What Engine is CS2 Built On?

For any video game to be created, there must be a platform to base the entire thing around. Like a motor vehicle or a steam locomotive way back from the industrial age, the focal point of the whole thing is what is called the game engine. This is arguably the most crucial point of any video game’s development process as the end product will be shaped completely around the capabilities of the engine it was built on. This now begs the question: what engine does CS2 use?

What is a Game Engine?

Before getting into the specifics of what engine is used by Counter-Strike 2, it’s first necessary to understand what exactly it is. A game engine is not so much like that of a motor vehicle’s in the sense that it is the one that generates power, but rather an assortment of tools, programs, and artistic properties created by a group of talented individuals with the goal of giving a strong foundation for the future games built on it.

There are multiple components to such a complex piece of software such as shape rendering programs, scripting processes, animation tools, networking capabilities, sound and video optimizations, and a dash of artificial intelligence. While large studios like Valve, Riot Games, and Electronic Arts possess the resources to build their own engines from scratch, it’s simply not practical in today’s fast-paced gaming industry. New titles are eagerly awaited every year, and updates for existing games are demanded by passionate communities on a seemingly monthly basis. In this environment, time is as valuable as the millions of dollars poured into development. It’s far more efficient to utilize a game engine created by a dedicated team specifically focused on engine development, rather than diverting a publishing company’s internal engineers and software experts away from their core tasks.

The beauty of game engines is that they come in all shapes and sizes. Some, like the ones used for high-profile AAA titles, can be quite expensive and require a team with significant programming expertise.  However, there are also plenty of options for smaller developers or hobbyists.  Some game engines even have an open-source model, meaning their core code is freely available for anyone to modify and build upon. This allows aspiring game creators to leverage the work of others, saving them countless hours and allowing them to focus on their unique game ideas. By understanding the power and versatility of game engines, developers can approach game creation with a newfound efficiency, laying the groundwork for the next generation of high class gaming experiences.

What Engine Is CS:GO On?

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive was developed from 2010 to 2012 by Valve and Hidden Path Entertainment based on the concept of porting Counter-Strike: Source over to consoles. It was built on the Source engine which was also developed by Valve as the successor to the GoldSrc game engine used by Counter-Strike 1.6. Limited by the technological advances of its time, the GoldSrc engine showed its age when it came to movement and graphical fidelity. With a call for a much-needed upgrade came the answer not just to Valve’s problems but also the question what engine does CS:GO use: the Source engine.

What Exactly Is the Source Engine?

Source’s biggest strength was indeed strength, boasting more power compared to GoldSrc when it came to just about any facet of the game development process. It was powerful enough that any game running on the engine would perform tremendously well on high end machines but also appropriately conservative in its output that even basic computers can run Source-based games at a respectable rate. Source’s accessibility for devices at varying strength significantly contributed to Global Offensive’s success as it made the hardware requirements to run the game much lower, catering to a broader audience of gamers especially those on a modest budget.

Source also brought about improvements in the development side of things. The new engine catered not only to big companies but even the average programmer looking to create an independent game. Source was packaged with multiple tools related to game development such as those for character creation, level building, and mechanic implementation. Physics were also greatly improved from GoldSrc with multiple renowned video games such as Half-Life 2, Garry’s Mod, and of course Counter-Strike: Global Offensive having world class collision models and environment interactions.

Source was also a huge tool for the modding community and, perhaps unintentionally, further gave back to the same passionate group of enthusiasts that birthed the original Counter-Strike as a mere mod to Half-Life. The inclusions that came with Source were practically unrivaled at that time for PC gaming and allowed many small companies and indie creators to make their ideas into tangible products for the world to enjoy.

Like all things technology, Source had reached the end of its lifetime over a decade since its release. The new advancements in gaming and demands from Valve’s consumer base prompted them to create the next great successor to a long line of esteemed game engines. Their creation over 11 years in the making would be the platform on which the next installment in the iconic Counter-Strike franchise would be built on.

What Engine Does CS2 Use?

