Hexeth: “Our biggest phobia is if Valve switches to one-time payments for skins”


CS.MONEY Blog presents Part III of the Recoil Case skincreators’ interviewing series.

Vlad “hexeth” Vasiliev is one of the few recognizable skinmakers in the CS:GO scene. He is a frequent interview guest, and his Instagram is proactive and popular. People interested in skins might know him quite well since as many as six of his projects made it into the game and were done solely or through collaborating with other designers.

Today’s talk is about hexeth’s Glock Winterized, which was recently added to the game along with the Recoil Case and a lot of peripherical skinmaking stuff: hidden references; the differences in the work between the Source and Rust engines; Valve’s approach to skins, their marketing department, and the procedure for selecting skins; the stages of creation and the difficulties of being a skin creator; the community and much more!

The conversation turned out to be very long, so this is a compressed version processed by the editors.

You are minimalistic, but still, it turns out really fascinating. And it’s being approved by Valve. Great stuff.

I wouldn’t say minimalistic. In fact, simple skins are much more difficult to make than complex ones. It’s a lot of work to keep the composition, the colors, even the player’s attention at that minimum. And this is actually a challenging task. I’m interested in getting the most out of the minimum. And it looks like Valve likes it too.

Why is your skin among the blue ones?

It has long been that there are only seventeen skins in cases, of which we have two in the red sector, three in pink, five in purple, and as many as seven skins in blue. That is, it turns out that almost half of a case goes to blue. But they pay the same for all skins.

But on the other hand, it’s about recognition. You can make art, or you can make fast food.

Good. Let’s take one of the most famous CS:GO workshoppers, Apel7. Many people know his skins, but how many people know him himself?

So you’re saying it doesn’t make sense?

It makes sense only if the workshoppers are going public, start giving more interviews, participate in podcasts, etc. Recently, a video with Kosear and Kadzor showed their faces in the studio and talked to the presenter. And this is a new level.

Rust and Source 2

Why is Rust so popular among CS:GO skin developers?

The Rust workshop is very similar to the CS:GO workshop. But, say, it’s a lighter version because it has PBR textures that are easy to work with. They allow you to set any materials and material properties. It’s the Unity engine, while PBR does not work on Source 1. But Source 2 already supports PBR.

With all the advantages of the new engine, I don’t think it will be easier for us. When CS moves to Source 2, skins will continue to be created in a similar vein, and will not look like in Rust, for example. And they will still be difficult to make and prepare, there will be a lot of manual work.

But I brought more realism to my skins thanks to Rust, because after it, I began to understand physics more. And started adapting them to CS. Since there is no PBR in Source, only fongs, the shader base, we have to adapt them along with the textures to work and look like PBR. It’s a crutch, surely. As a result, thanks to this crutch, we can see pretty clear good graphics even at the lowest settings.

Are you looking forward to switching to Source 2?

This will enable, firstly, developers to implement more tools. And secondly, I very much hope that the problems with microlags will go away because, for example, in Moscow, I can still play well with the Moscow Internet, but in Belarus, it’s like hell. And considering that Valve is not going to release a new version of the game, but, most likely, they will just update this one, we will probably keep a lot of crutches in Source 2.

And what opportunities can it give besides PBR?

For example, the pearlescent effect that appeared on my Mac10 and Printstream. Previously, the game didn’t have this effect and it did not work.

I don’t know what this Source 2 can give to CS. It’s just more hype than a necessity because the game itself is complete. It may have some problems with the netcode, but then again, is it a problem with the netcode or maybe with our Internet?

Tickrate is just a strange thing to discuss. On the one hand, Valve is saying that they don’t want to introduce 128 because it will put a lot of stress on weak computers. On the other hand, they screw up the graphics, and we already see shaders work at the lowest settings, although literally in 2018, shaders were turned off at mins. I also made skins in such a way that if we turn on the minimum settings, and the normal maps and effects disappear, the skin won’t change much, it would look about the same as at the maxes.

Glock Winterized and its reference

Tell me about your Glock.

I have a friend, Vasya. UAD6, he collabed with me on this Glock. He’s a great designer. He has very cool skins, but he did not want to enter CS, worked in Rust, earned money. But I see that the person is very talented, very, and he progresses more and more with time. Say, making skins for Rust is about here and now, and for CS, it’s investing in the future.

