Interview: Left 4 Dead 2's Chet Faliszek


During PAX 2009, we stopped by Valve's booth to chat with Chet Faliszek, one of the leading minds behind Left 4 Dead 2. Read on for insight into the differences between Left 4 Dead and its upcoming sequel, the possibility of user-created levels on Xbox 360 and just what's possible with the L4D2 editing tools:

So, you guys have talked about fleshing out the story in Left 4 Dead 2 a bit more, and having a more involved plot. How do you do that with a game like this?

I think that's one of those "I'm just going to ask you to wait and see." Some of it is simply ... Left 4 Dead 1's world was at the same stage every place you went. The infection had been there for a little bit. This time we're seeing what it's like to be in a city before the infection hits. And you see different people's reaction to that, as you cross around the country, and there's some other bits we tie in with the original Left 4 Dead in Left 4 Dead 2 as well.
Are there
more traditional story elements this time around? Like more cutscenes?

This time we're seeing what it's like to be in a city before the infection hits

Oh no. No no no. We want people to be able to jump in because, for whatever we do, equally there's going to be as many people that just want to start on the fifth campaign and play that first with their friends. We don't want to have that kind of confusion and, really, our goal and our interest is to tell stories in the game; not in cutscenes. I think movies do a really good job of telling that. If you look at the Team Fortress 2 shorts, they do a good job of telling the story there. I'm much more interested in trying to solve the problem of telling the story to players in the game.

The Left 4 Dead featured a lot of back-and-forth banter between the characters. You can even make them say things by hitting the right button. Do you have more of that this time around? Did you play around with that a little more?

Yeah, so we've actually refined our tools a little bit to help us do that a little bit better. And there's a couple other little pieces that help do that and make it feel, hopefully, a little more natural.

How many melee weapons are there in Left 4 Dead 2? Do you have a count?

You know, I meant to get that because someone asked me that yesterday, and I could list eight off the top of my head and I thought I was missing some. So we have the chainsaw, we have ... I can email you the exact number. [Editor's note: And he did.]

But yeah, we have quite a few. I think we have more melee weapons already than guns that shipped in Left 4 Dead 1 -- to give you some idea.

Is there anything you haven't announced yet? Anything you're keeping secret, as far as melee goes?

That's why I was trying to list them off! I think we've been telling them all. The only one we haven't shown is the chainsaw.

What about variety in the guns? I saw the sniper, the shotgun, the uzi. What about guns that aren't in the first game? I saw the magnums, for example.

There's a lot of different weapons, and not only are they just different skins, there's actually different behavior inside there. Some of them have a higher rate of fire, some of them do more damage, some are more accurate at a distance. Some of them have other characteristics that we're not revealing quite yet, with how they behave differently.

One of the things in Left 4 Dead 1 that was always interesting was watching people take on roles. We never wanted to have a class system, where you had to be in that role from the start and hang on to it. Because, unlike Team Fortress, where you get a respawn every couple minutes because you die, in Left 4 Dead you tend to play for an extended period. So, you would see people -- depending on who they're playing with -- define their class the way they wanted by the weapons they would choose.


The Jockey, one of the new Special Infected in Left 4 Dead 2

Expanding on that -- people finding their own classes and playing for a long time: A lot of folks seem to enjoy the first Left 4 Dead's Versus Mode, but matches can take a long time. And now you've teased a new mode. Is it designed for shorter spurts, if you don't have a few hours? How does that work?


We really haven't announced the new mode, we're not really talking about it. There's a little bit more left to be revealed on that. But one of the things I think people look at is the DLC -- and this isn't what the new mode is -- but the [Crash Course] DLC has a shorter experience, as well. The new game mode is, obviously, a new game mode. This is not Versus, so we want to also give people who still like Versus different ways to get into the game.

The new special Infected: You have the Spitter and you guys are showing off the Jockey. Is that it? Are there any more?

Spitter, Jockey and Charger.

If you want to hear what someone's cackle sounds like, have them play the Jockey.


Those are the three new ones. And all those are playable in Versus?

Mmhmm. And if you want to hear what someone's cackle sounds like, have them play the Jockey.

Have you guys come to a decision as far as making Left 4 Dead 1 compatible with Left 4 Dead 2?


That's the kind of thing that we're not going to have concrete right before launch. It's just kind of a complicated issue of different binaries and different sets of models and different changes and stuff, so we'll see. We're definitely aware of the want to do that, and how we do that, we'll work out.

There are new climax moments, crescendo moments. For every campaign, do you try to offer a different kind of thrill?

Well, there's some that work really well, and there's some that are very unique to that situation. For example, consider what we call the Impound Lot. It's just an impound lot of alarm cars. You can actually sneak by and never set one off, but the odds of you doing that are pretty minimal. We have that kind of thing. We have traditional mini-finales and crescendo events as well, so we kind of mix it up. If you think about it, there's five campaigns, there's how many crescendo events? Lots. So there's a lot of variety. It's kind of the same with finales. There's some of what we call traditional finales. And partially we can do those now and not worry because the Spitter and Charger will help impact that.

There are sections, I believe it's in the parish, in the graveyard section, where the map will actually be different depending on how you play.

In certain parts of the campaigns, the Director looks at how you're doing and, as the map starts, lays out that section of the map differently.

So that idea is present in more than just that one graveyard section?

Yes, correct.

It's in other campaigns too?

Yeah.

And how has the Director changed?

Well, the ability to do that is, one, we also have a campaign where it brings in weather events. And that essentially changes it and makes it claustrophobic. You hear the storm coming, you want to find a small place to hang out in and kind of seek safety. And then we also have the ability that it has more creatures to throw at you. So it's smarter about mixing it up, and what it's sending at you and when. It's just not the simple "hunter hunter hunter" kind of thing that happened. How the creatures work together has just gotten really cool, like watching the Spitter throw down spit, and the Jockey grab someone and walk him into the spit.

