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August 2012

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and yours truly

It’s the silencer on the colt that I first notice.

Later on I notice other things. The muddy directional sound and how I can’t tell where the bullet spray is coming from as easily as I could in 1.6. The missing VIP maps. How de_dust now has a stairway that leads up to the tunnel from the underpass. The AK-47′s recoil being ever so slightly off.

Like I said, though, it’s the silencer on the colt that I first notice. It’s gone for no ascertainable reason and I can’t understand what the game developers were thinking when they axed it. Throughout the series of matches I play, I hit my right mouse button absently several times–the action that would add or remove the silencer.

But it does nothing. It’s become a phantom limb, vestigial muscle memory from 2001.

I hit my right mouse button again and bite my lower lip. Finally I ask my friend if he noticed the silencer’s removal.

I don’t know why I do this. I mean, I already know the answer. Yes, he did. Yes, it makes no sense. Yes, this sucks. As someone with a similar background–thousands of hours into Counter-strike 1.6, the type of person who scrimmed religiously years ago–it would be hard not to notice something this small yet so big.

“This isn’t Counter-strike,” he says finally. I sigh and hit my right mouse button again.

Of course it isn’t. We both installed it dreading that it wouldn’t be the Counter-Strike we fell in love with, so while it’s a disappointment, it’s no surprise that it isn’t.

Just like how it’s no surprise that for an outsider, it is Counter-Strike. They don’t remember the Counter-Strike we do.

Counter-Strike was genre defining experience for people that are now in their early to mid-twenties. It was an entire culture, spawned off the early 2000′s and the progression of the first person shooter genre whilst coming to age as a gamer. While console gamers had their Halo or Call of Duty, PC gamers had their Quake or Counter-Strike. These games built us into the FPS gamers we are today and game you sided with flavored your view on FPS games for years to come.

On the flipside, though, if you didn’t experience it–if you somehow missed the FPS movement–Counter-Strike is meaningless and CS:GO will fill your needs perfectly as a tense shooter. Because, ultimately, it is a good game. It’s just not a brilliant one.

In many ways, to understand my love for Counter-Strike and its unexpectedly successful mod origins is to understand my entire gaming history. As much as I grew up on Street Fighter II Turbo or as much as I discovered the RTS genre through StarCraft, Counter-Strike shaped my entire thirst for competitive gaming. It whet my pallette for multikills, spawn camping, and trash talking. It brought me into competitive gaming–to my following the Korean StarCraft scene back in 2004 and to getting world firsts in World of Warcraft in 2006.

It opened my eyes. I was only thirteen, but I played a thousand hours of Counter-Strike before Steam even existed. In junior high, I made my first meaningful friendships on cs_militia on the servers I used to frequent. I remember when eSports was just starting to take hold in North America and I tried to qualify for CAL. I modified config files for the perfect sensitivity for the best aim. I went to my first LAN event with an actual clan.

I even purchased my first gaming mouse–all in the name of CS 1.5.

So I’m being honest when I say that Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is a good game in a brilliant series. But I’m being more honest when I say it’s not a good game to me–to us–to a generation of hardcore Counter-Strike players. It’s been years and this is what we get: a hollow reiteration. A great game in the wake of something awesome that withstood a decade of time. A great game that could have been a whole lot more.

Ultimately what we got after a lot of hype was a fun distraction in some ways, an overhyped novelty in another. Seeing de_dust2 in 2012′s graphics is like seeing my childhood reimagined and the first few minutes blow my mind, but then what? De_dust2 looked this way in my head, when I memorized the different routes and the corners to hide in for each bombsite a decade ago, and now it really looks this way on my computer. I can see the dust fly from the sand with every step my teammates make and count every tile on the vivid mosiac on ornate columns in bombsite’s tunnel.

But there’s no silencer on the colt. And although I’m undoubtedly very rusty, I can still tell the bullets don’t connect with their target the same way. Plus there’s a molotov cocktail that lights the entire tunnel ablaze in one fluid motion and I resent it intensely as it ends the threat of narrow hallways and determined campers around every corner in a cavalcade of fire.

It’s just not the same game that held up for years–the same game that is still played competitively at Dreamhack.

But again, I don’t know why I’m so surprised. Maybe it’s time the outsiders had their turn at Counter-Strike. Maybe it’s time I took off the rose-tinted glasses. Maybe it’s time I played a round of de_dust and didn’t think of when I was thirteen for once.

Maybe. But would it really have killed them to stay closer to the source material by keeping that silencer on the M4A1?

(Read this post over at PC Gamer for a way better review. I’m so emotional about CS:GO that this explains it 20x better.)

And if it will be, it will be with you

I’m listening to Bloc Party’s latest album Four. It’s been an album I’ve been really hyped for over the past years. Sometimes I pick up bands from ex-boyfriends, sometimes I pick them up from friends, and sometimes I discover them. I discovered Bloc Party and I loved everything about them and they’re going to always have a special place in my heart.

So yeah, Four is a disappointing album. It’s mostly about a break-up. It’s hard to tell if it’s the band’s eventual break-up, falling back into love with the music, or if it’s between a girl and a boy. It’s sad with an underlying current of hope in nearly every song; some of the songs are about falling in love, some of them are about falling out of love. The lyrics are actually pretty good, some of their best.

