Counter-Strike: Condition Zero
Six Months, two weeks, four days, two hours. 12 minutes and 18. ..19... 20 seconds ago I stood transfixed in a small sweaty room in the LA Convention Center, staring slack-jawed and petrified as a brutal fire-fight exploded around me. Next to me stood an equally paralysed Dave Woods, sandwiched like a piece of ham between two men so large that if they lost balance would take out an entire city block. The situation looked bleak. Terrorists had taken several civilians hostaqe. and the rescue team was pinned down in one room, outgunned, outnumbered and seemingly outdone. Bullets rained down on their position, pinning them down like deadly needles - a sheet of metal, cutting through windows and sending thousands of shards plummeting to the floor with an ominous ring. And then... the climax. A rocket arched through the air. seemingly sucking the sound out of the world as it hurtled towards its impact point. Anti-terrorist bodies flew like skittles propelled by a perfectly placed bowling ball. And then there was silence.
So what do you think?" The words dragged me back to the real world with an embarrassing jolt. Blinking violently, my eyes came into focus on the beaming faces of Doug Lombardi (director of marketing for Valve Software) and Randy Pitchford (president of Gearbox), their question hanging unanswered in the ever more crowded room, which happened to be playing host to one of the most exciting games of E3, Counter-Strike: Condition Zero. So what did I think? Well, apart from being sent into a speechless stupor, a quick glance at my reflection betrayed a grin wider than a Celebrity Fat Club contestant.
That was in May 2002. Back then, Condition Zero was looking little short of finished, its stunning scripted sequences, lifelike Al and beautiful graphics making it stand out as one of the highlights of the show. Today, six months, two weeks, four days, two hours. 15 minutes and 22... 23... 24 seconds later, and we're still waiting for the release of the single-player version of the world's most popular online shooter, which is set to take you on a worldwide journey of exhilarating missions in a battle against terror. Or even as the terrorists themselves. So what's taken so long, when will it be done, and what has changed I hear you ask? Well, you're in luck, because, right here and right now, you're about to have all your questions answered.
Go, Go, Go!
As Condition Zero heads towards completion, I caught up with project manager Erik Johnson. Itching to find out when we'll see the finished product, I asked why there had been such a delay, seeing as the original release date was slated for August 2002. His reply took me more than a little by surprise. While we've mentioned target launch dates, at no time was CZ being driven by one. Instead the goal is. and has always been, to define and deliver the best single-player experience within the Counter-Strike universe. That has proven to take longer than we originally hoped, and we've made a variety of changes along the way. We still believe in the viability of single-player Counter-Strike, and we're very excited about the direction it's taken since we've partnered with Ritual. Who? What? Partnered with Ritual? That's a new one on us. It's a secret that's been kept quieter than a gagged mute. With no tongue. But it's true, and it's a partnership that Erik has every faith in. The only problem was, I now had to track down Richard Levelord' Gray, one of the chief level designers at Ritual Entertainment to find out what's new in the world of Condition Zero. After several days of looking (behind the sink, under the bed, in the sugar bowl) I finally find him. In the USA. Hah. there's a thing. Well I was warm with the sugar bowl.
First off, I ask what are the main changes since that dramatic demonstration at E3, where we saw the scripted Event' sequences that had been added to heighten the tension of each mission. The primary purpose of Condition Zero is to deliver a C-S singleplayer experience, he says. That singleplayer experience is played out over a wide variety of scenarios, each containing at least one major memorable moment, as well as multiple minor ones. All of these sequences won't simply be eye candy, but rather each will be interwoven into the player's success for missions and objectives."
Sounds great. So I push him for more. The major events are Hollywood-style action scenes such as an entire building blowing up and collapsing, or working with a team of counter terrorists on a deep reconnaissance mission," he says. To achieve these, Ritual has added a new device to Condition Zero called the Trigger Sequence.
This new entity is a robust and powerful scripting language for coordinating timed events, scripted sequences, localised dialogue, and more, explains Richard. The best part for level designing and MOD-making, is that the trigger sequence entity is an external text file, allowing for greater flexibility and easier integration. The map doesn't need to be re-compiled with each change or tweak. Good news for modders then - a new easy-to-use utility for creating set-pieces and scripted events. The ultimate online mod could yet become the breeding ground for a new generation of single-player mods... And there's more: Minor events will provide stimulating immersion into the scenario, and they may be as simple as special animations or dialogue. These character-based scripted events will make the Al seem more alive and interactive with the surroundings. Instead of a terrorist simply folding out from behind cover, Condition Zero will have special roll-out and dive animations. Characters can be seen rolling down stairs when shot, flying out of windows while shooting, carrying an injured buddy away from the battle, and more."