I say to him, “Let’s try CS, why are you sitting there”. But he didn’t want to. Maybe he didn’t feel the power, or the desire, or whatever. But at some point, he moved to Blender and started modeling. And modeled a high-poly Glock. And when I saw his normal map, a beauty, I said: “Let me take your normal and just draw a skin on it.” So we did it. We had three, four, or even five versions.

But after some time… It happens that you do the job, a year or two passes, you forget how it looked. And you begin to think that it is not that good. And you start to redo it in a new way. So I got the idea to refer to Snow Guy, one of the first CS player models, a character from ancient times of 1.6 and earlier. He was on the T-side. We published it, I removed all the inscriptions that seemed inappropriate to me. But Valve took and accepted one of the first versions, not the Snow Guy.

I waited for the price of StatTrak to drop. And it was… twenty-three dollars for an FN! And I thought: “What a joke! Factory New, $23 worth!” <Laughs> I felt too greedy to buy my own skin for such a price. But okay, I found an interesting float and got it.

It still surprises me: I get comments every day, people like this Glock. So I thought: “Is it really such a cool skin? I have to buy one for myself too!” So I went on Dust 2, pulled it out, and… Come on! Why is it so cool? <Laughs> You know, it’s like it wasn’t me who did it, but someone else. Holy crap, it’s a masterpiece! I used to be very embarrassed by the inscription “9mm” on the magazine. It was just annoying because, on the renderers, it looked crooked. And it looks good in the game.

And I was very amused by one streamer. When the case comes out and your skin is in it, you just go to YouTube and start watching the unpackings, listening to the comments. And this streamer spins the case and my Glock drops. He looks at it, and says: “What’s that written on the mag? Ah, that’s the length of my penis!” <Laughs>.

I’m glad that people love my Glock. It’s nice.

Valve and skin namings 

Who gives names to skins? Creators or Valve?

Valve kept only two names for my works: AUG Plague and NOVA Toy Soldier. But Mac10 Disco Tech is their idea.

Where did Disco Tech come from?

When the pearlescent effect first appeared in the Workshop, the first thing I did was google what it is. And I saw that it is often used on vinyl stickers on cars. And I started experimenting. I wanted to make a grain effect, ground it a little too much for my normal map, and Mac10 started to glow. Okay, to hell with it, looks cool. There is also a reflective effect, a pattern that sets the depth, holography—three in one. And I just called it “Pearl” because I’m so brilliant that a smarter name didn’t occur to me. Valve came up with a cooler idea, Disco Tech, and I don’t mind.

AUG Plague, Mac10, and stickers

Tell us about AUG Plague and your collection.

My co-author, M_D, used to have a randomized skin pattern with this design. And I liked it so much … I’m a big fan of horror and mystic films. And I suggested that he make static out of a random, but only make it a little more unusual. Do you know how many of these AUGs we madey? Around seven. Golden, pink, etc. It was 2017, and I had no skins in Rust or CS. I just wanted a bit of hype or drew attention to myself.

I made one of the versions in metal. And Teo~ told me that this metal version was the coolest. I respect his opinion, but it was also important to know the opinion of Valve. And they decided that skins are shit. After some time, I got some skills, saw this AUG and thought: damn it, it’s cool, just made badly. Changed physics to more realistic, made adjustments. And then a Valve employee wrote to me, asked me to make the normal map a little smaller. This is a very, very rare case. I did it in just half an hour, sent him the updated version. He said, “It’s okay, everything’s fine.” And went silent. But if this happens, there was not a single situation when a skin was not accepted later, although no one promises one hundred percent.

In addition, we have a theme connected with this AUG: we wanted to make the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: AUG, SG553, SCAR, and G3SG1 to be Plague, Death, Famine, and War.

And why, for example, make a skin for SCAR if few people play it? Wouldn’t there be less interest?

Have you seen how many people played Mac10 before Valve accepted Disco Tech? <Laughs>

The players answer your question for me. I remember how s1mple played with MP7 all the time. And now he continues to use it, but Perfecto, Boombl4, Flamie, they all have my Mac10 and I am very pleased, of course. It seems to me that before that, Mac10 was not taken so often in competitive games.

Does it bother you that your work of art will be covered with stickers, and it will not look as good as you intended?

