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  1. 31 likes
    Maarten ‘Marnamai’ Frooninckx recently released the first chapter of his Half-Life 2 mod DownFall on Steam. It’s been some time since we’ve last seen such critically acclaimed single-player add-on for one of the most beloved series in gaming. In this article, Maarten and I will discuss the mod’s conception and take a look at its ongoing development. Hello Maarten. Before we get started, could you please tell us a little bit about yourself? I’m Maarten Frooninckx, better known as “Marnamai” on the internet. I have a background in art and I’m veteran Half-Life 2 mapper. I started out back in 2005, after having discovered that I could make my own Half-Life 2 maps with the Source SDK. Most of my initial work consists out of small test maps that I made for fun. I have been part of a few modding teams, but none of those projects ever reached completion. Is easy to become over-ambitious and underestimate the workload. That’s why a lot of mods fail. So in 2009 I decided to go solo, work on a smaller scope for DownFall and learn what I needed to get it done along the way. Watch out! We've got a sniper over here. Wait a minute! You started DownFall in 2009? That’s one hell of a development cycle. Why did it take so long? Yeah, it took me 8 years to release the first part on Steam. The original goal was to provide a fun expansion for Half-Life 2 which used the Episode 2 setting and learn as much as I could. Later this idea evolved into making DownFall a playable portfolio piece that I could hopefully use to land a job as a Level Designer. The entire project was a huge learning experience for me. The more I learned, the more critical I became. That’s why I’ve completely scrapped the entire project several times over. Actually, what you get to play now is the third version. Of course I haven’t worked on DownFall the entire time. I decided to take a 3D Modeling course so that I could make my own props. I also worked on various other side projects. It wasn’t until the end of 2015, when I started the latest iteration, that I made a serious effort to actually finish the project. DownFall is based on Episode 2, so it wouldn’t work without using Source 2013. Were you ever tempted to switch to a another version of Source? I’m a sucker for the way Episode 2 utilizes the post-apocalyptic setting. I love all the old industrial buildings and big outside areas. I especially like the mines and caves. Plus, the gameplay is just spot on. It has a lot of appeal to me so no, I was never tempted. The main problem with using different versions of the Source engine is that you never know if everything keeps working and sorting that out would not only be a monumental task, but also require dedicated coders. Black Mesa’s customized Source engine would be the closest match, but the code they used isn’t publicly available, so I wouldn’t be able to implement the required changes I have planned for the gameplay in chapter 2. I’d also like to implement volumetric lighting which should result in some extra eye candy. Wait for it! Speaking of using older technology. You’ve managed to get big open maps and beautiful vistas out of Source. What difficulties did you face? Using the Source engine has a lot of benefits. There’s a vast library of assets available you can use and BSP is awesome for blocking out something fast and iterate on it. Plus, it has a big user base you can fall back to for questions or help. I know Source has been widely criticized for lacking proper documentation, but most of that has been taken care of by the community. You do face quite a few limitations, so over the years I’ve become real familiar with all the hacks to get things to work. Things like splitting levels if they are too big, how to optimize large outdoor levels, dealing with lightmap problems, hitting entity limits and how to handle leaks. I really enjoyed the combat encounters in DownFall. You provided enough options and a lot of those felt refreshing to me. How did you go about setting these up? My levels usually begin with an idea for a setting, location or gameplay encounter. I start doing research by collecting reference material and sketching out layouts or structures. During this process most of the ideas materialize. I’m very fond of creating encounters unique to a setting or environment. You could argue that the setting is only a layer of paint applied to the gameplay, but I prefer to blend setting and gameplay together. I strongly believe that it leads to more unique encounters that really complement each other. When I am in the early phases of a level, I make small prototype maps for gameplay scenario’s or scripted events. It allows me to test the viability and iterate fast. Once I am happy with those, I implement them into the block out (greybox) and test them as often as possible. During these tests, problem areas surface and I start the iterative process of adjusting the block out and gameplay setups to get them just right. Planning is where it's at. Another thing that I noticed is that the pacing is really on point. Care to elaborate on that? I try to space out encounters to give the player some downtime in between combat. I fill that downtime with exploration, puzzles or story exposition. It is very important to have a good difficulty curve to keep things interesting. You start out slow, introduce the enemies and weapons that gradually increase the difficulty over time. You rely on gating to make sure the player knows the mechanics before being allowed to continue. It’s important to be fair but also challenge the player at the same time to provide a sense of progression. Some