HL2DM 103 - Fundamental Skills


This course is designed to help a new player develop the skills needed to survive in a typical public server. It is also designed as a review for experienced players who want to evaluate and sharpen their basic skills.

Spawning and Gathering

The first thing you should think about is what to do when you spawn. Make it a habit to sprint or jump off your spawn point immediately, even if the server you are on has spawn protection. This will ensure you develop good habits that will carry you through any server you visit. The goal is to minimize deaths from players that monitor spawn points, and at the same time give your enemies less time to locate you and predict your next move.

Once you are in motion, you should be evaluating where you spawned and what your next move should be. This must be done quickly so that you do not waste any time in execution and do not hang around areas of immediate danger. Formulating a strong plan of action takes map knowledge, prediction, and good instincts developed through experience. In team deathmatch, teamwork and communication also factor in.

At an advanced level, the path you decide to take may be based on several strategic factors. For now, you should just attempt to gather pickups in the most efficient manner possible, and try to avoid fighting until you are sufficiently stocked.

As you gather, try not to engage the enemy, but be ready to defend yourself if you are forced to fight. If you know how to grav-nade, you should have a hand grenade out, or if there are a lot of props in the immediate area, you may want to have your gravity gun ready. Typically you should not attack an opponent with the SMG, pistol, crowbar or stunstick immediately after spawning. These weapons are too weak to use as an initial attack, and will give away your position. An example of an exception might be during teamplay when you know your opponents are weak and are busy fighting other members of your team. Additional SMG spray, or leaping in with a melee weapon might be an acceptable way to distract or confuse your opponent, or take the heat off your teammates so that they can grab health and armor. For the most part however, attacking with these weapons will just get you killed. Try to get out of the habit of leading with them, even if you don't know how to grav-nade yet.

The importance of gathering as a skill is one of the most overlooked aspects of the game. If you ask someone what skills they are working on, often they will tell you they are working on their aim and movement, possibly even studying a map. Few will tell you they are taking the time to practise efficient gathering.

The first factor in strong gathering is knowing the pickup locations and setting priorities for obtaining them. You should try to determine which weapons are the most effective within the context of the map and then develop efficient paths and methods to obtain them. Gathering armor should also be high on your list of priorities (or health if you are low). When you spawn on a map where someone is likely to lead with the crossbow, you should try to grab at least one pickup of armor immediately, so that you may survive one crossbow bolt as you continue to gather. The same goes for other weapons. In a map where the mag dominates, staying above the one body shot theshold of 75 points is crucial. In an RPG heavy map, try to stay at full health and armor as much as you can so that you have the chance of surviving one rocket blast. Obviously the ideal situation is to be at full health and armor at all times, but this is not always possible, and it must be balanced with gathering weapons and ammo so that you are prepared to defend, or are ready to attack when the opportunity presents itself.

The second factor in strong gathering is remembering to grab pickups as you move through the map, especially when under pressure. If you are too focused on getting to a certain location on the map, you may forget to gather important pickups along the way. This is something that comes with experience, but it is always good to be conscious of it as you will never know what you neglected to gather until you need it. Recording demos of yourself and watching them back is a good way to see how many items you pass up as you move around the map.

The third factor in strong gathering is dexterity. This means moving rapidly through the map grabbing pickups as you go, using your gravity gun to snatch them from places without having to actually go there, landing on items as you fall to the ground, and knowing how to move so you can get to hard-to-reach pickups. Note also that when you grab a pickup with the gravity gun that is above your head, you need to pull it down to body height in order for it to be placed into your inventory. Practise this grabbing and pulling down motion until it is second nature.

The fourth factor in strong gathering is being creative and using all the tools at your disposal to obtain the pickups you desire. Note that weapons such as hand grenades, smg nades, the crossbow, explosive props, and even the rpg can be used to knock pickups into more accessible places, or blast them away from your opponent, possibly giving you the opportunity to grab them instead. There may be many ways to creatively gather in any given map, and it can be quite an advantage to take the time to learn them. You can also watch other players to see if they are using creative methods for gathering.

