The Making Of A Popular Counter-Strike Map

Illustration for article titled The Making Of A Popular Counter-Strike Map

Santorini is one of Counter-Strike’s most well-regarded recent maps. It’s attractive, well-balanced, and compact enough to create tense showdowns. How do you make a map that stands out in a Dust2-obsessed CSGO landscape? Like this.


Santorini creator Shawn “FMPONE” Snelling teamed up with Max Reiger to create a slick video of Santorini’s methodical evolution over time.

It’s interesting stuff. Watch the way crates move on the A bombsite, how corridors change size ever so slightly, how architecture takes on significantly different functions as it shifts in form. Try paying close attention to how much the wall and building changed on Bottom Mid over the course of iterations. It’s all so meticulous. Every inch counts.

UPDATE: I asked Snell about the thinking behind subtle changes to Santorini’s inner workings, and here’s what he told me:

“Most of my early emphasis in the design of Santorini revolved around the concept of mid control, because I believe this simple concept is easy for people to understand and reliably creates fun gameplay. I guess I’ll talk about each major area in the map. Important to note that virtually every advanced version of the greybox was play tested, because I was absolutely determined to make the map as fun and digestible as possible. It’s not an efficient way to design a level, but I spent a year on Santorini trying to do things “the right way”, even if it occasionally came at the cost of my playtesters’ sanity. As the map progressed, I ended up cutting routes in the pursuit of perfection, because adding routes rarely if ever made the map more fun to play.”

“As evident in the changes to mid in the video, different elevations were explored in mid itself. Because mid effectively has two advantageous catwalks (a unique feature unlike any other map) these elevation changes had a profound ripple effect on flow to surrounding bomb sites. Ultimately I found that players wanted initial engagements at mid to feel very fair, so they were made to be on equally elevated footing. As you progress into mid, the elevation sinks for both teams, meaning aggressive play becomes more risky, which encouraged territorial play and tactical grenade usage. With the improvements to mid, players began moving through mid as a team using coordinated grenades, or by using numbers in order to make trade frags, all which makes the map more fun to play.”

“The bomb site cover had to be tweaked to balance the gameplay for both teams: CTs needed the bomb site cover to provide adequate protection for all out rushes of up to 5 Terrorists at a time, but not to completely remove their ability to get early head shots. Terrorists want bomb site cover to protect them as they plant the bomb, but not to be so large that they get no information about where CTs are playing, or are prevented from getting entry frags. As such, cover amounts and placement had to be “just right”. In time, we learned that the official matchmaking stats were dead even 50/50, so I’m really happy with the balance work we did and the ability of new players to walk into the map and have a pleasant experience with it.”

“CS maps are basically all about angles. As such, Santorini was designed to have angles that are as fun as possible, but also have been tweaked extensively to work well with one another. This creates a chain of angles where everything flows well and smoothly. The truth is, and what makes designing high quality CS maps so challenging, is that even one bad angle can ruin the entire map’s flow, so Santorini got tons and tons of testing to ensure we were happy with everything. Overall I think my mission to do things the right way paid off and I learned a lot from the play testing grind.”

Santorini is part of CSGO’s current Operation Wildfire event, which runs until June 17. I’ve seen quite a bit of clamoring for it to be included in CSGO’s Active Duty (read: competitive) map group after the event wraps up. I think it’d be a good fit. How about you?

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I have this map open for competitive play, and it is always up on Cevo. I never get it. While it is good, it still has a ways to go to match some of the other maps.

Too bad the maker of mill, Russka, and some other maps from source don't want their maps on go. More map diversity on the top tier scene would be great. But we haven't had a map added since overpass.