Game Influences (4/6): Counter-Strike

This is part of a series of blog posts on the design process of my web game:

As I left off, I wanted to create a turn-based strategy game on the web with an interesting setting. I was pondering what sort of setting hadn’t been mined out and thought of Counter-Strike, by many measures the most popular online multiplayer game.

In Counter-Strike you are on a small squad (3-8 players, tournament size is 5) against another squad of players, one team terrorists and one team counter-terrorists. It’s a fast-paced first-person shooter (FPS) with deep tactical play as teams attempt to complete or prevent objectives like planting a bomb in a particular place on the map or escorting hostages to an exit point.

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In most FPS games your character is heavily armored and can survive lots of punishment before dying. Counter-Strike defined itself by using real weapons that kill in a few or often one shot, so players have to have fast reflexes to succeed in a firefight and execute tactics well to ensure they’re in a firefight they can win. Or, better, aren’t in a firefight at all and have snuck up behind an oblivious enemy. I enjoy the way game calls upon a wide range of skills, but I don’t play it much myself because I’m not fast enough for the combat.

Setting is a funny thing: a person might have loved the Matrix but broadly assert “Oh, I don’t like sci-fi” and leave a game’s website at the first sight of a spaceship. Fantasy games are an overwhelming part of the market because potential players reliably don’t automatically disregard them and they open up a lot of design possibilities that a modern setting wouldn’t (eg. modern settings don’t have teleportation or healing spells, which are really handy for getting characters together and prepared to play).

Counter-Strike chose its setting and extracted mechanics from it to create an enduring game. When I considered the idea of a turn-based tactical game with counter-terrorists — no, better: secret agents — I realized it could solve a lot of my design problems as well.

Instead of slugest combat, most characters would use ranged weapons that could incapacitate or kill in a shot or two. The map isn’t just a pretty backdrop, picking lines of sight and areas of engagement is essential. Players can compete in deliberate missions instead of preying on each other. By maintaining a base of operations, players can have the long continuity that draws them back to the site with short gameplay sessions whenever they’d like to do more than wait a few hours for a trade boat to arrive.

I started designing in earnest. Next: the classic game X-Com surprises me from 15 years in the past.