people have a natural flair for achieving good pacing, but in my case it came from years of playing games. You learn what works by observing, experimenting, testing and listening to feedback. By now it’s obvious that you’ve learned a lot while making DownFall. Any do’s or don’ts you wish to share with our readers? Show, don’t tell. A picture is worth a thousand words. Never have a player press a button without showing what it did. Players need the game to give them feedback on their actions. Start testing early and test often. There’s nothing worse than finding a serious problem when you are late in development. Also, listen to feedback because you’ll discover solutions for problems and learn how to improve upon the existing designs. Avoid over thinking solutions, the simplest solutions are often the best ones. Have a group of trusted designers who you can share ideas with. Bring in other people to test your work for a fresh perspective. It can be hard to hear negative feedback about your work, but do not to get too defensive and try to figure out a way to extract useful data to help you improve. Develop a personal discipline to work on your levels every day, not just when you feel like it and don’t be too ambitious. Aim for something you can actually achieve and take it from there. Eat lead Combine! Thank you for sharing that. I’m also wondering why you opted for a Steam release? Having a bigger audience is a given, but were there any other reasons? Yeah, it has a huge install base and that means you can reach a bigger pool of potential players. Far more than any traditional modding site could reach. Of course, you still rely on those websites and social media to raise awareness and generate interest. But using Steam also allows you to use beta branches for playtesting and send out updates without having to worry if everybody is using the same version of the mod. Plus, you have the Steam community features which bring you much closer to your audience. Congratulations on the successful release. Before we finish this interview, I have to know, did you really do everything yourself? Pretty much, yeah. All of the level design, additional models, animations, textures, Steam Greenlight campaign and the Steam release build are done by me. DownFall mostly uses default assets as I prefer to focus on the level design and only create assets when their role is pivotal in the design. I did bring in a Foley Artist, who’s is also a Composer, to make some new sounds and ambient tracks. For the next chapters I’m working together with two programmers, we have some new gameplay features planned and some bugged entities require fixing. I’m very satisfied with the reception by the community. During the Greenlight campaign DownFall reached the third rank and was Greenlit in just over 12 days with a Yes/No ratio of 76%. The accumulated reviews resulted in a ‘very positive’ rating on the Steam Store with a 97% approval rating. A little teaser of things to come. That’s an amazing job. Thank you for sharing this with us. I enjoyed DownFall, especially the funny touch on the end and I can’t wait to play more. To our readers, be sure to check out DownFall on Steam and leave a review.
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    I finally decided to create a MapCore thread for one of the projects I'm currently working on. All aspects of the map are still subject to change! Story The European Space Agency (ESA) has decided to build a radio telescope in a natural sinkhole in the Tatra Mountains (Poland) to study the far ends of our universe. Terrorists try to stop the construction since they don’t want mankind to find out about the approaching reptilian overlords, who want to enslave us once and for all. //Any suggestions on how to word the story better? Workshop http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=895385879 Screenshots References Five hundred meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) in China Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico Partners @MaanMan (Level Design Assistance) @MrTwoVideoCards (Environment Art) (not yet confirmed) PS: I try to be more active on Twitter from now on so consider yourselves formally, aggressively accosted to follow me on there if you want to get regular updates on this and other projects: @RizzToTheIzzle
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    The do’s and don’ts of CS:GO level design - a guide to assist you crafting a well working competitive layout for CS:GO The dos and donts of csgo level design - 2017.pdf I have been working on this for a long time now and was never able to wrap this project up. I've never been satisfied enough with the result to release it although the content has been complete for a long time. With the recently launched 2017 Mapcore CS:GO contest i figured it's about time to finish the ongoing rework and publish it no matter what since lots of the content will hopefully benefit any newcomer to CS:GO level design. Some chapters might even be interesting to more advanced mappers - who knows. I don't expect this release version to be perfect right away, so if there's any feedback or addition you'd like to see changed/implemented, please hit me up so i can further improve this guide. Credit where credit is due: MaanMan, will2k and others assisted me by proofreading and giving feedback to a very early version of this document. Since i reworked almost every paragraph, there might not be much left of their work, but i really have to appreciate the time they took. Thank you guys! I really hope this is helpful and that at least some new mappers can make use of it. Happy mapping and have a nice day!
