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Cldrn: New (but old) maps of hell

By Duncan 'Thorin' Shields
Jul 15, 2011 02:55


ImageThe Cauldron takes a look at the additions of mirage and forge to the competitive map pool and why this is the wrong approach to bringing progress to the world of CS.

"The Cauldron" is a column which addresses topical concerns, expresses opinions not represented elsewhere or holds court on matters which have been bubbling away inside me.

The news is out and the fix is in. Counter-Strike competition worldwide will see the addition of mirage and forge to the map pool as Dreamhack, ESL, WCG, ESWC and e-Stars have all made a pact to introduce those maps all at once to competitive play. Immediately the social media world was alight with people throwing out words like "progress" and phrases like "CS needs this" as though it were self-evident that these maps were harbingers of some new golden age of CS. Indeed the implication was even that we currently live in some kind of dark age which has long needed to be brought to an end.

Far from it in my opinion. Counter-Strike has never been as rich, varied, entertaining and exciting as it is right now since the change from 1.3. The number of different styles which can find success and be effective right now as well as the number of countries with teams which are able to gain some degree of competitive status is inspiring and delightful to experience. Yet along come those who would know better than you or I and who have decided mirage and forge are part of the future of Counter-Strike. I'll go into my main reasons as to why I think this is entirely the wrong approach to introducing new maps to the map pool.

1. CS doesn't need new maps, it needs good maps

People seem to be operating under the assumption that new is always better. They haven't just said that it would be nice to add some more maps to the map pool, rather they've said they had CS "needs" it and that this is progress. Not all maps are suitable for competitive play at the highest level. Is that really something which needed to be stated? By the same logic of something new being good then adding in terrible old maps like prodigy and aztec would have merit, just as would adding in newer abominations like the Arbalet sponsored hell or ESEA crapfest lite.

Not only are those maps not good but they're also not better than the maps we already have in the map pool, that's why their inclusion would not be a good thing. The same applies to forge and mirage. It's not that CS needs new maps, it needs good maps. If a map is good then it doesn't matter how old it is, it should be played. The only circumstance in which that is not true is if a better map can be found to replace it, which we'll get to later.

Imageforge and mirage have not shown themselves to be good maps by any stretch of the imagination. Everytime a high level matchup at Dreamhack has been drawn on mirage there has a tangible sense of how underwhelming that matchup then became. When SK faced fnatic in Group B who wouldn't have rather seen them play that out on train, nuke or inferno? When Na`Vi met mTw in Group A who wouldn't have preferred to see them fighting it out on train, tuscan or inferno?

Those scenarios were annoying but at least they were only group stage games in an event which isn't considered on the level of the IEM WC, ESWC or WCG. Now imagine the world which is coming with mirage and forge in the map pools of all of those tournaments. Consider the possibility which now exists of major international tournaments with huge implications on players' CS legacies being decided on mirage or forge as the final map of a Bo3 final.

Sure both teams could agree to throw each of those maps during the selection process but that's not a good thing, that's essentially the teams admitting those maps are terrible and not appropriate to play in a final. If those are good maps then teams should allow them to remain in the map pool and potentially be picked. This is actually a completely unique, and terrifying, situation which CS has never encountered before. Even tournaments such as the CPL which featured maps players did not agree with or like for a number of years, from old maps like aztec to their own creations like fire, never made the mistake of allowing the finals or the most significant matches to be played out on those maps. The upper bracket finals, lower bracket finals and grand finals were always played out on one of the four agreed good maps (nuke, train, inferno and dust2)

Think back to Na`Vi vs. mTw in the WCG 2010 Final and now imagine that third map isn't train but forge instead. Still as epic? Still as exciting? Still as interesting as you know both teams extensive histories on the map, their strengths, their weaknesses and how they matchup? Of course not. To even suggest that would be silly.

"Think back to Na`Vi vs. mTw in the WCG 2010 final and now imagine that third map isn't train but forge instead. Still as epic? Still as exciting?"
Now how about the final of the IEM III Global Final in which fnatic were crowned World Champions and began their amazing 2009 run thanks to a tense and thrilling victory over MYM.pl on nuke in which both teams completely inverted the biases of the map with phenomenal terrorist play. Go back and mentally replace that map with mirage instead. Still one of the best finals ever? A worthy environment to decide a matchup between two of the all time great lineups in a major final? I think not.

If a new map is not good then an older map which has been proven time and time again to be good (such as one of the original four) is a better choice. To play the bad map instead of the good map purely because the bad map is new is not progress of any kind, in fact quite the opposite.

