Volcano on updated Cache: "We wanted to put a little bit more importance on utility and give players more creative ways to use their tools"
We talked to Sal "Volcano" Garozzo and Shawn "FMPONE" Snelling, Cache's level designers, ahead of October 10th's release of the new version of the map.
The new Cache was first revealed at ESL One New York, where the latest version of the map was played in a showmatch that included players such as Jonathan "EliGE" Jablonowski, Kenny "kennyS" Schrub, Kristian "k0nfig" Wienecke, or Joshua "steel" Nissan. After gathering community feedback, "Volcano" and "FMPONE" have been working to give the map some finishing touches before it is released to the public on October 10th.
In the interview, Volcano and FMPONE took turns answering questions about the map and its redesign, with the former Team 3D member taking questions about the changes that will affect the gameplay , as well as the thought process behind them and how they may affect the future META, while "FMPONE" talked about his expertise, which has to do more with the decisions regarding the aesthetics of the map, including the last-minute decision to re-add the graffiti Aleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev earned at ESL One Cologne 2016.
Tell me about the history of Cache and how you ended up designing the map.
Volcano: My name is Sal "Volcano" Garozzo, and I was a professional CS player dating back to late 2001 or early 2002 all the way until the beginning of 2015. Sometime during that career I started doing level design because I wanted to make maps for CS. Not many maps were being introduced to the pool back then, or to the game, so I felt like there was a unique opportunity with my experience as a professional player to translate some of that insight and knowledge into a layout that professional teams, as well as the community, would enjoy playing.
I began in about 2009. The map was released and made it into ESEA in 2010, then got reworked in 2011, and when CS:GO came out I thought it would be a great opportunity to bring Cache into the new game, especially early on to get more exposure and so people would play it early into the life cycle of the game. That port came over in 2012 and then I teamed up with "FMPONE" in 2013 because the map may have played pretty well, but the visuals were really out of date and Shawn and I, working together, felt like a great opportunity to bring the map to the next level.
FMPONE: I'm Shawn Snelling, also known as FMPONE online, and I've been a level designer and environment artist for a long time. I started when I was about 15 or 16. I always really enjoyed remaking levels and the public really digs that so when I saw Sal's Cache and pros playing it very early on in CS:GO I thought it would be interesting to reach out and see if he'd be interested in working together. Thankfully he was and so that was the beginning of a very fruitful team. Since then we remade Cache once and that map had a lot of success starting in 2013, lasting almost seven years. With this remake it has been much of the same, a great working relationship, a lot of trust, and a lot of mutual faith and honesty about how things are going, feedback, and hopefully bringing out the best in each other.
How is the actual process of working together? How do you go back and forth and what feedback do you give each other?
FMPONE: In the very beginning of Cache, the very first time we remade it, it was a learning process because Sal had all of this accumulated knowledge of being a professional player and I had none, so even though that remake took a lot less time it was a much more difficult project because I was doing a lot of dumb things and not realizing it, which made Sal have to be like "well, we can't do this because professional players need this and this," so it was a learning process for me.
On this project I've gotten a lot better thanks to Sal because I have a lot of his knowledge now incorporated into my own practice. This time it was a much longer project, like one year in total, and the way it worked is kind of funny because we would go months without speaking at all because that's just how long it takes to do things in the Source engine. It's very time consuming, so I would get something, get something, get something, and then once I had something real I could show him we would do that, every few months, and it was great. It was an easier but more time-consuming project this time around.
Volcano: Yeah, I agree with all of that. On my end, something that was very valuable when we teamed up was learning all of the aesthetic intricacies of a map, and I think I really learned a lot in that sense, which helps us work together better because we then both understand each other's point of view and find the middle ground, the solution that really works for the game in terms of both gameplay and visuals.
As you mentioned earlier, Cache had a lot of time and play in CS:GO, so when it was pulled out and the rework was ready to be made, what were your main concerns regarding the map and what were the biggest things you wanted to change to deal with said concerns?
Volcano: There's always a delicate balance to strike when you take an old map that a lot of people love, for which they already have expectations and where they have spent thousands of hours. You don't really want to disturb that too much, but at the same time you want to find opportunities to improve things where necessary. A bunch of feedback we got from professional players and that we had observed from watching is that the map was a bit T-sided and that from that stance the CTs were a little bit limited in options, especially when defending Mid. We didn't really want to redesign things and change things too much, so we were looking for ways to nudge the CTs and give them a few more options to play with. We also wanted to put a little bit more importance on utility usage in the map and give players a few more creative ways to use their tools.
Let's dig into the rework. You're giving the CTs some more ability to retake Mid with the addition of a window, making it a three-way peek, which will require more utility from the Ts, how impactful do you think forcing that extra use of utility will be?
