May 4th, 9:02am America/New_York

Blog: Volcano & sapphiRe's Valve trip - Day 3

Heather "sapphiRe" Mumm on Sun, 02/05/2012 11:39PM
Our third and final day at the Valve headquarters began slower than the rest. We arrived at the office around 10:30 AM. Sal and I plugged in our gaming gear. At least for the morning hours, Ido didn't have any plans for us as he was busy preparing for the expanded beta launch. So I decided to boot up CS:GO and added some bots just to shoot around. Sal, on the other hand, was excited to get his hands on the latest version of Hammer Editor.

Sal had been asking for access to the SDK as soon as he had arrived on Wednesday, but it wasn't available for the first two days. On Friday, an update went live so he was able to get access. Sal spent the next few hours familiarizing himself with the new features and creating a few sample maps. He noted that the CS:GO version of Hammer Editor is quite similar to the CS:S version but with additional textures and models.

Sal playing with Hammer Editor
Sal spent the first hour of the day working with Hammer Editor given his fascination with level design. I again spent time cycling through the maps to report bugs. After the first hour we both spent time taking note of a number of the design changes in each map. Since the maps haven't been released yet, I likely can't disclose the full details but thought I'd mention a few of the more drastic changes. The CS:GO version of de_inferno isn't all that different from CS:S and CS 1.6. The "A" apartments (using CS 1.6 bombsite names) look like the CS:S version with the extra bedroom on the side. However, the gate has been removed that previously separated the T-side stairs from the stairs that lead to the window room. Overall, I'd say it's a positive change.

The change that will be most discussed is one at banana. From a CT's perspective, in CS:S, there are arches on columns on the left side of the banana. Just like in CS 1.6, a CT can peak down with an awp on the left side to get a nearly perfect view of the entire banana area. However, in CS:GO, this arch area was cut off with a brick wall. As a result, the entire banana area has become more narrow. If in CS 1.6 and CS:S, this hall truly is shaped like a banana, in CS:GO, it's a bit more more curved like a "C" shape. I don't think it's a huge issue that the awper's line of sight has been modified. I think the bigger problem here is that the area for T's is more narrow. On a rush, T's will be grouped closer together. Nades and flashes will impact a larger percentage of players. Essentially, this change has created a bottleneck feature that could make banana more of a headache for terrorists.

The last big change I noticed should make CS 1.6 fans happy. In CS:S, there is a window in the T-side house of the map, next to the main T-ramp. It's not used too often, but when it is, it usually catches a CT-mid awper or a banana rotator off-guard. This window has been completely removed.

Just a few of the many notes with our CS:GO ideas
Next, I moved over to an old favorite, de_aztec. Call me crazy, but I think this map could be brought back into the competitive rotation. One positive change Valve implemented was a larger terrorist side double doors. The map is nearly identical to the CS:S and 1.6 versions but the door simply just has a wider opening. This should allow terrorists more options for smoking off the door and entering into the contested area of the map without being filtered through a narrow gap. Sal had suggested one change in the CT-side bridge room that would limit a Counter-Terrorists view of the water area. Currently, when a terrorist uses the water in a strat, once they approach both ramps, the terrorist can be shot from four different angles, the most devastating being a Counter-Terrorist peeking safely from the bridge room. Sal's suggestion would force a CT to be exposed to the terrorist side of bridge if they wished to peek into the water. Valve seemed interested in the suggestion but might wait for more data and feedback before they commit to the modification.

The CS:GO version of de_train is a drastic change from both the CS:S and CS 1.6 versions. I think CS 1.6 players will appreciate that there are far fewer places to hide. Moreover, Valve noted they paid specific attention to Lightning the map. There are certainly less dark areas compared to CS:S. However, some trains have been removed, ladders on several remaining trains have been eliminated, a new CT tower has been added and the outside bomb planting area has been moved. In all honesty, Sal was not a fan with the updates aside from the fact the map was made brighter. We shared our concerns which Valve anticipated we've have. Though I don't know entirely, I'm guessing their play here was to implement something drastic then await feedback, which makes sense. The beta is the best time to try some big changes when there is a two-way open feedback channel between Valve and the community.

A CS:S glitch on de_nuke should be resolved in CS:GO thanks to Volcano
Lastly, we took a look at de_nuke. Again, CS 1.6 fans will be happy with the most of the lower bombsite. No longer can players wrap quickly around the backhalls from one glass door to another as is possible in CS:S. If facing the bombsite from ramp, the right side door has been completely removed. That means, there is no backhall (like in CS:S) and no pointless back room (like in CS 1.6). This also has one other huge impact. There is no outside-to-backhall entrance. It's been completely blocked off. It was implied that the stairs were removed because they weren't used frequently based on data from both CS 1.6 and CS:S. However, even if the back stairs from outside are used only 10% of the time, the option still forces CT's to be attentive to the area. With the elimination of that backhall, CT's could essentially ignore outside while stacking in the rafters and ramp room. Sal had suggested to put the outside stairs entrance to lower within the warehouse, instead of behind it such as in CS 1.6 and CS:S. We addressed these concerns with Valve during a "strat session" (more on that later). Though it will likely remain once the beta expands, I got the impression it was still up for negotiation so I encourage beta participants to send constructive feedback if you like or dislike various changes.