What are some changes that you've made to the engine, other than the AI Director? Things that you can do in the second game that you can't do in the first game?

The major piece is there's been a ton of work on the Director done. And the cool thing is, for modders, they've been given some control of the director now. When people would say, "Hey, I want to place a Smoker there," and place it, that's not how it works. We've opened it up so that the level designers can add some influence, and we'll have a map that the level designers set up to have some influence on the director as well. We've done some more stuff with shadows, lights, water -- we have a lot of water in the game -- and those kind of graphic engine changes.

So the editing tools, will those be available on day one?


We're hoping it'll be day one or extremely shortly afterwards. We've been off the challenge that was Left 4 Dead modeling tools. We hope everyone understands they're not just the Source authoring tools. Like when Team Fortress came out, we already had the Source authoring tools, or the Source SDK. It just fell underneath that umbrella. This had to be its own beast, because it does things differently. It has a different file system entirely than any of our other games. And that's helped performance. There's all these different things that you can do.


A screen from the user-created Death Aboard campaign for Left for Dead 1

Speaking of the level editor, have you seen a pretty big response to that, in the original Left 4 Dead?

Oh yeah, there's some really cool stuff there. I think Death Aboard has been great; Crossroads Mall is looking good. There's some other campaigns, like Dam It, that I've had some fun with. There was one the other day that was ... I wasn't sure if it was trying to be a horror ride or ... I forget the name of it. There's been a ton of great ones.

Have you put any thought into trying to implement some of the better stuff that you find into the Xbox 360 version? Developers have always had trouble doing that.

One of the things that we look at is the campaigns that people are making. They're working without testing on low level machines or the 360. Not even low level machines, really mid-level machines or the 360. Some of theirs can't even run on my high-end machine. So there'd have to be a lot of work there to get them to perform so that we could ship them on their own. One nice thing about Team Fortress map: they're a small, self-contained space. They're not nearly as big as a Left 4 Dead map, let alone a five map campaign. If people start getting stuff close, we'd definitely be [interested]. But one of the things now is the first generation maps, these guys have got amazing work, right out of the gate. But we'll have to see as they get more practice in the engine, as they get more practice working with the Left 4 Dead world, what they can do.

Have you ever considered providing any sort of editing tools for the Xbox 360?

If people want to stick with Left 4 Dead 1, we still have content coming out for it. We're still updating it.

The problem we look at there is always -- I guess I should watch what I say, because I guess you could make something easy that does really complicated stuff -- but, traditionally, when you make something that's really easy to do, what people can do is very similar things, not very unique things. What we allow with the full SDK is that people can do very complicated and very cool things, right? And you see total changes and total, you know, big differences. But with editing tools that come with a game, you see, they're very incremental, more just reordering of current maps and stuff. Honestly, in my opinion, it's more interesting to see the really powerful thing. That's not to say that, down the road, we won't look at something like that. But when I look at something like Death Aboard, that has this ship that's at an angle, and they created all of their own assets and everything. That's really cool. Give me your latest copy, I want to go play it, right?

Some people complained about how Left 4 Dead 2 is coming out a year to the day from the first Left 4 Dead. Are you worried about people not making the transition or people just sticking with Left 4 Dead and being left alone?

No, I think if you look at Counter Strike Source and Counter Strike 1.6, those two are still thriving. Obviously, I think Left 4 Dead 2 is a bigger ... more game -- I don't want to say better, because I love Left 4 Dead 1 -- and I would think it would be the natural way to go, but if people want to stick with Left 4 Dead 1, we still have content coming out for it. We're still updating it. It's a schizophrenic thing, but we've done it before. How we work as a company and how we are willing to be a little schizophrenic, because we always kind of look at games from the gamers' perspective, and we play Left 4 Dead ourselves.

We like Left 4 Dead and equally like Left 4 Dead 2. So if people want to stay in there and not have the melee weapons, it's one of those [things] that you go read the forums and, "Oh my God, they added melee weapons to Left 4 Dead!", where 99 percent of the world is like, "Melee weapons! I want the chainsaw!", right? I mean, it's cool, there are still people playing Team Fortress Classic. We just updated Counter Strike Source a couple of weeks ago.

W
hen you started thinking about new ideas for Left 4 Dead, did you think "We could start adding DLC to the original game"? At what point did it become: "This can't be DLC, this has to be a new game"?

Well, see, early on it became a question of dependencies. So, what you can do with the Director needs to -- because you have these other creatures that it can throw at you -- have these AI changes and it needs to have these other weapons. There are just all these inter-dependencies that existed there that we wanted to be able to deliver in one single file. If we had just released the Charger first it wouldn't have been that interesting. We needed the director changes for the Charger in order to make it work.


Last question: How much disparity do you see in how many people are playing at any given time between the two versions? Is the community leaning more heavily toward PC versus Xbox 360?


No, no. Both communities are totally thriving. I don't have exact numbers and I don't want to talk off the top of my head. I haven't looked at them for a while, which is bad. I should be. We looked at them around E3, and we're seeing both communities ... there's a thriving community there, and they're both looking forward to the Crash Course DLC. I talk with a lot of people in the community so it's pretty evenly split.

I actually do have to ask one more question: The DLC upcoming for Left 4 Dead 1. On PC it's free, for Xbox it costs seven dollars, I think.

560 Points.

Why is that?

It's just every time we're going to release DLC, we'll come up to this as well. Microsoft did great support for us in getting the Survival Pack DLC out. We think [Crash Course is] a great value. We're really happy with Crash Course. It's good DLC. It's a lot of fun.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.