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Viability of Hostage Rescue Scenario in CS:GO


will2k

 

hostage_rescue_webcover.jpg.4dd4f37d3616

 

This level design article is about the past and the present of the hostage rescue mode in Counter-Strike. Showcasing the inherent issues that accompanied the scenario allowing the bomb/defuse mode to gain traction and popularity. This article will also present what can be done, level design wise, to remedy some of the shortfalls and allow the scenario to be viable.

A historical background

Counter-Strike officially started life in June 1999 with the release of beta 1, and it shipped with four maps, that’s right, four whole maps. They were all hostage rescue maps and the prefix used for these maps was cs_ as opposed to the standard deathmatch maps starting with dm_. This prefix was an abbreviation of the game’s name (Counter-Strike) which hints to this hostage-rescue scenario being the only one in the minds of Gooseman and Cliffe, the creators of CS, at the time of launch.

Fast forward a couple of months, beta 4 rolled out in November 1999 bringing to the table a new scenario, bomb defuse. The new maps carried the prefix de_ and while one would think that the hostage rescue maps would be switched to hr_ prefix, they kept the same prefix which started to be referred to as the “Classic Scenario”. Counter-Strike was built on hostage rescue scenario.

I started playing CS in beta 2 in August 1999 (I totally missed beta 1, screw me) and maps like Assault and Siege were all the rage at LAN parties. The nearest LAN/internet café was a 5-minute drive from my place, and LAN parties with friends used to be a blast full of shouting, cursing, bluffing, noob-trashing; the standard menu for a CS session. Good times.

Siege, the oldest CS map (beta 1), and Assault (beta 1.1) were the epitome of the game. You had to dive in as a CT deep into the T stronghold to rescue the hostages and bring them back to safety. These maps were the most played on LANs and embodied the style of early CS gameplay. At the LAN place where I used to wage my virtual battles, Assault equaled CS, literally. A fun fact is that when Dust came out, I started a LAN session with this map and everyone in the room shouted at me: "What the hell is this? We wanna play CS!" For my friends, Assault was CS.

However, those rosy days for hostage rescue began to turn into grim grey when folks started playing bomb defuse scenario and realized how…fun it was. A map like Dust almost single-handedly pushed the scenario into higher ground with its bright environment/textures, clear/wide paths and its ease of use and noob-friendliness. A year later, around Summer 2000, Counter-Strike was now equivalent to Dust for my friends.

How did this happen? What went wrong?

Inherent flaws of hostage rescue

Hostage rescue is a very delicate and tough scenario for law enforcement operators in the real world. It puts the assailing team at a great disadvantage against heavily-armed barricaded hostage-takers who are probably using civilian hostages as human shields and as a bargaining chip for a later escape.

As you can deduce, transferring this scenario as realistically as possible into the game will not fare well, and this disadvantage will carry on for the CT team. The problem is only exacerbated when you add the more or less “flawed” game mechanics to the scenario. This is exactly what went wrong with hostage rescue scenario in case you are still wondering about the rhetoric questions at the end of the historical background introduction. The popularity of cs_ scenario started dwindling and the rise of the bomb/defuse scenario only made things worse.

Almost all the early cs_ maps featured a relatively tiny hostage zone/room having one entryway usually sealed with closed doors that the CT must open to get access inside. This room was typically located behind T spawn which made the area a camping ground and made camping that zone an obvious and rewarding tactic for Ts. The doors having to be manually opened with a loudening sound made things worse and negated any surprise or sneaky rush towards the hostages. A classic example is the hostage area and T spawn in cs_assault.

assault_hostage_zone.jpg.95f68be672e7756
I dare not think of how many Ts are camping behind those doors

Another equally important camp fest occurred in the hostage rescue zone. Early designs made the rescue zone relatively small with one or two access paths that can be defended from one location. If the CT team manages to reach the hostages and rescue them, the Ts could easily fall back to the rescue zone to camp and patiently wait for the CTs to show up. The hostage rescue zone in cs_italy is a nice example to showcase how one T could camp in the southernmost spot in the zone allowing him to monitor both entryways, from market and from wine cellar, within the same field of view. CT slaughter was almost a guaranteed thing to happen.

italy_rescue_zone.jpg.9665269f5f384899d6
A CT will show up any second now; imminent slaughter commencing in ...3, 2, 1

A third flaw was the hostages themselves. They were difficult to escort and protect and were easily stuck or left behind in various parts of the maps between their initial hostage zone and the final rescue zone. I lost count of how many times I rescued the hostages and ran as fast as I could to the rescue zone, reaching it with a big grin on my face only to turn around and find out that only one or two of the four hostages actually followed me; the others were randomly stuck on a ladder, door frame, window ledge, vent, chair, table…I could go on but my blood is starting to boil just thinking of this.

To add insult to injury, hostages could also be killed or “stolen” for ultimate trolling. When Ts were stacked on money, they could easily kill all the hostages, basically turning the round to a frustrating terrorist hunt for CTs. In early CS versions, a CT teammate could press the “use” key on a hostage that you were already escorting to steal it. This would leave you helplessly wondering where the hell did the 4th hostage go in case you did not catch the teammate performing the action.

