Scared Shitless: Left 4 Dead 2 Interview
Valve's Chet Faliszek emerges from the zombie-laden gloom to discuss certain Steam boycotts, the role of daylight, browser-based shooters and the golden goose of console-to-PC multiplayer.
When we're not declaring our violent unrequited love for Yuji Naka or camping out Rockstar London's fashionably discreet Chelsea offices, Kikizo's staffers spend their working hours stalking a little Washington-based outfit known as Valve Corporation. Valve's stable of current generation shooters - the seminal Half-Life 2 and its expansions, artful brain-tickler Portal, caricatured fragfest Team Fortress 2 and, most recently, delicious zombie pressure cooker Left 4 Dead - are amongst the greatest games ever created, but even success has its drawbacks, and one such drawback is an occasionally violent level of fan dedication.
When Valve announced that Left 4 Dead 2 would be coming this November, a small but well-publicised group of fans took umbrage. Releasing a standalone sequel with similar gameplay so soon after the original is cynical brand-milking at its worst, these enthusiasts have protested, runs counter to the spirit of Valve's previous projects (produced at a much slower rate, and still hugely popular years after launch thanks to a steady stream of add-ons and tweaks) and will split the nascent Left 4 Dead community in two. A boycott was formed, demanding that Valve continue to support Left 4 Dead as it has Half-Life 2, and reduce Left 4 Dead 2 to the status of free update or fully compatible expansion pack.
It's a rather uncompromising agenda, to say the least, and one I was keen to interrogate project lead Chet Faliszek about when I caught up with him at last week's preview event beneath London Bridge. Other talking points included "gimmicky" cross-platform play, Valve's interest in browser-based shooters and Left 4 Dead's robust modding community.
Kikizo: I've just been chatting about the builds you've demoed today with a few other journalists, and while everybody agrees that Left 4 Dead 2 looks superior to the original, we're struggling to work out how much of that is due to it simply being brighter and more colourful. You seem to have fancier shaders on some of the weapons...
Chet Faliszek: One of the things - like you said - is we have daylight now. In Left 4 Dead, having this consistent darkness made it an easier game in a way to make, because we could always just have everything look the same, without light. We're showing a daylight level [today] - there's actually multiple times of day. There are levels in Left 4 Dead 2 that are just as dark as Left 4 Dead. This is just one example.
Kikizo: Am I to understand that you could play the same level at different times of day?
Faliszek: No, no, the levels are set. There's a story about them that happens, there are events that happen that use different times of day. There are some maps that are darker, and I think some people just saw the maps that we showed at E3 and said "Oh, it's all daylight", and that's not true. Some are dark, some are light.
Kikizo: Leaping straight into this controversial question of the Left 4 Dead 2 boycott, which has over 37,000 signatories at present - how worried is Valve about that? Do you think it'll fade away?
Faliszek: There are a couple of reasons why. One, I think as we keep updating Left 4 Dead, I think you'll see our plan has always been to keep updating Left 4 Dead. When we were at E3 and were announcing Left 4 Dead 2, we were also not announcing that we have a Team Fortress 2 update coming out in two weeks, because we're announcing Left 4 Dead 2, see what I mean? Our focus at E3 was to talk about Left 4 Dead 2 - if you'd asked us a Portal question, or a Half-Life 3 question we would have answered "we're talking about Left 4 Dead 2". That's kind of how we took it.
So I think as they see that we are continuing to update Left 4 Dead, that'll address a lot of their concerns. And then as they see Left 4 Dead 2 and they see how big it is, they see all the interactions, all the new elements we've added and understand all of them, I think we'll see a lot less reaction. And again that's just a small subset of our customer base. I did an interview where I gave my email address, and said please email me. And from a large number it was positive emails, people who were excited and wanted more Left 4 Dead 2.
It was weird - they actually use our service to protest our service! And we're fine with that - they're customers, they buy our games. We consider them friends. We're having a little argument now with some of them, but we'll kiss and make up.