2. Add maps with potential, don't polish turds.

You know that old and crude, but logical, saying that you can't polish a turd? This is an area that most definitely applies. It's one thing for teams to be unfamiliar with a map and simply to not have realised how good it is due to not practicing it at all. In such a scenario there could be a case made for playing such a map. It's a completely separate issue though if teams have played maps and those maps have shown to be lacking in potential and not capable of showcasing high level Counter-Strike. This is where forge and mirage fall flat on their faces. forge was used in a number of CEVO seasons online and the matches showed no promise that this was a map with potential for showing the best of what CS competition can be. Add in that forge is simply a reworked version of cbble, one of the worst maps of all time, and little more need be said regarding that map.

mirage is a reworked version of strike, a CPL map from 2004. Again that map was used in online play, and even in the early rounds of CPL Winter 2004, but was shown to be something of a joke map without real promise. The tweaks made to mirage have not improved matters much at all. This isn't a discussion of the specific structural failures of each of those maps so I will forgo those in favour of sticking to points of the philosophy and logic behind the decision to include them in our map pools.
"The problem here is not adding new maps which nobody knows and thus might be good. The problem is adding old maps which didn't show any promise and thus would be borderline miraclous if they somehow turned out to be worthwhile maps."

The problem here is not adding new maps which nobody knows and thus might be good. The problem is adding old maps which didn't show any promise and thus would be borderline miraclous if they somehow turned out to be worthwhile maps. What is magically going to be discovered about either map that wasn't already in those years of play which will make them entertaining, competitive and capable of showcasing high levels of skill?

If we're going to have new maps then let's have maps which actually are new and have some potential to them. Remember ESL telling us they had spent €500,000 on their new anti-cheat system? Can none of these organisations afford a few hundred dollars to get a new map made which fits competitive play and can be playtested by top tier teams? Apparently the answer is no, and instead they must go rummaging through the drawers for two bad old maps with new makeup jobs to present to the public as some drastic new breakthrough for CS.

You can take an average map and potentially make it a little better by grinding off the rough edges and tweaking a few areas to make it more dynamic. You can't take a bad map and make it good. The failed concepts, structural flaws and lack of suitable dynamics are what makes a map bad and there is not enough ingenuity in this world to counteract all of those issues. Not to mention that level of effort and thought would be better put towards making a good map from scratch.

3. There is no time for these maps to improve.
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There is an argument which is heard often whenever some drastic change is made which is essentially an appeal to "give it time" as though just allowing some time to pass will let the new thing flourish into some incredible asset none of us had been able to appreciate before. The problem here is that that is not how CS maps work. Let's first of all consider the current map pool of CS: nuke, inferno, train, dust2 and tuscan. Take out tuscan for a moment, since it was added years after the others, and we're left with what I'd call the 'original four good maps'. Four maps which have been proven for a decade to be the maps which best showcased skill, strategy and teamplay in competitive Counter-Strike tournaments.

These maps did not take time to be acknowledged as the best suited maps, they did not need room to breathe or people to be forced to practice them. They existed from the beginning of Counter-Strike's time as the main competitive LAN game (late 2001) and were always the maps players and fans wanted to see played in the big games. Despite events like the CPL running large map pools containing the likes of prodigy, aztec, cbble, fire and mill these were the maps people knew from day 1 were the best maps. Each map has retained its side baises since the beginning of competive play, most of the original effective tactics still work in an entertaining and dynamic way and all of them have shown room for hundreds of other approaches or sub-tactics which have helped keep them alive as the best maps in CS history.

The approach was never to throw these maps at people one day and tell them they had to play them and that they would help CS. The map pool was huge and people eventually got sick of seeing games played on poorly suited maps, think of the much anticipated NiP vs. SK.swe on cbble at CPL Winter 2005, and thus progress came in the form of reducing the map pool and throwing out the bad maps. Fancy that: throwing out bad maps and sticking with really good maps which showcase the best of what CS has to offer.
"The map pool was huge and people eventually got sick of seeing games played on poorly suited maps, think of the much anticipated NiP vs. SK.swe on cbble at CPL Winter 2005"

Then along came tuscan. Now here is a good example of a map being introduced in the correct way. First of all tuscan is a reworked version of mill which, due to copyright reasons, could not be used in non-CPL tournaments. mill was one of the few maps added to the map pool that did not come with Counter-Strike by default which actually managed to establish itself as an ok addition, though I would certainly not consider it on the level of train, nuke or inferno. The main reason European teams initially did not like mill was because they were forced to play it in tournaments in the lower bracket despite the fact nobody outside of America ever played/practiced the map since it was only used in CAL and CPL. When teams actually played and practiced it more than once per tournament they found it was a decent map, nothing spectacular but capable of hosting competitive games.

Association with the CPL kept mill out of other tournament pools but the creation of tuscan, and its use in EPS, allowed it to eventually join the map pool and create a five map pool, which also allowed the era of our current selection system for Bo3s. The key thing to note there is not that mill had been played and its potential had not been developed because in fact it wasn't until it had been played that its potential was developed. forge and mirage have both been played enough, especially adding in the histories of cbble and strike, that this is not the same scenario at all. Teams have played the matches and the outcomes were not at all impressive.

