Recently I got the chance to speak to Chet Faliszek of Valve Software about their pending Survival shooter Left 4 Dead. I want to thank Katie and Chet for taking the time to answer our questions.
OCMS: What is the background and setting for the game?
CF: It is the zombie apocalypse. Two weeks after the first infection we are at ground zero of the infection. There is confusion and zombies, lots and lots of zombies.
OCMS: What can you tell us about the A.I in the game?
CF: The AI runs the show. The AI Director controls all the action. It monitors the player’s behavior and shapes the action around them. It helps us create the same emotional peaks and valleys you see in our games like Half-life 2, but procedurally.
Since the action isn’t tied to architecture and can happen anywhere, after we give players the intense rushes we still need to give them breaks. All action with no break leads to combat fatigue. The AI Director gives these breaks not based on architecture, but on how the team is handling the stress. So one time through an area it might be a madhouse, the next time you were doing worse and the same area might be quiet. This also insures that the game plays differently every single time.
OCMS: What can you tell the readers about the characters in the game and their personalities and how that effects the gameplay?
CF: The four survivors each have a distinct personality, but play the same. So whether you choose grumpy old Bill or always upbeat Louis, they can run the same speed, use the same weapons etc. It is up to the player to define their role. So if you want to be the medic, or the gun on point, you decide, not your character.
OCMS: What are some of the locales gamers will see in the game?
CF: Our campaigns contain both rural and urban settings with each campaign presenting unique challenges. While two of the campaigns take place in big cities they both stress something different. In No Mercy, you fight your way through cramped tight areas to get to Mercy Hospital and freedom. In Dead Air, your team takes flight across the rooftops facing different challenges on your journey to safety.
OCMS: What are some of the weapons we will see and will they change between locales?
CF: The weapon selection is based on what you might find in the world after a major emergency. So you will see guns from the military and police along with a few homemade oddities. One such example is the pipe-bombs that are adorned with a special little attractor just for the common hordes.
OCMS: How will vehicles be used in game and what will players be able to ride in?
CF: There are rescue vehicles at the end of each campaign that you have to board to escape to safety.
OCMS: What forms of multiplay does the game include?
CF: The core game is from 1-4 player co-op. We also have an 8 player versus mode where players can play on the side of the infected.
OCMS: Blending action with a detailed plot can always be tricky. How have you attempted to create this element, and will scripted events be a part of the game?
CF: The story unfolds from the point of the survivors. We learn of the outbreak from their perspective. Some of their ideas might be right, some of might be wrong.
But the best stories are told by the people playing the game as they recount what just happened to them on their journey.
OCMS: Roughly how long is the game and how many new maps will players get for multiplayer?
CF: Left 4 Dead was created to be replayable, so in that sense it is as long as people have been playing de-dust in Counter-Strike. Each campaign takes from one to two and half hours to play in co-op mode. In versus a campaign can take hours to complete as each side plays through the campaign.
OCMS: What are some of the biggest obstacles you faced in creating the game and the biggest successes?
CF: Creating a procedural driven game means you never know who is alive and what is going to happen next. So combat, story and other elements have to be agile enough to handle the unpredictability.
OCMS: What are some of the enemies players will face and how did you decide to use fast moving infected as opposed to the slower ones that had been traditional in films of this genre?
CF: We had used fast zombies in Half-life 2 and like the intensity they brought to that game. They just seemed a perfect fit for the high intensity action we wanted in Left 4 Dead.
OCMS: How did the decision to make the game co-op come about and will there be drop in abilities for players?
CF: With the advent of steam community and Xbox live, it is easier and easier to connect with your friends and play online. It is becoming a meeting place for friends. It seemed like the time was ripe to make a game that capitalized on those conditions. So Left 4 Dead was built from the ground up to be a co-op game. The zombie apocalypse you can share with your friends.
You can drop in and drop out at any time and a bot will take over for you. Need to take a break to grab a beer? Hit the take a break button and a bot will take over and not force your friends to wait up for you.
OCMS: What are some of the enemies players will face?
CF: Besides the zombie horde, Left 4 Dead has 5 distinct mutated infected. These include, the Hunter, who is a fast moving zombie that can pounce on straying Survivors. The Smoker has a 50 foot prehensile tongue that can constrict around his victim as he pulls them from safety. The Boomer’s belly is full of bile. He can vomit onto the survivors blinding them and causing all nearby infected to swarm his victim. The Tank has giant smashing fists and the ability to throw chunks of the earth at survivors. Lastly there is a Witch, the one infected in the game you can try and avoid, but if you fail she will rip you to shreds.
OCMS: What game engine will the game be using and what features will it bring to the game?
CF: Left 4 Dead is built on Valve’s source engine. L4D is Valve’s darkest game. To help us play with that darkness we have worked on the shadows and lighting effects to bring the feel of a real horror movie into the game.