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Who made fy_iceworld? A forensic investigation

And what does fy_ stand for?

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I frequent a Counter-Strike level design forum called Mapcore. There, a Dutch teenager who goes by “RD” (“RealDespair”) has long claimed to have been the original author of fy_iceworld. His now defunct portfolio site went on a lengthy rant about it:

“Yes, you read it right. I am the creator of this unholy monster. When i created this map i had absolutely no idea how popular it would become. It is sad that there are many txt files in rotation from kids that claim to have made this map, but you have now stumbled upon the true author…”

Was RD actually responsible for making one of the most influential and popular game maps of all time? I began a forensic investigation to verify its authorship, digging through the ancient detritus of dead Geocities pages, Angelfire websites, and Romanian file servers. I even datamined the fy_iceworld file for clues. I now know what “fy_” actually meant, and it wasn’t “fight yard.” Originally, it wasn’t even called fy_iceworld either! But let’s start from the beginning.

On Mapcore, RD had a reputation as a bit of a shitposter edgelord troll, so everyone thought it was a joke. You’ll forgive us for not believing his claim, when this is what he posted back in late 2003:

“… To date there have been 43 million downloads directly from this site. That equals roughly 350.000 unique hits to my site EACH HOUR!! This ofcourse caught the attention of major websites like Yahoo and countless porn sites, all requesting to shuff my page full of banners. […] I have a direct phone line tapped into the CIA and FBI cybercrime database and have currently reported 257 hack attempts, leading to 158 succesfull arrests in the USA, Russia, Germany, Brazil and all the asian countries. So please, do not try to hack me I WILL SUE U TO THE MAXIMUM EXTENT AND NOTIFY THE FBI.”

Haha! Internet crime porn jokes!! So funny!!!… But then to everyone’s surprise, RD kept pushing this story for years. He claimed authorship on the top fy_iceworld search result on GameBanana, a popular Counter-Strike 1.6 map database. RD even uploaded a “fy_iceworld.map” file as proof, claiming it was the original map source work file. There was a brief discussion among the other level designers at Mapcore. Was it authentic? RD claimed that when you compile the .MAP into a playable .BSP file, it has the same file size as the original fy_iceworld file.

So I obtained a copy of the map file by the generosity of Valve environment artist and fellow Mapcore user Bram Eulaers, and began my forensic analysis to verify RD’s claim.

The beginning of the RD’s fy_iceworld.MAP file header reads:

“// This map has been written by QuArK – Quake Army Knife, QuArK 6.3snap080601”

Quake Army Knife (QuArK) is an older level editor tool that wasn’t widely used for Counter-Strike maps. Most people at the time used the official Valve-supported Worldcraft / Valve Hammer Editor and its .RMF file format to save map data. In fact, QuArK doesn’t rely on .MAP either, internally it uses .QKM files. It’s weird that this is a .MAP file at all, an intermediate file format leftover from Quake 1 and Counter-Strike 1.6’s reliance on the same engine tech.

Now, QuArK 6.3 was released on January 15th, 2003, but most uploads and discussions of fy_iceworld date back to 2001. I found a “Blizzard Mappack” dating back to December 6th, 2001, curated by Daark Angel on their miraculously still-operational Angelfire page. When I downloaded the miraculously still-downloadable .ZIP from Fileplanet and extracted the fy_iceworld.bsp file, its file created timestamp was still intact: Saturday, ‎August ‎18, ‎2001, ‏‎23:12:50. Since it’s part of a map pack compilation, it’s likely that fy_iceworld existed even earlier. No matter when fy_iceworld’s true birthday is, RD’s .MAP file was created at least one and a half years after, if not much later.

(Correction: in the comments below, bron101 mentioned that I misinterpreted the QuArK version number. QuArK 6.3snap080601 actually corresponds to a pre-release version released on August 6, 2001. That means RD’s QuArK version dating is actually eerily close to this best known date for fy_iceworld’s creation, which supports the theory that RD is the true author.)

But if we compile the .MAP and the results match the same fy_iceworld.BSP enjoyed by countless CS 1.6 players, then isn’t that valid evidence anyway, despite a more recent timestamp? This is perhaps the most damning thing about the .MAP file. Even if you somehow managed to replicate the exact same build chain and pipeline from 2001 with the same folder structure, the resulting .BSP file still wouldn’t match, because the level geometry in the .MAP file does not match the original.

fy_iceworld was likely made by an outsider novice modder learning the basics of Counter-Strike level design, with all the texture seams, extraneous polygons, and strange lighting choices that a beginner would likely overlook.

This isn’t a complaint! As creator of de_dust2 Dave Johnston has written before, there’s something beautiful and mysterious about “newbie maps” and that certainly plays into fy_iceworld’s appeal. Meanwhile, a veteran mapper would’ve been ruined by years of experience and would’ve built it very differently…

…. and that’s exactly what I saw when I imported the .MAP file into Worldcraft 3.3 to inspect its construction: the .MAP geometry was perfectly centered and symmetrical around the central origin point (0, 0, 0) in 3D space. Only someone with some substantial mapping experience could possibly care about visually centering it in the level editor view.

