BT: Is the game designed completely for online play then and for co-op?
Well, you can actually play singleplayer with bots too. Or you can mix those numbers together however you want and have two people and a bot – or three people and a bot like they’re playing over there. The core game though and the best game experience you’ll have though will be with four of your buddies.
BT: But what sort of mood are you trying to build in the game? Is it scare the crap out of people horror, or just pure adrenaline excitement, or what?
There’s some scary to it, but there’s tenseness too. We have this AI Director running that will ramp up and scale down the game differently every time and gives us a randomisation which essentially makes sure it’s not the same game twice because of where the zombies are and what they do.
That works both ways though, and the Director will also work to create these nice quiet moments like you can see on some of the games running here. Nothing is happening here this time, but it’ll ramp up in a little bit. That’s very different to the games before it. That all helps to come together and create a mixed mood – sometimes scary, sometimes frantic, sometimes tense. It’s all in a more serious vein that something like Dead Rising
BT: What puzzles me then is that you’re the writer, but you said there wasn’t any specific narrative or dialogue handed to the player? How’ve you helped to build that mood then?
Oh, no, there is a narrative, but it’s a running one. Lots of smaller pieces. We have a system which we use, which…it’s like in Episode Two
where Alyx makes some cracks about something and what she does is also remember those cracks and does stuff like commenting on your driving. You smash right into something and she’s all “Hey Gordon, nice driving
”. Or whatever.
One thing we try to do is, when the player thinks they should be saying something then we try to have them say something.
BT: So the characters are vocal, not like Gordon Freeman?
Exactly, they’re talking to each other all the time and that helps build the feeling of being in the movie, right? We can just watch people build these experiences.
<Chet gets up, wanders back to the demo units without saying anything. I think the interview is suddenly over and turn off my Dictaphone. He then dashes back suddenly and starts talking before I can press the record button again. It strikes me that this kind of thing happens a lot around Chet.
… which is good. But I mean, I’m the writer, right? But I still constantly feel like less is more. With this game people are going to be playing it multiple times and are going to get sick of hearing things too many times, so we try to subtly weave in a lot of the pieces over time. One of the things we did was, at the first recording session, just getting a lot of the reloading lines and now we’re going back for each character and adding in more personality so that they can all have some interaction with each other. The characters will be able to kind of play within each other as time is going on and that’s where the core of the story is going to come from.
BT: Valve’s famous for play testing things to death – were there any parts of Left4Dead that you thought would be a great idea at the time, but you then cut out completely?
Yeah, we do that kind of stuff all the time. We always joke about these companies which have these design documents full of great ideas, and there are loads of things that sound really great on paper. They sound like The Winner, but then you go to test it and it’s like – oh my God, nobody knows what the hell they’re doing, what’s going on, it’s horrible.
In fact, right now there are some things on these demo machines we’re testing and we’ll be getting feedback on and cutting and whatever. It’s been interesting to watch some of these things with people who are good gamers too. Watching people who game at a higher level and seeing how they interact with things and what they do with it is always interesting.