Check my inventory and look at all the skins I made. They are also signed MONEYMAKER #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6. They all have stickers. I initially prepare the skin so that it looks cool with stickers and gloves.

ABCs for skinmaking

Have you ever felt that, let’s say, some emotion comes, and you just go and forge a skin? Or is it all a well-thought-out plan?

Everyone works in their own way.

Let’s say, I made skins with VLEK. AR Galil Connexion is our joint work. He made a much greater contribution to Galil, I have made a much greater contribution to other guns in this collection. VLEK always does concept art first. He proceeds from the composition in concept art, then begins to work out the details, transfers all this to the gun, and then works on the details.

And I, for example, began to develop a three-dimensional spatial imagination since school geometry classes. And now I can do nothing about the skin at all, until the complete picture is formed in my head. So I can scroll it right in my head, examine it, change some details. And when I feel that the skin is ready, I sit down and do it. Of course, at that moment, you understand that imagination is imagination, but you cannot foresee all the details. And you finalize the skin.

Or, for example, our joint AWP Spender with CiDDi, with burning dollars drawn. We did a great job with this skin, because, firstly, CiDDi is a super talented artist, he painted everything by hand: the fire, the dollars, the faces on bucks. Plus, there are many references and easter eggs. And the main point is that I kep it in my head for about six months. I came to CiDDi and offered to draw. He’s did. And I understood that it lacks details, just art is not enough. And then I start to think of it, work it out, bring in a lot of volumetric detailing, patterns.

CiDDi drew the art for about a week, and I finished all the patterns in another two weeks. This is a pretty big project. I would like Valve to pay attention to it.

And some skins were made for fun, I just sat down and did it so that people would not forget me. For example, G3 Digital Grid, was accepted into the game, although I did not plan it at all. I just trained, worked on weapon metals, I wanted to make it as close to reality as possible. And Valve accepted it. Although, Mac10 was also accepted, but I just wanted to hype and make a bright collection to be remembered.

Given the trend that the G3 Digital Grid, AUG Plague and Glock Winterized were brought to the game two years after they were made, I suggest Valve is browsing through my workshop all the time.

Basically, Valve wants the art to be drawn specifically for the shape of the gun and that everything matches. Firstly, for them, it will be great evidence that you didn’t steal it from a random stock, didn’t take it from the Internet, but drew it yourself because you can’t even take fonts from the Internet, nothing. Everything has to be done by hand, by yourself. Secondly, the art looks much more interesting if made specifically for a gun.

On working with other skinmakers and skins promotion

Tell me how you work with your colleagues.

I always work on equal terms. But I almost always act as a mentor because I find people with whom I want to collaborate. It is almost impossible that someone will come to me and say: “Here, we almost made a skin, let’s collab with us.” I will refuse because I have to supervise everything from the very beginning and know where, what and how is being done. Mostly, I make the materials, prepare everything for the game, and adapt it. Other people make art.

Lately, I’ve started doing collabs with friends that Valve didn’t care about just because I see these people should be in CS.

How to balance doing something of your own and working for the sake of the audience?

Who knows? I don’t think about the audience at all. I just made skins for myself with which I would like to play, and if someone else goes with them, well, cool. Today I played a match, and a dude had my Mac10. Cool. Especially when that person pulls Mac10 with such pride, he has such an expensive skin. And he doesn’t even know that the person who made it is playing alongside him. <Laughs>

Is it necessary to do marketing around skins? How to do it?

I think the most important thing is production. If you are not well known, the promotion will help a lot. And if Valve has already noticed you, it is not needed. But production is always important. How you submit your skin in the Workshop is how people will look at it. We can say that the pictures you attach to the skin page are eighty percent of the acceptance. If they are bad, your skin will be skipped.

Disco Tech P90 by Hexeth

Valve’s marketing dept and skinmakers’ phobia

Why doesn’t Valve make their own skins?

First, in 2013, they tried. And after they opened the Workshop and saw what people from outside were doing, their thought clicked. Secondly, now we have Operations with many skins by Valve: just look at the skins from the community, compare them with the new skins from Valve, and you’ll get it. Valve is not stupid, they actually have a very smart and advanced marketing department. A really cool dept.

I can’t believe it. Why do you think so?

