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TVG discusses the online petition, DLC, cross-compatible gameplay and much more with Valve's Doug Lombardi...
Typically Valve's devout followers are used to waiting an eternity for a sequel to turn up. So when confirmation of Left 4 Dead 2 appeared at this year's E3 event, the acclaimed studio found itself on the end of an unsuspected backlash.
TVG recently had the opportunity to go Hands On with the sequel and discover the many improvements, additions and new content, but first we got a chance to speak to Valve's Doug Lombardi about the protest, commutability between the two games, and exactly how much content we can expect from the sequel.
TVG: Let's get this question out of the way, the boycott group. What is the sequel allowing you to do that DLC couldn't?
Doug Lombardi: Well it's a couple of things. Mainly weapons, combat... We're introducing over 20 new weapons in total, about 10 or more of those are going to be melee weapons. New gameplay modes. AI Director 2.0. We're going to be delivering a bigger game than the first game, which is key. When we sat down we ordered what we wanted to do next with Left 4 Dead, there's certain things that felt like a new game and there's certain things that felt like DLC, and that's the way Valve makes decisions. We're not a publicly held company, we don't need something in time for Christmas every year, we don't have orderly deadlines or any of that stuff. We get to make what we want to make, we can ship it when we want to ship. We're very, very fortunate, with the success of the company and the way Gabe runs the company that's how we get to make decisions.
So it was a very, very organic thing that was really inspired by a lot of energy from the team, they had a bunch of ideas: they wanted to do melee combat, they wanted to change things with the AI Director, and they wanted to do a bunch more of new content in terms of just set locations. The gameplay modes both in terms of brand new gameplay modes as well as changing the way the finales were run. When you look at all those things, to us anyway it looked like a sequel and that seems to be resonating with a lot of people, whether it's the E3 judges, the retailers, or the people who are pre-ordering the game right now to the point where it's double the pace of the original Left 4 Dead with the same pre-order promotions in place for early access to the demo and 10% off.
So that's where we came at it from. There's also this roadmap of things that we're still doing for Left 4 Dead. I think folks took the announcement at E3 as a signal that we were dumping support for Left 4 Dead, but that was never the plan at all. E3 is the place where you go to announce your next big thing, you have to get retailer attention and press attention; if you talk to anybody in the industry-side who's making a game, publishing or developing, the game has to have an E3 showing before it comes out or else you're short-changing the marketability of the product. You've got to go to E3 if you're coming out with a game before the next E3.
So that was our intention to announce the next one not to signal that we were cancelling any support for the last one. I also think that there's only been a small bit of Left 4 Dead 2 that's been unveiled; we've only shown one of the new boss monsters, there's going to be at least three, we're working on a fourth that may or may not make it in time for launch. We showed two or three of the melee weapons, there are going to be at least 10. We showed the New Orleans map and everybody thought it was going to be set in daylight; actually New Orleans is in daylight the rest of the game is mostly at night. So there are a lot of things that I think over time will get worked out and hopefully folks will see the method in our madness, and maybe it will change their opinions and if they don't then they're entitled to their opinions.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but the DLC you've done has been free and that's the same moving forwards, it's a similar model to Burnout Paradise; do you feel this model works and will it continue with Left 4 Dead 2?
Every time you look at that stuff sometimes there are multiple folks involved. On the PC we own and run STEAM so we own that decision right through to the end. With Xbox there's other folk involved. We were able to do the Survival Pack for free and with the stuff we have coming next we're having conversations to see how that manifests and how that comes out. At the end of the day, Xbox customers and even PC customers are learning that PDLC at a very reasonable price is certainly cool, it's better than not having any DLC at all.
So for us, as time goes forward, who knows what every release will be; certainly there's advantages to doing stuff free that we've invested in over time, and we felt that there were others ways that we were monetizing that. We'll see what happens as time moves forwards but we definitely feel that supporting games post-launch, free or paid, is definitely advantageous; it helps to grow the community, it helps to grow word-of-mouth, keep the product fresh and helps to sustain sales over time.
One of the things that has been floating around is the idea of cross-gameplay with the original Left 4 Dead; is this likely?
That's something that we're trying to work out right now, the details of it. So nothing specific to say today, but we understand that it's a very valid thing to be working on and looking at. With the MOD stuff, if you're making stuff for Left 4 Dead it will work in Left 4 Dead 2 with very minor amounts of work to bring it over. So we feel we've made good steps on that side and now we're looking at how we manage that for folks who buy the first game and sequel.
Unlike a traditional FPS sequel, Left 4 Dead is heavily based on the AI Director; so you don't have this need to worry about creating 12 hours of scripted gameplay, it seems like a much quicker process...
Yeah, for sure.
But it doesn't necessarily indicate a cheapening of the product.
No, no, you're exactly right. You have a game that doesn't require the hand scripting and animation of... I'll use Half Life because it's our game. When Alyx stops to give you line, she's putting her hands on her hip, she's turning and looking at you, her eyes are doing stuff, that is all hand stitched to make it believable, to make you have emotional attachment to Alyx whether you love her, hate her, think she's your sister or whatever - most people tend to fall into the love category which means those animators are geniuses and doing great stuff. But that's really painstaking, time sensitive stuff; those Strider battles are pretty scripted, you play those battles a few times and there's a little bit of dynamic that's going on but basically they're scripted and again they're big moments. I'm sure if you talked to the guys from Infinity Ward about some of their big moments in Modern Warfare they would tell you those moments take a long time to produce and get just right.
If you want to have an emotional attachment with a character, if you want to have this big finale to a storyline it's a different process then if you say 'ok we've got these set of zombies, they have a certain set of rules and the AI Director understands these rules and that populates procedurally' to create the gameplay and make it dynamic and tailored, all the things we've spent time talking about and that does afford us the ability to move more quickly.
A lot of folks have asked me 'Is this quick sequel thing a sign of things to come from all of Valve's releases?', and the answer's 'No way'. After being with Valve for all of these years there's no way I would be crazy to make that possible. But in the case with Left 4 Dead 2 that's one of the reasons why we can make a sequel so quickly.
You've mentioned Left 4 Dead 2 being bigger than the original; in terms of maps and content, how much larger?
The first game had four co-op campaigns and two of those were playable on Versus out of the box. Then as DLC in April we put the other two campaigns in Versus mode and we released a Survival mode. So you had four and two and then you had DLC to complete that and get the other gameplay mode. With Left 4 Dead 2 you're going to have five campaigns, each of them the same size as the original if not a little larger. All five of them will be playable in Versus mode, all five of them will be playable in Survival mode, and then there's a fourth yet unrevealed gameplay mode that will be included as well.
That's a direct response to the reviews we got from the first game. We averaged an 89 on Metacritic from both platforms; 'moved co-op forwards, love the zombies, the AI Director works, it is replayable but it is a little bit light on the content side'. So one of the first things that came from that is, 'the next game's got to be bigger; the next game's got to be at least five campaigns; maybe another game mode, and all of it has to be supported with Versus.
TVG would like to thank Doug Lombardi for asking our questions and EA for organising the opportunity.
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