Lastly, maps themselves contributed to the issues that were piling up against hostage rescue scenario. If you are a CS veteran and you were around the early betas in 1999, you would most certainly remember how quickly hostage rescue maps were pruned from one beta to another; some maps even had a life span of 1 week before being discarded out of the official roster. Most of these early cs maps featured dark, nightly environments that were unfriendly to both newcomers and established players. Other maps had a confusing-as-hell labyrinthine layout that confused even the most great-sense-of-direction players, and made remembering paths nigh impossible. Some of these maps had narrow twisted paths and choke points, vents, and ladders that not only frustrated players (especially CTs) but also made rescuing and escorting the hostages more of wishful thinking. The icing on the cake was the different gimmicks introduced in some maps that made a frustrating gameplay/layout even more annoying: some maps had a machine gun nest in T spawn allowing Ts to master and perfect the art of CT slaughtering while other maps had flammable drums that could be shot and blasted for the ultimate carnage right next to the hostage zone. Good example maps include cs_prison, cs_bunker, cs_iraq, cs_hideout, cs_facility, cs_desert, among many others.

Meanwhile, bomb/defuse scenario was gaining grounds at an increased rate and before too long, hostage rescue was relegated to a distant second place in terms of popularity among players and level designers alike.

As a small experiment, I tallied the number of custom hostage and defuse maps submitted on Gamebanana for Counter-Strike Source and Global Offensive. For CS:GO, there are 761 de_ maps against 157 hostage maps while for CS:S, the figures are 4060 de_ for 1244 cs_ maps. The disparity is rather meaningful as the ratio in CS:GO is 4.85:1 while for CS:S the number is 3.26:1. This means that for each hostage map in CS:GO there are almost five maps of bomb/defuse whereas this number drops slightly to almost three maps for CS:S. With CS:GO putting extra focus on competitive gameplay, this ratio is bound to further grow widening the rift between bomb/defuse and hostage rescue maps.

That’s it? Is it done for cs_ maps? Shall we prepare the obituary or is there a magical solution to breathe some fire and life in them?

Solutions for viability

There is a magical solution that involves you transferring a large sum of cash to my bank account, then my “guys” will contact your “guys” to deliver the “solution”. The drop point will be at the…apparently, there has been a mix-up, this is for another “deal” …nervous chuckle.

Seriously though, while there is no magical solution that will lift hostage rescue onto the rainbow, there are a couple of things that level designers can do to start injecting some momentum to the scenario. Luckily for us, Valve has already paved the way (so these “Volvo pls fix pls” do work after all?). In March 2013, Valve introduced a major CS:GO update that completely overhauled the hostage rescue scenario mechanics and introduced cs_militia as well. The update was a game changer and a much needed tweak towards a better hostage rescue gamemode.

We now have two hostages instead of four, and the CTs only need to rescue one of them to win the round. Moreover, the hostage does not stupidly follow the CT but instead is carried on the CT’s shoulders. Obviously the movement speed of the CT carrying the hostage is decreased but this “inconvenience” is countered with added bonus round time and the fact that the CT doesn’t have to glance over his shoulders every five seconds to make sure the hostages are still following him (this kind of distraction can prove fatal to the CT escorting the hostages). The hostages’ spawn location is randomized and can be controlled by the level designer. A nice change is that hostages don’t die anymore thus cutting any chance of Ts trolling (you still lose money when you shoot a hostage – shooting a hostage is pretty pointless now akin to shooting yourself in the foot).

This is all good news if you ask me; hostage rescue is on the right path to become popular and viable again. With Valve doing the first half of the change, level designers have the duty to continue with the second half.

Hostage defuse?

As a first suggested solution, let us start treating hostage rescue as bomb defuse. Let’s be honest, bomb defuse works really well, so why not transfer this “experience” into hostage rescue. What we can do is to have a hostage rescue map’s layout mimic one of bomb defuse – that is have two hostage zones that are similarly placed as two bomb sites. We need to start treating a hostage zone like a bomb site with all accompanying techniques of rushing, pushing, faking, peeking, holding, smoking, flashing, etc. The good thing about this is that whatever knowledge, skill, and layout awareness that players have acquired from defuse scenarios will transfer effortlessly to the hostage rescue scenario; you do not need to learn new tactics and strategies. The roles will be inversed: instead of Ts rushing bomb sites and CTs defending, CTs will push hostage zones and Ts will defend and rotate.  

Sounds logical, right? Some people might argue that having 2 separate hostage zones is not “realistic” and my answer is Counter-Strike was never about realism (carrying and running around with a 7 kg (15.5 lb), 1.2 m (47.2 inch) AWP sniper rifle with 25x telescopic sight, quickscoping and headshotting opponents is the epitome of “realism”). If you want a realistic hostage rescue scenario, then you are better off playing the original Rainbow Six Rogue Spear and SWAT 3 from 1999, or the more recent ARMA and Insurgency for a realistic military setting. I practice what I preach and I already implemented this technique in my last map “cs_calm”. The map was a remake of my CS 1.5 map from 2003 and obviously I made the “mistake” at that time to follow the trend set by official maps of having one hostage zone right behind T spawn. A playtest on Reddit CS:GO servers back in March 2015 confirmed that this setup won’t work well as Ts will inevitably abuse the hostage zone.

