EG Expo 2009: Valve's Chet Faliszek Finished
And we're not done yet! Valve's Chet Faliszek has flown over all the way from Bellevue in Washington to show off Left 4 Dead 2, and since he's always excellent we thought we'd bring you live text coverage of his antics from 3.30pm GMT. So we did. This is the transcript of that.
Chet's game is also playable at the Eurogamer Expo, and you can read our most recent hands-on impressions elsewhere on the site. Look out for it on PC and Xbox 360 on 20th November.
Our live coverage has now ended. Here's what you missed: Updating...
I'm in! Popular man, Mr Chet Faliszek from Valve. The queue outside is so big they had to start turning people away ages ago.
Paul "Rupert's dad" Loman just asked me for a pen. I don't have one. It's 2009, Paul.
It hasn't started yet, in case you're sitting outside. I'm just watching them change over from the NVIDIA session that just finished. Chet's chatting to Eurogamer MMO's Oli Welsh and Eurogamer Tech's Craig Munro about the Expo dungeon where people are playing Rock Band.
Basement, sorry. Basement.
We're about to let people in. Just had a word with Chet. Asked him whether people should expect a fun time. "No. It'll be horrible." Screen is full of campaign poster - Hard Rain. Come Hell and High Water.
Room is suddenly packed. There's a man who looks like a Hoxton Nick Griffin sat a row behind me. He's waving a video camera around, so I'm probably going on the internet later.
Here we go! Chet sporting the Britney mic. He's going to talk about Hard Rain and how they made it, but he says he hates formal talks and he's inviting people to interrupt him with questions and that. In fact, he's basically inviting people to tell him what to discuss if they find him boring. I immediately don't.
Chet's explaining how Left 4 Dead levels are made by small groups. Hard Rain has Portal's Kim Swift involved - one of the cool things about working at Valve is you get to choose what you do, apparently. Just like Eurogamer! Well, for me anyway.
Hard Rain is set to be different to other levels in L4D apparently. You go through an area, then go back through it afterwards - with a few changes in place. You're going through a sugar cane plant and a town to get some petrol, but when you head back the town is flooded so you're sent down a new route.
The original design goal was this idea of going through somewhere then seeing it differently on the way back.
Chet's talking about how much testing they do. They bring people in from all over and use something called Viper to record people playing - it records what they do, whether it's healing, etc - and they use that information to configure things like navigation and item placement.
In the beginning of Hard Rain, you get off a boat and start with just a pistol. The gag is they forgot the gun bag.
Apparently they originally had only melee weapons, but it didn't work in Versus because the survivors just got owned every single time right there at the spawn.
Aha - everything you use on the first time through will be gone when you come back through the level. "It's one of the painful things to watch testers discover," Chet says with a grin. They use everything up in the first room and then pay for it later.
When you first go through the town it's daytime and when you come back it's night, so they use plenty of landmarks - a playground, for example, which is also a Scavenge map.
How do you get people to go the right way down a street? Use signs. There's some pointing to a garage sale, and when you get to the garage sale... it's full of weapons and items! Hurrah!
Moving onto the second section, there's a sugar cane plant. There's a warning about witches. Apparently witches like sugar, so they flock here, and you encounter lots of them. You'll maybe encounter five of them in this one area - initially wandering witches in daytime, and then regular ones at night.
Wandering witch is on screen. Ooh, and in another shot we're seeing how Valve controls the light. There's a huge amount of bloom - it's blinding - and obviously this interferes with your ability to spot witches... Eek.
Hard Rain's uncommon common infected enemy is the Worker (I suppose I should be caplitalising these, innit). They were ripping down the plant but now they're zombified, and due to their jobs they have earmuffs on. Which means they can't hear pipebombs, so they will ignore them. You can make up for this by using Boomer Bile though, notes Chet.
There's a crescendo event (nah, caps looks rubbish) up on a ledge next while you call an elevator ("lift" in old money). Oh god he's moved on again. This is a huge sugar field. It's like Jurassic Park 2's long grass bit. Then there's a saferoom with loads of graffiti on the wall - part of Valve's effort to "expand the storytelling".
Not sure why I put that in quotes. Probably a bit embarrassed at how much faster Ellie can type when she does these. Anyway, now we're seeing the same areas at night. There are floodlights pinpointing key routes like ladders and that. These things were all there before, but you didn't notice them. Players love to be in familiar places having unfamiliar experiences, says Chet. True that.
Originally they were going to have player-controlled lights in the town, so you could switch them on for the way back, but apparently people didn't think to do it and so Valve turned them on by default anyway.