Marketing is never typical. The main thing in marketing is not how you do it, but what result you get. And the result is a million people a day. That’s a shitton. And if so many people are playing the game simultaneously, it means marketing works. But how? It’s up to Valve to decide.

The game will fade if they close the idea of the community’s skins. People will appreciate old skins more than new ones. And we will simply lose the balance on the marketplace, which is completely dependent on the community. The community decides what will happen. And we just can bring down Valve’s income a lot, which they definitely don’t want.

They tried to make a move, not a very good one. Dreams & Nightmares Case. It wasn’t cool. They paid a one-time price to the skinmakers, $100k per skin, and that’s it. This raised a lot of conversations and Valve apparently figured they could scare away a lot of the talented people who have been in the workshop for a long time and have been making money off of it for a long time.

As a consumer, I’ll say, I liked Dreams & Nightmares. It is something fresh; it’s a topic, it’s cool.

The case itself is cool, no questions. Very cool. But it’s different. Valve just gave 1.7 million dollars and had their work done. In the long run, even the worst case which does not bring in the best income will still give more than what they paid the skinmakers for this case. That is why workshoppers do not like the D&N case. And for us, the biggest phobia is if Valve switches to such a system and starts paying one-shots for skins. It will be a crash. It will be terrible.

On skinmakers and the clique

You know all the skinmakers so well. And the whole community in general.

I have been in the Workshop since 2015. And when you come and start doing everything in one person, not communicating with anyone, there is very little chance that Valve will accept something from you.

There are two people in the Workshop, whose patience and perseverance can be envied. Midnight Witch, who made two and a half thousand skins before her first one was accepted. And Strenson, who also did it for six years, until he came up with his polymeric translucent skins. Well, about the “came up” part… Of course, Teo~ was the first to invent with it, but Strenson developed this idea more interestingly.

He immediately got three skins from this collection in a row added to the game. And when they asked him if it was worth it to grind for six years for this, he, of course, said that it was, because it really pays off.

Midnight Witch has already made almost 3,000 skins!

Relationship with CS

How did it all start?

In 2000, my mother bought me my first PC, and it, of course, had Half-Life, Quake 3, and Unreal Tournament. And I liked the battle arenas. In contrast, Counter-Strike did not click with me. I didn’t like it and didn’t care. Maybe I’ll hurt holy religious feelings, but it’s impossible to play CS 1.6; it’s just some kind of horror.

And when I came to CS:GO in 2015, it looked something like CS:Source. And when a person dragged me there, I had a fierce dissonance because most of the maps were dark, especially Nuke and Inferno. And these colorful skins like Hyperbeast or Aziimov looked like something ridiculous to me because I could not understand how they could be connected with war, weapons, and the army.

Then I set myself a goal: make regular military skins, camouflages, and all that for people. And to make really cool camouflage skins, you need decent skills. And it’s hard work. And I see this especially clear with beginners who try to either copy my work or make their own camouflages and everything turns out bad, dirty, ugly.

I couldn’t link black, gloomy maps and colorful skins. But then Valve started updating the maps, the new Inferno appeared, etc. By design, the game has become closer to skins. That is, it’s not the skins that adapt to the game, but the game adapts to the skins. This, by the way, answers the question why the old Red-sector skins are so dull. Fire Serpent or Wasteland Rebel, for example. If these skins came out today, they would go blue, or violet, because they look dull. But then they looked pretty good and harmonious because the maps were dark. Also, the physics and animations were terrible… But in 2017 everything was fixed, it became beautiful, and now I really like it! At the moment, I can call myself a fan of CS:GO.

More skins and some admiration

Which of your skins that are not yet in the game would you like to be taken?

Most of all, M4A1-S Phobia. This is just my personal. I really want it to get into the game. Well, and AWP Spender, with burning bucks.

What skin do you think is ideal?

Mac10 Exoskeleton. A brilliant work. De puiseau is a cool master. By the way, he participated in the development of Hitman 2.

What other works by Hexeth are you looking forward to in the game?

By the way, we have two more interviews with other Recoil Case skin creators:

  • Acid Art Combo: P250 Visions by Australian duo Chrissparra and Cimota
  • Incredible stories from the author of the Printstream series, JTPZN, including nightmares, a PC case and Nirvana!

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