Counter-Strike 2 was announced in 2023 after years of rumors, speculation, and anticipation. It offered many improvements to Global Offensive from both a surface level and one closer to the developmental side, but among the most striking upgrades was that of its game engine. CS2 makes use of the Source 2 engine which Valve first introduced in 2015. Everything that the original Source engine did, its sequel could attain much more efficiently. CS2 was shipped with many more gameplay mechanics that previously did not exist in any other installment of the franchise such as volumetric smoke grenades and dynamic lighting, all thanks to the power of the Source 2 engine.

What Exactly Is the Source 2 Engine?

The Source 2 engine, from a programming standpoint, feels like meeting an old friend again after quite some time. It uses an internationally known language in C++ and keeps a strong compatibility not just with other software but even hardware engines. Source 2 took a huge leap forward in terms of graphics, which is clearly seen when comparing CS:GO and CS2 side by side. The new game engine supports the utilization of High Dynamic Range or HDR which is a more stylish lighting model being used mostly by high budget console games such as NBA 2K, EA Sports FC, and the Formula 1 franchises.

Source 2 gave developers much more to work with in terms of realism and immersion which, in turn, gave its founding company Valve the ability to program said effects into Counter-Strike 2. The way light reflects off physical objects or even water, how it passes through windows and plants, and even the intensity of the shadows produced are all a testament to how powerful Source 2 truly is.

Source 2 also came equipped with the ability to connect with a new trend in the gaming space that became increasingly more familiar throughout the last decade – Virtual Reality. VR compatibility is something that the original Source engine never had or needed due to the state of the industry at the time, but with video games bridging the gap between reality and fantasy even closer through graphical advancements it came as a no brainer for Valve to include the new feature in their plans. Source 2’s step towards Virtual Reality exceeds mere graphics but even the firsthand experience of the players themselves. Enhanced movement detection and a more responsive program to its user’s actions all contributed in creating a more immersive experience.

The Source 2 engine also boasts a significant upgrade in the realm of physics. Valve’s in-house physics engine, Rubikon, provides more realistic and dynamic object interactions. These advancements not only add a layer of believability to the gameplay, but also open doors for creative level design and emergent gameplay moments.

Artificial Intelligence has also seen improvements in Source 2. Enemies can exhibit more complex behaviors and decision-making processes, creating a more challenging and engaging experience for players. This can range from more strategic enemy movements that take cover and flank players, to more adaptive responses to player actions.  Take, for example, the plot of Detroit: Become Human. How the AI works in that game is the same as how Source 2’s AI performs by adapting to situations and learning from past experiences. It can be said that Source 2 also brought the artificial much closer to what we know is real and true.

Source 2 was also released as an open-source model, yet another feature the original Source engine did not have. As mentioned earlier, an open-source code allows for free and easy distribution of the program for usage and improvement by a wide network of programmers and enthusiasts.

Downsides to the Source 2 Engine

Source 2, while a powerful engine, also has some drawbacks to consider. Developers accustomed to the original Source engine will face a learning curve due to different tools and workflows. Source 2 also has a smaller community and less documentation compared to established engines, making troubleshooting more difficult. These things, however, are results of the engine being relatively early in its lifespan so problems related to learning its inner workings and documentation will be easily solved over time.

A more pressing concern of the Source 2 engine is its prioritization on graphics improvements. A game can and will look more beautiful on the new game engine than it did on the original Source released in 2004, which is a fact. This, however, comes at the expense of increased demands and pressure on the other pieces of hardware that may not be optimized for such a heavy load. While Source 2 offers visual splendor, achieving it demands significant processing power. This can limit the engine’s accessibility to developers targeting a broader audience, especially those without access to high-end hardware. Players with older or less powerful machines might experience performance issues like stuttering or frame rate drops, hindering their overall experience. This was also a major complaint of many gamers still making use of lower-end desktops upon CS2’s announcement as they would eventually become unable to continue playing the game.

Source 2 is excellent at creating intricate environments, but it struggles to manage large open worlds. Performance problems might arise while streaming large landscapes with minute details. Other engines, like Unreal Engine 5, have an edge in this aspect because of their integrated features made especially for fluid open world gameplay.

