Game Overview – Counter Strike: Global Offensive

Game Overview

Written by: Kevin Tom

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Valve Corporation (Original mod by Minh Le and Jess Cliffe)

CSGO

Mechanics

What systems are in place to dictate the ‘rules’ of the game? What kind of constraints do players operate within? What do players interact with?

Twin Teams

Team Select screen is displayed as soon as a player enters the game.
Team Select screen is displayed as soon as a player enters the game.

Players join one of two predetermined teams (Counter-Terrorist/Terrorist). Both teams are fundamentally the same, but feature thematic differences in appearance, weaponry, and game modes.

Dedicated maps were created to adhere to the two game modes below.

  • Bomb Plant Scenario
    • Terrorists are tasked with planting a bomb in one of two pre-determined locations on a map. Objective is met when the bomb is planted and explodes, or when all Counter-Terrorists are eliminated.
    • Conversely, CTs spawn near the bomb sites and must defend them from T’s. CT’s complete their objective when all T’s are eliminated, or by defusing the bomb that has been planted before it explodes. CT’s also win if T’s have not planted the bomb within a certain time limit.
    • The bomb is given randomly to a member of the Terrorist team at the onset of each round, it acts as an independent item.
    • Defuse kits can be purchased by CT’s to cut defusing time in half, they work passively and don’t have to be activated like a bomb.
A bomb site on de_train. Notice that it is very clearly indicated and the bomb site is highlighted in red on the radar in the top left.
A bomb site on de_train. Notice the blatant indication of where to plant. The bomb site is highlighted in red on the radar in the top left.
  • Hostage Rescue Scenario
    • Terrorists must prevent hostages from being taken by CT’s. Hostages are placed in pre-determined locations. T’s win if CT’s have not rescued a hostage within a certain time limit.
    • CT’s must fight their way to the hostages, pick them up, and carry them back to a safe zone (generally in the same place as the CT spawn).
    • Hostage Rescue kits cut the hostage pick-up time in half.
    • CT’s physically walk slower while carrying a hostage. Extra money is given for each hostage rescued.
Hostages are placed in pre-determined areas on the map, most maps have a rotation so they are not always in the same location.
Hostages are placed in pre-determined areas on the map, most maps have multiple hostage locations so they are not always in the same place.

Weaponry

  • The Twin Team Mechanic grants both teams the same weapon categories and number of guns. Each team has designated slots for a CT/T-specific guns.
    • (e.g. Though they are both rifle-type weapons, the AK-47 has a higher damage output, but reduced accuracy following the initial few shots while the M4a4 has improved accuracy overall, but does less damage.)
  • Item categories include:
    • Pistols – Secondary weapons
    • Heavy Artillery – Shotguns/Machine Guns
    • SMGs – Cheap, low damage guns
    • Rifles – Standard medium damage, mid-range guns and sniper rifles
    • Equipment – Kevlar, helmets, defuse and hostage rescue kits
    • Grenades – Flashbang (blind), HE (damage), Smoke (vision impair), Decoy (radar/sound misdirection), and fire (trapping)
Molotovs are excellent for blocking off passages.
Molotovs are excellent for blocking off passages.

The Knife

  • A unique high-risk/high-reward weapon that does immense amounts of damage.
  • Has a light attack (low damage, quick slices) and a heavy attack (slow recovery, high damage)
  • Stabbing someone in the back will result in an instant kill, stabbing someone from the front does critical damage (55 hp).
  • Knife damage is standardized and is unaffected by armor and helmets.

Recoil

  • A physics based recoil system provides a pre-determined algorithm to each weapon when the player ‘sprays’ their gun.
  • Recoil is one of the three key values that pertain to adjusting guns for balance (the other two being firing rate and damage).
  • Undergoes constant re-evaluation so devs can fine-tune and balance for competitive modes (many of these balances stem from player feedback).
  • Deep and complex system, I won’t go into it now, but the pictures below depicts an image of how recoil functions on a couple of rifles.
  • High-level players are able to move their mice during a spray to ‘control it’, thereby increasing the accuracy of the gun and reducing the spray area.

AK-47 spray pattern.
AK-47 spray pattern.
M4A1-S recoil with visual highlighting.
M4A1-S recoil with visual highlighting.

Armor

  • Players can purchase Kevlar and Helmets to reduce incoming damage.
  • Less effective against guns that do piercing damage (i.e. AWPs).

The Buy Menu

  • Prior to every round, players can access a buy menu to purchase items to use in the round.
  • Everything is lost upon dying, but surviving a round allows players to retain their belongings for the next one.
  • Money is used to purchase these items, which have a specific cost based on their power and utility.
  • Money is earned for killing players (different amounts depending on the guns you kill an enemy player with), and completing objectives (i.e. bomb planting, hostage rescues).
  • A circular scheme is used for CS:GO’s buy menu, players can navigate by either clicking with their mice or using pre-determined number commands.
2014-01-24_00011
The Buy Menu’s circular format is fairly easy to navigate; it also reduces screen clutter.

