Being massive Half-Life fans, we’re obviously super massive fans of a certain game called Counter-Strike. It’s a pleasure to introduce one of its creators and retro gaming (and, gaming in general) god, Minh Le!
***Check out our Half-Life/Counter Strike special podcast!***
How exactly did you get the opportunity to enter the video game industry?
I started off working on amateur projects in my spare time. I began working on these projects when I was 16 and it all started with the Doom Level editor. After that, Quake 1 and 2 were my next games to work on. iD software were a pioneer in creating community tools that allowed amateurs like myself to delve into game development. In fact, if it wasn’t for these tools, I would never have attempted to become a game developer. I always had the notion that game development was an incredibly complex subject that peons like myself could never get my head around. Being able to play with the Doom level editor and understand the nuts and bolts that make a game motivated me to learn more about game development. I think the industry has matured greatly in this aspect (there are so many tools and engines that are easy to pick up and learn). I believe it’s a large reason why the game development community has grown so quickly over the past few decades.
Do you remember the first ever game and mod you worked on?
Yes, it was Doom.. and my first creation was a level that took place in a prison. It was ridiculously simple, just a box with some guard towers at each corner.
Can you remember how you first got the idea for Counter-Strike and what inspired you to work on this iconic game?
My inspiration for picking the theme of Counter-Strike was borne out of my fascination in the world of counter-terrorism. Part of that was from watching movies such as “Air Force One”, “Ronin” and “Heat”. The gun action in those movies made me want to learn more about firearms and subsequently about the elite forces that use these weapons. I started to research about some of the iconic terrorist incidents such as the Air France hijacking and the SAS embassy siege (probably wouldn’t get away with that these days! – Ed) and it really got me thinking of how it would be awesome to make a game that allowed players to recreate those events. Thus was borne my inspiration for Counter-Strike, a game that put the spotlight on elite forces from around the world that would fight against global terrorism. I tried to include some of the high profile CT units that fascinated me the most, but shied away from portraying real life terrorist factions. I was afraid they would come after me if I misrepresented them (good call – Ed).
Is it true that you were juggling a full-time degree while working on Counter Strike and how did you cope with such huge demand?
My grades suffered.. Lol!
Yes, I was in my third year of a bachelor’s program in Computer Science. I spent more time developing CS than on my schooling but there were times where I was able to use my work from Counter-Strike in my schooling. I took a few computer animation courses where I was able to use some of the characters and weapons from Counter-Strike for my term project. I also took a code in AI where I was able to reuse some code I wrote for CS hostages.
In the early beta versions did you ever set out to make Counter Strike into a fully published title and were you shocked by the almost immediate reaction to your game?
Our (Minh and Jess Cliffe) initial intention was just to make a mod with a decent following. At the time, there were many other popular mods available such as TFC and a few others and we were aiming to try to find a small niche in that crowded mod community. We didn’t fully appreciate the magnitude of how popular CS could be until around BETA 3. I believe it was around that time that Valve came into contact with us.
Were Valve always supportive of your work on Counter Strike and how important were they to push the game forward?
As soon as they contacted us, they were very supportive of our work. They also were very careful not to make us feel uncomfortable. They stressed that we continue to work at our own pace and did not force a bunch of employees on us. They simply said, “Let us know if you need any help with art or programming”. Valve played a key role in promoting CS and helping it to become the phenomenon it is today. Once CS 1.6 was released, they were very careful not to change it too much as they felt it was important to let a competitive community grow around it.
Counter Strike has evolved over the years, leading up to Global Offensive. Do you have a personal favourite version of your iconic game and why do you think it is still so loved around the world?
I personally loved CS BETA 7, if only because it still had a majority of my art and animations. I think it’s remained a popular game because Valve have continued to polish it up graphically and have kept the core gameplay the same. Having a consistent game experience is important in growing a competitive eSports scene. I also think the theme of counter-terrorism is one that resonates with a lot of people around the world, which opens CS up to a broad player base.
Do you have a personal favourite Counter Strike map, weapon and team to play on?
It’s so hard to pick a favourite map as I’ve played literally hundreds of CS maps and enjoyed most of them but if I really had to choose, I’d have to say an old map called “cs_facility”.
It was based off a Goldeneye 64 map (actually, it might have been a 1 to 1 copy ), and I enjoyed it because it had some really intense close quarters combat. As for favourite weapon, I’ve always been partial to the mp5. It was one of the first guns I put in CS and still one of my favourite guns of all time in any game. I also liked the French GIGN the best. I thought they looked the coolest. Though these days, all CT units tend to look the same anyways…
Do you consider yourself a top Counter Strike player and do you still play the game today?
Haha, I was pretty good back in the day. I’d always be in the top five Kills on the servers that I played on. They were mostly just casual pick up games with random strangers. I never got into the clan scene as I never had the time to devote to becoming a professional. I think during my peak CS days, I would play around three hours a day. These days, I don’t play at all. I stopped playing a long time ago, I think around CS:Source. I guess I just grew out of it. To be honest, I prefer games like Battlefield because they have a longer time to kill. When I watch pros play CS, I kinda shake my head and think, I don’t think I’d last a second against these guys. I prefer games where combat lasts more than a fraction of a second.
How close was Counter-Strike 2 to completion and are you disappointed the game was never released?
It was probably only 25% into completion. I think I gave up on it because I feared whatever I put out, was never gonna be accepted by CS players. They were very critical of even the slightest changes and I felt that making a CS2 would handcuff me to the same design choices that were made in CS. I was kinda relieved not to be working on something tied to that namesake as it would have never lived up to people’s expectations.
Why did you choose to leave Valve and can you ever see yourself working on any future Counter-Strike titles in the future?
I left Valve because at the time, there wasn’t any projects that I was interested in working on. I also did not feel comfortable starting my own project and leading a team of people. I was pretty young and didn’t have the confidence to be a leader. I was more comfortable just banging on amateur shit and hoping it would catch on. I felt I’d work better if I just left and worked on mods and hope that one of them would take off again. I don’t think I’d work on anything with the CS namesake attached to it, unless I was paid a huge sum of money 🙂 (hint hint Valve! And get us on board too – Ed).
IGN voted both you and Jess Cliffe as one of the top 100 game creators of all time. How does it feel to receive such high praise for your stellar work?
Hahaha.. I think IGN overstated our greatness. I felt CS’s success had a lot to do with timing than to do with ingenious game design. CS came out at a time when the game industry was fairly young and there was room for a game with a novel theme and crappy graphics to become popular. Trying to recreate that homebrew success in the game industry in 2017 is really difficult because of the sheer abundance of game titles being released. There’s some incredible indie games being released but it’ll be hard for them to become a long lasting phenomenon like CS/Dota/LoL unless they become backed by a large well-funded entity (like Valve or Riot).
What games are you currently working on?
I’m currently working at Facepunch Studios on a game called Rust. It’s an open world survivalist game.
If you could share a few drinks with any video game character who would you choose and why?
Lord British because I spent so much time trying to kill him but failed (in the Ultima series of games). Perhaps I could finally succeed by poisoning his beer (noooooo!! – Ed).
***Check out our Half-Life/Counter Strike special podcast!***