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  • Controlling Pacing Of Core Gameplay Mechanics in Multiplayer Games

    [01.04.11]
    - Filip Coulianos

  • Case Study: Counter-Strike (medium narrative)


    A shot from Counter-Strike: Source

    Counter-Strike is a team based multiplayer shooter in which one team play as Terrorists and the other play as Counter Terrorists. It has, as of today, over 40 000 people playing at any given time and has been THE online shooter for PC for over 10 years, only to be surpassed by Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 in popularity on the Steam network.

    The game is round based and has two game modes. In the bomb scenario the terrorist's mission is to plant a bomb at either of two locations on the map while the counter-terrorists try to stop them. In the hostage scenario the terrorists has to defend hostages while the counter-terrorists has to escort them from the terrorists to the safe zone. If either Counter-Terrorists or Terrorists gets wiped out the opposing team will stand victorious.

    The interesting thing about Counter-Strike is the four minute round game mechanic which simply ends the round and calls it a draw if a winning team hasn't been announced before then. This automatically forces the rounds pace to increase as it gets closer and closer to its climax; the final and decisive battle that concludes the round's winner, or the round ends with an anti-climax as the time runs out. This climax can however be broken as a dying player has to sit and wait until next round before playing.


    A simplified hypothetical chart of a Counter-Strike pacing curve. Y-axis shows excitement and the X-axis time in minutes.

    In the bomb scenarios, or "DE" levels, the planting of the bomb changes the rules of the game and a new winning condition for both teams are introduced. As the round continues everyone can hear the bomb tick faster and faster which in turn increases the pace of the game dramatically until the climax where either it explodes or gets diffused. This simple idea with the ticking bomb is extremely efficient and really puts the pressure on Counter-Terrorists to perform their outermost to stop the bomb from exploding, while the terrorists put switch tactics and lay up ambushes to prevent the Counter-terrorists from defusing the bomb.

    The hostage scenarios, or "CS" levels, tend to be less popular than the bomb scenarios. The pacing curve here doesn't have quite the same dramatic change as the bomb scenarios have when the bomb is planted. This is because the ticking bomb feature isn't present. As this game mode is more about stealth the game doesn't announce that the Counter-Terrorists grabbed the hostage, which allows the Counter-Terrorists to sometimes sneak in and rescue the hostage without the terrorists realizing. Despite of the very clever tactics from the counter-terrorists side this cause a terrible anti-climax as the round ends without a dramatic buildup and a final decisive battle.

    There isn't much the level designer can do to control the pacing of Counter-Strike. Instead the art of level design in Counter-Strike is more about on balancing and creating a solid ground for interesting encounters and tactics. Despite of this, level designers have come up with lots of wacky game modes that alter the narrative curve with varying success. "FY" is perhaps the most notable one in which the designers simply removed the secondary winning condition (rescue hostages or disarm bomb) and made the game all about killing the other team. This flattened the curve and weakened the narrative. None of these alterations has become more popular than the original game modes.

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