I made some radical layout changes towards T spawn and hostage zone and created two new hostage zones on the upper and lower levels of the map that are connected by a back hallway to allow quick rotations (in addition to the one through T spawn). Obviously, there is no direct line of sight between hostage zones to prevent 1-zone camping. Ts have absolutely no incentive to camp one zone as CTs can reach the other one, rescue the hostage and head back to the rescue zone without being spotted from the other zone. CTs actually have a chance of winning the round by rescuing the hostages.
I like to believe the new layout worked well. Only time and more hostage rescue maps will tell.

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Layout of the map "cs_calm"

Rescue zone anti-camping

We have remedied the hostage zone camping but we still need to tend to the rescue zone camping issue. A solution to this is to have two rescue zones in a similar setup to what is nicely done in cs_office. While Ts can still camp one zone, they risk a big chance of having CTs reach the other rescue zone. Again, CTs will have a viable option to save the hostages without being shredded by camping Ts. If the layout does not allow or facilitate having two rescue zones, then one big rescue zone with multiple entrances (three is a good number) should work fine. The trick here is to have the entrances not easily covered within the same field of view to prevent camping.

Into the zone

Just as we established that we should treat hostage zones like bomb sites, it goes without saying that each hostage zone should have at least 2 to 3 entry points. It’s pretty pointless to have only one entrance as this totally defeats the purpose of spreading hostages into two zones. The different entryways should also not be covered within the same field of view of one T; if a T decides to camp the zone, then he should be able to cover two entrances from one point leaving the third one more or less at a dead angle and viable for a CT rush or stealth/sneak surprise. 

calm_angles.jpg.b64703f998092930a327195b
Showcase of Hostage Zone A on the map "cs_calm"

The above screenshot showcases “Hostage Zone A” in cs_calm. A terrorist will typically camp near the hostage covering the two encircled entrances. The third entrance from upper level denoted by the arrow is not in the direct FOV, and is prone to a surprise attack by CTs that could catch the camping T off guard. If possible, try to spread the entrances on different vertical levels to spice things up and keep Ts on their toes.
Lastly, it is a good idea to have a connector between hostage zones to allow fast rotations but without having a direct line of sight between hostage zones. We want to make the scenario fairer to CTs but not at the expense of Ts, inadvertently making it unfair for them.

Conclusion

Hostage rescue is a fun scenario if you ask me. It had many inherited and added flaws that contributed to its waning but it’s nothing that can’t be reversed. We, as level designers, need to push some changes to put the scenario back on track. What I just showcased in this article might not be the only viable solutions but they certainly are a step in the right direction. Level designers are intimidated by players who shun away from cs_ maps, and this turns into a vicious circle where players avoid hostage rescue maps and mappers in return avoid designing them. We need to break this cycle and designers need to bravely embrace the solutions I presented here or come up with their own solutions. The more cs_ maps that come out and get tested, the more we could validate these solutions as viable.

In either case, we need to get proactive towards hostage rescue scenario; after all, this is the cornerstone that Counter-Strike was built upon.


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I feel like your last idea doesn't allow the cs  mode to really differentiate himself from the de_ one.

That was kind of the whole point of my argument... that cs mode should not be trying to differentiate itself de mode! Rather than seeing de and cs as two completely different game modes, they should be seen as two halves of the same game mode... with one mode offering initial advantage to CTs and the other offering initial advantage to Ts.

I feel however like the second phase would be a phase of T running behind Ct's to try to catch up with them, because if Ct's have the hostages it is necessarily because T have either been at the wrong place and haven't defended the hostage, or because the part of the team has been rekt :) which puts them at the disadvantage of having done something wrong and they deserve the clock ticking against themselves. But if you implement your situation, it puts things in a simpler state because they have intel about the whereabouts of CT'S which tell them more than they should know. They should know only where the hostage rescue zone is and try to catch Ct's until they get there :)

Sry I have trouble making sense of this as it doesn't seem to relate much to what I was saying... Firstly PHASE 2 of the game would see the CTs staying in ONE area in the map waiting for extraction to arrive, so there would be no question of "T running behind Ct's to try to catch up with them" because they wouldn't have to go anywhere.

You say that if the CTs have the hostages then that means they have already "rekt" the Ts (who failed to defend correctly) and therefore the Ts deserve to have a countdown against them and shouldn't be given the "extra" advantage of knowing where the CTs are... however I feel that this analysis shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the dynamics of a CS round.

In both modes (de and cs) the team initially defending at the start (CTs and Ts respectively) HAVE to split and defend TWO different points whereas the attacking team can send their entire TEAM against only one objective. The defenders have to protect TWO different points with the same number of players as the other team has available to attack just ONE point. It makes it likely that the objective WILL initially be lost, and not because the defending team hasn't defended properly, but just because they HAVE to spread themselves more thinly. However whilst the defending team may well lose the objective, it is likely they will do more global damage to the opposite team during the exchange, meaning at the moment where the objective is seized the team that secured the objective will be weaker... but they are at a strategic advantage because they only have to defend that area for a limited time.