A huge problem in CS:S, especially as a league admin, is dealing with the ceiling crouch glitch in vents, specifically on de_nuke. A player can spam crouch while in the vents to see through the ceiling. If you try to do the same glitch on Sal's map, de_cache, you'll see it's not possible. Sal noticed that this glitch still existed in CS:GO. After meeting with some of the level designers, Sal was able to explain how to resolve this issue.

Can I take this home?
I also had some time to run around on a few of the unannounced new maps. Most weren't complete yet but based on the current design I did see a few maps that had competition potential. I would guess these maps won't be released until either the final stages of the beta or when the full game ships.

We headed out to lunch around 2:30 PM. The Valve team had been busy preparing for the updated and expanded beta release. From what I could tell, they were working on addressing some of the bugs Sal and I had reported, updating the Counter-Strike website and debating how to distribute additional beta keys.
For this lunch trip, we were joined by Randy, a level designer by trade. As an aspiring level designer, Sal was excited to chat with Randy. They discussed various level design tools, not just for Counter-Strike, but other games. Just as Sal was intrigued by Randy's level design experience, Randy seemed equally as engaged with learning about Sal's aspirations in level design.

Back at the Valve headquarters, Sal and I got into a discussion with the Valve developers about the topic of peeker's advantage. Since we all weren't on the same page, we thought we'd try an experiment. Sal and I created two separate fraps clips where Sal would peek me 20 rounds in a row and I would try to shoot him while holding a corner. We made videos in Counter-Strike 1.6 and Counter-Strike: Source. Someone at Valve would then sync the clips together and add a timer to determine, in which game, a peeker's advantage truly exists, if any. We don't have any results on that experiment yet, but I'll be sure to update you when we do.

Sal also spent some time discussing movement and jumping. Currently, a player can pull off a maximum of one jump before being experiencing significant deceleration. Sal suggested that number should be increased to at least three jumps before massive deceleration settles in. He used the example of maneuvering out of an awp's line of sight as a reason to implement this change. He also made sure to address in-air acceleration which to allow for smooth in-air turns like a player can do in both CS 1.6 and CS:S.

Next on the list of ideas was nade rebuying. This has been a problem going back even into the early days of Counter-Strike 1.6. During buy time, a team could continue to rebuy and toss smokes which became an annoyance to many. If you thought smokes were bad, the molotov rebuy situation in CS:GO is even more devastating. If you watched the CS:GO Plantronics match, you'll see that a few teams kept rebuying molotovs and tossing them from T-side mid to the CT double doors on de_dust2. The same player would then buy a second molotov and toss it again. Within the 15 second buy time, it could be easily possible for every member to buy at least three molotovs and keep a steady stream of fire on the ground, disallowing CT's from crossing to the B bombsite. Sal made sure to bring up this issue and proposed a few ideas. One idea was to only allow a player to only buy one of each grenade type per round. Valve understood the problem and said they'd brainstorm a few additional ideas for creating limitations on rebuys.

As I had mentioned in a previous blog, Sal and I brought up the issue of shadows in CS:S being projected through doors and onto ceilings. Throughout the entire day Friday, we overheard two developers working behind us trying to come up with solutions so this frustrating CS:S issue can be removed from CS:GO.

Around 5:00 PM, Ido asked Sal if he'd be willing to demonstrate a few strats on each map. Sal was happy to oblige. Moments later, a swarm of CS:GO team members surrounded Sal, eager to sit in on his training session. One of those developers was none other than Jess Cliff, the co-creater of Counter-Strike, basically one of the men that made all of this possible; someone indirectly responsible for consuming tens of thousands of hours of my life.

Sal spent the next two hours running through strats, nades and stacks on dust2, dust, aztec, inferno, nuke and train. He also spent time sharing feedback and proposing changes for all maps. The Valve team seemed incredibly engaged with and appreciative of the strat-session.
Companion Cube cookie jar!

The group had a number of "A Ha" moments. Specifically, Sal demonstrated how certain barrel and box models in both CS:S and CS:GO can be incredibly one-sided. On some barrels, a player can crouch to fixate their vision perfectly through a crack in a barrel. A player on the opposite side would have significant trouble spotting the hiding model. Right away, Jess agreed that is something that will be added to the list of changes. Either gaps in certain barrel and box models will be widened to improve balance from both sides, or gaps will be eliminated all together. Jess was also very receptive to Sal's feedback on some of the more dramatic changes on de_nuke, de_train and de_inferno. A number of Valve members were taking notes throughout the session so they could incorporate the feedback into future updates.

Overall, the strat session was a great experience for all parties. It was around 8:00 PM on a Friday evening at this point. The Valve team started to head out the door after a productive day in the office. Sal and I said our goodbyes and thanked everyone for this incredible opportunity.

As CS:GO continues to evolve, my hope is that the Valve developers will remain equally as engaged with the eSports community after the game ships as they have been throughout the beta stage. Though the game still requires tweaking once a larger group of players have the opportunity to test out the game and share feedback with Valve, I still believe it has potential to be the next great eSports title. Long live Counter-Strike.
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