Almost every song sucks, though, from a sound perspective. The sound is harsher and lazier, they’re devolving from their Silent Alarm days; they’re a lot less fluid, a lot more rushed, and a lot less consistent. Rushed can be okay sometimes; I mean, Intimacy was rushed, but it was truly beautiful barring a few tracks.

This CD is the opposite. It is ugly. It is a break-up. It is every feeling you have when you either bring someone into your heart or cut them out.

Here are the only songs worth listening to:

“Real Talk”I was so sure, I was faulty and not able to love / But then you crept up on me while I was dreaming
“V.A.L.I.S.”I can hear, I can hear him from my future / Show, show, show show me you gotta show me the way
“Truth”So I am yours now respectfully / I am yours now truthfully
“Mean (bonus)”Sometimes when you are sleep I get the strangest feeling / Of all the things I could do whilst you lay

These four songs are really good. Some of Bloc Party’s best. It’s just a shame the rest of the album falls short.

Tell me one thing you would never do

I was having a talk about what I do for work last night and it was a sudden, positive talk that’s still lingering with me as I go throughout my work day. It made me realize that a lot of my friends have no idea what I actually do for work. I’m “that Wowhead chick” (or LolKing, if they’re of the Summoner’s Rift variety).

It also made me realize I have no idea how I ended up here.

When I was younger, my dream job was operating a cash register. No, I’m not joking, it really was. I owned a real cash register stuffed full of real change and fake bills. I loved playing store. I owned fake fruit and flowers. Sometimes I would take the cans down from our shelves in the kitchen and pretend to ring them up then put them in paper bags we kept around the house. I printed receipts, my mom gave me old Visa cards to slide through my fake credit card swipe, and I would “sell” dry goods and fake food for hours. I kept inventory, I wrote receipts, and I even made gift certificates. Office Depot and Office Max made hundreds of dollars from me and my love of carbon copy papers.

Then I decided by age nine that I was going to be a teacher instead of a cashier. Our first computer, back in 1995, was a goldmine for creativity: it came with Microsoft Access, which meant it had thousands of potential databases I could make. I made a fake school with dozens of fake students; I made tests, report cards, and grade books; and I even wrote answer keys. I would get the test questions from the variety of books around the house, like my “How do Castles Work” book, and then I would get a variety of pens and fill them all out in different handwriting styles and colors. I’d put different answers for each student, adopting a persona. And finally I’d grade them, load up my Access database, and print out their report cards.

At age twelve, I discovered HTML. I loved HTML and I ended up loving Photoshop even more. I made so many websites and I learned so much. A fansite to a Resident Evil character, a layout based off Cowboy Bebop, a mixtape exchange site. Eventually I even made websites for my school–from my debate club to the environmental committee at one of my colleges. Then I even made websites like Girls Don’t Game or Hellmode, moderately popular blogs to showcase my writing.

But throughout all of this, I was pretty deadset on being a lawyer. I still felt I had to do that life path and I worked for it to some degree; I took the right classes, I volunteered for the Coalition Against Domestic Violence where I got valuable work experience, and I wrote countless essays about war, famine, and political regimes.

Until one day I woke up and I didn’t want to do it anymore. At all. The internships I was applying for seemed pointless, the TA position I nearly got frustratingly political, and the idea of spending that much time in school daunting. When a friend got me a job in the video game industry so I wasn’t unemployed at twenty (love you Suzie!) she inadvertently gave me something I was naturally good at and had been practicing for years.

She inadvertently gave me keys to an entire kingdom I was too afraid to access: a job where my sole job was to help make a game and market it, to create its manual and pitch it to companies to publish it. Within a year, I helped get that game on Steam and Direct2Drive as well as Stardock. I wrote comparisons, I researched social games, and I took to the entire process like a fish to water.

I had a job where suddenly my time spent on de_dust mattered. My knowledge about Steam’s early years paid off. Where knowing what a hundred different game manuals look like helped me build our own in my own style.

Think about it: I used to make databases, edit code, and write. A lot. Not only that, I spent my teen years crawling around on the internet and building websites plus fostering communities. I also have put in tens of thousands of hours of gaming–from Counter-strike to Final Fantasy VII, I’ve played it all.

I was basically made to manage a community, to create and cultivate sites–especially those pertaining to video games. It was a huge passion of mine and I never knew it until then. The years I spent in my other job and the time spent here at ZAM taught me that there’s nothing else I’d rather do.

I have this pretty vivid memory of my childhood. We just bought Warcraft II and I was enamored with its manual. You know, video game manuals back then were gorgeous. Drawings of Orcs and Trolls everywhere. I remember reading it, I remember carrying it in my bag to school and opening its wrinkled pages during my history class. That manual and me were totally in a loving, exclusive relationship for at least a year.

But most importantly, I remember opening the manual one day, and saying I wanted to do that for a living. I pointed to a little blurb about what an Orc was. I wanted to write about Orcs and Humans and I wanted it to pay my bills. I wanted nothing more than to be paid to celebrate Warcraft’s existence.

It’s funny how life turns out, isn’t it?

P.S. Sorry for not touching this place for over a month. Worst blogger NA, no problem.

2012 - Modified Rockwell theme. Background from League of Legends and it's copyright to Riot Games.