Left 4 Cool

I don’t really “review” games, and I am not going to start today either. Will keep it simple and sweet. If you like FPS’s, play L4D. If you like Co-op, it is well done. If you like opposing Co-op, it’s a great game. If you like Zombies, go buy it. If you like a base achievement system, ca-ching. If you like perfectly paced gameplay in the aforementioned settings, buy buy buy. I don’t throw the word perfect out a lot. Now that that is settled, I want to talk about the absoulte, most awesomest, fantastical gameplay mode in the entire universe that is also included in Left 4 Dead. After the break.

Developer commentary. L4D has an ‘extras’ mode that has you go through the level (where the zombies ignore you) and ‘activate’ little floating speech bubbles where various developers will share an insight about the game – everything from the main characters and how they were chosen, to using gamma and contrast to backgrounds. There were 12-18 of these bubbles throughout the first 5 levels (each) of the first “movie” No Mercy. They were fantastic. A lot of it was kind of obvious but I did find several instances where I had those “Oh, of COURSE!” moments. It was a great look into VALVe and the people who designed the game. I loved it. I want more! My only, minor, tiny gripe was that I couldn’t ‘end’ the mode without quitting it. Not sure if that was a bug but after I found all the bubbles in the helicopter extraction finale I couldn’t find a way to advance. There was no final “Thank you for doing this, the mode is over now” or anything like that (secretly I was hoping it would continue over the other levels). I guess I have to have at least one gripe – this is a blog, afterall!

If you have L4D and appreciate how games are made, and where decisions about design come from go give it a shot and let me know what you think. If you are developing a game, please add in this feature. It may answer many questions your consumers may ask.

I was going to continue this thread with fun little “outakes” for WAR and WOW fake dev commentary, but I think I have picked on those two guys enough already.

9 comments / Add your comment below

  1. That dev mode sounds brilliant. It’s like the commentary track on a DVD, but better. I definitely wish more devs would do things like this. I’m probably biased, though.

  2. What they did even better is since you are walking through the game while enabling the chat, they at some points focused on certain graphics, or did pop ups for further explanation, etc. For example when explaining how they used Granularity in dark areas vs light, it highlighted a dark room and enhanced it to see the effect. It was very clever.

  3. So it’s even more interactive. Sweet. I suppose that some might think of it as overindulgent or self-serving on Valve’s part, but to my mind (as a fellow developer), it’s great to see why they did what they did. That sort of open discussion is vital to advancing the state of the art.

  4. I love developer commentary in games. The first title I remember having this was Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay and was a great insight into some of the design choices. What was most interesting were the results of playtests when parts of the game needed a significant overhaul when a player did something unexpected.

    Most Valve games now have developer commentary such as HL2: Ep 1 and 2.

    Unfortunately I don’t have decent internet where I am for the rest of this year but I’ll seriously consider getting L4D next year when I have access to Xbox Live, since from what I’ve read L4D is a bit pointless in singleplayer.

  5. Thanks for stopping by Ajb! Added your blog to my roll.

    VALVe actually touched upon that singleplayer fact. I thought I would be buying the “story” of 4 survivors and how they escaped the zombie apocalypse (which they had originally planned) but to keep the multiplayer consistent at each map pack they made it 4 different “movies”.

    They discussed how after the first “movie” when you get picked up by a helicopter on top of Mercy hospital, that the pilot started to say he didn’t feel well, and turned infected – crashing the copter. The players then started movie 2 in the woods.

    During their playtests people brought up the fact that they just spent an hour fighting tooth and nail to survive, and barely escaped only to have all good feelings wiped away immediately by the crash – not allowing them to “enjoy” their victory. At that point they modulized the maps into four separate.

    I don’t necessarily agree with the decision (as there is no single player storyline- which I love, and wish they would patch in) but the game is still great as co-op multiplayer so all is not lost.

  6. A game will often be more successful if it focuses one one aspect such as the co-op in L4D than tacking on other modes (singleplayer in this case) since features can be compromised in the effort to make sure it works across all modes of play. I think UT3 did this a bit with its attempt at a story mode that few people tried anyway since it was such regular multiplayer maps minus customisation with just pretty cutscenes tacked on…

    I’ll pick up L4D when I’ve got Live again, hopefully early january if I get this studio position. =) Otherwise no decent internet for me until march…

  7. Good point Ajb. Trying to be too much or not what you really are has been a weak point for a lot of marquis titles.

    Usually it is the other way around – they make a great single player experience, then tack on a co-op/deathmatch experience for the “feature” – which is typically not as well thought out or executed.

    The story in L4D is completly left up to the gamer – how did the infection occur? how widespread is it? No one knows what is going on! I guess that can be counted as a strength as much as a weakness. Creative thought on the consumer end is usually by accident – Valve did it on purpose.

    I do want to know their vision, however, but I will stay happy with my own =)

  8. From memory i think L4D started as an HL2 mod before Valve employed the entire team to make it a commercial game (as they did with Portal, Team Fortress, Counter-Strike…wow they get a lot of their talented staff from mod teams don’t they?).

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