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    Mapcore is now holding a Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Mapping Contest for original 5v5 bomb defusal maps AND hostage-rescue maps, powered by FACEIT! Mapcore's Veteran Judges will be joined by CS:GO Guest Experts such as The WarOwl, Moses, Sadokist, DDK, James Bardolph, and Anders Blume! How to Enter Post a "Work In Progress" thread in Mapcore’s Official Event Forum! When you're ready, update your WIP thread with a link to your playable map's Gamebanana.com and/or Steam Workshop page. Your thread + playable map constitutes your entry to this contest! Submission Deadline Your playable map must be entered by October 31, 2017 at midnight Pacific Standard Time (PST). Judging Procedure Mapcore Judges FMPONE -- @FMPONE Puddy -- @puddpuddpudd TopHattWaffle -- @TopHattWaffle RZL - @RizzToTheIzzle Sprony - @Sprony83 Guest Experts Anders Blume -- @OnFireAnders James Bardolph -- @jamesbardolph Daniel "DDK" Kapadia -- @followddk Jason "Moses" O'Toole -- @OnFireMoses Matthew "Sadokist" Trivett -- @Sadokist WarOwl -- @TheWarOwl Mapcore will announce Contest Finalists on November 10, 2017 To determine 10 Finalist maps, Mapcore Judges will rate Contest maps according to the following 100 point criteria, with all ratings tallied and given equal weight, and any ties broken by our Guest Experts: 40 points: Fun Factor (how well-designed is the map) 40 points: Visual/Thematic Presentation (how aesthetically sophisticated is the map) 20 points: Overall Polish (bug-free maps; maps with Soundscapes; maps which run smoothly; other determinations relating to quality) Finalist mappers will then have one month to make changes based on community feedback. (December 10th deadline to qualify for TOP 4) Top 4 Contest maps and the Grand Prize Winner will be declared in December, 2017 After one month has passed, Mapcore Judges and Guest Experts will rate every finalist map according to the same 100 point criteria above (Fun Factor, Visual/Thematic Presentation, Overall Polish), with all ratings tallied and given equal weight, and ties broken by Sprony. Mapcore will then declare the Top 4 Contest maps and our Grand Prize Winner! Contest Prizes Top 4 Contest Maps receive: Eternal Bragging Rights A Spotlight on Mapcore for 2 months (linking to each epic WIP thread) A Monetary Prize ($5,000 for First place; $3,000 for Second place; $1,500 for Third place; $500 for Fourth place) Map added to FACEIT platform for a time, playable for all users! Contest Rules Entry into this Contest is free of charge for all. Your entry must be a playable map for the PC version of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Remakes (maps of the same name and design of an existing map released for public download), sequels (e.g. de_dust3), and spiritual successors (new name for an old layout) can NOT be entered. Maps that were under creation prior to the announcement of this Contest can be entered, as long as a complete map version (layout and art) has not been released for public download. Map entries must be submitted to the Steam Workshop and/or Gamebanana.com, as well as the Mapcore WIP forum before the deadline. Map authors are free to share their map on any other websites or services they wish, however the map must remain free to download. Multiple map entries are permitted, however each entry will be judged for its own particular quality. Map entries created by teams are permitted, however entrants will have to agree how to split any prizes awarded prior to prize claim and dispatch. Changes or updates to Workshop maps will not be considered after October 31, 2017 (for Top 10) and December 3, 2017 (for Top 4). Mapcore forum rules must be obeyed. All custom textures, models, etc. must be embedded into the map's .bsp file (FREE TUTORIAL AND TOOL). Assets must also comply with Steam Workshop guidelines. Map authors must be able to accept cash payments. Winners of hardware and physical products will be required to provide a valid shipping address. Judges, Experts, and individuals associated with organizing this contest CANNOT enter nor provide material assistance to map entrants. If a Finalist entry is disqualified due to violation of these rules, all applicable winnings will be directed to the next highest-rated map. Void where prohibited. Contest Eligibility 1. Participant eligibility: This Contest is open to any individual, or teams of individuals, provided they comply with the following: Participants must not be an Employee or Official Staff Member of the “Organizer” (Mapcore) or “Sponsors” (FACEIT). Participants must not have taken part in the preparation, judging, or official announcement of this Contest. Participants must not be a direct relative, spouse, direct employee, romantic partner or business partner of any of the above. 2. Legal Age: This Contest is open to any individuals who meet the above “participant eligibility” criteria. In the event that a participant who has not reached the legal age in his/her state wins one or more prizes, he/she must provide contact details for the legal guardian who will claim the prize(s). Prize Disclaimer FACEIT will be providing/sponsoring Prize revenue. Mapcore assumes no responsibility. THANK YOU to our AMAZING COMMUNITY! And to our INCREDIBLE Sponsor: https://twitter.com/FACEIT
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    Here's my first scene Made with custom assets. https://www.artstation.com/artwork/Nz1aJ
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    Here's the stuff I made for Thrill. Includes a zoo map. Free to use for non-commercial work, as long as you give me credit. https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B2tJpMUFJ_2aa3NHVjVSR1BrVVk
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    Update to my skybox from earlier. I think the atmospheric scattering is just right at last (sorry about the image qual, I seem to have hit my monthly(?) quota for uploads :D).
