Level Design Researching for CS:GO’s de_dust2

Introduction

Valve corporation’s decision to re-vamp their maps for CS:GO has been a long road making drastic changes to visuals and sometimes game play. Changes have been made to maps (in order of time they were re-vamped); Train, Nuke, Inferno and now underway of revamped is the most popular map in the game and undoubtedly the series, Dust 2. What I wish to explain during this blog post is:
  • What makes this map popular.
  • What does the level design of this map bring to the game in terms of game play opportunities and restrictions?
  • What features make or break certain areas of the map?
  • What major changes to the map I would make to bring new, exciting but balanced game play.

What makes the map popular!?

Dust 2 has been the most iconic Counter-Strike map in the franchise for over 10 years! But what makes it so easily re-playable by thousands of players every day?
730ea-map_stats
My personal map stats over the past 5 years.
As you can see by my stats, I have quite a bit of data to analyse the popularity of maps played. Note that other popular maps such as Cache, Overpass and Mirage are not included because they are not tracked by csgo-stats.com (they were added to the game after stats began being recorded). The obvious popularity is shared by almost all CS players.

Layout

The layout uses a triple lane layout. This is an effective method of level design that allows for an extra dynamic to game play of typical 5vs5 competitive play.

Defending teams are required to defend the 3 main lanes as much as possible in order to succeed in the round. Doing so comfortably usually requires 2 players, usually 1 ready to shoot the enemy on sight and 1 to back him up with grenades (high-explosive, flashbangs, smokes and molotovs). Leaving a minimum of 1 player forced to hold a lane by himself. Players use the information of common enemy locations during each game to devise mid-game strategies in order to win the current round. Giving the player second by second tasks to decide on an area to push for control that will contain the least resistance. This style then evolves an endless amount of round situations never making any round the same!

Here we have a heat map showing the area’s of the map players are most common to dying in. I’ve circled for you in pink the 3 most intense areas. See a resemblance to the previous picture? Each lane has 1 major choke-point.
Choke-points are necessary in order for the defending team to protect a bomb-site without having to worry about being flanked if all other choke-points are held. If this wasn’t the case, statistics would immediately sway to the attacking team as being the clear favoured side as defensive utility grenades would become much less impactful.
The choke-point in the middle is a representation of what I believe is a perfect choke-point. It controls a critical part of the map if you want control over either bomb-site. From the information on the heatmap you can gather that players wanting to take this area need to risk forcing themselves through a very tight doorway, though if accomplished have 2 directions to worry about getting shot from, CT Spawn and B Site Entrance. Making this push for territory high risk for high reward. This move also solidifies a strong hold on enemy players rotating from the other side of the map if they lose control of the other bomb-site.

Whats wrong with the map? How can they be fixed?

Bombsite-B Tunnel Choke-point

As for the remaining 2 choke-points, I will begin on the one on the left for bomb-site B main tunnel entrance. This area is an absolute death sentence without perfect execution and a bit of luck.

The heat-map is insanely intense in this area because there is very little control for the attacking side to be able use flash and smoke grenades effectively to be able to enter through the tunnel reasonably safe. Players are exposed to numerous positions at the same time and can easily be caught in a crossfire upon entering. The solution to this can actually be read from the previous heatmap. Can you see the other problem that could be causing the intensity seen in the tunnels? It’s nothing to with B-site it’s that whole area you see between the tunnels and terrorist spawn. The big empty area where there are very few kills being made in. This is due to the entire area of the map never being used for mid-round game-play.

“Backyard” – The area between Tunnels and Terrorist Spawn

Here is an in-game image of the area with its skybox visible. We can see from the photo that the skybox completely encloses the area, thus preventing any sort of grenade to be thrown over the top of tunnels onto the B-site. In high-level competitive games, players commonly use smoke grenades in a different area of the map to throw onto the site they wish to take safely. These are set-up and thrown in sync with their team-mates in order to not have consider certain areas of the site until they clear the areas of immediate threat.

