MonthNovember 2011

The Current State of Counter-Strike 1.6

At one point, Counter-Strike 1.6 was the most popular game on the Internet.  Released in 1999, it was one of the most popular games of its day, surpassing even the Battlefield series, Unreal Tournament 2003 and Quake 3.  It was the most popular Half-Life mod.  As game developers released the next generation of games, Counter-Strike began to lose popularity despite the massive gaming culture surrounding it.  The game had less and less casual players and more and more league players (CAL, CPL, CEVO, CEGL, WCG, OGL, etc.).  In 2004, Valve released Counter-Strike: Source, which introduced more casual players to the game, while the seasoned veterans still stayed with Counter-Strike 1.6 and they saw it as the better game.  Over time, new players of Counter-Strike: Source improved their game, while some CS1.6 veterans migrated over.  Many stopped playing simply due to the fact that they played this game for a long time and just lost interest.  A lot of professional teams such as Team3D, compLexity, SK Gaming, and others migrated over to source.  As more and more teams migrated over, the popularity of CS1.6 waned.  Do people still play Counter-Strike 1.6?

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I felt a little bit of nostalgia toward the game, so I opened it up to play a little bit.  I played this game for about 8 years on and off (2001 to 2008 inclusive) and participated in a couple leagues such as CAL, CEVO, and CEGL. The last time I played, the community was still pretty strong – I could find a game pretty quickly and play.  Not anymore.

Public servers are almost extinct.  Most public servers that remain are Romanian.  Not that there is anything wrong with that, but there is no point in joining any of these games.  They are filled with bots.  I looked at the detailed game information and it shows 19 players that all “magically” joined the server at the same time and have been playing for some ridiculous amount of time.  Playing 306 hours of Counter-Strike and earning a score of 10000+ is not possible for a human.

CSServers

Out of curiosity, I joined one of these Romanian servers.  It turns out that these servers just redirect me to an actual server where people play.  The downside is that these servers are actually in Romania, which means I that pinged > 200 to the server.  A minute later I am kicked for going over their ping limit.  I still can’t play.  At least there still is a community for CS1.6.

Playing pubs seemed out of the option.  The next thing I looked at were pugs.  I looked at #findscrim and #findringer.  I remember people posting in these channels constantly to organize matches.  Not anymore.  The frequency of posts has definitely decreased dramatically.  It was hard enough for me to find a match on the west coast.  People living on the east coast and west coast both post in these channels and of course there would be more east coast games happening simply because more people lived there.  Now, with less people playing, it is even harder to find a match on the west coast.

Of course, it is normal for a game to reach a peak in popularity and then lose it over time, but I expected Counter-Strike to have a strong player base.  In comparison to other games similarly old, such as Day of Defeat (released in 2000) and Team Fortress Classic (released in 1999), they seemed to suffer a similar fate.  These games have been reduced to just servers that redirect people to different countries.  Why run these servers at all if people will lag on them anyway?  If a game is unpopular anymore, it would just have no servers at all.  Despite all of that, Counter-Strike was one of the most popular games ever made and it definitely left a mark for many gamers of this generation.

UBC Engineering Competition 2011

Just like last year, I participated in the UBC Engineering Competition again, except this time, I competed with a different team.  Although the winning team would have a chance to compete in the next level of competition (I don’t even know where that would be – last year it was in Saskatoon), two of our teammates couldn’t make it even if we won.  One of them would be flying to Hong Kong and another was starting a Co-op work term in the Silicon Valley working for NVidia.  It didn’t matter though, because we didn’t win first place this year.

This year’s competition problem involved the following scenario: normally solar panels are able to rotate toward the sun, but sometimes they get stuck, therefore it requires people to go out there and rotate them manually.  Also, undersea transmission lines sometimes get severed and also require manual repairs.  Our task was to build an autonomous vehicle using a VeX Robotics Kit in about 5 hours to use in a small scale arena emulating similar conditions.  A wooden pole represented the solar panel, that we had to rotate and a plastic pipe represented the transmission line.  To “repair” the transmission line, we had to build a repair module using newspaper and popsicle sticks that could physically cover up the pipe.  Additionally, in order to reach the transmission line, the vehicle would have to cross a rice field (represented by uncooked rice) and cross a river (ensuring that no electronics get damaged, they had to be above the “water line” at all times – represented by the dip in the arena).  After designing our vehicle, we would also have to present our design to the judges.

When I heard what the problem was, I thought to myself, “this is an impossible problem given the time we have to build it ands lots of teams aren’t going to be able to perform the task”.  I guess it was supposed to be like that.  The problem couldn’t be too easy or otherwise everyone would be able to do it.  Despite the difficult task, we approached it with a super chill attitude throughout the entire competition.

As a group, we planned out what we wanted to do.  We thought that it would be straightforward to go across the river, but it turned out that it wasn’t that straightforward.  We had trouble keeping our electronics above the “water”.  The line follower kit we used could follow the black line quite accurately, but it had to be about an inch above the ground.

To make matters worse, the wheels kept falling out.  Normally, one should just have to insert the shaft into the motor clutch and connect the clutch to the motor, but the connection was quite loose. 

One of our teammates spent about 3 and a half hours trying to fix the wheels and he succeeded. It took up a lot of time that we needed for the other design tasks, but we couldn’t leave that along since movement along the ground was a critical function.

In the meantime, we brainstormed how we would rotate the vehicle to face different directions when needed, how we would pick up the repair module, and how we would rotate the solar panel, and how to protect the line followers while crossing the river.    We also had to think of what we were going to say for the presentation.

We couldn’t really get the rotation to be accurate without using an encoder (which would increase our product cost), so we tried to see what we could do without being able to rotate the vehicle.  We could drive straight toward the solar panel, rotate it, and return to the base.  If we focused on just this task, we didn’t have to figure out how to figure out the other tasks.  We figured that most teams wouldn’t be able to perform that task anyway.  With that in mind we modified our design drastically and came up with something that kind of worked.

The end reached high enough such that we could just bump into the top of the solar panel and rotate it and then go back to the base.  We didn’t need to worry about the other task of repairing the underwater transmission line.  There wasn’t enough time for that.

When it came to the presentation, we talked about our design and answered the questions quite well, but one of the competitors asked us a question that a lot of people seemed to feel was a very jerk question to ask.  He asked “how would the client feel that we delivered a product that could not meet all the stated requirements?”  I guess he was bitter that my team beat his team last year and felt threatened by me this time around.  We answered the question by saying that it’s better to do one task well, than to fail at both. 

In the competition, a lot of teams did in fact fail the tasks and did absolutely nothing.  When it came time for our device to compete, we did what we could.  It did reach the solar panel and rotate it a bit, but not enough to rotate it all the way.   It couldn’t even complete one task, although we had tested it before and saw that it did work.

The winning team (the same team as the guy who asked us that terrible question), used a design that would travel align the walls, past the river and to the broken line.  It picked up the repair module (shaped like a table) using a flat pad to slide underneath to pick it up.  It managed to do a 90 degree turn by following the wall (push sensors would tell the vehicle that it had in fact touched a wall).  It was clear that their design won out over everyone else’s, and they totally deserved the win.

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