There are 2,000 PCs sitting in a room next door. Their 2,000 owners have carted them from as far away as Russia, and probably further. Sitting outside QuakeCon's host hotel, the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, attendees tell stories of taking PCs onto planes as hand luggage, and driving five in a car for as long as it took me to get to QuakeCon from London. So it's quite impressive that a seemingly endless stream of them would rather queue up for two hours to play Left 4 Dead.
It's a good thing they are, too, because Left 4 Dead only really grabs you when you play it. Read about it, as you may have done in our previous first impressions, and you might not get the same buzz. "We need to get this in people's hands," says Chet Faliszek, the man whose job title at Valve is 'Mr Awesome'. They have some ideas on how to do that, too, but we'll come back to that. In the meantime, what's new?
More to the point, are you new? If so, here's a crash course: it's a PC and Xbox 360 co-op FPS where you and up to three friends control the survivors of a zombie apocalypse, fighting through different scenarios to get to an extraction point. Along the way, zombies ("Infected") attack in droves, and at pace. They're marshalled by boss-type Infected, who can do things like explode themselves, lynch you with prehensile tongues, and pounce onto you from 30 feet away. The kicker is that the AI designed by Turtle Rock, the game's main developer, varies the pace. Even if you know the levels, you're never sure when you'll be attacked. And, actually, that's not the kicker. The kicker is that another group of four can control the Infected bosses. What's a "kicker" anyway? What the hell am I talking about? I'll stop, and let you read what Chet had to say. Thanks also to Doug Lombardi and Eric Twelter for helping to fill in some of the blanks.
Eurogamer: We talked a lot about the philosophy behind the game last time, so mainly I wanted to catch up on where this build is compared to when we saw it in May.
Chet Faliszek: Turtle Rock works with the same code-base we're working to ship Orange Box, so they've picked up some cool stuff like the new particle system that's in there, they picked up the motion blur, the flashlight casts shadows now, a bunch of the facial technology.
Turtle Rock's pushed back into Orange Box things like the 'jiggle bones' - that's how the hair flows round people's heads, and the Boomer's got his [swaying] gut. So [with Orange Box and Turtle Rock] it's like a two-way street that works really well. Jiggle bones were in it when you saw it, the motion blur wasn't, the rim lighting wasn't, which helps the characters kind of pop out so you can see them a little bit clearer.
The really cool new tech that's in here that wasn't last time is the characters' faces change. There's intensity levels. So you'll see Zoe wide-eyed on the ground in pain, and then when she's back up and fighting, shooting, she gets gritty and tough, and you can just see that in all their faces. A lot of this game is close interaction, like when you're healing another person. It really adds a lot that you can see people are in pain. You're encouraged to help.
Eurogamer: You also have the thing you showed me where the screen goes black and white when you go down to a certain level of health.
Chet Faliszek: Yep. Some other little touches we put in - it goes to third-person now when you're healing yourself so you can keep a look-out. And your character also yells - "Hey, cover me, I'm healing." There's some other stuff like that.
Eurogamer: What's left for you guys to do to it?
Chet Faliszek: This runs fine on these machines, and it actually will run fine on lesser machines, but we want to make sure that as many people can play it at the highest level of detail as possible.
We're still doing some tweaking with the interface too, so even though the interface for survivors is new - that's new as well - it's not finished by any stretch.
And again, testing. Testing testing testing. The AI for the bots isn't finished, so even though they're performing great they're not the finished thing. Just a lot of everything's in place, and we just need to take it to that next level before it's released.
Eurogamer: The last time I saw it you were showing me the Infected stuff, but it was still quite early on.
Chet Faliszek: Oh the Infected interface and stuff? Yeah yeah, so that just keeps going. And also just tweaking how often they respawn, how the director interacts with you, where you get spawned, how much warning you get which Infected you're gonna be, all of that we're still constantly tweaking.
Eurogamer: How is development going on Xbox 360? Is that parallel?
Chet Faliszek: That's happening in parallel. I think we're going to do some formal announcements about that later, so I'm not sure what we've said about that or not. [We asked Valve's Doug Lombardi and he told us: "It's in production. We will be revealing more details on that soon."]
Eurogamer: What's the release date?
Chet Faliszek: We're saying early 08. There's a lot of stuff including our own big, big giant product coming out this fall. And really we just want to make sure that when it's released it's great. This is a game people are going to keep playing for years and we'll keep updating, but we just want to make sure of that when it's released.
Eurogamer: Is it going to be simultaneous on both platforms?
Chet Faliszek: Err. [Over to Doug again: "That is the current plan, yes."]
Eurogamer: In terms of updating post-release, do you have any firm plans for what you're going to do?
Chet Faliszek: Yes. Stuff we haven't announced but it's really cool. It's the coolest thing ever [grin]. There'll be more scenarios, and those scenarios will introduce new elements.
Eurogamer: New Infected maybe.
Chet Faliszek: All kinds of new stuff. Really cool new stuff. This is really - we're so pounding out what's there and making this the level we want, that that stuff [DLC] hasn't gotten enough love to say if it's made the cutting floor or not, so I hate to talk about stuff to get people excited.
Eurogamer: What with the premise and the fact co-op is very suited to LAN parties, are you worried it might end up being a cult classic rather than a best-seller or is that not something you think about?
Chet Faliszek: Nah, I think if you look around at the reaction here, it's pretty universal. I think, not to say anything bad about anyone else here, but I don't see a two-hour wait to play any other game right now.
Eurogamer: It's very true but obviously QuakeCon is still a very specific group of people. I guess I'm thinking in terms of the wider PC audience.
Chet Faliszek: Well, Counter-Strike's a very specific thing and it's played by a couple of people. I think the audience is out there and if anything the co-op aspect of it will bring in a whole new group because you'll get to play really tightly with your friends and it's not antagonistic so, you know, you'll play here with somebody new and sit down and be like, "I'm going to be your buddy covering you".
And there's this whole element of - like watching this guy and his girlfriend play, and his girlfriend actually outlasts him and she doesn't play first-person shooters, and it's because he was babysitting her and gave her his health, and can really do these team things and it's just cool to watch.