The Future's Bright
It's clear just from this that Ritual hasn't been sitting back cupping its collective balls, relying on Counter-Strike's already formidable popularity. Scripted events and Hollywood-style sequences are all well and good, but the true worth of any shooter is in its Al, weapons and mission design. At E3, these were already looking breathtaking, but Ritual has been working over-time to improve these yet further.
So how will each mission work then? After all, with all your teammates being Al controlled, standing and watching a mission once you're dead (like you would online) would be more tedious than being a spectator at a snail marathon. Each mission will have a main objective and minor sub-missions, some of these will be time-based," says Richard. There will not be a timer, per se, but if certain objectives and sub-missions aren't completed before, for example, a bomb explodes, the scenario will fail. The mission will be considered a failure if you die, and you'll need to restart. Auto-save zones will be supplied based on testing."
Save zones? In Counter-Strike? Could be interesting. So how about some new mission objectives other than the standard rescue the hostages and defuse the bomb fare? The single-player objectives will mimic the existing multiplayer gameplay styles, while adding a wide variety of single-player-oriented objectives inspired by movies and real life. Meanwhile, there will be no new multiplayer game types included with CZ - at least not at launch. Care to elaborate on what will be included? Not until nearer to release." Shame.
Right, on to the hardware then. As we know only too well, several new weapons such as the riot shield, Molotov Cocktails, LAW Rockets and FAMAS and Galil sub-machine guns have already been announced, as well as enhanced versions of every weapon we're familiar with from Counter-Strike. However, I still whelp like an over excited pre-adolescent girl as Richard divulges information about several more.
There are at least 10 new weapons and items designed to enhance the tactical experience of the game, but I can't mention them all... of course." Errrr, of course. I will mention a couple, though. The player will have a blowtorch to burn a clear path through some obstacles. The player will also have a radio-controlled bomb, simply because they are so much fun. We've added a bunch of new, standard weapons that we'll be discussing closer to launch. Sounds, great, can't wait. And could this mean that we'll be seeing levels with destroyable doors that you can bum holes through? Now that would be fun.
With time running short (Ritual is working all hours of the day to get CZ finished, hopefully for a March 2003 release), Richard is keen to wrap things up. But I couldn't let him go without first discussing possibly the most important aspect of Condition Zero, the Al.
Imagine the horror of loading up one of the most anticipated games of 2003, with grandiose plans of training yourself into a killer, sitting in front of your monitor dressed in full camo-gear, face smeared with your girlfriend's/mother's/escort's mascara as you dive into the Al fray, only to find the enemy shows the intelligence of a dropped-at-birth baby gibbon which has mistaken a banana for a MP5. The horror. But, thankfully, it seems we have little to worry about.
We are creating Al that acts intelligently, and captures the team-based experience you'd expect from Counter-Strike. This is being achieved with our enhanced scripted sequence technology, specialised Al systems, as well as sophisticated animations and character interactions with its environment," explains Richard. Which, I'm sure, comes as a relief to us all.
The Final Countdown
And that's all we had time for. In a couple of months we should be able to see for ourselves just how much more Ritual has improved on the already incredible looking game that we saw six months, two weeks, four days, three hours. 42 minutes and 3... 4... 5 seconds ago. From the sound of things, it's going to be immense. Let the countdown begin.
It's A War Out There
Can Counter-Strike Stay On Top In The Face Of Such Strong Opposition?
It's the question we've all been asking for months. Will Condition Zero maintain Counter-Strike's superiority in light of the release of so many other excellent online shooters? We certainly think so (see this month's Supertest on page 88 if you don't believe me), but what does one of the key members of the game's development team think? Counter Strike still reigns supreme above all other real-world multiplayer games, says Richard Gray (one of the chief level designers at Ritual Entertainment). It has been the best for years, and I don't see that changing anytime soon.
But of course Condition Zero will still be a major player online, as it'll be backwardly compatible with Counter-Strike and will let underpopulated servers be filled up by bots. So Rich, in no more than 50 words, why do you think Counter-Strike has been so successful online? Go... Simplicity. It's everything a real-world shooter should be and nothing more. You feel as though you're in a real battle and you fear the sound of each and every gun shot. The ease of controls is another factor. I love CS because it has everything. Elegant efficiency, that's what we called it in engineering! OK, that's 55 words, but I'll let you off just this once.
I Want To Wear Your Skin
Brace Your Eyes For Graphical Updates.
Condition Zero is a million miles from Counter-Strike when it comes to graphics. This is no bad thing, as the Half-Life engine is looking pretty dated.
In CZ, the engine has been extensively tweaked with models now boasting nearly double the polygon counts (rising from 700 to 1300). What's more, the weapons now have all new skins with higher resolutions and enhanced detail. However, for those of you with lower-end machines, there'll also be lower polygon version, so there'll be no need to worry about a loss of performance when you're getting battered online by some snot-faced smug git of a 12-year-old with too much processing power and time on their hands.
Processor: PC compatible,
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode