Interview with Minh Le
May 30, 2001 Page 2 of 2
What are your feelings on people who cheat, player kill, and team kill?
Well, they're annoying. There's really no other way to describe them. But it's really hard to stop them totally, guaranteed. It is impossible to say, "Oh there's not going to be any more cheats." It's just too hard to do that with Windows. The way Windows works, if there is a process running then hackers can see that process and munch with it. It's just so hard to come up with a foolproof method. I don't really think that anyone has come with a game that is 100% cheat proof. I mean, if I game is popular, it's going to attract a lot of people, and out of those people there's going to be a few idiots that just want to screw it up. It's something that you've got to deal with, something that you've got to live with. It's difficult though, trying to find a fix for it.
If there isn't a fix for it, is there a behavior that the other players can adopt to cope with these guys?
It varies with the cheat. Some cheats are really obvious to spot. But some of them cause a lot of paranoia. Sometimes I play and I think, "God! This guy's not that good is he?" It really ruins the whole atmosphere and play of the game.
Some of the cheats—like the wall cheat—were pretty obvious: if you can tell that someone was behind a wall, that was really obvious. If you see that kind of thing, you can try to vote them off. But I don't know, other than that, it's really kind of hard to tell.
What about having the servers track their WON numbers?
Oh yeah. If you find a cheater, I think Half-Life has a way of banning people. But I've never used it. I'm not really familiar with it. I think that you can just ban someone based on his WON ID. There are methods of doing that, but whether or not there is a global method, like giving the ID to the WON servers—I'm not sure if that's the place—so that this guy can't connect to any servers. But then again, it's controversial to do something like that. People would get so mad. If someone got banned from the game completely, if they couldn't connect to any servers, it would really bring up a lot of controversy. I'm not sure how we would tackle something like that.
See, I think that would be great. Ban them for a month.
Ban them forever. I really don't have any tolerance for cheaters, but there are people out there that are so sympathetic to people in general. They're like, "Oh, I bought the game. I should be able to play the game any way I feel like it."
Do you still play Counter-Strike?
Yeah, on and off, but lately I've just been so busy that I haven't had time for games in general. I've been working really hard.
What kind of games do you play when you do have time?
Lately I've been really interested in Age of Empires 2: the Conquerors. I've been so addicted to this game it's nuts. That's crazy - it's really that good.
Counter-Strike is team-based: one team plays the role of the terrorist, the other team the counter-terrorist. Each side has access to different guns and equipment, as well as different abilities.
So you like real time strategies, you like first person shooters - do you like every genre?
Not so much. I'm not too big a fan of real time strategies, actually; it's just Age of Empires that's got me addicted. I think in general I strictly stick with first person shooters. I'm not an RPG guy. I used to be but they require too much time, and when you're busy, you just don't have time for RPGs. I used to play them a lot when I had a lot of free time.
What is the biggest difference between designing a first person versus designing a different genre?
I think the biggest difference is between designing a single player game and a multiplayer game. I did both. When I was doing the single player game, it was catering to a whole different audience. In multiplayer gaming, the people are so much more vocal—they want certain things done a certain way, and if it's not that way, they'll tell you for sure.
To answer your question about designing different genres, it's hard to say. I don't really know what goes on in designing an RTS or and RPG. It could be the same, but I'm pretty sure it's a bit different.
Do you have any desire to design different genres?
No. At the moment I do not. I'm strictly first person shooters. For me, I find when I play a first person shooter versus any other game, I feel the most immersed into the environment. When I play an RPG, I don't feel like I'm part of the game, it just feels like I'm controlling people. When I play Counter-Strike, I feel like I'm actually playing with other people. It's a different sensation, and I think it's better that way.
What common mistake do you see in the first person shooters out there? Some are obviously a lot more fun than others.
It's all a matter of preference I think. It's hard to say, "This game is more fun than that one." I'll give you an example. If you're familiar with the game Trespasser, I think it got really bad reviews, everyone hated it, but when I played it, I loved it. I thought it was one of the best games I've played. So, it's really hard to say why this game is better than that game because people like so many different things. I don't know what it was about trespasser that I liked so much, but people hated it. So it's really hard to pick one thing that's so fun.
For me, when I play Counter-Strike, I feel like I'm part of a team, playing with other people. It's like a sport: you're fighting for the same goal, you're with teammates, and there's the whole camaraderie part of it. I don't know, it just drives me to play it more. That's the biggest thing for me, the whole teamplay aspect.
When you were designing Counter-Strike, were you trying to improve on something that was already out there - Rainbow Six for example?
Not so much. I was really just a fan of the whole theme. I'm a really big fan of guns and the whole military theme, right? So, when I stumbled upon the terrorism theme, I thought that this would be really, really good to put in a game. I think at the time there was Rainbow Six and, what else was there? Spec Ops I guess. I did play them, and they were enjoyable, but I thought they needed something more - for me at least. For example, I wanted to see my gun. I just wanted to give it a more immersive feeling, and a bit faster paced as well. I thought the pace of Rainbow Six was bit a bit too painful for me. I just wanted to speed it up a bit.
I heard that you actually got to shoot some of the guns from CS for real.
Yeah, that was real cool. I went down with the Barking Dog guys—it was a great day. We went to the range, and we just shot some handguns and a shotgun. We weren't allowed to shoot any automatics so that was a bummer, but we did see them in action. A ton of guns: P90s, MP5s, M16s, AK-47s. They were just incredibly loud. They were just so loud that you can't really capture that kind of sound on the computer. You'd blow your speakers, really.
It's actually really interesting that you modeled a whole bunch of your guns without ever seeing them in real life. How did you do that?
I tried to find as many pictures as I could get from web pages, magazines, that sort of thing. Other than that, it was sort of guessing. I didn't have a lot of the pictures for the SIG assault rifle. A lot of areas I just had to guess. The way they're animated, it was hypothetical, you know? I just said, "This makes sense… I'll just do that." It was logical, but I made some mistakes here and there. For instance, the M4 doesn't reload like that.
So you've had a lot of people say something about the errors?
Yeah, I always get a lot of the anal people that go, "Hey! What are you doing? That's not the way it works!" (laughs) It's no big deal. You just live with it.
What is it about Counter-Strike that you think has caught the public imagination?
I'm not really sure. I get this so much and I can't answer it. I don't really see it as being so different than other games. At the heart of it, you put your mouse on someone, you shoot and he's dead, right? Why people like this one so much more than others, I don't know. It could be the whole phenomenon, you know how it works, it's like, "Wow! This game is awesome! You've got to check this out!" Then they tell their friends, and they tell their neighbors, and it just gets big. I don't really have one good reason why people are playing this versus other games. They're just finicky. They change their tastes every year. You can't really rely on them. If I do make a sequel I can't really expect the same number of people to be playing it. I don't really know how the thing works - you get lucky sometimes. That's it.
Each maps has a different goal: hostage rescue, assassination, bomb defusion, etc.
At the GDC Awards, Counter-Strike won two awards: the Rookie Studio Award, and one of the Game Spotlight Awards.
Yeah, that was a great honor. I've heard of the GDC before, I've been involved with computer games for 10 years, and it's a great honor to be recognized by the GDC. It's a shame I couldn't go though, but I have some pretty good reasons.
Well, I'm afraid of flying—not like Mr. T on The A-Team—but I'm pretty bad. Plus I'd be the only one there, and it just doesn't feel right being the only one there. If more people could have made it, it would have been better.
How did winning the awards make you feel? This game that came out of your head got overwhelming response at the GDC. The audience was ecstatic.
It's a weird feeling. When I first realized that CS was just huge, bigger than what I expected it to be—it felt just great. There's an initial feeling of, "Wow. I'm on top of the world." After that goes away, which takes about a day, you just realize that you're still doing this game because you love doing what you do. I'm not doing this because of the fame, I'm not doing this because I want to be the number one game on the internet, I'm doing this because at the end of the day I want to sit down, and put in my game, and say, "Yeah. This is awesome. I made this game and I like playing this game."
I don't want to make the game for other people. I mean, it sounds a bit selfish. You know, it sounds like, "Why aren't you supporting this? Why aren't you making the game for other people?" I don't know. I just want to make the game for myself. I just want to make a game that I can be proud of that I can just play and say, "This is my dream game. It has everything that I want in it, and it has nothing that I don't want in it."
Are there any changes that you would like to make to Counter-Strike now that it's been out for a while?
We're pretty much happy with the way it is right now. We're always going to support it in the way of bug fixes, new features, and trying to fix the cheats that are out. Other than that, I think everyone is pretty much happy, overall, with the way it is right now. We could add a few new features, but we're not going to be changing the gameplay dramatically.
Based on the success that Counter-Strike has had, what has been the biggest change in your life?
I think the biggest thing is my involvement with Valve. It really allowed me to turn this thing into a career, almost.
Well, I mean for now it's a career. But you never know, they could fire me. (laughs) That sort of thing. But I'm not thinking about that. I'm just thinking for now, it's great working with them because I get to do what I love, and make a living off of it. That's pretty much it. Not many people have this opportunity. It's something I feel lucky about.
Do you think that keeps you sharp, because it might end at some point in time?
Yeah, I think it keeps me motivated. I'm not going to slack and try to ride the success of CS because I know it's just not going to last that long. You've got to keep it fresh, keep it new, you know?
What about your future? What's next for you?
Well, right now I'm working on a project with Valve. I'm not sure what I should say about it, but it's a game, it's entertaining… (laughs) I think everyone knows what it is, so I won't beat around the bush. I'll announce it sooner or later.
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