A good shooter requires good multiplayer maps. A competitive shooter requires perfect multiplayer maps.
During the Game Developer’s Conference esports summit in San Francisco yesterday, level designer and professional gamer Salvatore “Volcano” Garozzo and level designer Shawn Snelling laid out how the nature of competitive Counter Strike: Global Offensive has influenced its maps.
Counter-Strike is a five-on-five game that pits terrorists and counter terrorists against each other in one-minute-and-45-second rounds. Terrorists will try to plant a bomb in a designated area while counter-terrorists will defend.
Garozzo stressed that Counter-Strike is very punishing. Most guns can kill with a single bullet, especially with a headshot. Coming out of a corridor and looking the wrong way could mean that “you’re as good as dead.” It’s that punishing nature that has had the most dramatic affect on level design.
In designing a new Counter Strike map, specifically in this case of popular map Cache, the goal is to reward a players’ skill. Level designers cater to professionals over the casual player. For professional players, thousands in prize money could be on the line—they don’t play a map, they practice it. Therefore, it’s critical that maps bring player interactions to the forefront.
Any good Counter Strike map should have four central chokepoints, or bottlenecks—areas of the map where the most action can happen. It’s where the offensive team usually runs into the defending team. “If you have too many chokepoints, you have too much to defend,” Garozzo said. “The gameplay gets very chaotic and less strategic.”
And of course, because the game is so punishing, designers have to be careful. Adding too much verticality can disrupt a map’s balance. “Even just a little bit of verticality goes a long way,” Garozzo said. You can get verticality by “stacking”—jumping on top of another character to get access to elevated positions. This encourages “planning and teamwork,” and requires players to communicate and know each others’ positions. Jumping and stacking are definitely great ways to gain an elevated position, but it can fall into areas of predictability. To counter this, Garozzo recommends adding fixtures to express a players creativity and skill. He designs maps with areas to trick jump. This could be like getting onto a protruding air conditioning vent or something similar to get access to a building’s roof.
A map needs more unique ways to tackle enemies than just putting players on a higher footing. Garozzo likes adding penetrable surfaces against walls. This is called “wallbanging”: Giving players something to shoot through to potentially take out an enemy on the other side of a wall.
And then there are the actual environments themselves. Snelling talked about the importance of readability in the environment. That’s being able to distinguish a player against the map itself. For competitive play, if one team is more easily visible, they’re at an extreme disadvantage. But beyond just readability the perfect Counter Strike map should also have some awesome vistas, or skyboxes. Not just to add to the fiction of a map, but to be used as a reference to where a character is in relation to the map. For example, a radio tower in the middle of the map, although inaccessible, can be used by players to aim and lob a grenade.
“When form meets function, players see value,” Snelling said.
A lot needs to be considered when you set out to make the perfect Counter-Strike map, especially if it is to be played at the professional level. Bringing in professional gamers and coupling them with expert designers is crucial in creating the best competitive maps. With a game like Counter-Strike, even the smallest details can dramatically affect how it’s played.