Volcano: The thought process behind the window is that a lot of times Ts would throw a single smoke to block out the Z choke-point, so the CT player needed to either wait, try to push through, which is pretty dangerous, or coordinate utility or a boost with their team, which a lot of times felt a bit difficult to pull off reliably. The idea with the window is that it gives CTs another option to peek Mid from and it makes Ts consider if they maybe need to use more utility or make sure someone is watching that angle... it demands a bit more thought and execution from the Ts.
I think it will take a lot of playing from the pros to see what the outcome of the utility usage in Mid is, and maybe a bit more in A as well, which will also have an effect on how they take B if they have fewer tools for that. These things are all connected, and we'll have to see how it works at the pro level and the competitive level in general, not just the pro scene.
How about the new boost on B? That could help the CTs defend, but do you think it could make a hard site to retake even harder?
Volcano: Yeah, and I think that's the nature of a lot of these changes. At first glance it may seem like it benefits one team, but there are opportunities for the other team to take advantage of them as well, especially when the bomb gets planted and the roles are swapped. I think it's definitely possible that it will help Ts on the retake, but at the same time CTs may have an easier time retaking Mid and A, so it'll just be interesting to see how everything pans out.
One of the first things I heard from one of the Cache show-match players in New York was about a change on A that made it so that you have to use another smoke to cover cross.
Volcano: The smoke will still cover cross, but once you get to site there's another sight-line from Truck that looks over the New Box. That again is something that just requires a bit more utility from the Ts and allows CTs a few more options and flexibility regarding how they want to defend the site.
Have you heard much feedback? What are some of the things you heard back?
FMPONE: Yeah, we've had a lot of sessions with pros and gotten a lot of feedback. They're really easy to talk to for the most part and seem to be noticing a lot of detail-oriented things, which is great. I wasn't really sure what to expect because I hadn't done anything like that before, one on one talks with pros, and I would say it's a really positive experience.
A lot of it was really minute, small fixes that aren't very intellectually challenging for us, we can just go in and change this number 800 into a 1500 or something, you know what I mean? It's not really complicated, but for the players that will get to play it on October 10th, it's going to make a big difference because I don't think there's going to be much left for us to fix after that point.
One of the things that I noticed from seeing the textures was that there are some new wallbangs, what changed in that aspect?
Volcano: That's currently up in the air, and it's something we're going to discuss and maybe make some modifications before the October 10th release date. In the version that was played in New York there were a lot of opportunities for wallbangs on both A and B. We may consider keeping some of them, but we probably won't keep all of them.
It's a very vibrant map, and kind of strays from the rest of maps currently in the pool. Did you come up with that, or is it a conversation you had with someone? How did you go about changing the overall aesthetic?
FMPONE: It's very intentional, but what I hadn't fully anticipated is the amount of pros that use digital vibrance enhancers not only in their monitors but on the Nvidia settings. To compensate for that we'll probably reduce the saturation from where it was in the showmatch and what you saw in New York, but it won't be a big change. We're happy with this look, which provides a welcome break from a lot of the maps, where it's just this same brown color pretty much everywhere. It's very monotonous.
With Cache, we had a bit of that before, it was a desaturated look and a lot of the walls looked like floors, looked like the ceilings, so everything kind of meshed together. We wanted to differentiate this Cache from the previous version but also from other maps in the pool and give it a more satisfying look.
I was thinking that perhaps it's something that's to going happen with all of the maps if they get remade, that the colors will be a bit more vibrant...
FMPONE: That would be great, I don't think it's good that pros are using digital vibrance. I think that's a bit of an indictment for some of the other color choices if pros feel like they have to go out of their way to use digital vibrance. For me, I look at digital vibrance and don't know if you get a competitive advantage from it, so I'm wondering what they're doing it for. Is it because they feel like the maps don't have enough color? I'm not sure, but I didn't want that to be an issue for Cache.
I'd say it's also contrast issue, once you saturate something the contrast between colors goes up, making it easier to spot models. I'm guessing that's it. Now that the map is getting its final touches, what is the cycle until the release?
FMPONE: We got a lot of feedback, most of it pretty positive, but also a couple of issues and glitches, the saturation stuff from the digital vibrance, which I'll admit to not fully accounting for, but honestly it's pretty easy to fix. We're going to be perfectly capable of making that October 10th release date and there won't be any issue at all.
Has there been any communication with Valve so that they re-add Cache to the map pool?
FMPONE: We don't have any control over that process, but what I will say is that if the community is vocal it helps our case and we obviously appreciate it when people are supportive if they feel that way.
To close it out, there has been some talk about s1mple's graffiti being gone during the showmatch. Will it be back?
FMPONE: I'm looking at Valve's approach and I noticed they removed the Dust2 graffiti, which is their approach, and I respect their approach. I usually take a lot of notes from their approach, but in this case I think there's a convincing argument, especially if you look at the response from the community. Pretty uniformly people wanted it back, so that's generally how we tend to do things and I also think there's a good case to be made when you see that it's such an iconic play to the map and it has been tattooed onto someone's skin, so we feel pretty strongly about bringing it back.