Minh Le of Counter Strike team

Half-Life mod's designer interviewed

In real life he is Minh Le, a recent graduate from Simon Fraser University with a degree in Computing Sciences. On the net though he is better known as "Gooseman", head of the Counter-Strike team, as well as lead modeller and coder for the project.

We had a quick word with him to find out more about the mod, Half-Life, and what he has planned for the future...

Bigger Than JC?

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Largin' it on an oil rig

The best user-made add-ons for first person shooters are often better than the original games they are based on, and increasingly the line between "amateur" and "professional" is being blurred as games like the Quake and Unreal series allow players to modify more and more of their games from the comfort of their own home.

Perhaps the best example of this at the moment is Counter-Strike, a mod for 1998's hit first person shooter, Half-Life. Counter-Strike puts you in the role of either a terrorist or a counter-terrorist, fighting it out online as part of a team with a range of realistic weapons and equipment.

It's a simple enough formula, but today Counter-Strike is probably the most popular multiplayer first person shooter in the world. Most days you will find more people playing Counter-Strike online than Quake 3 Arena or Unreal Tournament.

"It's flattering", he told us. "Yet at the same time we know that any day now it's bound to go away."

Maybe so, but for now at least the mod is the most popular on the planet.

Realism vs Gameplay

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The new assassination game

Counter-Strike isn't Minh Le's first successful mod either. "I used to work on mods such as Action Quake 2, and Navy SEALS for Quake. The [Counter-Strike] team just kinda formed from people I used to work with before."

So where did the idea for Counter-Strike come from?

"I just like the idea of playing as a counter-terrorist, fighting terrorism", he told us. "I also like being able to pick from a large assortment of guns. I'm a big gun fan."

And according to Minh Le, "the guns and the realistic atmosphere" are what makes the mod so popular. The realism never gets in the way of fun though, and he told us that "I try to find a balance of gameplay and realism that appeals to the CS team".

Apparently he's succeeded, though Minh said that the success of the mod "has been a pleasant surprise".

Given the popularity of Counter-Strike, it's perhaps no surprise then that Minh has had job offers from games companies as a result of his work on the mod. But he isn't planning on pursuing a career in the gaming industry.

"I prefer doing it as a hobby", he told us.

Half-Life

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A 747, yesterday

Counter-Strike has helped make Half-Life the most played first person shooter on the internet, but why did he choose the game as the base for his mod in the first place?

"At the time it was the best engine to work with, and the fact that Half-Life was based mostly within a realistic setting helped convince me that it was the engine to work with."

The game's "main advantages would be the skeletal animation system and the powerful model format. I really enjoy making models for Half-Life, it's so easy. The disadvantages are the limitation on the size of maps."

Half-Life's net code is hardly the best in the genre though, and obviously for an online mod like Counter-Strike this is a big problem. Minh Le is pragmatic though, saying that "it's out of my hands .. so the problems it presents me are the same ones facing anyone else who makes a Half-Life mod."

On the bright side, working with Half-Life has brought support from developers Valve, who "have answered coding questions and provided us with some help with the art (they did the new hostage model)".

And that's "not to mention the help we received from Barking Dog, who practically made BETA 5", who apparently "made 90% of BETA 5".

Members of Barking Dog have previously worked on Half-Life, Team Fortress Classic and Homeworld for Sierra, and their next project is Homeworld : Cataclysm, a follow-up to last year's critically acclaimed space-bound strategy game.

Future Ops

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The new winter catalogue from Counter-Strike

Meanwhile the Counter-Strike team are hard at work on the new version, Beta6.

This will add "a couple of new gameplay scenarios, some new guns, and lots of new graphics and new player models". Minh Le's favourite new feature though is "the radar, because it helps teamplay so much (for me at least)".

So far there are no solid plans much beyond Beta6, and certainly no plans for another mod or game. "I don't think that far ahead into the future", Minh told us. "I can only think of the immediate future, and that involves making CS better."

And will we finally see a non-beta version of the mod one day? "Yeah, it'll come out of beta", Minh confirmed. "But I don't see why that's such an issue".

Given how much fun the beta versions have been so far, you can see his point...

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