The proliferation of modding during the late-Nineties demonstrated a hotbed of independent creativity, the spirit of which has since transformed into the prosperous climate of ‘indie’ development. These inventive user- made endeavours ranged from simple gameplay adjustments to complete overhauls of assets and design, themselves often spawning into properties as big as their source DNA.
Many successful mods have gone on to reach mass recognition, but as the trend continued to grow in stature it was Valve that stormed the vanguard as one of the first developers to actively encourage and cultivate a community to tinker and innovate its original design documents.
Minh ‘Gooseman’ Le and Jess Cliffe were just two students when they began working on Counter-Strike, both spending more time devoted to coding the game than on their actual studies. But it was a gamble that paid off, the duo selling the game back to Valve, working with the studio and forging its legacy as one of the most influential and enduring FPS of all time.
Released in 1999 as internet multiplayer was in a nascent state, Counter-Strike was the antithesis of the excessive slaughter and unrelenting pace of Quake and Unreal Tournament. Offering a tactical alternative that placed as much emphasis on careful planning and teamwork as it did having lightning-fast reflexes (although speed was also a technical issue with dial-up pings soaring into the 100s), Counter- Strike required a completely different mentality to a genre on the brink of revolution.
It was in part due to the round system that reshaped how respawning worked. Rather than hurtling through maps spraying lead with little concern for your own mortality, being reckless had a penalty; death resulted in waiting several minutes for a new round to start and diminished the chances of your team’s ability to fulfill its objective.
Counter-Strike established stakes previously absent from a genre reliant on speed and did so without compromising what made the act of namelessly killing people online so thrilling in the first place.
This contributed to an unprecedented approach to teamwork. It became immediately clear that communication was key to winning. It became even clearer that you couldn’t trust strangers. Clans became an integral component to the dedicated Counter-Strike experience; it was a proud badge of honour to brandish a clan tag and the incentive to invest more hours into training was rewarded by triumphing in community tournaments and LAN events.
Counter-Strike became as much a competition as it did a game and there’s a clear pathway to the popularity of e-sports, dedicated portals and the ubiquitous streaming culture that leads right back to the early days of Counter-Strike and the dynamic interactions of its community.
More than anything, though, Counter-Strike wasn’t just a fan creation but fostered a community of fans that contributed as much to the game as they took out. It laid the groundwork and dared its fans to do better, the results of which were some of the most popular maps and user-created modes that dwarfed the creative achievements of the original team. It provided an accessible creative platform; somewhere for would-be developers to cut their teeth in what would become a dominant genre in subsequent years.
Counter-Strike arrived at a flashpoint in the industry, at a time when consumers were beginning to look toward online as a competitive arena. With its combination of simplistic and balanced design outlook, matched with a reliance on player skill, it was the ultimate proving ground for gamers.
It’s a testament to the strong foundations of the game that its original retail iteration (referred to as 1.6 due to its original and antiquated patch method) is still played so frequently today despite subsequent sequels. It doesn’t have the flashy physics engine of its successor Source, nor does it boast the crisp visuals that would come with its most recent console counterpart, but what it does have is an accessibility that made it utterly addictive.
It’s hard to imagine the first-person shooter genre being what it is today without Counter-Strike. It established the fundamentals of the genre and infused it with a delicate balance that has since been adopted by almost every major FPS franchise.
Not only that but its community tweaked the formula further, launching alternate game modes, many of which integrated what has become prevalent across the genre in recent years: the addition of experience points in a mode that shifted the focus onto additional perks and abilities.
Whether or not this influenced Battlefield or Call Of Duty is a moot point: Counter-Strike was there first and, not only that, its original vision stands tall today as one of the best shooters you could possibly spend time playing. It helped redefine a genre, it established the ideal of a prosperous user- generating community and it would influence some of the biggest franchises in modern videogame history.
Above all else, though, it’s still a game that thousands of people play on a daily basis. Not just for nostalgia purposes, but because its principles and mechanics continue to match the contemporary standards of the genre today. There aren’t many games celebrating their 15-year anniversary that can lay claim to that.