Although there are other considerations that should be made when gathering, these are the things you should focus on for now. Advanced gathering strategies relate to starving your opponent by controlling and timing pickup spawns, but these strategies will be discussed in a later course.

Drill 103.1 - Prioritization

Load up a study map and make a list from 1 to 5 of the best pickup locations. Now try to find the fastest path to get to all five locations starting at 1 and ending at 5. After you finish, see if you can gather all five in a more efficient manner by gathering in a different order and stopping at one location on the way to another.

Drill 103.2 - Gravity Gun Practise

Load up any map. As you move around the map, carry a weapon other than the gravity gun. As you reach each pickup, pull out your gravity gun to get it and then switch back to the weapon you had out. If the pickup is directly in your path, grav gun it before you reach it or as you leap over it. If the object is not directly in your path, get close enough to grab it as you move by. Try not to stop and pick it up. Practise making fast switches and grabs as you continue to move.

Drill 103.3 - Pressure Gathering

Get a partner or join a public server. Each time you fight, focus mainly on obtaining the nearest useful pickup in the heat of combat. Don't worry if you die often because your concentration is broken, just try to develop the habit of gathering under pressure. As you do so, try to analyze which pickups are easy to obtain and assist you in your fight, and which ones are difficult to obtain, dont help you, or distract you enough for your opponent to finish you.

Map Knowledge

The average player develops map knowledge simply by play and experience. Advanced players take the time to analyze a map and then pressure test the resulting strategies. This is a much more efficient and informative way of learning a map. In this section a simple map analysis methodology will be described to show how it is possible to develop more than just a very basic knowledge of a map. Depending on how serious you are about learning a map, you could decide not to bother, or you could expand on the process and develop your own custom methods.

Note: The more training partners you involve the better. Each person you train with will be able to offer a unique perspective during each of the following steps.

Step 1: Walkthrough

Get a training partner and do a walkthrough of the map. Giving each area a unique and memorable name may help you during discussion and teamplay. Pay particular attention to the location of critical pickups and notable areas, such as mags, rpgs, ar2s, smg nades, orbs, superchargers, choke points, warps, and so on.

Step 2: Develop Routes

After the walkthrough, examine various routes around the map and try to find efficient strings of pickups. Also note how safe each pathway is and what you are most at risk of getting hit with, such as orbs in enclosed spaces, mag or crossbow in wide open areas, rpg when running running across a courtyard etc.

Step 3: Spawn Analysis

Type "kill" in the console to auto-suicide. When you respawn, take some time to look at the spawn point and remember the exact location. Look to see what pickups are close by and what routes each spawn puts you on. Note also any objects or weapons you might use to kill someone if they spawn here. Repeat this process until you have seen each spawn point a few times and feel confident you will remember them.

Step 4: Strategy Development

Think about or discuss various strategies that you think will help you run the map. This may include trying to hold a key area or weapon, or it may be baiting your opponent by pretending to access something that makes a noise and then moving around to flank them. In team deathmatch you could discuss ways to cover each other as you attempt to attack or defend key areas. Brainstorm and critique your ideas.

Step 5: Look for Angles

Try to find angles that offer an offensive and/or defensive advantage. Examples include banking orbs off various surfaces into doors or windows, hitting superchargers with smg nades, tossing a nade through a gap in a wall, throwing barrels to knock weapons towards you or away from opponents, banking crossbow bolts off walls, and so on. Try to be creative, and when you find a useful angle, either demo it or take screen shots of the positions to stand and aim.

Step 6: Test and Tweak

Once you have completed your analysis of the map, it is time to test what you have learned. Depending on what you were studying for, you can test by joining a public server, or you may want to arrange a match with another player or team. Use feedback from playing to evaluate and adjust each of the above. You may find that the strategies you developed have serious flaws, or an angle is inconsistent and a waste of ammo etc.

