Counter-Strike: Global Offensive – Interview with Chet Faliszek

As we touched down at our location, I couldn’t help but feel nervous. This was my first combat situation in this environment, and I was ready to take down the terrorist threat by any means necessary. Taking a look at the weapon selection in front of me, I convinced myself there was only one real choice for me: a shotgun. It may not have been the smartest selection, but it was the one that would guarantee me the most satisfaction. We slowly crept towards the terrorists, pondering which of the three main targets in the area the terrorists would deign to target and plant their bomb.

Before long, the sound of gunfire echoed and I ran over too late to find a comrade taken down in front of me. Vowing revenge for my fallen squad member, I charged at the enemy, shotgun blazing, only to find myself riddled with bullets and taken out as well, and I was forced to sit back while the rest of my team were taken down one by one by the terrorist scum.  Round two. “Alright,” I thought, “No treating this like what you’re accustomed to, Ed, make sure you work together with your team and think before you charge in. Oh, and no shotgun.”

“Aww! But I like the sound they make!”

“Tough! Now really think about your weapon choice, and stop arguing with your own thoughts, people are looking at you funny.”  I took a closer look at the weapon dial and carefully made my pick between the pistols, machine guns and other weapons on display, all with their own unique stats and advantages, before settling on an assault rifle with a humongous clip, which would leave me more suited to prolonged gunfights before having to reload.

I carefully made my way across the map with another member of my squad to act as backup when the alert was sounded; terrorists have planted the bomb. After a wild sprint, I soon found the bomb in question. With only a few seconds left before the bomb was disarmed, I heard gunfire and panic began to settle in. I clenched my teeth in anticipation, then gave a massive sigh of relief as I disarmed the bomb and won our team the round… only to be brutally gunned down immediately afterwards.  Opting for a similar set-up in the final round, I hoped to repeat my previous glory and help our team defeat those damned dirty terrorists once and for all, but unfortunately was hoisted by my own petard as the gun’s lengthy reload time got the better of me and I was once again made to feast on bullet surprise, my least favourite dish.

Yes, this is Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, the latest in the strategy-based FPS series by Valve. Announced earlier this year, the game was on display at the Eurogamer Expo, allowing everyone to get their hands on the classic demolition mode ahead of the game’s upcoming beta and eventual release next year.  Chris and I were given the chance to interview Chet Faliszek, one of Valve’s lead writers and the man who personally wrote the story for Left 4 Dead and the co-op campaign for Portal 2, and we’d like to extend our thanks to both Valve and Chet for this amazing opportunity.

The game’s in development by yourselves and Hidden Path Entertainment; you co-worked with them on Counter-Strike: Source, and you’re now working with them again. Was it an obvious decision to go back with them?

Yeah, they’re working on some of the bug fixing for Counter-Strike: Source. They’re right around the corner, we’ve known them for a while, and I’m pretty sure they created some models for Left 4 Dead 2. Where we are in Seattle there’s a really big community of developers, like Sucker Punch is literally the next building over, and across the street is Bungie, so we always see everyone around.

You’ve got the game coming out on the Mac, and Valve is making great strides to bring Mac users into the gaming community as a whole, which was unheard of ten years ago. Was that something which, when you sat down to do this, you thought “We have to get Mac on board straight away”, or was it something that came later in the process?

Well for now, we just do it with all of our games, for the Source engine it just works with the Mac, it’s just a matter of just doing it. There’s always some weirdness when we add new features to the engine, and we need to make sure when we do it still works with the Mac, but it’s always part of the process.

You’ve had the Source engine around for quite some time now, how difficult is it to come back and keep adding more to the engine and making sure it can keep up with the games of today?

That’s just the way we work with that engine, we’ve just update it not just replace it, and some point we may say there’s Source 2 or whatever, but really for us there’s been a pretty easy way to keep it and understanding the tools. When you replace an engine you’re replacing the tools and the way that people work, there’s an expense in man hours and people learning and people getting up on it right.

We’ve seen multiple game modes mentioned, can you go into any more detail on those? When we played we had the classic bomb defusal…

Yeah, you have the bomb planting, and there’s two overall modes that encompass everything, and you were playing casual or social mode, and that means friendly fire’s off.  You can buy all the weapons you want because you have unlimited cash at the beginning, and it kind of just lets you get in and play around with stuff, like we do a lot of gaming at Valve, and do a lot of talking about our families when we’re gaming, and it’s that kind of environment. Then we have the competitive side where the friendly fire’s on, you’re being matched based on your ranking or your clan’s ranking, and those are the two overriding different ways to play. Then you were playing the classic demolition, the bomb planting, then we have two maps of hostage rescue, admittedly in office, then we have eight maps of arsenal mode. So there’s Arsenal Demolition, which is really tight, compact bomb planting maps and it’s a team based arsenal mode, then there’s Arms Races, which is the classic gun game and every kill gets you a new weapon and you work your way up to the higher rounds.

