At a recent Electronic Arts event we got a chance to see Valve's latest shooter – the four-player co-operative FPS with a zombie survival theme, Left4Dead.
Well, OK, to say just that we 'got a chance to see Valve' makes it sound a little bit too casual. The reality is that we hung around the demo unit for the game all day, biding our time until we saw the Valve's Chet Faliszek was unguarded and idle for more than ten seconds. Then as soon as Chet's guard was down, we pounced. Very quickly we managed to corner the writer for Left4Dead and bombard him with questions.
Either way, the result was that we ended up sat across from one Valve's core writing team – the rest of the team made up with Half-Life writer Marc Laidlaw and Portal scripter Erik Wolpaw.
Here's what Chet had to say to us as we questioned him on Left4Dead, Valve's playtesting strategies and how he intends to survive the inevitable zombie apocalypse...
bit-tech:So, we’re looking at Left4Dead right now. Can you tell us a little bit about the game and how the levels work?
Chet Faliszek: Yeah, so the core experience is that players move through a campaign made of five levels. At the very beginning of each level you’re set up with your primary goal then you play through to that and all the levels in a campaign are interconnected and linked.
BT:And I’m guessing that the goal of each campaign is to escape and get to safety?
CF: Yeah, it’s classic zombie movie stuff. The whole get to safety thing, we really wanted to play into all that. There’s also a setup for people who just want to jump in and play a scenario and go through and play a quick game too.
True, there’s less of a story that way, but even the story mode is made to be replayable, so we don’t have any of these big scenes and we don’t stop for anything. There are no pauses where we have a voice come in and say “and now what’s happening is”. It’s far more natural and fluid than all of that. Instead, as you’re running and gunning and building tension through these down periods you kind of build the story around you.
Excuse me a minute…
<Chet jumps up, runs over to the demo set-up and fiddles with a crashed computer>
CF: Well, yeah. There’s supposed to be another guy here helping me and the game is kind of in beta and I’m the only one here who knows how to work the interface...It’s no problem though.
BT:So, what can you tell us about the zombies in the game?
CF: Well, there are different types. There are the Common Hordes, who are kind of the frontline people you keep fighting. There is the Hunter who are the stronger ones who can pounce on you and jump really far. There is also the Smoker, but we're not talking about them right now. There is the Tank; the big burly guy who smashes through things and throws bits of earth at you. There’s the Witch – the only zombie you can’t play as.
BT:And all the others are playable?
CF: Yeah, you can play as all the zombies except her. Then there’s the Boomer – a big guy who explodes blood everywhere and vomits on you.
BT:And the Horde zombies – what type are they? Classic Romero zombies, 28 Days Later Fast zombies?
CF: Fast. They’re infected and they’re super-hyper kinetic and filled with energy. Hang on, I just need to get the game running again for this guy.
BT:And they just want to kill you and eat your brains?
CF: Eh, the idea is more that they just hate you. You’re alive and they have hate humanity and they just want to destroy you.
BT:And—this is an important point—killing them has to be a headshot, or can you just pump them full of lead?
CF: No, they are wholly alive until they’re dead. Obviously. They aren’t actually undead, but they have no humanity left. That part of them is gone and that’s why they hate you. So, you can hit them a couple of times with bullets but if you don’t do some major damage then they’re going to keep coming at you. Anything that would normally kill a person, that’ll kill them.