Picking Up and Dropping

  • Players may drop primary weapons and pistols for others to pick up (enemy team’s items included).
  • Grenades can be picked up, but are only dropped upon death.
  • Knives and armor are exempt from these rules, every player will always have a knife at any given time.

Radar

  • Enemies that show up in a team member’s line of sight will appear on the entire team’s radar for a few seconds.
  • Firing your weapon will also give away your location to enemies on the radar.
  • Teammates are seen at all times on the module.
CSGORadar
Green areas on a radar indicates a Classic Mode spawn area.

Movement

  • Players move at their fastest pace naturally, there is no sprint button for quick boosts of speed, but rather a walk button to prevent opposing team members to hear your footsteps. (A better mechanic for strategic play than sprinting, in my opinion).
  • Different weapons affect movement speeds (e.g. Running with a knife out makes the player run faster, while carrying a machine gun will slow them down to a crawl).
  • Taking damage temporarily slows the player down.
  • Crouching can be used to reduce movement speed (and running noise). It also increases accuracy on gun sprays.

Hit Boxes

  • Each player begins a round with a standardized 100 points of health. A player dies upon losing all 100 hit points.
  • Damage is calculated using a combination of physics-based hitboxes and a particular weapon’s power. Different sections of the body receive different rates of damage. Obviously, hitting someone in the head does more damage than nicking them in the toe. (e.g. The AWP is known as a 1-hit killer, a shot to a player’s chest or head is fatal while bullets to the legs will still do critical damage, but won’t result in a 1-hit K.O.).
  • Best way to understand hitboxes is simply looking at the picture below.
hitboxes_0001_CSGO
Image via – blog.counter-strike.net

Death/Ghosting

  • Dying is simple, lose 100 hp and you are out for the round (Deathmatch-style game modes are exempt from this rule)
  • While dead, players can watch as their teammates play, giving them something to do/watch while they are inactive in a round. To prevent ghosting (informing allies about enemy positions while not participating in the game), players who are dead may only watch the game from an ally’s point of view. (This restriction is exclusive to competitive mode)
    • Many casual mode servers allow players to move around the map freely or watch the match from an enemy’s point of view while dead.
  • Players are also given the option to watch a game while not actively participating in it.Those watching a competitive match as it progresses will receive the feed a few minutes later than individuals actually playing in the game (once again, to prevent ghosting and cheap play).

Game Modes

  • Classic Mode – Comes in two flavors:
    • Casual – Classic bomb plant/hostage rescue maps with varying player limits. Players have access to the Zeus weapon (not available in competitive mode) and begin rounds with benefits such as free kevlar and helmet. Rules in Classic Casual differ depending on the server and preferences set by their owners. A variety of official/non-official servers are hosted, each with their individual rules and map rotations.
    • Competitive – Personal preference as the definitive Counter-Strike experience. Players can form teams of up to 5 to play against players of approximately similar ranks (Determined by CS:GO’s matchmaking system). Games are played in a standard 5v5 format and preferred maps are chosen by each team before entering matchmaking.
      • Games have a total of 30 rounds. T’s and CT’s swap sides after 15 rounds, first to 16 victorious rounds wins.
      • Rules are set in stone with no room for variation; players will gain and lose ranks depending on their performances during the round. A ranking system determines suitable, balanced teams for the matchmaking process.
  • Arms Race – Players get a new weapon following each kill, first one to get a successful kill with the final weapon (a knife) wins the round.
    • Based off of a successful mod created during previous iterations of Counter-Strike.
    • Getting killed by a knife results in player going back to previous weapon
    • Prefer it if grenades were added to the mix again
  • Demolition – A combination of Classic and Arms Race. Players will compete in a bomb plant scenario, and getting a kill will allow players to advance to the next gun when the following round begins.
    • There is no instant respawn like in Arms Race, players must wait until the round ends and another begins anew.
  • Death Match – A custom game mode where players spawn in random locations and kill as many other players as possible. Players will respawn instantly after death, and get a choice of free weapon combinations upon each revival.

Conditions for Victory

  • Classic: First one to a set amount of victorious rounds wins. A new map usually follows and the process repeats.
  • Arms RaceComplete the ‘knife level’ by killing someone with a knife
  • DemolitionT’s = Plant the bomb/CT’s = Defend bomb site from terrorists
  • Death MatchKILL, KILL, KILL!

Dynamics

Gameplay elements derived from the game’s mechanics that provide direct feedback to player actions. Often developed by players as they play. What strategies emerge from gameplay? How do players interact with each other?