In a 5v5 bomb match (for example) the Ts may take one of the sites, killing 2 CTs... but there is a good chance they will lose more than that themselves and/or the remaining players are injured, once the bomb is planted the CTs KNOW where they have to go, but now they are the attackers and have a limited time to retake the objective. It is exactly the same dynamic. I suggested the possibility of having maybe two extraction zones near to each hostage so they wouldn't necessarily know which zone they had chosen to go to, which (if implemented) would provide a variation over de gameplay mechanics.

Basically you start out by saying that this suggestion for cs doesn't differentiate itself enough from de mode, but then go on to say why they suggestion is also imbalanced in itself... does that mean you think de mode is unbalanced in the same way?

 

 

 

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That was kind of the whole point of my argument... that cs mode should not be trying to differentiate itself de mode! Rather than seeing de and cs as two completely different game modes, they should be seen as two halves of the same game mode... with one mode offering initial advantage to CTs and the other offering initial advantage to Ts.

...

Basically you start out by saying that this suggestion for cs doesn't differentiate itself enough from de mode, but then go on to say why they suggestion is also imbalanced in itself... does that mean you think de mode is unbalanced in the same way?

Turning hostage rescue into a defusal equivalent is the wrong way to go about this. The economy has been fine tuned for defusal mode and teams in their existing roles. Reversing the roles upsets this balance without anything particularly interesting or rewarding to show for it. 

The main mechanic that should remain is the escort of the hostage across the map, which is very much like the VIP gamemode. The hostage mode is essentially one flag ctf, though one team has two flags instead of one. However, I can see potential in it taking a short amount of time to rescue a hostage within a zone, rather than the rescue occurring the moment you step inside the capture zone.

Even though the CT's objective in the second phase is still an offensive one, that doesn't mean the entire team is playing offensively. A well coordinated team will have secured important areas while pushing up to reach the hostages. Only the hostage carrier is required to be on the move, so the rest of the team can stay put and watch critical points, falling back as the carrier progresses through the map. This is the important difference which makes things interesting: rather than the object of interest being stationary, it's on the move. It's like the difference between capture points and payload in TF2.

I believe that will2k has the correct idea in that we mappers need to develop layouts that better cater to fair matches, rather than modifying the gamemode. Finding appropriate relative placement and design of team spawns, hostage spawns, encounter areas, rescue zones, and the paths in between are what we should be aiming for. Some questions to keep in mind when considering layouts:

  1. What makes for a good hostage spawn area?
  2. How close should hostage spawns be to encounter points?
  3. How far should the hostage spawns be from the rescue zone?
  4. How far apart should hostage spawns be?
  5. How many connectors between areas are too few? Too many?
  6. What are good ways to structure rescue zones and the paths leading to them?

We can borrow a lot of what we know from defuse maps to apply to hostage maps. Knowing how existing hostage maps play will help considerably as well. I can probably do some case studies of them if you guys want.

 

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@Gulliver Thoday, dude don't trash out people because they do not agree with you. I agree that what you propose can be good to make the de_ mechanics in cs_ game mode, I'm not saying you're wrong about this.

I just stated that I didn't saw the point in making cs_ like de_ games. If there are two gameplay,  there should be a difference in gameplay.

De_ maps have their own gameplay, it works well there is no denying that, but that doesn't mean we don't have to do something different to experience things that really are new.

The fact was that nowadays cs_ maps are often too T sided, something I tried to propose things about to balance that. As of now the map I started to implement it on, is too CT sided, so my propositions aren't the best either, but by proposing them I'm allowing other people to say what they think of it and possibly helping other people have good ideas, just like Squad or Will2k did to inspire me some things 

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Good points so far in this discussion.

I continued thinking about possible solutions and one idea came to my mind. Taking the hypothetical approach of my first comment using Dust2 (for example) converted to a cs_ map i extended my thoughts:

Since the cs_ gamemode is split in 2 "moving" stages (reaching hostages->reaching rescue zone in contrast to de_: reaching bombsite->staying on bombsite) why not simply splitting the map in 2 stages? Just extending the map without taking care of the rescue-zone camping problem wouldn't help though since this is one of the main flaws on current cs_ maps.

In order to avoid this flaw the map has to become somewhat dynamic. Stage 2 in the round is starting when one of the hostage is being picked up. If you'd link now the hostages to possible gates(blue lines in the image below) seperating the stage 1 and stage 2 gameplay area, the gates could open as soon as one hostage is picked up. Maybe even with a delay timer of 5-10 seconds so the CT with the hostage is not able to rush to the rescue zone without allowing Ts to interrupt it.

This might even out the odds between Ts and CTs in the second stage of a round, but i'm not sure if long-term CS players would enjoy such a semi-dynamic map layout. I don't even know if it could work in the first place. Could there be a more elegant solution than adding triggered gates? What do you think in general about this idea?

6ezWgO0.png

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6ezWgO0.png

maybe blowing up the gates as if it was planned all along?

as for camping issues there is still the office like rescue zone which can help a bit. Personnally I thought about making the paths to the rescue zone not accessible rapidly so as to discourage people to run to the rescue zone :)

 

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This is a fantastic approach and suggestion for reviving the CS mode. I'm gonna be honest: When a map didn't work out, I just made it a hostage map, as you know, you can easily turn any map into a hostage mode and just assume that the gameplay should work because it somewhat aqcuired the status of being a mode that doesn't require much thought. But now I realise that a good hostage map requires in-depth analysis of what makes CS:GO great, and that's what you have done right now.