He's talking about the finale now. Given that people used up their items by accident on the first time through the town, they'd get butchered in the finale, so Valve threw in another safehouse. The finale works by lighting a Burger Tank sign to signal for help. "The official fast food chain of Left 4 Dead."
And we're going into a Q&A. Someone asks about the lights. Chet says partly it was that people weren't figuring out to turn them on, but also partly turning lights on is boring.
Someone else asks if the AI director has new tools. The AI director does! He can muck around with weather, for example, introducing storms if you're doing well. He also says that the director can reconfigure crypts in one area so your passage through it changes considerably, and this will again be indexed to difficulty as well as to encourage replayability. The director's other thing is the three new special infected...
Are there plans to bring back the original survivors? "They're not dead, so we'll see what happens with that." Laughter. "They're not undead either."
Will existing mods work with Left 4 Dead 2? Chet says there'll probably be an asset download thing so people can access them in the sequel. However, he reckons mod makers and level designers may want to recompile them. "The Left 4 Dead authoring tools will be coming out at launch."
A quick question next, apparently. He wants a little zombie factory where you can practice your skills in Versus. Chet says they thought about that and considered a practice area, and they're "looking at it".
How did you come up with the ideas for the new specials? "We looked at problems." One problem in Versus against a really good team is that they stick very tightly together and are hard to break up. Hence the charger, which sorts them out. People who hide in corners? The spitter helps with them. The jockey is just for being evil to people who lag behind.
Versus question now about whether Valve considered letting people play as common infected while waiting for a respawn cycle as your next special. Chet says they did consider this, but actually they want you to watch what's going on and try working together rather than not paying attention and going out there for yourself. "The best Versus teams by far plan."
Did you consider letting people be the AI director? "Kind of a Dungeon Master thing? ... We've looked at that a little bit, but it's way far down. It's very different to what Left 4 Dead is." Didn't really rule that in or out for the future.
Realism mode, eh? What's that, asks someone. It's not a difficulty level, says Chet - you can do it on any difficulty level. People who play regularly together want to be challenged as a team, not just going through on expert or whatever, so Realism mode does some stuff like making witches one-hit-kill you, so you can't be revived except with the defrib. It also turns off the outlines, so if a smoker grabs you, for example, you need to be able to communicate where you are effectively.
Something on optimisation now. Valve spends a lot of time working on performance, says Chet. He points out that they take a lot of flak for "dumbing down" for the 360, but he says they treat it like a low-end PC and they try to make their games work for the entire range. What they did on L4D2 was "keep the bottom the same, and extend the top", so if you run L4D2 on a high end PC it will look better than L4D1, but it will look much the same (art aside) on the same PC as last time out.
What about that Viper tool he mentioned? Well, says Chet, it's an internal thing where they plonk players in an office and their face and screen are filmed. They're given no hints or tips or anything, they and their three team-mates are just watched from afar by Valve men. The point is to discover how people play and help reconfigure the game with that direct feedback in mind.
What about the Aussie government banning L4D2, someone asks? Chet says he understands and respects cultural differences, but he also thinks there's "some confusion on their part" about this one. He gets on fine with Germany, for example. "They're very clear." Australia "caught us off-guard".
"We just want to know what's going to give us this rating and what's not."
Were there any scenario ideas that were good but got cut for some reason? "Actually, we're so iterative that that doesn't normally happen." With Dark Carnival, for example, it felt a little flat to begin with but eventually they spiced it up with a bunch of wacky stuff like Gnome Chompski and a rollercoaster and playable parlour games. "We took something we didn't think had enough going for it and just kept adding to it." I've played it - it's good.
A question I didn't hear. Answer: apparently the DLC mentions in the demo code were erroneous and down to the fact that to do test submissions for Microsoft you have to simulate DLC, among other things.
Any changes to the special infected from the first game? Well, there's a Boomette! "Not only guys are fat." Most of the adaptation though was getting the specials to work together, e.g. the smoker pulling people into spitter goop.
Any changes to Survival mode, says a man right in front of me in an L4D shirt? Survival mode's "always going to be this weird place", says Chet, since people might play it to get a medal and then never go back to it. Once people "hit their points", they leave it behind. Apparently interest in it spikes when new maps come out though, but Valve doesn't mind that it lacks the staying power of Co-op or Versus.
For Survival in L4D2, they picked around 10 of the very best locations they could, and modified them a bit.
And that's it! Huge round of applause for Chet. Aaand now I'm off to prepare for, er, my session. Question one: why are you doing live texts when Ellie's so much funnier than you?
Anyway, thanks for reading, and if you're at the Expo (somehow), you can play Scavenge mode in L4D2 downstairs in the over-18 area. Laters!