Procedural generation is somewhat supported in Source 2, though perhaps not to the extent that certain developers need. Games that significantly rely on this method to produce infinite replayability or a variety of locations may have to commit a large amount of money to developing unique engine solutions. While Source 2’s animation system is strong, it could need further improvement in games with highly emotive characters or complex character interactions. To get the right amount of subtlety and precision, developers might have to make their own animation rigs or tools. Some engines provide more simplified tools for in-engine cutscenes and real-time character animation, which might be vital for games with a strong narrative focus, even if Source 2 can handle pre-rendered cinematics.

Source 2 also has a more extensive toolkit than other more approachable engines, but it may experience a more difficult learning curve due to its complexity. Because understanding the engine might take some time, this could be a barrier for smaller teams or less seasoned firms. Additionally, compared to more established engines like Unity or Unreal Engine, Source 2 has a smaller community and support system, despite its growth. This may make it more difficult to solve problems with troubleshooting or development.

Source 2’s built-in networking may not be sufficient for complicated multiplayer games; further tools or integrations may be needed to provide strong online capability. It may be necessary for developers to devote efforts to developing unique solutions for features like seamless lag compensation or massive fights. Source 2’s shortcomings when it comes to multiplayer is evident even in CS2 with reports of occasional frame dropping happening upon taking a gunfight with lots of particles on the screen.

What Did Source 2 Bring to CS2?

The arrival of the Source 2 engine marked a significant turning point for Counter-Strike, breathing new life into the franchise with CS2. The most striking change is undoubtedly the visual overhaul. Players are greeted with a world significantly more detailed than its predecessor, CS:GO. Environments come alive with sharper textures, boasting a level of visual fidelity that creates a truly immersive experience. This visual revamp gave players the ability to discern subtle details with greater ease, differentiating enemies from environmental clutter more effectively. Additional graphics options were also shipped with the game, providing for more customization and adjusting especially for those who find priority in performance over graphics.

Beyond the visuals, Source 2 brings a wave of performance optimizations that translate into smoother gameplay. Frame rates get a notable improvement, ensuring a buttery smooth experience even in the most hectic of gunfights. This newfound responsiveness is crucial for competitive play at the highest level, where split-second decisions can make the difference between victory and defeat.

The promise of the Source 2 engine for CS2 is undeniable. The potential for enhanced visuals, improved performance, and the introduction of new features is exciting for both players and developers. However, with this potential comes a set of challenges that Valve must navigate carefully to ensure a smooth transition and maintain the core aspects of CS:GO that its dedicated player base cherishes.

Preserving the game’s established competitive balance is among the most important issues. Fundamentally, Counter-Strike has always been a franchise about dexterity and muscle memory. Many hours have been spent by players refining their abilities within the confines of the physics and mechanics of the Source engine. The introduction of a new game with a different engine can negatively impact its most tenured and perfectionist players. Modifications to the physics of mobility, for instance, could impact gameplay in a negative way.  This might have an impact on fundamental movement methods, spray patterns, and even grenade tosses. Even the CS:GOAT, Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev, expressed his disdain towards the new game publicly due to the numerous changes it brought.

Lastly, a major obstacle may be the possible rise in hardware needs with Source 2. The fact that CS:GO ran smoothly on a variety of hardware made it a popular game. Upgrading to an even beefier engine effectively meant higher minimum specifications when it came to the hardware used to run CS2 in the first place. This has already driven away players who are accustomed to older systems, making it harder for new people to join and dividing the current player base.

What Does Source 2 Mean for the Future of Counter-Strike?

Source 2 is what the community has been wanting for well over a decade and now that it’s here, it’s here to stay. Admittedly, there are still certain aspects of the engine that need fine tuning but at its core it is unmistakably a remarkable game engine that only improved on its predecessor. Whether Valve’s next creation will be called Source 3 or a different piece of technological jargon altogether, it’s important to understand that Source 2 is the present and may even be the future.

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