Interview with Counter-Strike creator Minh Le

We had a chat with one of the original creators of Counter-Strike.

On the occasion of Counter-Strike’s 25th anniversary – the first beta was released on June 19, 1999 – we had a chat with Minh «Gooseman» Le. Together with Jess Cliffe, they created the first version of what would eventually define both a genre for online team play and modern esports.

Counter-Strike was the first truly large internet game, bringing people together far beyond what Quake and Quake II managed. Servers sprang up around Norwegian student towns, at companies, with internet providers – simply everywhere that had a better internet connection than the analog modems of the time at 33.6k and 56k (or for those who were really fancy, a digital line at 64kbit or 128kbit with single or dual ISDN).

For many of us who played in the Norwegian Counter-Strike community at the very end of the 90s and the beginning of the 2000s, this became our everyday life. Lifelong friendships begun, QuakeNet became huge because everyone hung out there to find someone to play matches against, CPL was the pinnacle of esports, and ClanBase was the site where everyone wanted the top ranked spot.

If you haven’t already been transported back in time and can hear the sound of a modem connecting to the internet, we hereby set off in the time machine and have a chat about what the inspiration was, and how the transition to a new gaming everyday life with Steam was experienced from the inside.

While is a Norwegian site, we do have some content in English. Mainly interviews with various people from the video game industry.

CPL Europe 2003 in Copenhagen.

How and when did you come up with the core idea for the Half-Life mod, later to be known as Counter-Strike?
I came up with the idea of Counter-Strike in 1998. I was inspired by many of the old arcade games that I used to play, such as Virtua Cop, Time Crisis. I was also heavily inspired by movies such as HK action movies (John Woo), and Hollywood movies such as Heat, Ronin, Air Force One and the Tom Clancy movies in the 90s.

When did you understand how big Counter-Strike had become?
I realized around CS Beta 3 that Counter-Strike had grown to a level that I was not expecting. That’s when I realized the huge potential to make CounterStrike the best multiplayer FPS of the time.

Counter-Strike was also one of the first games that played in rounds – where players were out for the round after being killed – which was quite unusual for the time. What was the main inspiration behind this choice compared to the more popular death-match style of multiplayer at the time?
The idea of the round based gameplay was actually a concept that I borrowed from a previous game I had worked on called ,Action Quake2. I noticed that not being able to respawn forced me to play differently and encouraged teamplay, so I knew that was the best feature to add to Counter-Strike. This feature as well as the balanced design of the maps is the main reason CS is such a team focused game.

CPL Europe 2003 in Copenhagen.

Any favourite map from the old days?
CS_Siege, cs_facility, were some of my favourite maps. I also really wanted to love cs_747 but I think having linear maps was really bad for gameplay.

Which map became far more popular than what you expected?
I think DE_Dust took all of us by surprise. We never thought it was that special when we first playtested it, but we were pleasantly surprised to see it become the standard CounterStrike map. The mapper who made de_dust was extremely intelligent and spent a lot of time tweaking the design of de_dust to make it fun and balanced.

Counter-Strike was probably the largest reason for people signing up for Steam – what do you remember from that transition period?
The transition period was actually pretty difficult as there were a lot of technical issues that required the players to learn a new system of browsing for servers. Thankfully, we had a lot of help from the community as many people wrote helpful guides to help the transition go smoothly. I remember Steam had a lot of stability issues in the early days and there was several days where players could not even log in to play the game.

What surprised you most about how the players approached the game that you never had thought above before the release?
I was surprised at the number of mods that appeared that transformed the game into an entirely different experience, like the surf mode which allowed players to glide across maps. I was also surprised by the fact that many players prefered to play with less players on each team. Originally we had teams of 12 vs 12, and eventually the size of the teams became smaller. I guess it was because players didn’t like the chaos of having so many players on a small map.

[MESED]plaz in action.
Do you regret anything from the original game, like guns, maps, layouts?
I regret not balancing some of the weapons, such as the AWP. I think it gets overused and has become a bit of a meta gun.

How was the transition from being a mod to becomming part of the Valve team?
It was very humbling because I viewed Valve with such high regard. I learned a lot from working at Valve because I got to work with some of the best game developers in the industry and they taught me some skills I would never have learned outside of Valve.

In retrospect, are you happy with the terms on selling the rights to valve?
Yes, I’m happy with how things turned out with Valve, with regards to selling the IP to them. They have done a great job of maintaining the legacy of CS.

What do you think of e-sports today, and have you been following any majors?
I actually never got into E-Sports as I was far too busy as a game developer to pay attention to it. I find it very cool that people can make a living from playing the game competitively and I have met some very cool people in the eSports industry.

What do you think of the defuse maps becoming the de-facto standard for competitive Counter-Strike?
I think it makes perfect sense that defuse was the standard game format for competitions. It was simply the most balanced game mode. I really tried to make the other game modes work better for eSports but it was simply not possible given the strict requirements of competitive matches.

Are there any easter eggs still not discovered in the mod or later in the game?
Nope, I was far too busy fixing bugs and adding features. I never had time to add easter eggs…

CPL Europe 2003 in Copenhagen.

ex_interp at 0.1 or 0.01?
oh wow, you stumped me. I have no idea what this console command does :)

You mentioned Action Quake, what was your role during the development of the mod?
I created most of the weapons for Action Quake. I modeled them and animated them. I also created a few of the character models.

And how involved were you with the id Software team when they included it in the Quake II: Internet Pack No. 1?
I wasn’t really involved at all. They just asked us for our permission and we said yes. We didn’t have to do anything on our part.

Did you play a lot of Quake befor you started making mods?
Yes, very much so. I played Doom a ton and when Quake was released, I played the hell out of it. It was a huge phenomenon that took the game industry by storm and I was super happy when they released the tools allowing us to modify it.

Also, do you have any cool picture or sketches during the Counter-Strike days, or pictures of cool merchandise we can use in the article?
Unfortunately, I’m not very nostalgic and never kept any images from my CS days. I did however had some really cool merchandise made for another game of mine called Tactical Intervention (which I released in 2011).

Tactical Intervention

We here at Spillhistorie are very grateful that Minh Le took the time to have a chat with us!

Article by Retrogamingpappa and Mats Lindh.