  • Buying items – Buy menu access is granted at beginning of each round. Players can purchase their favorite combination of gear within the set time limit. Buying is restrained by the amount of money a player has when the buy menu is available (money is gained by killing/completing objectives). Players will often play differently depending on what they buy at the beginning of the round.
  • Scoring – Players are ranked by points, which are gained through kills (2 pts), assists (1 pt) and completing objectives (usually 2 pts). Points are tracked on a scoreboard accessible at any time with a button press.
Sample scoreboard; image from blog.counterstrike.net
Sample Scoreboard; Image from blog.counterstrike.net
  • Combat Tactics – A variety of movement, actions, and tactics developed and mastered by players to give themselves an edge in combat.
    • Examples include:
      • Fire-Strafe-Fire
      • Corner peaking
      • Quick scoping
      • Camping
      • Fake defusals
      • No-scoping
      • Tap shooting
      • Controlled Spray
      • And more…
  • Twin Team Mechanic forces players into a team-based style of play which encourages cohesiveness and communication. Calls are made to alert allies of enemy presence and ideal map-specific positioning has been identified by players. (e.g. On Dust 2, usually 2A, 2B, 1Mid)
    • Highly competitive games even have teams assigning specific duties to players (i.e. one designated AWPer).

Aesthetics

Player Experience; is the game fun? Why and why not? Is the play emotionally/intellectually engaging?

The Counter-Strike franchise has been around since the Summer of 1999. That’s nearly 15 years from its birth as a Half-Life mod to the release of this article! Fourteen years and the game’s fundamental groundwork has remained the largely the same. Talk about staying power; the franchise continues to be a powerful force in the FPS world, with no signs of falling into the shadows anytime soon.

So what’s the deal? How could a game so ancient stay so popular? Well, there are a couple of reasons:

  • Polish – Existing for fourteen years isn’t a fluke. Counter-Strike titles have received copious amounts of improvements and updates based on player-generated feedback over the years. Consider the low number of changes to the game’s core mechanisms from Counter-Strike 1.6 to Global Offensive and you’ll find that the focus from the dev team was generally directed at tweaking and balancing. Rather than introducing strange new additional features into the game, Valve chose to take the product and polish it to perfection. Glitches became an incredibly rare occurrence, guns were balanced, maps were adjusted, and many other countless changes were made to establish a level-playing field for both Counter-Terrorists and Terrorists.
    • The continual polish and rarity of new features presented negative consequences as well. The game’s fundamental attributes and mechanics were very rarely subject to change. As such, players began to discover the nuances and tricks to “Up Their Games”, which ultimately lead to their improved performances. These newly-discovered dynamics (such as map-specific camping locations, tap shooting, and recoil control) gave an edge to veterans playing the Counter-Strike titles and continue to provide a hefty advantage in Global Offensive. This resulted in a steep learning curve for newer players, ultimately causing frustration and bitterness towards the outcomes of each match. After all, no one wants to get dominated by strangers while attempting to learn a game. It doesn’t help that many players revert to petty trash talking and/or blatant cheating.
  • Slow Pace – CS:GO remains a cult hit due to the differences in pacing compared to modern mainstream FPS titles. The lack of a sprint button results in gameplay that feels slower and generally less hectic. The walk mechanic eliminates a player’s audible footsteps, thereby producing an entirely new layer of strategy to the game. This slow-paced, team-based, strategic style FPS is often a great avenue for shooter fans tired of the modern in-your-face blockbusters.
  • Weapon Mastery – It just feels good to excel at a particular weapon… Or, you know, all of them.
  • Excellent Level Design – The official maps are incredible balanced and well-thought out, which increases replayability by tenfold. No one wants to play a map that’s too one-sided.
  • Team-Based Communication – Communication is a key tool in CS:GO. Your chances of winning are increased significantly if you can properly convey tactics and call-outs to fellow party members. This adds a social element to the game that’s very rare to find in other titles to date.
  • That Sweet, Sweet Scoreboard – I personally find myself checking the scoreboard way more often than I should be. Players enjoy checking their progress as they play to ensure that they’re doing well. A scoreboard is definitely an asset to most, if not all competitive FPS games.
  • Invested Competitive Mode – There’s something to say about the psychological thrill of competing in CS:GO‘s competitive multiplayer. The 5-on-5 scenario and race to 16 victorious rounds creates a feeling of tension that’s actually quite addictive. People play Competitive Mode to win; and a player’s skill, teamwork, as well as a bit of luck will heavily dictate the outcome. Playing with friends only improves the experience.
    • Persevering in a difficult situation elicits a feeling of extreme satisfaction and pride. Take out three enemies on your own, land a kill with a grenade, or eliminate a foe with a knife and at least one person on your team (and often the opposing team) will throw a compliment your way. Have you ever felt the rush of being the sole survivor in a clutch-or-die scenario against the opposing team? Heart-pounding moments like that are common to CS:GO‘s Competitive Multiplayer Mode and continue to reel in both beginner and experienced players to this day.
    • Immediately following the conclusion of a match, players return to the matchmaking lobby. The drive to join another competitive game is often dictated by the results of the last match. But here’s an interesting conundrum, many players are psychologically attuned to play another game regardless of whether the previous outcome was good or bad.
      • A win in the earlier match-up sparks momentum, especially if a player did particularly well. The gratification from victory encourages the player to continue playing and racking up wins. Each consecutive victory only bolsters a player’s chances of queuing up for another match. However, time limits, technical issues, and fatigue will reduce the chances of re-entering the matchmaking queue.
      • Though it isn’t always the case, a loss can entice vengeance. CS:GO players are often compelled to re-queue following a defeat as a means to redeem themselves. After all, no one wants to end their session with a loss.
    • Leaving a game prior to its conclusion, team killing, or being AFK for too long will result in a ban from Competitive Mode. It isn’t a permanent ban, but rather a penalty that increases in degree as you continue to offend. Players can be banned from this mode for up to 7-days at a time. Cheating, unwarranted game modifications, and offensive content can warrant permanent bans.
  • Carefree Casual Mode – So Competitive Mode is too much to handle for your frail heart? Maybe the 60+ minute sessions are far too long? Don’t worry, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive still has you covered.
    • Casual Mode presents a multiplayer mode with a varying number of players that’s effortless to pick-up and easy to leave. The number of players in each match, specific rule sets, and map rotations are all governed by different servers and vary for casual play, resulting in many different choices for players to choose from. Players may even host their own servers if they so desired.
    • There is no player investment in casual mode, gamers may join and leave at their discretion without consequence.

