Designing A Counter-Strike Weapon Skin Isn't Easy

Prolific Counter-Strike cosmetic item designer The Honey Badger just unveiled their latest creation, a piece (both in the artistic and, you know, gun senses) inspired by Greek myth. They also revealed how they came up with it, both thanks to and in spite of Valve’s rules.


For those unfamiliar with the process, Counter-Strike players can submit their own designs for cosmetic items (weapon skins, stickers, etc), which other players can then vote on. If Valve likes what they see, the design gets incorporated into the game, and the designer gets to pocket a portion of the revenue.

Honey Badger has pages upon pages of designs. Their latest, the Stymphalian Birds AUG, was inspired by the much-loved (and also user-created) Santorini map, which is based on a Greek island. You might be thinking, “You see modern Greece and immediately go for myths? I don’t know about this one.” But Honey Badger originally wanted to create something more in line with the Greece of now, as opposed to the Greece of then (and also fiction). Unfortunately, it was against the rules.

Illustration for article titled Designing A Counter-Strike Weapon Skin Isn't Easy

“Here’s the problem: Greece’s national colours are blue and white,” Honey Badger explained on Reddit. “The architecture in Santorini is also blue and white. The [Steam Workshop] FAQ says no nationalism, so in doing a Greek weapon in those colours could be contentious. Best play it safe!”

But that was only a small portion of the thought process. As they explained on the design’s Steam page:

“I like ideas to simmer in the back of my mind while I work on other projects hence the whopping delay,” they wrote. “Initially my starting direction was very different. I was contemplating general finishes for the AUG model: I was thinking about animals that could lend themselves to the weapon, which is known as a ‘COD gun’ due to the scope. Any bird of prey was the obvious answer due to their excellent vision and swooping at prey from a great distance.”


“That nailed down subject matter, but I needed to consider aesthetics: the weapon body itself looks like a fuselage so I gravitated towards aircraft - my original direction was a metallic geometric Eagle but it failed for two reasons. Firstly it looked too ‘Third Reich’ which could be problematic, but secondly there is a technical issue with the AUG in that the main body features heavy pixelation due to poor image resolution the closer the model is to the person. The solid-mono geometry treatment looked terrible, so I had to rethink.”


Honey Badger had been hoping to do a weapon inspired by Greek antiquity for a while, and that’s when they realized they could kill two birds with one stone:

“I did some research on Greek Literature,” they explained. “In the labours of Heracles (Hercules in Roman mythology) the title character had to carry out twelve tasks as a form of penance for murdering his children, the sixth labour was clearing a swamp of the Stymphalian Birds—according to Wikipedia ‘man-eating birds with beaks of bronze, sharp metallic feathers they could launch at their victims, and poisonous dung.’”


So they had the idea. But having an idea is the easy part. Realizing it is what separates true artists from frauds and also their own sanity.

“I collected tons of images of ancient Greek pottery which influenced the colour scheme and rudimentary illustration style,” Honey Badger said. “I then did some rough sketches—situated them onto the UV and then crudely fudged them until they worked well with view positions. Note the main problem area is below the main bird’s wing in POV position so I’ve avoided placing detail in that area.”


“The process itself has been a bit of an epic odyssey,” they admitted. “I went through 16 core stages of pattern making, repositioning/redrawing elements and testing different finish methods. I had to include figures as they featured so heavily in Greek pottery so I’ve incorporated a B(beta)-rush below the main bird (Alpha on the reverse). I figured the modern day equivalent of a bow would be a scoped weapon so I’ve made two of the characters archers, and added some bow and arrow detail to the illustration.”


“The process culminated with me adding wear, colour fade, and dirt to make it a little more realistic. The gunsmith finish lends itself to metals; bronze was mentioned specifically in relation to the backstory, so I’ve given it a yellowish-bronze as I felt that hue worked best. Plus there are no yellow hued AUGs yet.”

The finished product is really quite something. Sure, at the end of the day, it’s a video game gun that will fire like any other of its kind, but people put some real work into these things. Gun porn might not be your cup of tea (the non-virtual sort isn’t mine), but there’s certainly craft to it.


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Kotaku senior reporter. Beats: Twitch, streaming, PC gaming. Writing a book about streamers tentatively titled "STREAMERS" to be published by Atria/Simon & Schuster in the future.



Old man get off my lawn story time.

Around CS 1.0 I was a member of a forum called Deadlok; a small vb forum where early CS skinners and modders would come to share their work. And some of it was really tremendous; doing things in the HL1 engine that were edging up against the constraints of polys and hacks for lighting. (shout out to SAS.stu) Artists were very proud of making very realistic weapons and player characters, world, player and view models, new animations, the works. Using the tools at the time, it was a downright chore. Also, since there wasn’t really a lighting model, you had to skin all that in - very challenging to balance detail with lighting in a generic way to play to a one direction global illumination.

And oh man, when someone would scoop up our releases, package them and have the gall to charge money for it? We came down like an army of howler monkeys. It was anathema to charge for this stuff.

Today’s CS bewilders me, at least from an art perspective; people get hype about guns where a pink zubaz repeating texture is laid straight over the UVs? And what looks like the display from a calculator is taped onto the barrel? This Greek pot Aug is actually laid out nice, but it all just seems like guns wrapped up in gift wrap.