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    Hello. Me and @Thewhaleman are working on a de_ map set in french monastery somewhere in the south part of france. I decided that this is a good time to post some progress. We should have working layout by the end of the next week. Goal: The goal is to include variety of possibilities for players to play the map with huge diversity of equipment. This includes tight areas designed for CQB style as well as few long sightlines to encourage use of sniper rifles. Screens: Refs:
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    Testing the waters in Pirates, Vikings, & Knights II
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    By the way, Yacht has been released/finished for the contest deadline of June 17th. You can download it here: http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=906991448
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    The thing with this: We actually had a playable version and playtested it but that was back in march i think. Here are some screenshots of that alpha build version since we never posted them: You can see it's 60-70% done, but there's still a lot of stuff to do. As tom said i'll push this project until it's done even if it's the last thing i do .The thing is there's an upcoming final exam so i can get into the Uni i want and i'm not fucking with that.Also the mapcore contest kinda took all the artist who work with csgo, so that's currently a problem.I'll postpone havana until the contest is over and i might even enter the contest with a different theme(hopefully i'll finish that map for the deadline )
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    Working on British style terraced housing, might end up as a contest entry? Who knows!
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    WD - when more junk, and a bit of grunge on the textures is added, that look will hopefully go away. Some more progress - change of colour on the lighting - I think maybe something between the two light environments might be best. I have set up the area in the last two shots, and I will be working on this section to bring the standard up. I added the campfire there, and will probably detail it with a BBQ, some chairs, beer bottles etc. This will be "long" in the callout. In between the pool and the blue trailer, there will be a camper van for cover. At the moment it is a dev block, but I hid that for screens. No 3d sky here since a change in light and fog has messed that all up for now.
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    Can add two more to my list of interesting ideas I had but nowhere to go with them Hanoi/dense Asian city: Luxembourg City:
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    Surf Galaxy This is my contest entry in the CS:GO Combat Surf Mapping Contest. Surf galaxy aims to innovate the overall genre a little bit by trying out multiple layers in between the base ones, including some dynamic elements which is almost never seen in other maps, and giving it some thematic material that could fit in the surf world. There are many things left to do, all of which will most likely not make the final version for this contest due to time restraints. Some include adding overall more detail, a bit more difference between the huge centrifuge ramp and the rest of the map, adding easter eggs and probably some bugs after I get feedback. If you have any suggestions, tips... let me know, all are very welcome! A HUGE thanks to Shawn Olson, for the Wall Worm Model Tools! In the mean time, ENJOY! GameBanana version: http://gamebanana.com/maps/195847 Workshop link: http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=951672581
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    Andu and I are working on a defusal map called splash (for now). Its still in its early stages and is desperate for some playtesting and feedback! Basic idea of the map is mid as central distribution hub from which the whole map is pretty much accessible. There are two things to spice things up a little: Terrorists have no direct access to mid, which makes it harder for them to get into at first glance - but they can rotate between sites unseen - if the CTs dont pay enough attention. The map is set in a waterpark. Overview Some early screens Workshop: http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=924027103
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    Studio has just had another update today with T Spawn now being finished and final detailing stages being completed on surrounding areas of T Spawn. We've now begun detailing inner route towards B site and will post another update once that area is complete. Special thanks to 3Kliksphilip's Test Server! Without these tests, we would not have been able to receive the final feedback needed for the bombsites. Workshop: http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=810842743 Images of most recent work:
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    Playtesting is now available on Tuesdays again! Since the second Mapcore CS:GO mapping contest has started we have started to receive many more requests for playtesting. Therefore to help cater to this many requests, we will again be testing on Tuesdays as well as the regular Sunday and Thursdays for the duration of the contest! The first Tuesday playtest will therefore take place tomorrow, starting with DE_Abbey. One more slot is free for tomorrow and so if anyone wants to move their test to a closer day send me a message on mapcore / steam, or add a comment on the spreadsheet. Thanks!
