Ask anyone born on the fun side of the '90s about their childhood gaming memories, and the majority will gush about playing Mario on a cheap 8-bit Chinese NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) knock-off as a kid. Probe them about their adolescence, and the answer will unanimously be Counter-Strike. The first-person tactical shooter started life originally in 1999 as a Half-Life mod developed by Minh “Gooseman” Le and Jess “Cliffe” Cliffe, who also voiced the radio commands and chatter. The mod was quite unlike its peers thanks to its superiority in terms of scope, polish, and dedication.
It may have started as a hobby-project for the modder duo, but the grad students eventually ended up spending more time developing the mod than on their academics. The results were evident with a near-complete overhaul of the Tactical Shooter elements such as squad play, recoil and ballistic details, movement penalties, deeper weapon segregation, and a revamped hit-detection system.
A bastard child of Half Life and Tactical Shooters
Not surprisingly, Counter-Strike concept came shortly after the resurgence of the Tactical First Person Shooter (FPS) genre pioneered by games such as Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six and NovaLogic's Delta Force. However, this humble mod developed by two university kids went on to garner more attention than the veritable grand daddies of the genre. In fact, its unprecedented popularity caught the notice of Valve Software itself, which was involved in the development of subsequent beta releases, and eventually bought the rights to monetise the mod with a retail version. By the time the most popular downloadable version 1.6 debuted along with Valve's Steam online game distribution service, the game had caught the imagination of every acne-ridden teen and Tactical FPS veteran alike.
The mod that spawned legions of cyber-athletes
Counter-Strike was embraced by gamers in Internet cafes to geeks reigning in the tech labs of every institution out there. At the turn of the millennium, the haze of sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll that's college life received a new addition to its repertoire of vices, Counter-Strike. It's hard to wrap your head around the collective number of hours whiled away in these institutions playing Counter-Strike rather than on academic pursuits. However, a game isn't truly (in)famous until some psycho serial killer cites it as an inspiration. Needless to say, the “violent” shooter had its share of spree killers, who used it as a convenient excuse to plead insanity.
From a game to a sport
The million dollar question, however, is how did this Tactical Shooter-inspired mod manage to surpass the very games that it emulated? That too without the presence of a single player campaign or AI controlled bots? A part of the answer can be found in the same element that makes Facebook what it is — community. Counter-Strike revitalised the concept of LAN parties like no other game after Id Software's Doom and Quake could have emulated. Co-op and multiplayer are to gaming what Ajinomoto is to Chinese food; they just make everything a lot more enjoyable. Letting a group of friends play a modern version of Chor Police, with automatic weapons and a sophisticated hit detection system, after all, is the perfect recipe for fun.
However, the game's appeal transcends mere fun and games. Unlike a regular game, Counter-Strike doesn't really have a storyline. The objectives themselves are fairly simple — kill everyone in the other team, rescue hostages, and defuse/ detonate bombs. The number of gameplay parameters and strategies to be considered are easy to learn but take forever to master. Most importantly, the game is a team-based multiplayer experience. If you haven't clued on it yet, Counter-Strike is more of a sport than just an FPS. It didn't take long for professional gamers to capitalise on its ability to reward high skill and practice, and soon enough it spawned a legion of cyber-athletes. Ever since, it has been the mainstay in competitive gaming leagues, with a huge number of professional teams and its share of sponsorship deals therein.
The next step: Global Offensive
After over 25 million copies sold collectively by Counter-Strike 1.6 and Condition Zero (along with side-games such as Counter-Strike: Neo and Online), Valve will be launching Counter-Strike: Global Offensive on 21 August this year. After bringing joy to hardcore PC gamers, the upcoming version endeavours to bring the same frenetic multiplayer action to consoles, replete with a few new game modes.
While hardcore gamers loyal to any franchise are generally hate the prospect of having to relearn the tricks of the trade all over again for a new iteration, the main concern on everyone's mind is if the inclusion of console compatibility will nerf the core gameplay mechanics. No matter what happens, the fact is that the community is much larger than the game itself in this case. Even if this turn out to be a dud, both casual and professional gamers alike will nevertheless continue to play their favourite iteration of Counter-Strike.
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