I will start working on a design that takes your suggestions in mind, and hopefully something good will come out of it :)

Couldn't the following also be possible:

  1. T's defend 2 hostages in each zone
  2. CT's go and attack
  3. Instead of CT's having to run back to a rescue zone, once they conquer a zone, the T's have 40 seconds to recover the site. 
  4. After 40 seconds the hostage is automatically rescued should T's not succeed. Otherwise T's win by killing all the CT's within the rescue zone (to prevent one running off to not be able to be killed)

Another variant on this is that CT's can like hide or put the hostage in a specific position and then have to defend it with T's being able to kill it. (but that would probably be a problem with molotovs, although give those more use against an objective at the same time).

I realise that this is just a variable of the actual bomb defusal mode, being even closer to the scenario of bomb defusal than what Will2K suggested, but maybe something to think about, or borrow elements from it.

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Good article Will, and good overall discussion.

My own personal opinion is that the original mode was great. I always liked the challenge and stress of having to get to numerous hostages. I just like the challenges... so even if it was heavily T-sided, it was just that much more rewarding when you did pull it off and successfully rescue the multiple hostages. So I wasn't personally a fan of the CS:GO changes to hostages.

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Very nice article, I wish you had written this 6 months ago, as so much of my mapping time have been trying to figure out the layout as I just can't make my setup work without it being hostages and not bombs :) But I hope I've learned something from it anyway.

I guess playtesting will reveal if it works eventually, but I have one tight and "oldschool" hostage location, and one which is more off to the side of the map. Both locations have timed T's and CT's to see eachother at "good" locations, but in the tight one the hostage is between them, while in the other one the hostage is off to their side. I fear people will heavily prefer one of them, but my hope was that one site would favour full buy and AWP/AK/M4 and the other one favour SMG so it creates internal tactical reasoning within the teams. And I can see some nice flash and nade uses, but I think I may need to tighten the layout a bit still. Easy to just make locations too big for CS, from an architectural standpoint.

We'll see how that works, but it's an interesting topic, because I like the concept of hostage rescue. But I've spent a lot of time wringing my head around making it work as well, always nice to get some input. 

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@Gulliver Thoday, dude don't trash out people because they do not agree with you. I agree that what you propose can be good to make the de_ mechanics in cs_ game mode, I'm not saying you're wrong about this.

 

I'm sorry but I really don't think I was trashing anybody out. I did disagree with what was said and I do believe that the arguments presented were not really relevant to the point of what I initially made. IMO, the statements made about the defending team "failing" and deserving "punishment" for losing the objective do show a fundamental misunderstanding/misinterpretation of round dynamics. I believe the question we were addressing is "how can we improve cs mode and to what extent should it be similar to de mode" and NOT "is de mode itself unfair/bad/broken" which is essentially what was being argued. I disagreed and I said that frankly, but I wasn't rude or insulting on a personal level at all.

Once again I feel that Blade made far more insightful and relevant observations/comments

Turning hostage rescue into a defusal equivalent is the wrong way to go about this. The economy has been fine tuned for defusal mode and teams in their existing roles. Reversing the roles upsets this balance without anything particularly interesting or rewarding to show for it. 

I agree with your sentiment here. I don't think that turning cs into a carbon copy of de mode is the correct way to go either. At the end I commented that you could literally put the hostage into the evacuation zone and once that zone was taken the countdown would start... but this would be more or less a carbon copy of de mode and tbh I don't like the idea and it wasn't really what I was advocating.

I do however stand by original suggestion(s). Adding evacuation zoneS near to where the hostages are situated could definitely be an interesting avenue to explore in CS mode. And if you consider it more carefully I think people may start to see that this WOULD introduce enough variation into the game mode to differentiate it from de mode.

Firstly the evacuation zones would be nearby the hostages, but not literally in the next room, so the CTs would still have to take the hostage to the evacuation zone, they would just be nearer than the current rescue zones. Secondly you could have 3 or even 4 possible evacuation zones for a 2 hostage map... this would mean CTs would have a choice of zones to go to AND that the Ts would not necessarily know which zone they had gone to (in de mode once the bomb is planted the remaining CTs know exactly where it is). The Ts could be given a far wider choice of defensive options (map design dependent) as they could either concentrate their strategy on preventing the CTs from obtaining the hostage OR preventing them from reaching the evacuation zones... in current CS because the rescue zones are always behind the CTs (at the start of the map) the Ts cannot really make their main strategy to defend those zones first as they must always run past the CTs in order to get there. 

I also think that this system could make things MORE interesting for mappers... As opposed to designing a map where the CTs have to get from a starting point, to and objective and then back again, the maps would need to be designed to allow the CTs to get from a starting point, to an objective and then on further to a secondary objective. This adds an entirely new dynamic/mechanic to think about when mapping that isn't present in either current cs OR de mode, far from limiting level designers I believe it could offer them interesting new avenues to explore.