The actual fy_iceworld.BSP is actually off-center by a few hundred odd inches, which resembles how maps often grow haphazardly and organically as we build them. By comparison, RD’s .MAP file feels artificial.

So these two map files don’t match. There are two possible explanations:

(1) RD forged this .MAP file. He used QuArK to decompile the original fy_iceworld.bsp and extract the exact player spawn locations, weapon locations, and map dimensions. In fact, maybe that’s partly why he used QuArK, because it had a built-in GUI for ripping the entity data out? From there, he recentered the ripped map data around (0, 0, 0) to make reconstruction easier, and rebuilt the map to seem as faithful as possible.

(2) RD cleaned the .MAP file. He took his original authentic genuine map file, and recentered it before sharing it with his peers, perhaps out of embarrassment about his primitive construction techniques back when he was still learning the tools. He used QuArK 5.10 back in 2001 to save fy_iceworld.qkm, but now he had to use QuArK 6.3 in 2003 to export fy_iceworld.map so that people could open it outside of QuArK.

Either way, the truth value of the .MAP file has been totally compromised. It can’t definitively prove (nor disprove) RD’s authorship, but it certainly leans toward disproving.

All my attempts to reach RD for comment about these discrepancies have gone unanswered, and no one on MapCore has talked to him for years, so I decided to follow another lead.

A “fy_iceworld.txt” readme file accompanies the earliest copy of fy_iceworld I could find, from the Blizzard Mappack dating back to August 2001. It matches the most commonly uploaded readme file across the internet, which cites the Dark Dragons Clan as the author of fy_iceworld and a link to their website at “http://www.geocities.com/csddclan.”

That link to the Dark Dragons Clan’s Geocities page is obviously broken now, but the earliest Archive.org crawl from October 6, 2001 shows just a blank page with a Javascript redirect to a second defunct Geocities page by user SSBroly_99. This is very suspicious. Was there ever actually a Dark Dragons Clan? It seems they never uploaded the promised fixes or sequels.

This second Geocities page has an Archive.org crawl from November 22, 2002 featuring a stripped-down broken page for a “Spider-Man HL” mod and an apology from someone named PyRo for stealing the webpage template from another mod. At a glance, the writing style and misspellings seem consistent with the text in fy_iceworld.txt, so this PyRo was perhaps the founder of the Dark Dragons Clan, who also went by SSBroly_99 — in 2002, a 13-year-old Dragonball Z fan mourning his grandfather:

“Sorry about the site being copied off somones, I send me deep respect and simpathy to the person that made this layout. My friend made this layout and i did not know it was stolen. Now i am a freat webamaster and i have made my own.

The owner emailed me and I kinda yelled at him… And for that I am sorry because my grandpa just died that day.

Sorry all and i hope you can fogive me.

-PyRo”

From there, I was actually able to definitively trace this information back to their real name and identity on social media, nearly 20 years later. Understandably, this person did not respond to any of my requests for comment or interview, so here I’d like to apologize for bothering them, and I’m moving on. No one wants to be remembered for some dumb thing they did on the internet when they were 13.

Besides, they likely weren’t the true author of fy_iceworld. There’s no mentions of the DD clan, its members, or any of their other maps and levels, anywhere on the internet. Instead, we only find a deeply emotional apology for stealing someone else’s work, which also reads like an indirect confession for stealing fy_iceworld in a futile attempt to garner attention for their fledgling CS clan they quickly abandoned.

And frankly, the line “(Soon will be fixed up by |-DD-| CLAN)” from fy_iceworld.txt is really suspicious. If you’re the map author, why not just fix your own map and release the fixed version right away? Why promise to release fixes later, for this very simple map? What are the problems in fy_iceworld that need to be fixed, anyway? This is the teen logic of how a 13-year-old would hedge on stealing someone else’s work: “But I never claimed I made fy_iceworld, I was just saying I was going to fix it!”

Another busted lead. The most commonly attributed author of fy_iceworld probably wasn’t the author. So who was?

I datamined the playable fy_iceworld.BSP map file itself for clues.

