In my younger and more vulnerable years, I spent a lot of time getting shot in the head in Counter-Strike: Source. While there were many factors working against me - my age, my characteristic lack of dexterity, my (for the time) toaster-level PC, and my bargain-bin 200 DPI Dell laser mouse - I never let these disadvantages stop me from padding some lucky player's K/D ratio with my ill-fated MAC-10 rushes. When I would search through the list of servers for players of a similar skill level, I would come across a panoply of fan-made mods and maps intended to offer a respite from the endless dual grind of de_dust and cs_office, and I would occasionally take the plunge and sully my dad's hard-drive with these bizarre creations.
Of these offerings, the most consistently-populated servers were always devoted to the act of "surfing," a fact that boggled my pre-teen mind. When I would connect, I would see long, sloped ramps to nowhere, curling and twisting through empty space towards an unknown destination. While my opponents seemed to slide across the slope with ease, I would hurtle into the abyss every single time. No matter how loudly I pleaded with my fellow surfers to explain the trick, they would hurl obscenities at me and tell me to use F10 to deploy parachute - a button which would, in fact, abort the game. (To be fair, it was pretty funny the first time.) Later in life, I eventually figured out that holding a movement key against the slope allowed you to stick to the path, and I embraced surfing and other such "trickjumping" as a fun palate-cleanser at the end of a long night of gaming.
Charlie "Mariowned" Joyce is the apparent inventor of the first surf map for Counter-Strike 1.6. Joyce confided this in AskReddit thread where people revealed their "greatest accomplishment" that they can't bring up in normal conversation, and he was immediately mobbed by fans of his work, and surfing in general. "It was pretty overwhelming," he tells me. "I thought I'd just get a couple of people saying, 'hey, I remember surfing, that's cool.' Or maybe, best-case scenario, reconnecting with an old buddy. But it was way, way more than that."
Back in 2004, Joyce was just another teenage competitive CS junkie, messing around with Valve Hammer, the level editor for Half-Life's Goldsource engine, and slapping together maps for his friends to play around in. He made a map he christened "ka_killbox," where he and his buddies would jump around and chase each other on skateboards, knifing each other in the name of mindless fun. As Joyce remembers it, there was a cul-de-sac with three houses near the bottom of the map with machine-guns on their roofs. During one particularly violent session, Joyce happened to slide off the roof of one of the houses to his death, almost sticking to one of CS's famously finicky ladders in the process. After he finally managed to make the jump, he sensed that such a slide might turn out to be a fun diversion in its own right, so he opened up the editor, grabbed that roof and transformed it into its own prefab, so that he might make it the central feature of a new map, which he eventually titled "surf_the-gap".
"By the standards of surfing today, it really doesn't look like much," he says, laughing. "It's just a ramp hanging out in the air, and we would try to launch to this tiny platform, where there was a switch that would blow up the level. It was the first surfing map, but we would mostly just shoot at each other, trying to get to that platform, for hours at a time."
As Joyce and his friends tired of the rote simplicity of "the gap," he started pumping out more of these creations, all revolving around this ramp he happened to build. These included "Christmas, "Egypt," and "Ninja". But while his small group of CS devotees couldn't get enough of trying to navigate these tricky slopes, they were having a hard time convincing the uninitiated it was worth learning.
"We were trying really hard to get the community going in those early days," Joyce says. "My buddy Arcade and I, we would leave our computers on overnight to keep the dedicated servers running - we never had professional servers. We wanted everybody to try it. But at first, people would just join and they wouldn't be able to do it, so they would just flame us and disconnect. There was a lot of pushback, since nobody knew what surfing even was. A lot of those people didn't even know what bunnyhopping was at that point. Remember, this was before YouTube, so this was purely word of mouth, hoping that we would get some retention on the server."
As the nascent community began to gain steam, Joyce and his friends figured out around the release of "Egypt" that a server setting called "airaccelerate" had a profound effect on the playability of the more ambitious arrangements he was putting together. While Egypt "almost wasn't fun" on the default setting of 10 - most of the challenge came in simply remaining on the architecture - when they cranked it to 100, suddenly it was far easier to brave the curves. "I think that's really what kickstarted the surfing community," Joyce says. "The possibilities became so much greater then."
When Joyce entered college around 2008, with the subculture of surfing fully ingrained across a variety of games, including the smash hit Team Fortress 2, he began to slowly phase out of surfing as a hobby. As his small band of surfers began to drift apart, and a different community began to supplant the one he helped create, he no longer felt welcome in the scene, and he focused more on his studies. Though he would periodically check on the popularity of surfing among the various Counter-Strikes, when he posted on Reddit, he was utterly shocked at how many messages poured in from strangers desperate to express their appreciation. "I got people telling me that surfing helped them relax, that surfing helped them through rough times in their lives," he says. "I even had a few people tell me that they were suicidal, and surfing helped them calm down. I get emotional just talking about it, I couldn't believe it."
The one thing Joyce did expect upon posting publicly about it was pushback from people who didn't believe his claims: after all, this is the internet. However, besides a handful of pedants who point out that "sliding" gamemodes date back to at least Quake 2, the surfing community has been rather receptive to his return. "I've never played Quake 2," he says. "If you go back to the first 3D FPS, you can probably slide on an incline. I didn't even invent sliding in CS. I invented dedicated maps for what we coined 'surfing.' That's it, that's my contribution."
More than anything, Joyce has stark advice for aspiring artists and mappers out there: make sure to take credit for your work. As he starts a career in streaming, in advance of trying to achieve his long-held goal of breaking in as a mapper and level designer in the games industry, he feels lucky people trust in the tiny tokens he gave himself in his work - a logo in his later work, a "made by Mario" message in a readme file. (There are sources that corroborate Joyce's claims, including a deleted Wikipedia page that references a forum post from 2011.) "I've always wanted to build a community, a safe spot for people who are dealing with tough shit in their lives," he says. "To realise I had started that 15 years ago and didn't even know it. That was a lot to take in."
Become a Eurogamer subscriber and get your first month for £1
Get your first month for £1 (normally £3.99) when you buy a Standard Eurogamer subscription. Enjoy ad-free browsing, merch discounts, our monthly letter from the editor, and show your support with a supporter-exclusive comment flair!