Left 4 Dead 2 Interview: Valve Details, Speculates, Reveals 'The Wire' Connection

Much to the chagrin of Half-Life fans, but to the pleasure of Left 4 Dead fiends, Valve announced a full sequel to its zombie shooter on Monday, set for a quick turn-around release on November 17.

Much to the chagrin of Half-Life fans, but to the pleasure of Left 4 Dead fiends, Valve announced a full sequel to its zombie shooter on Monday, set for a quick turn-around release on November 17.

The sequel will feature four new characters across five new campaigns set in New Orleans. Versus and Survival mode play will be supported for all of the maps out of the box, along with a new unannounced game mode. A fresh cadre of weapons, zombies, AI improvements and other additions are planned.

To get a handle on the situation, we took twenty to hit up Valve marketing VP Doug Lombardi and developer Chet Feliszek for some choice anecdotes on the new game. Included are finer details on the sequel's upgrades, shared frustration with stacking players, Left 4 Dead's connection to HBO's "The Wire," and more.

Shack: EA Partners helped publish the first Left 4 Dead, but yesterday's announcement didn't mention any publishing partner. Who's publishing? Doug Lombardi: We haven't announced it yet. Shack: But there is a publisher? Doug Lombardi: There will be before we ship. Shack: When did development on Left 4 Dead 2 start? Chet Faliszek: Pretty much after Left 4 Dead launched.

One of the other things is.. we've all played [Left 4 Dead] now, we all play it now, we see things like [players] stacking in the corner and stuff, and we want to avoid it.

And also, we've got the marrying of the storytelling and the multiplayer. I think we did a good job with that on Left 4 Dead, but we think we're going to do a better job on Left 4 Dead 2. Part of that was we wanted to start with fresh new characters, fresh new setting, and follow their story as it goes across all of New Orleans. And all of this we are able to do because we have the AI director, which allows us to create these spaces and these events, and then it does kind of the hard work of creating that experience side of it. Shack: Why did you decide to package the game as a full sequel, rather than DLC? Chet Faliszek: So one of the things is, when we're looking at a map-- [Gabe Newell stops by to say hello, then quickly enters a private room.] Chet Faliszek: In Team Fortress you can do one map, and it's a standalone map and it tells its internal story and you're good. In Left 4 Dead, when we started talking about new characters, all of a sudden we were talking about maps, then all of a sudden we were talking about campaign, and then director 2.0, hey, we're in the swamps.

And now we have to have new creatures in the game, we actually have dynamic pathing--we have all this stuff, and these aren't just incremental changes. These are big, technical changes. And to get that, and to hit our big mantra--making sure that the best way to play it is the funnest way to play it.

So, being Left 4 Dead 2, we have five campaigns, they're all going to have Versus and Survival mode out of the gate, as well as the regular co-op, and an all-new game mode. Not talking about that game mode yet, but it's going to be there. We also have the new Infected, like you can play the Charger right now in Versus. We have another one coming out a little later, and then another after that. We've got the melee weapons involved, we've got the chainsaw--we've got the frying pan. Doug Lombardi: We didn't start off saying, "Hey, let's make a sequel for next year." We started off saying, "There's a bunch of really cool ideas. Let's put 'em all up on a whiteboard and figure out what's the best way to put these together and get them out there." And that's really fundamentally how Valve thinks about stuff. It's not like, "Oh, we need a product in this quarter," or whatever. We're not publicly traded; we don't have any of those weird pressures. Shack: Will updates for the original Left 4 Dead continue? Chet Faliszek: Looking at Left 4 Dead 1, we have updates still coming out for it. Next week we'll be talking about the community map update, so that's coming. There's some other stuff we're not talking about yet, that's coming for that, that will explain why the Left 4 Dead SDK tools are different from previous ones. And then we still have four vs. four matchmaking coming. So we're not putting that to bed yet. Shack: How will Left 4 Dead 2 interface with Left 4 Dead 1, if at all? Doug Lombardi: We haven't really worked it all out yet. It's likely that it will be different on the different platforms. We really haven't made any final decisions, but it is something that we're looking at, and we understand that it's something that is on people's minds, and that there are more elegant ways to do it than others.

Some of the things that we're doing that we can talk about already is that, if you're using the SDK and making maps, it will work for either game. So we've got one or two elegant points that we can talk about now. [laughs] Shack: What price-point should we expect? Doug Lombardi: This is a full sequel. Shack: So full price? Doug Lombardi: Yeah. At the end of the day, this is going to be a bigger game than Left 4 Dead. It's five campaigns versus four, all five are playable in Versus mode, Survival mode out of the box, the new multiplayer game mode. Plus over 20 new weapons and items. It's a full sequel.

Turn the page for more. _PAGE_BREAK_ Shack: Most of us were not expecting Left 4 Dead 2 to show up at E3. You guys had teased more information on Half-Life 2: Episode 3 earlier in the year. Should we expect more on that soon? Doug Lombardi: [laughs] Don't have a new date. Since we missed the last time, I'm not gonna put out another one. I've said this before, but Freeman's not done with his adventure. Stay tuned for more.