It is true that often small changes to the rules of a game can have a dramatic effect on the balance, strategies and they way in which the game plays out. If done correctly I believe this could offer different gameplay whilst addressing the fundamental imbalance of cs mode by adopting certain principles of the de round structure.

Despite Blades very coherent analysis of cs round dynamics I do stand by what I originally said. I believe if you consider cs games and maps collectively on average you will find that the CTs are more often placed at a disadvantage by being forced to play the aggressors for the majority of the round and rarely being able to play defensively. In a large number of cases if the CTs manage to secure a hostage the Ts will push straight to the rescue zones (more often than not arriving first because of the slower CT movement speed with hostages) and the CTs will once again be forced to mount an offensive to secure the zone.

I appreciate Blades comments about covering/securing/defending the return route to the zones, but I think at this point it is worth mentioning (which we haven't so far) that map design must often be considered differently depending on whether we are talking about 5v5 competitive games or more causal games with larger teams.

In 5v5 competitive games when there are two objectives to defend (sites or hostages) the defending team will usually adopt either a 2-3 or a 2-1-2 defensive strategy (obviously map dependent). Statistically the attacking team will more often send all 5 players to the same objective, which means on average the most common first exchange in the game will be a 5 on 2 attack. Given defensive advantage, the most common outcome of a 5 on 2 attack will be the two defenders dying whilst taking 3 attackers with them, once again on average. So after securing the hostage the likelihood is that the CT team will only have a couple of players left alive (with maybe a 3rd very injured) so at that point the idea of covering the route back to the zones is not really plausible. One CT will have to carry the hostage, and the second will accompany them normally, providing essential cover and checking the path ahead. With larger teams then obviously the strategy does open out more and allow for very different possibilities.

Another very interesting point Blade raises (which is really an entire topic in itself) is that of game mode design vs. map design. Basically to what extent can or should level design compensate for a fundamentally imbalanced game mode? I do definitely think that there is an case to be made for the argument that imbalanced game modes offer interesting challenges to level designers and can provide a wealth of creative possibilities. HOWEVER... level design is NOT EASY... even with a game mode as simple and tried and tested as defuse sometimes mappers get it very wrong, with levels that are frustrating, unbalanced or boring to play. Once again (if you consider all custom maps together) if the game mode is in itself fundamentally imbalanced then a greater percentage of the maps for it are also likely to be imbalanced, whereas statistically if the game mode itself is balanced the chances are a greater percentage of the maps for it will also be fairly balanced.

Obviously I am not really talking about changing the game mode here anyway, what I am suggesting is in itself a mapping/level-design solution to the problem. Basically it would be a case of placing the hostage rescue zones closer to the hostage spawn points, but the preventing the round to be instant won once the zone is reached by adding a timer to proceedings. This addresses the fundamental flaw in cs mode by allowing the CTs to play more defensively late round, it offers new level dynamics by providing a choice of multiple rescue zones, it can also offer new strategic possibilities because if the CTs find themselves too pressured at one extraction zone, they can smoke and flash to cover their retreat and then try to make it to a different extraction zone and can actually lead to an entirely new style of map design never before seen in Counter-strike game modes (I won't elaborate on this now)

Like I said, done correctly, I do believe this system has the potential to adopt certain principles from de mode whilst still retaining enough individuality to make worthwhile as an independent mode in and of itself.

One of the reasons that I believe CS has always been a popular esports game is down to its inherent simplicity and balance, no gimmicks, exploits or randomness, just a pure test of strategy and aiming skill. And de mode is the epitome* of simplicity in game modes, and the trade off between attacking and defending as the round progresses gives it a perfect internal equilibrium that helps makes it so popular.

CS mode has never been so popular especially in competitive contexts, partly due to greater randomness (and silly exploits) in the past with hostage escort mechanics, but even now I think a round of cs feels less precise and maybe less controlled than a round of de... the imbalance of CTs having to go back all through the map with the hostage while weaker, sometimes the outcome simply determined by choosing to go left rather than right and not bumping into a T that way, still makes a cs round feel more random.

I would love it if cs were to become as popular as de mode and really become an alternative equivalent of de mode. I do think this strategy has potential, and if people can look past the ways in which it may adopt principles from de mode to help balance the round and instead focus on all the things that would still work very differently from de gameplay I think maybe they will start to see the same.

 

*btw, epitome means "a perfect example or representation" of something, not the opposite, I don't think you meant that an "AWP sniper rifle with 25x telescopic sight, quickscoping and headshotting opponents" is really the epitome of realism :) 

 

Edited by Gulliver Thoday

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I may have spoken too much in a hurry.

What I want to propose is close to what you say at the end: thinking out of the box to go around the difficulties of the gameplay. De_ has flaws like anything else, and that's what allow some maps to play badly.

If it can reassure you we all have the same idea to create a second phase rather differently to what it is currently.

As Will2k pointed out we can do a lot of things to make maps play better just by thinking them differently, and that's why I'm opposing to your idea which changes the game mechanics.

However, the idea that Ct's have to defend isn't a bad idea though. I could see a 4-1 setup with the one going to the rescue zone to secure it for the second phase of the round for instance. That could put Ct's in a more defending position.

