Community heroes: Dave Johnston, for de_dust

Craig Pearson

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This week on the site, we want to celebrate some of the heroes of the PC gaming community. People who've devoted huge amounts of their free time to making something awesome for the rest of us to enjoy. Today we're talking to Dave Johnston, creator of the most popular Counter-Strike map and therefore one of the most popular multiplayer maps in the history of gaming: de_dust.

Among the top eight Worst Places To Stand in de_dust

PC Gamer: How old were you when you released de_dust? What were you doing at the time?

Dave Johnston: I was 16, therefore I should probably have been studying for my GCSEs.

PC Gamer: You made the most popular maps for the most popular online game of all time. What were you hoping to achieve when you started making them?

Dave: There was no particular goal; making maps was simply an enjoyable hobby. For a while I dreamt of making a map as popular as Q2DM1, but soon reached the conclusion it was an impossible pipe dream, and gave up mapping for a while. When Half-Life came along, I got right back into it, and when Counter-Strike beta 2 arrived, I spent most of my time just making maps for it. I still didn't expect I'd ever topple Q2DM1, let alone with a map for that little mod.

My later maps were simply attempts to satiate my love of mapping, and players appetites for more of the same.

PC Gamer: Nowadays there are huge mapping sites, well documented editors, hundreds of modders. What was it like mapping and getting your work out back then?

Dave: Harder, but fun. There weren't quite the number of tutorials or communities devoted to mapping, but what we had was easily good enough for the primitive game engines of the nineties. I liked experimenting and breaking things to work out what was possible and what wasn't, whereas these days, I find some wannabe designers just expect to be spoon-fed. They want to make Halo in an afternoon, and they expect it to be easy. It's not. It still takes passion and effort to make something you can be proud of.

We also had a smaller audience of gamers, so any reasonably playable map instantly garnered attention and a place in the map cycle of popular servers. It's a fair bit harder to get that sort of attention these days, but fortunately it's still the case that the very best stuff still rises to the top thanks to websites and magazine sections dedicated to the modding community.

de_dust2: no friendlier.

PC Gamer: Dust's popularity is phenomenal. Do you know why?

Dave: In retrospect I believe its simplicity and unique style were the key. It's easy to make a bad or simple map but hard to make a bad and simple one. It clearly struck a key with players who had been used to dingy warehouses, miles of intricate ventilation shafts and other recreated scenes from action flicks.

PC Gamer: Do you still keep informed on the Counter-Strike community?

Dave: I check in from time-to-time, and I always look at the patch notes when Valve release any sort of update for it, no matter how minor or obscure, but I've not played it for a long while. I probably should, just as soon as I can tear myself away from L4D2.

PC Gamer: It's a very specific form of celebrity you have. Aside from wealth, hookers and blow, what's it brought you?

Dave: Thousands of awkward moments after being introduced to people as "the guy that made Dust", and many more followed by "what's that?"

PC Gamer: You never joined Valve. WTF?

Dave: Valve have a special place in my heart - I love them. They're absolute magicians at what they do, but I don't want to ruin my enjoyment of the trick by knowing how it's done. But you never know, maybe one day they will need another Dust map.

PC Gamer: What drew you to Splash Damage? Do you walk about the office wearing a "I made Dust" t-shirt?

Dave: The main attraction was the sheer prospect of working for a studio filled with clever folk who were also brought up on id Software technology and modding sensibilities while they were still at school. How many studio heads can you name that ran their own Quake clan and headed up their own mod team? It's my natural home.

A T-shirt for me has been suggested. In fact, before my arrival they even set up an alternative e-mail address of davedust@splashdamage.com for me, and I'm known in the office as 'Dave Dust'. Thoughtful buggers.

PC Gamer: What's your favourite thing about PC gaming?

Dave: Probably Steam. I dare think where PC gaming would be without it, and it's a near-perfect mechanism for delivering game SDKs to the next wave of modders.

Oh hey, it's those guys from that last shot.

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