"So which is it? Is CS dying or do we have 2-3 more years for these maps to show their supposed merit?"
Now let's add in a final piece of context to colour our perspective on the time these maps can be given: CS' future is not certain. Personally I do not subscribe to the opinion that CS will, and has to, die in the near future. I think a lot of that is misguided cynicism, frustration with the success of newer games or people who are spinning their own self-fulfilling prophecies. Nevertheless it is many of the same people who have been telling you every year "this is CS' last year" that are now telling you that the addition of these maps is a good thing and that we should "give them time". What time would that be? If you're telling me CS will be dead in one year then there isn't any time for these maps to flourish and become ingrained enough for advanced tactical understandings to be brought to them and fleshed out, if that is even possible.

So which is it? Is CS dying or do we have 2-3 more years for these maps to show their supposed merit? Let's also mention, to close this point out, that even if those maps did somehow show some merit and worth what are the chances they will prove to be more suited than maps like nuke, train or inferno, which could have been played but weren't due to forge or mirage being selected? Is that risk really worth it for the sake of adding them in and calling it progress?

4. If a maps is good enough then replace another map with it.

If a new map is good enough then there's no reason to keep the old map at all. Let's remove that map and play the new good map. If we want CS to progress, whatever that actually means, and we have to change maps then let's find good maps and replace the old ones with them. That was the problem you claimed right? That we were still playing the old maps? Of course that doesn't work whatsoever since firstly nobody is suggesting maps which are good enough, even under the criteria of the old maps which immediately showed themselves to be excellent. So we can't replace those old maps, instead we keep the old maps and add in these new crap maps. That's essentially an admission that those maps aren't better than even one of the old maps. If that's the case then why are we playing them at all?

5. There needs to be a system to the selection and a structure to the map pool.

If it were only down to me I could make a case for an even smaller map pool which in my opinion would increase the excellence required to win major tournaments. Of course it isn't only down to me and I am not married to the idea that there can never be more than 3-4 good maps for competition. There needs to be a structure though. That will require constant creation of maps so that each time a tournament is set to change the pool it has the option of 4-5 new maps, which have all been playtested, from which to select a new map or two. Then these can injected into the map pool, with the two least important maps being removed each time. If we had two new maps which showed promise I would have no problem giving up dust2 and tuscan, maps which have proven to lean too much to variable results and the better team winning less often, in favour of giving them a try.

Look at a game like Brood War where the leagues themselves are involved in having maps developed by professionals and then each season they tweak their map pools. Sure, sometimes a map proves not to work at all but at least it can then be removed and replaced with a different map. On top of that there are always a few maps in the pool which everyone knows works and can produce stellar matchups. It's not enough to simply foist two maps on us and tell us they have to work and there's no two ways about it. This needs to be a system which adapts to competitive play as it continues to evolve.

"Once a map proves to have potential for play at the highest level then it can be introduced to the international LAN circuit."
If new maps are going to be introduced then how about the worldwide leagues introducing them first, not the major international LANs. EPS, ESEA and the like would be the appropriate place to test these maps out. Places where teams will practice a map for an upcoming opponent and games still mean enough to make them play seriously but not too much that a bad map can completely ruin the legacy a specific tournament has. Once a map proves to have potential for play at the highest level then it can be introduced to the international LAN circuit. That would be real progress.

Conclusion

When I think of the great finals and series of all time I can look back across ten years of CS and despite changes in the evolution of competitive play, versions of CS and the talent pool of competitors I can find a stablising force in knowing these finals took place on the best suited maps in CS. In this way there is a legitimacy about AGAiN defeating fnatic on nuke and train in the WCG 2009 final in the same way there was when NiP beat X3 on nuke in the CPL Winter 2001 final.
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When I see an incredible FX terrorist side nuke performance I can contrast and compare it to the way SK.swe of 2003 broke down that side of the map. When a team like Na`Vi comes along and showcases godlike train CT play I can think back to the mTw team of 2009 dismantling MYM.pl 15-0 on their CT side and see the way the game has developed and the Na`Vi players have picked up influences, consciously or subconsciously, from the past.

With new, and bad, maps added to the map pool all of this is lost. You're not going to look at n0thing playing a spot on forge and be able to think back to the hundreds of top players who have played that spot before him effectively and immerse yourself in that rich and intoxicating history simultaneous to watching a player in the here and now try to make that spot work for him.

If we were giving all of that up for some maps which had the potential to become even greater, or at least as good, and take the game to a higher lever in every respect then perhaps the gamble would be worth it. But for forge and mirage? To potentially let a major event be decided on two discarded bad maps with new lipstick and a facelift? Shame on anyone who would give up what makes Counter-Strike great in the hopes of grasping at the miniscule chance of some hereto imagined progress.


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