Minh "Gooseman" Le is the co-creator of the ubiquitous PC shooter Counter-Strike. He’s also the creator of a new game, the multiplayer, free to play first-person shooter Tactical Intervention, which looks a lot like Counter-Strike. I sat down with him at GDC and found out why that isn’t a bad thing.
Le has been working on Tactical Intervention for seven years. Its team-oriented, terrorist versus counter-terrorist framework is familiar ground, but the devil is in the details for Le, who describes his new game as “exactly what I wanted to do with Counter-Strike.”
Tactical Intervention (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [Previewed], PC)
Developer: FIX Korea
If my intuition is any good, the words “free to play” elicit trepidation among many. However, Le initially designed the game as a standalone retail release and noted that he didn’t really have to change anything when adopting the free to play model; he simply had to make sure the prices were right. There isn’t necessary grinding (you can hold your own with the base loadout), nor is there gating that might causing a disparity between paying and non-paying players, as the best gun in the game doesn’t have an unfair damage bonus compared to the entry level arsenal. A lot of attention was paid to preserving the balance in gameplay and almost all of the buyable things can be unlocked simply by earning points through playing the game.
Between Le showing me the game and playing it for myself, I was impressed by how various elements of the design facilitate its specific styles of gameplay. Tactical Intervention is frenetic. The quarters on the maps I played were close and there was always something to do, cutting down on the amount of time spent wandering around looking for someone to kill. Accordingly, the HUD’s radar rests right in the middle of the screen as a partially translucent, circular ring. Enemies appear on it as red dots, allies as green dots, and dogs (more on them later) as blue dots. The system is intuitive and helps keep focus on the action front and center.
There are also some integral strategic elements peppered throughout the game to keep players active when they aren’t shooting. There are incendiary grenades that can be used to strategically block access through certain corridors, as well as fire extinguishers that can be used to put out fires. Doors can be breached with an explosive charge; that same charge can also double as a mine, as it can be placed anywhere and its countdown increased to explode after a longer period of time or it can be exploded manually by shooting it. The first map I played also had propane tanks, which you can throw into a crowded room and shoot, causing it to fly about wildly and knock people over.
In addition to the terrorist and counter-terrorist factions, certain maps (two of the three I played) are also heavily populated with frazzled, terrified hostages. The CTs’ aim is to save hostages, simply by going up to them and holding the use key, as opposed to actively escorting them anywhere, while the terrorists can use them as human shields and give them a smack with the barrel of their guns to keep them docile. Both sides can also have up to two dogs! Though they use German shepherds and not corgis, the dogs are pretty cool. They can be sent anywhere you aim them with a click and they will automatically attack any enemies and they can also act as sentries who will bark to alert you when an enemy is coming from an otherwise unwatched corridor.
Le noted that standard team death match tends to be deceptively individualistic; accordingly, a few other interesting design decisions really seem to facilitate teamwork in addition to inherent requirements of objective-based game modes. Healing your allies requires one button press and they are healed quickly, while being surrounded by teammates actually yields an accuracy bonus, both encouraging sticking together. CTs even have impenetrable shields that prevent them from firing, but can be used to protect teammates. Similarly, one of the bigger maps I played had an encouraged route denoted by a red line, which is a great idea for helping to guide newcomers and keeping people from speeding off every which way at the start of less coordinated matches.
The maps I played also introduced their own quirks to the gameplay. The second shown was a vehicular section in which the CTs must chauffer and protect a VIP to a certain point while the terrorists try to kill him. Vehicles can be exited, tires shot out, whole vehicles exploded, new vehicles stolen, and so on. I didn’t play this map, so I can’t speak to the driving mechanics, but it seemed an interesting twist.
The third, which I played, takes place on two floors of an under construction, high rise building. While the terrorists always spawn somewhere near center in the map, with the hostages, CTs can choose where they spawn, including on the building’s roof. From there, you can rappel down the side of the building and walk about until you find your desired point of entry. Playing Spiderman, as fun as it is, can be dangerous though, as you’re limited to the pistol when hanging off the building and you have no cover. The game is set to ship with several maps and a new map will be released each month, including some less claustrophobic ones.
From what I saw, Tactical Intervention is indeed the logical evolution of the straightforward, well-designed Counter-Strike formula that Le believes it to be. The game was fast, frenzied, and fun, while the free to play model and its low barrier of entry could definitely help give it legs, providing easy access to both newcomers and cautious Counter-Strike vets.