Take Counter Strike, a game that people are still fervently playing some 35 years after its original release, a game with a community so devoted that some won't migrate to patched versions of the same game.
Then, make an expanded and updated version and debut it to a gang of rabid, hardcore professional gamers. Oh, and tell them it's coming to consoles in addition to PC. Welcome to the recent lives of Valve's Ido Magal and Chet Faliszek and their latest project: Counter Strike: Global-Offensive.But we'll get to those hardest of hardcore in a second, Valve has a more pressing question if it wants Counter Strike: GO to be a financial success: How do you attract a new audience that may have already dismissed the game as "too hardcore"?
I'll do my part and provide my absolute beginner one-paragraph guide to Counter-Strike. A team of terrorists and a team of counter-terrorists attempt to either complete a mission (plant a bomb, free a hostage) or stop the opposing force from doing so by letting the clock run down or killing them all. A solid performance nets you cash which you can spend before each round to buy new gear.
During my brief demo at PAX, CS:GO didn't appear to deviate much at all from the classic formula (though it looked far better than it has in any other iteration). But how do you convince newbies to hop on a train that's been running for over a decade?
The plan is simple: Highly-refined skill matching, which allows newbies to grow into their CS:GO skills without feeling overwhelmed. They won't always win, but they'll understand when they don't.
"Counter Strike is distilled down to being about skill and your ability to defeat your opponent. When you lose, you lost because of your actions. You made bad decisions. As you get better, it'll be clear to you, you'll be matched with better players," Faliszek said.
"It's ... daunting," Magal admits with a laugh.
Magal chimes in, "So the flipside is that we've lowered the skill floor, so you can get in and have fun without having to compete with really good players. Since we're doing skill-based matchmaking we can make a good experience for new players and more experienced players."
Part of the plan for new players is Counter-Strike: GO's casual mode, which provides a lot more money to the terrorists and counter-terrorists so they can always use the loadout that suits their play style.
It doesn't hurt that Counter-Strike: GO is getting a lot of tuning to make sure that playing with controllers feels right. As I discovered during my PAX East demo, Valve's already made some pretty incredible progress on that front. That's right: Valve showed off its brand new game to the vocally opinionated PAX crowd running on 360 and exclusively with controllers. Though the line to play had its naysayers, I saw no one turning away from their demo without a smile on their face. It feels ... well, it feels like Counter-Strike.
Of course, Valve still has that far more ... vocal audience to contend with, the hardcore who've spent more than a decade learning the intricacies of the seminal team shooter.
"It's ... daunting," Magal admits with a laugh. "Our very first showing was to pro players. We brought them in and said 'we want your feedback on something you've never heard of before.' We sat them down and played and they gave us a lot of good feedback."
That cycle of testing and feedback is one that will define Counter-Strike: GO over the next ... however long it takes.
"We're going to have an open beta on the PC," Faliszek said. "So when we talk release date, we literally can not tell you a release date because we're going to have the beta and incorporate the feedback from the beta, and then test the beta more. It'll be closer to what you'll see to a beta period in RTS games, where you really are getting feedback from the community and making those changes."
Faliszek knows that as much tweaking as his team will have to do, he's got a huge headstart in working with one of the most perfectly balanced video games ever made -- as 12 years of history can attest.
"Counter-Strike is baseball. Stats from 100 years ago can still be compared to today, because it's the same game. Obviously baseball diamonds have changed, the players have changed, but what you're doing [hasn't]. Counter-Stike: GO will still be the same game."