The dynamic idea behind the whole cs_ gamemode remain it's strength. To my mind, the randomness to which you're referring is also present a bit in de_ mode, but it also is present in all kinds of sports, and that's what make them that rich. I'm personnally afraid that the rut cs go community is pleasing itself may be the ingredient of the fall of the game itself, from lack of renewal. Sure enough we're far from tiring down the map pool, but it could happen.

Anyway, more on topic. The cat and mouse feel of the game is something I want to hold onto for the simple reason that it's a question of guts and learning your enemy's preference. It gives map sense a more prominent role. And it forces teams to gather intel and methodically defend their territory. By that I mean that I want to make the map in a way where the T's have to be aggressive if they want to know where Ct's are, because they essentially would have something to lose by letting Ct's have all the choices they want concerning their rescue strategy. That would also put Ct's in a defensive approach as well as an offensive one, which would be different to the more binary de_ mode where you are attacking or defending with more distinction between the two.

 

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I think it boils down to what maps are comfortable to play. Insertion was interesting because it is kind of uncomfortable to be a T, there are no super relaxed positions because the CT's can pretty much come from everywhere, so the comfort is more with the CT's imo. The game's most played map is dust2, and I don't think it's because of nostalgia. CT's can hold comfortable positions, but at the same time there's enough map space to work with to employ simple and advanced tactics as a T. 

I don't think any hostage rescue map has replicated this. CT's usually have to get to the hostages, which is pretty much like retaking a bomb site from a CT standpoint, and then they have to get to a secondary objective and watch out for lurkers. My thought to balance out this comfort is to try to make the T's a bit more in a time trap in the secondary objective. So they aren't able to run to one hostage zone and camp, but need to gather intel and perhaps gamble a bit. 

We'll see if it works. But I think a very underrated reason to what is popular is the fact that there's comfortable things to do in a map. And it's such a fine balance, I think A on Nuke is a bit too comfortable for the CT's for instance.

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Greetings everyone :D

I'm not home nowadays and don't have much access to the internet so my replies are...slow. Hopefully, I'll be back in full force by next week :).

The ongoing discussion and the replies here are really insightful; when I was writing the article, and in addition to providing early solutions, my aim was also to further pick the community's brain and seeing all this discussion makes me really thrilled. A lot of great and useful ideas that push the boundaries.

What is needed now is to translate these ideas into basic blockouts/greyboxes that can be tested and iterated to perfect and fine tune. Remember that mapcore testing server is always here and the community is more than awesome when it comes to constructive feedback and help.

@laminutederire asked about timings and I can showcase the ones I used in cs_calm:

CTs need 18-20sec to reach hostage zones and 20-22sec to go back to the rescue zones (because of the reduced speed of the carrying CT). There are 3 main encounter points in wine cellar, mid and side yard. CTs need 10-12s to reach them while Ts need 8-10s for a slight defense advantage. There are also side connectors to alleviate the pressure on the encounter points and allow CTs better escape paths.

About the rescue phase, and after reading the comments in this article, I think I can throw an additional idea here. Instead of having the rescue zone near CT spawn, we could have it in mid to reduce the distance from hostage zone to hostage rescue. In calm's case, the CT will need 10-12s to reach mid instead of 20-22s for the current actual hostage rescue zone.

@Gulliver Thoday: The "epitome of realism" was sarcasm to further validate my point that CS was not about realism.

Thanks everyone for your input and ideas; keep them coming :) and this gives me motivational boost to keep writing more articles.

 

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Thanks @will2k, solid article, well done.
Hope you guys won't mind me digress, because I'm not gonna tackle the topic the way it has been discussed until now. Hope it doesn't feel like I'm disregarding the article, a motion against it... now that I've written the post I'm feeling like I've drafted an article on a somewhat opposite point of view :ninja:

There is much to agree in the article but, and it's quite a big thing, I don't think that Valve has done 50% of the job.

First of all I think the way mapcycles are handled diminishes accessibility of game mode. I haven't been playing CS regularly since CS:S basically, so my perception might be wrong, but feels like not even community servers cater to those "classic" "dust2/office/inferno/italy" rotations that were ever present until CSGO debuted.

Another thing is that on paper the changes made to the game mode are good; as a fan of hostage maps* in the past, I don't feel like wanting to play cs_ maps right now. This is because I loved to save hostages, but picking one up restricts the movement in such a way that becomes annoying, personally more annoying than losing an hostage along the way. It was part of the game. If you are the last surviving CT, you are at HUGE disadvantage trying to carry an hostage to safety, whether before you could play a game of peeks, use the guy as a shield, rotate because you'd knew that the T(s) would be in a certain area around the hostage, etc.
Bots can properly navigate maps, I can't think that more could have been done there. Also a feature like giving commands as "go to" could have been implemented, creating other interesting dynamics.
Sure, still not something surgical that feels good for pro-tournaments... but I think that's big part of the problem.

In my opinion, everything is looked at through the "pro scene" lenses. CS is a tournament game because it got popular, so thinking how to make a new game mode appealing to pros, to me seems like wearing underpants on top of trousers. If Valve believed that the current hostage mode was in a "pro" state, they would have thrown money at it, in the form of a dedicated tournament.