Orange = Skybox wall
Yellow = All common positions the defending team holds at B-Site
Red = Theoretical “Wall of Smokes”

My suggestion would be to allow the skybox to be opened up to allow grenades to be thrown into the B-site. If you look at the image above you can see in red 1 idea for an ideal wall of smokes (thrown by 3 or 4 players) that would allow your team to be able to enter the site with less crossfire setups, making it a more reasonable site-take.

Backyard (on left), Tunnels (in middle), B-Site (on right)

Not only this, it gives the backyard a purpose in the map, having players spending more time in this area will result in more fire-fights and new round strategies that will become exciting to play and watch!

As a bonus change I would consider to make to this site, is the removal of this car in replace for a large object or wall running parallel to the wall seen on the left. The current car here serves little purpose as it provides very little cover to anyone sitting behind it, the way its positioned causes players to accidentally run into it and get stuck in on it and was seemed to be purely put there for visual appeal when a wall that players can be concealed behind makes a lot more sense. This would create many more defensive strategies, Especially if the attacking team could create a wall of smoke. Improving the round by round game play experience!

A-Long area Choke-point (Commonly called “Bedroom”)

Taking a look back at that heat-map, we can see the smallest of the three choke-points on the right-hand side. Firstly to explain, why this is the smallest choke-point, it’s as simple as the fact that not many people like going there because it’s also extremely difficult to take control of. The defending side gets to the position early enough to be able to pre-emptively grenade (pre-nade) the entrance and do serious damage to anyone inside that little room. making it actually a very simple way to hold this area. My feeling is that Valve had already considered what I am about to suggest by looking at the current state of the area:
T-Spawn/Bedroom/A-Long/Pit Area
The area marked red is an unplayable area unknown as to why it’s there. It perfectly links up to the doors in the pit at Long-A and would make for an interesting new pathway to take control of the long-A area of the map. Currently, not many players believe pushing out bedroom doors is a risk=reward situation. Having this pathway opened up provides a cool new way to be able to make this choke-point more enticing for the attacking team to want to take, forcing the defenders to either have a heavy presence on this area of the map or to fall back and defend more on from the A-site.
Link if video does not work: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eLq7YdPuKps
In-game calculations of approximate fastest travel times for each side to see determine if CT side can make it to A-site for cover with new area proposal
Orange = new area
Blue = player spawn with best travel time
Red  = first place of cover on A-Site
Pink = fastest chance of sight into A-long
As seen in the image above, A defending CT member is able to reach the cover of A-site without being spotted by the enemy team. Keeping the CT the ability to reach this area is crucial in order to get a counter-terrorist to defend the Short-A area. Without giving the attacking team the  information that there is or is not a player defending that position. Doing so would cripple the defense of A-short, allowing an attacking side to simply tell his team that that area is clear and control the A-Site.
As for a small fix I would change for the A-site to improve it. This picture contains 3 Blue Barrels center-screen. They themselves are not the issue, but the steel-bar door behind it is. This simply should not be there for 2 reasons:
  • It reduces visibility for player models hiding behind the barrels. This make players hard to spot and can become a cheap way for players to get a kill in a round.
  • There is no clipping to stop grenades going through it. The wall that this doorway is on is used as a common wall to rebound grenades from A-Short onto the A-Site. Having this doorway here can cause a round to completely shift to another teams’ favor if the grenade does not hit its intended target.

Utilizing the Research

This research report makes clear to me specific design scenarios and why certain map layouts do and do-not work. It reminds me to always keep in mind these 4 key things when designing future levels for competitive play:
  • Skybox limitations
  • Heat-map analysis through play-testing
  • Travel distances/times
  • Choke-points (They are necessary!)
If the design rules for these aspects are applied to any future maps I create, I can rest easier knowing its much more likely my level will contain a fun dynamic play experiences for second-to-second, minute-to-minute and hour-to-hour game-play.

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