Movement and Sprint Management

One of the biggest mistakes beginners make is to stand perfectly still while scanning the map, or while firing at their opponent. This is a sure way to get yourself killed as most good players will kill a stationary target in one or two quick shots. Learning to move in an evasive manner is essential to your survival and your development as a player. At the basic level, this means knowing when to use sprint and when to conserve it. For now, try to focus on conserving sprint for when you are in the heat of battle, or need to make a hasty escape. Using sprint to move off your spawn point is also a good habit.

For evasion purposes, try not to run directly at or away from your opponent in a straight line. Doing this effectively gives your opponent a stationary target to fire at. Get used to using your strafe keys to sidestep incoming fire. Also combine strafe keys and mouse movement with your forward and back keys so that you are shifting sideways slightly as you advance or retreat. Also experiment with various combinations of movement keys and sprint, duck and jump. Various combinations can help you to move more erratically, thereby making you a less predictable target.

Although you can spend a lot of time learning to manage your sprint and evade incoming fire, you will never reach your full potential until you learn advanced movement techniques. Integrating advanced movement into your style of play takes time and experience, so it is recommended that you start learning advanced movement techniques as early as possible. See HL2DM 202 - Advanced Movement (coming soon).

Weapon Basics

Weapon Familiarity

This means knowing your weapons well and getting good at using each. On the theoretical side, it means knowing the attributes of each weapon, the strengths and weaknesses, how many rounds are in a clip, how long it takes to reload, and so on. On the practical side it means developing your aim, reflexes, timing, prediction, ability to fire while moving, etc.

When you are first learning your weapons, try to spend a few days of play using a specific one. When you feel you have improved with it, do the same thing with a different weapon. Choose maps that you know fairly well so you can get quickly to the weapon you are practising. By doing this, you are forcing yourself to improve your skill level using weapons you might not select otherwise. Do not fall into the trap of only mastering one weapon and then being completely dependent on it.

Weapon Selection

Consistently selecting the "best" weapon can mean the difference between winning or losing a match. Such decisions are often made instinctively, because there is usually little time to evaluate:

1. What you currently have and how much ammo is available.
2. If the weapon is strong or weak within the current context of the map and your position relative to your opponent.
3. How strong or weak your opponent is and if the weapon has enough power to finish them quickly.
4. If there is something else in your inventory that would be better suited to the task.
5. What the odds of hitting are and whether it might be better to conserve ammo (especially true if the ammo is strong but scarce).

There are two key factors that contribute to weapon selection. The first has already been discussed and that is strong gathering. In order to have a choice, you must first gather the weapon you need. The second is understanding how a weapon functions in the context of the map and the situation you are in. This ties back into map knowledge and weapon familiarity. As you analyze a map, think about which weapons are strong in each area of the map, and which positions give you an advantage or disadvantage with each. Attempting to kill someone with an orb in a wide open area is not as effective as an enclosed space. Attempting to hit someone with an smg nade as they fly through the air is a low percentage shot at best. Always try to select the best tool for the job, and be sure you know it is in your inventory before trying to switch.


Strong opponents tend to move quickly and gather additional health while taking fire. This means they can be tough to put down using just one weapon. Those with good offensive techniques will also kill you if they are confronted and you take too long to finish them, or stop to reload your weapon. In order to maximize your efficiency, you should develop weapon combinations that improve your offense and reduce reloading. Generally, low percentage/high damage weapons are good for leading with, and high percentage/low damage weapons make good finishers. You can also fire one weapon as a distraction and use another high powered weapon as the main offense. Here are a few examples. You should make up your own combos and test them against tough opponents.