Design Goals; Were They Achieved?

The original idea for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive spawned from a fairly simple premise, “I just like the idea of playing as a counter-terrorist, fighting terrorism”, said Le in an interview with EuroGamer. “I also like being able to pick from a large assortment of guns. I’m a big gun fan.” With those two things in mind, Minh Le dove right into developing a mod using Half-Life‘s engine; which resulted in what we now know as Counter-Strike.

The mod went through many iterations and beta testing, starting with a small community and reaching a peak point in popularity around the fifth or sixth beta’s release. Le believed that “the most important thing was to keep releasing new versions, which kept the interest going.” – Gamasutra

 Here are a couple of things that Le had to say following the success of Counter-Strike:

“For me, when I play Counter-Strike, I feel like I’m part of a team, playing with other people. It’s like a sport: you’re fighting for the same goal, you’re with teammates, and there’s the whole camaraderie part of it. I don’t know, it just drives me to play it more. That’s the biggest thing for me, the whole teamplay aspect.” –  Gamasutra

“I try to find a balance of gameplay and realism that appeals to the CS team.” – Eurogamer

So Minh Le’s core design goals involved producing  a working mod using terrorism and counter-terrorists as a theme. He wanted a team-based system with a bountiful selection of guns and a strong sense of realism. Judging from the widespread, global success of the Counter-Strike franchise as a result of these elements, I’d say that Le fulfilled his initial expectations and more.

General weaknesses, What would I fix?

A major point of contention and frustration stems from Counter-Strike: Global Offensive‘s incredibly steep learning curve. The title upholds an incredibly high demand for skill, and literally throws players into a firing range with almost no preparatory measures. As a result, beginners are continuously slaughtered in each round and the incentive to play sinks fairly rapidly. I think a single-player campaign would do wonders to address this issue. Currently, the only single-player options offered to players are offline matches pitting the player against bots, or a quick Weapon’s Course that can be completed within 30 seconds. A single player campaign could serve as a lengthy tutorial allowing players to come to grips with the various guns, items, and mechanics offered by CS:GO. Players will have an opportunity to experiment with different guns and understand the game’s underlying mechanics while experiencing a rich and enticing story; I would much prefer this over immediately diving into the multiplayer mode only to get blown away by better players. A single-player campaign also adds depth; many players may pick up the title solely for the offline mode if it turns out to be a solid, enjoyable experience.

User Interface

Notice the minimalist and subtle design of the interface? It allows the player to see as much as possible with reduced screen clutter. The icons on the bottom right disappear within seconds.

Default Gameplay Control Scheme

Keyboard Template
Click to see full-sized image.

Bonus Tidbits

  • Bomb Site A of the Dust 2 map features graffiti saying “Goose”. This is an homage to co-creator Minh “Gooseman” Le. To this day, players still use “Goose” to describe the area when making out calls.
  • Dust 2 is widely considered the most popular map of the Counter-Strike series, followed by Inferno.
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