You’re well known as a company who put a lot of care into play-testing, and some things that come up in play-testing show up in the final game, so for example with Left 4 Dead 2 there was the sugar mill and the increased amount of witches, which led to canon claiming witches were drawn to sugar, has there been anything major added or omitted as a result for Counter-Strike GO?

Well the biggest play-testing is about to happen with the beta, but when we had the CSS Pros in we had removed armour; now if you play today you didn’t buy armour because money’s not an object in casual mode, so of course you’re going to buy the armour, so why make you buy the armour? But we had to add it back to the competitive side because that’s one of the skills players have – understanding economy and when to not buy it, so they can get more money back versus getting it every time, so that was interesting going through with them, getting their feedback. We’re also talking to the 1.6 Pros and the community at large, and one of the things we learnt with Left 4 Dead 2 really was that the minute we release something, no matter how many people we have in the company testing, within the first hour we get more minutes play-testing than we do internally. With Left 4 Dead 2 Cold Stream, we’re trying to not finish things and put them up for beta, let people play them and experience them, and then based on their feedback we’ll finish them off.

As a company who loves to add even more content to games after the fact (TF2 for example is a completely different game), will it be difficult to add such things to non-PC platforms with Counter-Strike?

In general we kind of have a road-map that we’re working through now with Left 4 Dead 2 and updating for the 360 as well, and we let that lag behind and then we join everything up. It’s a lot easier to be iterative on the PC because we can update, the other stuff we’ll see; we’ve done user-created mutations on both PC and 360. We wish we could update on other platforms as much as we wanted, but that’s not the way things work so we’ll have to keep working with them.

So you mentioned that you have the casual mode, is that to bring in a whole other generation of Counter-Strike players, because I’m 25 and I was playing Counter-Strike when I was about 12/13. It’s been a long time since it initially game out, so is that to make it more user friendly?

Well, it was a PEGI 16 when it came out, so you that means you have bad parents.

I played it at school on the laptops we were given… very secretly…

Really, the way new players will come into it is through any of the modes, and the competitive modes in particular because it’s skill based matchmaking. So right now the problem is if you jump into CSS you’ll come up against someone who’s played the game for seven years who is a pro or who just started playing the game. It’s that kind of uneven play ends up with really weird matches, so we think with the skill based matchmaking, they’ll find themselves playing against people of the same skill, and eventually playing against people with better skill, so that’s how we’ll get people into the game.

You often reward loyal fans with added extras and incentives, such as exclusive hats or free PC copies for investing in the PS3 version and adding cross platform play, if you’re planning on implementing it with Counter-Strike in future is it difficult to find ways to do so without potentially alienating customers on other platforms?

Well we did that with the Steam Play and the 360 users still purchased it. I think it’s fun to have those fights on the forum, but in reality a lot of people play on a lot of different platforms and aren’t so religious about it.

So the game’s scheduled for an early 2012 release?

The Beta will tell us. We’re seeing that now with the Cold Stream DLC from Left 4 Dead 2, people are mad it’s taking so long, but when you get feedback from the community you can’t just make a change and say it’s fixed, you have to change it and let people adapt to playing with that change, and then base your next work off that.

With COD and Battlefield redefining what a FPS is (and they’re so huge now), and other people coming along with great ideas and new perks for their games, why is now the best time for Counter-Strike to make a comeback?

If you look at the PC, a version of Counter-Strike is still the number one played strategic fighter, and there’s a reason for that. It’s about the competition and it’s about the skill. So when you’re playing it’s you against the other person and it’s not based on them getting three more kills previously so they have something they’re going to blow you up with, or they play a thousand more hours than you so they have a different weapon load-out. It’s about during that match, how you play is how you’re going to win or lose. That’s not to knock those other games, those are really fun; I played Modern Warfare 2 which hit a sweet spot with me and I put in an embarrassing number of hours with it, and I’m really looking forward to Battlefield 3. But those are a different kind of game and we think the long lasting appeal of Counter-Strike is its sport-like competition where the rules aren’t changed out from underneath you and that work you put in to get better at it pays off.

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