Every Half-Life / Counter-Strike / “GoldSrc” BSP map file contains a series of “wad” file paths. The .WAD (“Where’s All the Data”) file format dates back to the original 1993 Doom, but Valve’s GoldSrc WAD3 format is more like a Quake 1 texture wad. It just tells the game engine which texture image packs to load. Here’s fy_iceworld’s wad file paths:

\sierra\counter-strike\valve\halflife.wad;
\sierra\counter-strike\cstrike\cstrike.wad;
\sierra\counter-strike\cstrike\cs_cbble.wad;
\sierra\counter-strike\cstrike\cs_office.wad;
\sierra\counter-strike\cstrike\cs_assault.wad;
\sierra\counter-strike\cstrike\itsitaly.wad;
\sierra\counter-strike\cstrike\cs_dust.wad;
\sierra\counter-strike\cstrike\de_aztec.wad;
\sierra\counter-strike\cstrike\de_vegas.wad;

This list shows why there’s a “de_vegas.wad” included with some copies of fy_iceworld. de_vegas was an official CS map until it was removed for v1.6, but fy_iceworld uses the texture “lv_marble” to mimic the look of ice on its walls. (“fy_marbleworld” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it though.)

Also note the sheer number of wad files loaded for what’s a very minimalistic map that uses only a handful of textures. This is usually something that beginner designers do when they’re starting out: they’re not sure what texture theme they’re going to use, so they end up loading all these disparate texture packs into the editor. Most experienced mappers would plan ahead with a minimal wad list to optimize map loading and texture search speeds in the level editor.

Lastly, these file paths correspond to the retail version of Counter-Strike v1.0, which means fy_iceworld had to have been made some time after the CS 1.0 retail release: November 8, 2000.

Let’s move on to the lighting data in fy_iceworld.BSP. Several lights in fy_iceworld have a color value of “255 255 128 200”, which corresponds to an RGB value of 255, 255, 128 with a brightness of 200.

“255 255 128 200” is the default light color setting in the .FGD file that sets up game logic for the map editor tool Worldcraft 3.3.

But remember RD’s .MAP file? It came from QuArK, not Worldcraft. And QuArK 6.3 doesn’t use .FGD files, it uses its own bundled .QRK files to setup entities for game logic. So if you were using QuArK to build a level, the default light color value would instead be “255 255 255 300”, as defined in the DataHL.QRK file bundled with QuArK 6.3.

This light color casts additional doubt on RD’s claim to authorship because it strongly implies that the author of fy_iceworld used Worldcraft instead of QuArK. And again, if the author used Worldcraft, RD probably should have provided a .RMF file instead of a .MAP file.

But by far the most telling part of the fy_iceworld.BSP file is the “worldspawn: message” data.

This feature is leftover from Quake 1, where the game engine would print this message text to the console when the map was loaded. For Half-Life 1 and Counter-Strike, it is understood as a map title / description text field, but actually it does nothing and prints nothing to the console. The only way to see this text is to inspect the .BSP file data in a text editor like I did, or to decompile the map and edit its worldspawn properties in the level editor.

fy_iceworld’s message reads:

“cs_iceworld by Fantasy – for Counter Strike”

Needless to say, this casts enormous doubt on both RD and Dark Dragons Clan claims to authorship. RD’s fy_iceworld.map file, of course, conveniently omits this data. It’s also unlikely that someone would sign a map as Fantasy, but then suddenly also claim authorship as Dark Dragons Clan.

Why did I bury the lede like this?

This was the actual flow of my investigation, as it happened, in March 2020.

There’s a possibility that either RD or Dark Dragon Clan’s PyRo could’ve previously gone by Fantasy, and then renamed their internet identities soon after the map release. But this theory must be weighed with all the other discrepancies and evidence I’ve presented. The simplest explanation is that neither of them are the true authors.

So now there’s a surprise third suspect and second location in our detective story. And what the hell is cs_iceworld?

The oldest copy of cs_iceworld that I could find was uploaded onto a Romanian file server in 2007 without any other timestamp intact.

I downloaded cs_iceworld and loaded it into the game, and sure enough, it seems like an earlier version of iceworld. Half the guns (mostly the pistols) are missing, and the back walls bisecting the team spawn areas are missing. The map is also a bit darker, and the tops of the walls are in pitch black shadow.

Which actually explains one of the central mysteries of fy_iceworld. If there’s already sunlight, then why did the author add all these extra red / yellow / blue light sources?

Now we have a reason: they didn’t know that you could put sunlight in a map, so they just put a bunch of bright glowing invisible balls of light everywhere to compensate. Then they later read a tutorial about how to add sunlight, but left all the lights from before.

There’s the possibility that cs_iceworld is a forgery, and someone decompiled the original fy_iceworld and made their own changes to it. However, this is extremely unlikely. No one in the history of community level design has ever decompiled a map and painstakingly rebuilt it, just to remove guns, walls, and sunlight from an already minimal compact map. It’s much more common to see something like fy_dustworld or fy_iceworld2k, popular community variants that make huge drastic opinionated departures away from the original.

So, who made fy_iceworld? Turns out, a “Fantasy.”

That’s all we know about them, and that’s likely all we ever will know. As with many real-life mysteries, there’s no big satisfying reveal here, just more questions.

But at least now we all know what “fy_” means. It wasn’t “fight yard”, which never made any damn sense.

fy_ always meant fantasy… fantasy as in dreaming, longing, and unfulfilled desire.

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