Shack: Can you talk more about the changes to the dynamic systems in Left 4 Dead 2? Chet Faliszek: So, the AI director, there are some really noticeable ones. We're giving it control over the weather now. Now you go from [a sunny day] to holy crap man, I can't see anyone around me. It's like the Blood Harvest cornfield, right.

Dynamic pathing changes--so in the next map in this campaign, they go through an above-ground cemetery, a haunted old cemetery with crypts above ground, and it actually changes the path every time you play. And also how spawning the creatures, and the pacing of the game.

One of the things we look at with people playing online, are people playing the game--the stacking in the corner.. that sucks. Shack: Absolutely. Chet Faliszek: It sucks that there are people that don't play it that way, and they get yelled at. Shack: Oh, I know. I'm always the guy--there are the three guys in the corner, and then I'm the guy standing over there, and they say, "Come onnn!" Chet Faliszek: The way you want to play it, the fun way, is the best way to play it, too. So to do that, there are just a lot of subtle changes to make, in how the director handles what it's going to spawn, and how it thinks about attacking the survivors. Shack: How are you accounting for the additional boss Infected in Versus mode? Chet Faliszek: So that's probably what we're spending the most iteration time on. We just have outside players coming in all the time. We had a lot of ideas early on that we wanted to try. Some of them just failed. Some of them sucked. The Charger is a winner. We've got another one that we're almost done with that's good as well. There's a third coming out. Shack: So, there are five campaigns. What's the chance of a mall level? Chet Faliszek: A mall? Shack: A mall. Chet Faliszek: Maybe it could start in a mall or something. We'll see. Shack: How about a ferris wheel? Chet Faliszek: Are you guys taking pictures from our office or something? Um.. [laughs] There's some stuff we'll be talking about later. Shack: Flamethrower? Not saying? Chet Faliszek: No. We like fire though. Shack: Did I notice an improved fire effect? Chet Faliszek: Yeah. Shack: It seems like it travels from zombie to zombie. Chet Faliszek: No, so incendiary ammo, when you're shooting it gives the appearance of that. We have a lot of examples [of fire] here. In this case, we've got a guy in a hazmat suit, and he doesn't catch fire. In one campaign, we have an area of guys in hazmat suits, and all of a sudden your molotovs are [useless].

One of the things all of us do on our team is, we all have different accounts we play Left 4 Dead on. I was just playing it first as Chet, and my games would never be empty, and all these things would happen, and I was like, wait a minute. These people know who I am. And so let's create fake accounts, and see what that experience is like, and we get a lot more information based on that. So be nice. You might be playing with me. Shack: What are you guys doing about ragequitting? Chet Faliszek: We kind of did a lot of research on that, where's that happening, what's the lobby makeup before that happens. And one of the thing we noticed is four players that know eachother on one side versus four pubbies. And so that's why we're going to have four vs. four matchmaking come out, and that's actually going to come out in Left 4 Dead 1, and that should be.. probably this month? Shack: Are you leaving any hooks in the engine to allow for expansion in patches rather than releasing a new sequel? Chet Faliszek: I think all this, oh, Valve's going to make Maddens every year--that's not true. There's this whole group of us at Valve who had all these ideas. When we get done with this, we're going to sit back and we have no future plans or anything like that. This could be the platform for zombie apocalypse games for a while. One of the cool things that Doug was saying, current maps, they're being made to drop in, they work. Obviously if you want to take advantage of the new director stuff you'll have to go back in and touch some stuff up, but they'll just work. Shack: Is there a chance we could see the original Left 4 Dead campaigns imported into Left 4 Dead 2? Chet Faliszek: There is a chance for that. Like Doug said, we're trying to figure out the way that makes the most sense for that to happen. Shack: How long ago was the voice work done? Chet Faliszek: So Nick, he's voice acted by Hugh Dylan, who is on Flashpoint on CBS on Friday nights. Catch it! I think the big people's reaction on the voice acting has been on--have you guys watched The Wire? Shack: Yeah. Chet Faliszek: You know coach Cutty [character Dennis "Cutty" Wise on The Wire, played by Chad L. Coleman], the guy that works with the boxing kids? He voices Coach. Shack: No way. That's amazing. Chet Faliszek: It was great. We got to go out to hang out with him.

We did the voice work, I guess a month ago? So we went out, he's actually on a play right now--actually Obama went to see it the other day, so that's good company. I'm just going to make you cry: we went to go see him backstage afterward, we were like hey thanks, that was a great session yesterday, it was a lot of fun. What are you guys doing? Oh, we're going to go out for drinks. Oh, where are you going? So we got to hang out with Cutty for a couple hours, and probably he'll never want to hang out with us again, because we just drilled him about The Wire. Shack: That's great. The Wire is a fantastic show. Chet Faliszek: We need to get the Clay Davis "sheeeeeeiiiit" in there.

Left 4 Dead 2 hits the Xbox 360 and PC on November 17.

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