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    most impressive so far for me
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    De_Saint is a defuse map set in an urban town in Mexico surrounding a church. The map is still a work in progress so any feedback or suggestions would be appreciated. Workshop link. http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=937775259 Radar. B site. A site. T spawn.
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    Thanks everyone for your thoughts. I had a lot of thinking yesterday and I'm moving on the big studio level design position! I'll confirm everything today with the studio and hope to tell you more about it in the next few days
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    Hey guyz, I found the perfect picture to sum up how I feel about this whole controversy ordeal. Devs said it was post-cyberpunk rather than cyberpunk. I'm not too big on categorizing stuff but it makes sense.
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    it's rather dead unfortunately and there's not enough motivation to get things going, the fact that I stopped caring about csgo and source doesn't help oh, how naive I was here's at least a somewhat interesting picture, rip I do believe @Lajron will push things further and possibly team up with another artist to finish things up.
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    Congrats to our Asian comrades over at Fapcore, for their work on this totally original game
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    I feel like you should earn an Operation Star just for understanding how the operation works. Edit: Lul, a response to being in the earlier operation?
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    And remember, winners don't use carve!
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    Dont forget about our pretty massive dynamic lighting update Whole post
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    I recently visited Naples and the Amalfi Coast for a few days, and it was pretty neat. View from Mount Vesuvius View from Amalfi View from Sorrento Bonus @Lizard Boye I borrowed a Nikon D5100 from a friend for this and my next trip (Lugano in Switzerland). I'm pretty new at taking photos but do you guys maybe have any suggestions on how I could improve my shots?
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    Still working on details for Scepter.. I'm kind of dragging it out at this point. Soon(TM). Here's some handpainted stuff.
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    Terrorists have taken former astronauts hostage in the Apollo space visitor center. SWAT team have arrived to rescue them. Team: @Vaya - Layout/Level design @Vorontsov - Modeller/Asset Designer @JSadones - Environment design/Detailer Overview: Some screenshots: Any feedback is always welcome Download on Steam workshop.
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    My new map for the 2017 contest! This is my new map Merazo, set in the grape vineyards of California (In the United States of America if you didn't know!) Here are some of the first screenshots from my map, some of the areas are still in development but I think I've got the theme down. Workshop version coming soon... Soon
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    back in the game after a long break and managed to do this
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    I think you need to review your stairs
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    It's not allowed to die!
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    Studio has just had another update today with a change to a bombsite size as well as adjustment to route heading towards A Site. Additionally, detailing is being finalised in T Spawn and beginning in areas surrounding the spawn. In addition to this, Studio will live on 3Kliksphilips Test Server for a week while we evaluate final changes to bomb sites. Workshop: http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=810842743 Images of most recent work:
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    Sirius aka the map without any progress through ages The layout has been in development for quite a while and it seems to be pretty solid with only possible minor adjustments in the future. Some untested new gameplay elements were implemented recently. There hasn't been an art pass yet, it's basically a single huge placeholder whereever you look. I am psyched to change this! The contest will mark the kick off of the art pass. Tons of new programs and workflow pipelines are ahead of me and i welcome this challenge. I will be working on this project completely on my own to maximize the learning experience. I hope i can finish this sucker finally this year despite of university exams and several other projects. It's been way too long. http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=535066567
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    started working on this a long long time ago (think I'm commited to complete it), so time to start a wip thread, thought it would be cool and challenging to make a aircraft carrier map, here are some pictures: ct-spawn b-site: neart t-spawn: overview: some concept/mood art: you can download it here: http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=266643219
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    No post about this? Dafaq bois? You must all be too busy playing it. http://www.counter-strike.net/operationhydra/ Congrats everybody! literally too many people to even tag in one post.
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    Nice!!! It felt like we would visit the moon eventually. Awesome style! Also, when you get that perfect pharah flank...