Mag ~ AR2 Primary Fire
Crossbow ~ Shotgun
Orb ~ Mag

Gravity Gun

The gravity gun is such a unique and versatile weapon, that it deserves special attention when learning the fundamentals of the game. To get good with the gravity gun, it is recommended you play regularly on maps with lots of props.

Although there are many creative uses for the gravity gun, the most frequently used are:

1. Killing your opponent by throwing a prop at them.
2. Protecting yourself from thrown props by catching or deflecting them.
3. Grabbing and using a prop as a sheild against incoming fire.
4. Knocking objects out of your path, or away from you.
5. Placing objects in the path of your opponent to slow them as they try to pass through.
6. Catching and firing, or deflecting a hand grenade or an orb.
7. Obtaining pickups without having to pass over them.

In this section we will look at a few fundamental gravity gun concepts that will get you on the way to holding your own with the gravity gun.

First, the gravity gun has two functions. Primary fire zaps things with a pulse of energy, or fires objects if you are already holding them. Secondary fire grabs and releases objects. Note that there is a cooldown on the gravity gun. This means that if you throw something at someone and then try to catch it again right away you will not be able to until the gravity gun resets. This frustrates many new players as they don't understand why they couldn't catch an object thrown back at them, not realizing their gravity gun hadn't reset.

Props, grenades and orbs can be caught or deflected using the gravity gun. It is recommended you start practising these techniques as early as possible so that you get good at defending yourself this way. To get used to drawing your gravity gun for defense, practise switching between it and your weapon of choice while running around the map and not engaged in combat. This will start training you to make fast switchouts and block incoming objects.

In addition to throwing props at your opponent, you can also use them to shield yourself from incoming fire. This can be particularly useful if you are low on health and are taking spray damage from the SMG or AR2. Just be aware that some objects like wooden crates will break if they take too much damage, and you cannot deflect orbs with props.

Drill 103.4 - Target Practise

While there is no substitute for a shooting at a real opponent, you can still train your aim in other ways. Simply grab the weapon you want to practise with and start shooting at various objects, the smaller the better. Once you are hitting almost everything you shoot at, mix it up by tossing an object into the air with your gravity gun and seeing how many times you can shoot it before it hits the ground. Place objects around corners, then leap out and shoot them as fast as you can. Face away from your target, then spin 180 degrees and try to land an instant hit. Jump sideways and try to fire and hit the object mid-leap, or leap off a lift and practise hitting a stationary target while flying through the air. You can also get a partner and have them throw explosive barrels at you and try to shoot them out of the air. Try to be creative and develop moves that help sharpen your aim in various situations.

Drill 103.5 - Combo Practise

Load up on weapons and use a wall or an object as a target. Practise some of the combinations you have developed. Try to get a feel for how long it takes to switch, and for the timing of the first round fired from each weapon. Cycle through and fire each weapon in a smooth and efficient manner until you can smoothly draw and fire three or more weapons.

Drill 103.6 - Weapon Context Analysis

Get a training partner and choose a map to analyze. For each section of the map, discuss which weapons are strongest and note the nearest location where they may be found. Test various shots with your training partner to ensure you know the exact placement necessary to cause maximum damage and increase the odds of killing your opponent. Do not try to look for unusual angles or tricks, just practise fundamental shots and think about how effective each weapon is in each location.

Drill 103.7 - Gravity Gun Tennis

Get a training partner and pick an object you want to practise. You can use grenades, orbs, regular props, or a specific prop like a sawblade or explosive barrel. Pick someone to "serve" and see how long you can keep the rally going.

Drill 103.8 - Revenge Nading

Have someone throw grenades at you. Your job is to catch them in your gravity gun and fire them back, killing the person who threw the grenade.

Drill 103.9 - Orb Bouncing

Start out far from a wall. Bounce an orb of the wall and catch it in your gravity gun. Continue firing it against the wall and move forward with each shot. Keep moving forward until you can no longer catch the orb. To make the drill harder, spray a logo on the wall and shoot at it with an alternate weapon between catches.