I first played Counter-Strike the very first day it was out (circa June 20th, 1999) and was hooked ever since. The maps weren't too great then, the servers unstable, and the game buggy, but it was still fun, and had great models/animation. With each succeeding beta the game got more an more popular, because of it's quality, and because it was the first real quality mod out for Half Life (besides Valve's own TFC). Around Beta 3 you could pop into #counterstrike on gamesnet and talk to the creator himself, Gooseman about the game for hours (I remember talking with him about if the new custom models should be locked into each map or chosen by the player, so for example a terrorist couldn't use a desert uniform for a snow map). This lasted about a month before the room got flooded with newbies and spammers, and Counter-Strike started to rise in popularity.

The community was tightest around beta 3 because there were enough people to make the game popular enough to always find players and servers, plus the mappers were starting to find exactly what a Counter-Strike map should be, as they moved away from the normal HL textures, and more towards custom realistic textures and architecture. Team play increased with the addition of radio commands. Everything was going well. Beta 4 came out with the addition of a new scenario (defusion aka bomb defusal). This also when the map de_dust by DaveJ was introduced, which went on to become the most popular Counter-Strike map of all time (despite its decidedly dm qualities). Since CS is now the most played game on the internet, that means de_dust is also the most played map for any multiplayer game. When Beta 5 came out last year around the end of December, CS' popularity increased ten-fold. Valve realized how popular CS was, and contracted Barking Dog Studios to polish the game in order to give it a broader appeal (no more cryptic manual configs, etc).

When Beta 5 came out with new maps, new models, new guns, and new HUD graphics, graphical adjustments, etc, CS quickly became huge. Many complained about CS becoming commercialized, but most of those people still played it anyway. Beta 6 came out with night vision that finally worked right, new guns (the Aug and Mac 10), and introduced radar. Also, the assassination and escapes scenarios were introduced. The as_ maps are like TFC hunted mode, where the good guys have to get a VIP to an escape point, while avoiding the bad guys. The escape scenario died an early death, and was hated by many because of bad maps and the fact that people don't like playing with just a pistol and not being able to buy anything.

This is also when CS cheats started popping up. The CS-Professional bastards came up with model cheats, such as terrorist models with huge spikes coming out of them, so that people could know if you were behind a crate, a corner, etc. Grenades had big green nets around them so you knew what kind of grenade they were. The sniper rifles had long red "lasers" that let you know where people aimed. Gooseman quickly put a stop to this using a simple CRC check, checking the bounding box size, etc. The cheaters cracked it, and continued their cheating ways. However, this is much less of a problem now thanks to the bounding box checks. Many console commands also let you cheat. By typing lambert -20 into the console for example, models would light up like they were fullbright. On maps like 747, where darkness was key, it made it easy to spot people.

A huge change for Half Life multiplayer in general was the new netcode, accompanied with the release of CS Beta 6.5. The notoriously bad netcode of HL was finally fixed up, and made the game 10x more enjoyable (despite what some whiners might tell you, who I'm betting play it anyway). Along with it came new maps, and lots more players (as usual). Beta 7 was released recently and came with new maps, the removal of the es_ maps, new guns (the duel Beretta Elites), new maps (arabstreets, vegas, and others), and, yes, even more players. Of course, the cheaters came out with new cheats, and Gooseman soon released a 7.1 patch to fix bugs and cheats. Recently a proxy server was developed that acts as an aim bot. First, the skins of the models are made a bright red, green, or blue on the chest and head. The proxy searched for this color, and locked onto it. It's pretty ineffective, and is useless when playing against good people. A fun trick is to make a color spraypaint with those colors so the cheaters can't move, or even better, put the color in the skybox of your map, so that they can't look anywhere but up.

Recently, it was announced that CS 1.0 is being released officially by Valve in stores. The mod will still be available for free off the site, but it will also be available in stores. It incorporates parametric animation from TF2 and new models, guns, etc. I've been playing the game for almost a year and a half, and am not tired of it. The newbie factor is a problem, but by finding a clan with a good server, that problem is gone pretty quickly. If you haven't played CS, or god forbid, Half Life, get off your ass, go to a store and get it. It's worth your time.