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Brad Cook Analyzes Left 4 Dead 1 & 2
July 18, 2011 | IMG News
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Left 4 Dead: The Apocalypse Starts Now
by Brad Cook

Talk about your hordes of mindless shoppers: even the worst Black Friday madness can’t compare with what Left 4 Dead series writer Chet Faliszek and I are witnessing. A kiosk in the middle of an abandoned mall advertises a fall sale, but survivors Coach, Ellis, Rochelle, and Nick aren’t here for the bargains: they’re seeking a safe place as they fight their way through a swarm of zombies.

These aren’t your run-of-the-mill shambling bad guys, however: these are Green Flu-infected zombies who spring out of dark corners and attack survivors with savage ferocity. And they’re not all cut from the same crazed cloth either: a muscled monstrosity known as The Tank suddenly erupts from behind an escalator, smashing everything and everyone in its path as it moves with frightening speed. He’s just one of several special types of Infected. (See “Not Your Ordinary Infected” [anchor link] on page two for more information about special Infected.)

Working together, our heroes fight their way past barren stores before finding a safe room where they can barricade themselves in and recuperate. For a quartet of ordinary citizens thrown together after a botched rescue, they’re doing a good job of supporting each other. The brief respite from the carnage gives Faliszek and I a chance to talk.

“We wanted to create the sense of you and your friends actually being in The Zombie Apocalypse,” Faliszek explains. “It’s about more than just shooting the enemy: it’s about surviving together. So while there should be periods of intense action, there also need to be quiet moments where people can let their guard down.”

Shared vs. Competitive

Mutual survival is key to Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2, whether you make your way through solo campaigns with AI-controlled teammates or head online for multiplayer sessions with friends. “The Left 4 Dead series is more than just one type of game,” Faliszek says. “We have the co-op side, which is non-competitive and is about a shared experience. But we also have Versus, which is a highly competitive mode.”

He continues: “While we allowed some variance, we needed to balance both experiences as we made the core game. The best way to do that was constant play testing: toward the end of the first game’s development, we had a section of our office set up like you would play at home, complete with snacks in the fridge. That kept people playing all night long and had us gathering a ton of feedback.”

You can play the campaigns online if you’d rather have a human watch your back than a computer-controlled teammate. The other multiplayer modes, whose maps are mostly variants of campaign maps with a few new ones thrown in, include:

• Survival (L4D, L4D 2): You and your teammates must fend off waves of the Infected and see how long you can last, which isn’t easy since the maps pulled from the campaigns have their hiding places removed. Luckily, your team has time at the start of the match to look for weapons and useful items, such as propane and oxygen tanks, before the melee begins. Of course, your resources aren’t unlimited so you’ll need to ration them wisely.

• Versus (L4D, L4D 2): Here’s your chance to take in the action from the other point-of-view: two teams go head-to-head, one in the role of survivors and the other in the Green Flu-filled bodies of special Infected. Choose a campaign to play through – the survivors must try to make it to the final chapter without being overwhelmed by the Infected horde, whose forces are supplemented by AI-controlled enemies. Each team scores points based on their success, and they switch sides after the first session.

• Scavenge (L4D 2): This is a Versus variant in which the survivors must gather enough gas cans to fuel a generator or a car before the other side’s special Infected take them out or time runs down. Then the teams switch sides to complete the round; a match can consist of one, three, or five rounds. The winner of each round is the team that collected the most gas cans – the tie-breaker goes to the team that did it the fastest. If neither team collected any gas cans, the winner is the team that held out the longest. The match winner is the team that won the most rounds.

Organic Growth

Valve regularly releases gameplay mode tweaks that it calls mutations. For example, the realism mutation eliminates the auras that appear around survivors and objects, making it more difficult to plan strategies in the games’ dark environments. Realism mode also makes it harder to revive fallen survivors. The Realism Versus mode was so popular after its release that it’s now an official part of Left 4 Dead 2.

In addition, Valve regularly produces new downloadable content that expands the storylines, such as The Sacrifice, which bridges the two games by starring both groups of survivors. “We want to continue to grow the story organically and learn about the world through the eyes of our survivors,” Faliszek says. “The Sacrifice explores not just the moment-to-moment choices they have to make, but also the long-term choices and how those affect their world.”

Because the first game’s characters make an appearance, Faliszek notes that Valve brought back those voice actors. He recalls: “When Earl Alexander, who plays Louis, entered the studio, he was dressed just like Louis and proceeded to do his entire session dressed like him. Joking around between takes, we found out that he had recently learned Japanese.

“Watching him dressed as Louis speaking Japanese was too much, so we had to work that into the game. You’ll have to play The Sacrifice to see how.”



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