I don't think that a ton of good hostage maps will fix all of this. The Mapcoreas that have been featured in operations have first made it with cs_ maps! And yet despite the surge of attention the game mode got in those occasions, situation hasn't changed. Maybe we "just" need a new kind of layout, this sort of "phase" approach, but I think more effort is needed to bring attention to different game modes.

I'm feeling like we need a side-step, rather than an all-out push. Arms Race got quite popular, I would say it succeed in its intent, so I think community is open to different things... so at this point I would really much more welcome an effort in bringing back Assassination mode really.
I've been playing CS since 1.6, so I never even got the chance to play the game mode... and still the idea makes me more excited than picturing myself lugging around a hostage. I think that mode, being completely player-controlled, would also offer a better appeal to the pro scene as well.

 

*Militia and Assault aside that I always found obnoxious even more than Aztec

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I may have spoken too much in a hurry.

What I want to propose is close to what you say at the end: thinking out of the box to go around the difficulties of the gameplay. De_ has flaws like anything else, and that's what allow some maps to play badly.

If it can reassure you we all have the same idea to create a second phase rather differently to what it is currently.

As Will2k pointed out we can do a lot of things to make maps play better just by thinking them differently, and that's why I'm opposing to your idea which changes the game mechanics.

However, the idea that Ct's have to defend isn't a bad idea though. I could see a 4-1 setup with the one going to the rescue zone to secure it for the second phase of the round for instance. That could put Ct's in a more defending position.

 

 

It really wasn't my intention to be rude to anyone, I guess I can just be a bit blunt when presenting my ideas sometimes :)

Although I am never one to advocate pandering to the masses, I am also a realist. CS mode is not as popular as de mode, and it would be nice if it would be more played. I do feel by meeting de mode half-way and relieving some of the pressure and randomness on the CTs in the second half of the round, that players may feel more comfortable with the mode. Tbh it would be really nice to see the old VIP mode revived so we could have cs as more standard/straight-forward hostage mode.

As you correctly point out, this whole discussion is about mapping our way to a more balanced mode... which is still basically what I am talking about. I am not expecting and official changes to the mechanics of CS mode here. Will commented is his reply

 

About the rescue phase, and after reading the comments in this article, I think I can throw an additional idea here. Instead of having the rescue zone near CT spawn, we could have it in mid to reduce the distance from hostage zone to hostage rescue. In calm's case, the CT will need 10-12s to reach mid instead of 20-22s for the current actual hostage rescue zone.

 

 

Which already isn't a million miles away from what I am talking about. And on this note, could the following be a possibility:

Rather than having the CTs have to head back towards their spawn to get to the hostage zones, would it be worth considering them having to push on further into the map rather than returning? The important point to bear in mind with this suggestion is that you wouldn't necessarily have to place the rescue zones between the hostages and T-spawn... so they would not be pushing towards T spawn. You could have the rescue zones located in an area of the map only accessible by routes starting out near to the hostage spawns. As a very crude explanation you could arrange the map in a kind of "T" shape. The teams would spawn at each end of the top bar of the "T". The hostages would be located where the vertical bar meets the top bar and the rescue zones located at the bottom of the vertical bar. That way both teams have to push to the hostage spawns first before being able to move on to the rescue zones. You could even maybe block the paths to those areas of the map for the first 30 seconds of the round.

This may give the feeling of the round "opening" up as it progresses, rather than simply returning into old territory. The other thing is that because the paths to the rescue zones would only really become relevant to gameplay AFTER a hostage has been recovered, then it is possible to design those areas specifically with the CTs evacuation in mind, thus balancing that part of the map maybe a little in their favor to compensate for the higher loss factor in being the aggressive team. Maybe one of the flaws in CT mode is simply that mostly mappers will make their maps with the assault phase of the round in mind... how the CTs storm the hostage areas etc and far less in terms of the return journey. Maybe expecting the same environment to pull double duty for both phases of the cs round is in itself part of the problem? Having a system where both teams are forced to push further into the map from the hostages to reach the rescue zones will allow for greater control over the fine-tuning of each phase of the round?

Anyway, just a thought. :)

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Maybe expecting the same environment to pull double duty for both phases of the cs round is in itself part of the problem? Having a system where both teams are forced to push further into the map from the hostages to reach the rescue zones will allow for greater control over the fine-tuning of each phase of the round?

Anyway, just a thought. :)

I tried that with the cs map I started last week, I'm done with the first rough build, but I have to get it playtests this week to see if it works with real players, and if I should leave those areas accessible from the start or no. What i did was putting the paths to the rescue zone un the upper area, which are accessible after spawns and in the T "territory". The idea behind that was to allow the T's to catch up with Ct's if they come from the other hostage room, or if they were in the rotating already. Ct's can either push the rescue zone from upper areas which are safer since T can attack them 2 or 3 times, either at the entry of the zone, in the hostage room connectors, halfway in the path where T's can go up from their side of the map, or finally in the rescue zone itself which is designed to be harder to defend. With those ideas in mind, does that kind of layout is something you were thinking about? (mapcore thread if you want more information)

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