brought back wall-spamming - to be more in line with the 1.6 level. The big feature-feature is going to be the match-making. Obviously there's going to be new weapons and models... and we've really been looking at what the community has been doing. For example the community was doing this thing called MinMod, where each team only had one model. In Counter Strike Source, I was doing friendly fire because I couldn't tell a damn bit a difference between the models.
But MinMod gets rid of that, so each team only has one, but distinctly different model from the other team, so we've done something similar to that where we've made each teams models more recognizable.
Strategy Informer:You've mentioned how you've worked with the community a lot on certain aspects. How have you guys managed to balance between what the community wants and what you want to do?
Chet Faliszek: It's kind of funny as the other day, we asked this question: Do you want unlimited spawns of weapons in the wild, or just single spawns? And the forums erupted really angrily that we even asked the question. Even though the poll came to the same conclusion we did internally, and even though it would apply across all the maps, just asking the question got people mad, and they actually they wanted it the other way, so it's really confusing. But I think we're good at taking feedback, how much of that feedback to take, and the feedback isn't so much in what they are saying - they are saying something because there's a problem.
Strategy Informer:The first Counter Strike was hugely iconic, and the franchise to date has around 25 million players. Do you think CSGO can be as relevant to today's audience, in today's market, as the previous games have been?
Chet Faliszek: We think this is the best version of Counter Strike. There's a lot of people in both the 1.6 community and the CSS community that are looking for a new game they can all get behind. A lot of the 1.6 guys want the new, and they've looked at other games that have not got that clean skill-based competition, and they come to us and say "we want something new".
Strategy Informer:So is the plan then to unify all the difference CS communities with this new game?
Chet Faliszek: Well yeah, I mean that would be great, but you can't force people. Some will always prefer 1.6, whilst others will prefer CSS. We're just going to make the best game we can make and then get it out there, and let the community do what they want.
Strategy Informer:Do you think that the Counter Strike franchise will get fragmented again going forward from CSGO? Will there eventually be a CSGO: Source running alongside the main game like there is now?
Chet Faliszek: Well, we see this as the platform that's going to lead for a while. I mean you should never predict the future, as it's really dangerous to do, but right now we're looking at CSGO as a way that could possibly combine those communities.
Strategy Informer:So, the closed PC beta is starting in October?
Chet Faliszek: It's a closed beta first. So it starts in October, and anyone who was given a key at one of these events will get in. Then what we'll do is then give it out to other websites, people who are really interested in it, and we'll expand it that way, and then we'll have Open Beta.
Strategy Informer:Will you be doing an Open Beta on the consoles?
Chet Faliszek: No, That's why we're showing it on PS3, and why we showed at PAX on the 360, it's the only way those guys are going to get to play it. The PC Beta will be extended longer, because it's not really a good model for doing betas, real betas, on the console. Other console betas have been more promotional demos. What we're saying is that we want to do a beta that's constantly changing and updating based on player feedback.
Strategy Informer:Do you have a release window in mind?
Chet Faliszek: We're saying early 2012, but the beta will really determine the release date. The community will let us know when it's ready.
So, the best version of Counter Strike yet? That remains to be seen. We have no doubt that the existing community will like CSGO, but whether it can draw in new audiences (especially on the console) will not be easy, especially with the FPS market like it is right now. Stay tuned for some hands-on impressions.