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Interview: Valve's Doug Lombardi

Jem Alexander

Valve's PR overlord, Doug Lombardi, answered our burning Left 4 Dead 2 questions at a recent event in London. We discuss PS3 development, the new cast and clarify some of the game's features, so read on.

So first thing's first. Where's Half Life 2 Episode 3?

Laughs. Stay tuned! No news on that today.

Worth a try! What's the real deal with PS3 development? At the end of last year you seemed quite up on the idea and then nothing since then.

We're still up on the idea. The thing that we've come to the conclusion on is that we've got to get some PS3 developers at Valve. We always look at everything as if we were customers of our products -- what would we want and what would we expect? If you look at The Orange Box -- PC: 96 on Metacritic, 360: 96 on Metacritic, PS3 like... 84 or something. And then you look at Left 4 Dead, I think it was 89 or 90 on both platforms.

Continued after the break.

Getting The Orange Box out was the first time we simultaneously shipped multiplatform. We had always shipped later and it was always handled by someone else, with the exception of Half Life 2. So we finally got to a simultaneous release with The Orange Box and with Left 4 Dead we got to a simultaneous release, same Metacritic scores just like The Orange Box, but then we were one step further and supporting the game with DLC on both platforms for the same price, which in this case was free with the survival pack. So, cool, we're simultaneous and now we're treating the 360 guys with first class respect not only at launch, but also post-launch.

"We have to get people under our roof who are dedicated, talented PS3 guys and then all bets are off."

So we look out further and say "now we have to get the good or popular mods to the console guys," then there'll be complete parity between the PC and console. If you look at the example of the Metacritic score on PS3, that's not even close to where we are right now with the 360 and PC and the reason is people. We have to get people under our roof who are dedicated, talented PS3 guys and then all bets are off. We can take the same sort of strides and get the quality out of the box and offer the same support post-launch on that platform, as well.

Are you actively looking to hire PS3 developers?

Valve is always looking to hire people. So yeah, definitely.

Onto Left 4 Dead 2 specific stuff. Will you be offering Left 4 Dead 1 levels as DLC or installable from the disc for Left 4 Dead 2?

That's something that we're looking at right now. How to marry those communities and how to piece those things together. We've made it so that with the mod tools, if you're making stuff for Left 4 Dead right now, with very little work you'll be able to get it up and running in Left 4 Dead 2 and it's a matter of how all that interfaces and there are a lot of details that we still need to work out. But it's definitely a goal of ours to have cross-operability for those who own both games.

"It's definitely a goal of ours to have cross-operability for those who own both games."

Any specific plans for keeping Left 4 Dead a platform rather than a franchise?

Well that's really a big part of it, that's stuff we're still really working out and we're not prepared to disclose just yet. We understand that the best possible scenario is to keep everyone together in the same community and treat it as a platform, as you say.

What brought about the incendiary ammo?

I don't know who came up with that originally, but I think it's a great addition to the game and I think the Hazmat zombie who's immune to it is just an awesome counter to that. What's great about Valve is that everyone's equal. It's a flat organization and everyone has an equal say in the design process. There isn't just one guy who hands you the design document and says "go make that."

What you get for that is that every time somebody comes up with an idea, someone acts as the evil genius and comes up with the counter for it. I loved how those two things came out -- I get to be a customer of it a little bit as the marketing guy. You know, I'll play the demo and I'll be like "oh cool, incendiary ammo" and then the next time I play I'll see this Hazmat guy and I'll try to shoot him and it doesn't work, and I'm like "that's awesome!" For every yin there's a yang for what goes into the game.

The original survivors were incredibly memorable and beloved by fans. What made you decide on having a new cast and do you think they'll be as memorable?

We decided on the new cast for a couple of reasons. I hope they'll be as memorable as the first ones and I think they have the potential to be more appealing. The reason for using a new cast was multi-fold. We wanted to bring the story on a bigger scale. The things that are happening, all the shit that is hitting the fan and turning everyone into mutant zombies, has gone much bigger than just Pennsylvania, which is where the original game was loosely set.

So we wanted to say it's on a grander scale. Other people are being affected in other parts of the world, or other parts of the country in this game's case. We also have the ability to deliver different stories with these other people. There are a lot of reasons to keep the original ones, but for every reason there's baggage. Okay, what else does Francis hate? Baggage. How do Zoey and co. find themselves in Georgia from Pennsylvania? Baggage.

So you have this clean slate with new characters. It also allows us to say "meanwhile, while this is happening to these people, this is happening to these other people." So it's a group of trade offs and starting with the blank canvas lent itself better to the other ideas in the game.

"The Hunter showing up in a hoodie in New Orleans doesn't make sense, because it's always hot as hell there."

Do you think the two groups will ever meet up? Will one group fight off an infected versions of the other group?

It's a fun idea to play with for something in the future, for sure.

So apart from the Witch walking around a bit now, are the special infected's behaviors pretty much the same as the first game?

Yeah, the Witch is the only one who's had significant changes to her behavior. There are little smaller tweaks that are very subtle we've made to other things. The amount of time they show up now, because there are other bosses. That sort of thing. For the most part those guys were pretty solid designs. The Witch was a solid design, but we thought it would turn the volume up a bit if she's on the run.

There are also costume changes. The Hunter, for example, showing up in a hoodie in New Orleans doesn't make sense, because it's always hot as hell there.

When a player controls the Charger in Versus mode, will there be something in place to make them behave like Charger, like the Tank's patience meter?

(To Chet) Do you want to help with this?

The benefit there is that if you behave like a Charger, you get a hit and do damage. The Charger does this power up move and charges off and hits multiple people. It's about surprising people. The map we were showing today, the gauntlet level, is a good example of a map that's super great for with the Charger. But to counter that -- we didn't see anyone do it today, it's something you have to learn -- you can play the matador role. Taunt him out and then step back behind cover and he'll go flying off the bridge, for example.

That was Chet, by the way.

So will there be these finale levels for all the campaigns?

Yeah, absolutely. And then mini finales in the middle. There are at least three in the New Orleans campaign we're showing.

How many levels will there be in the game?

We're able to get more gameplay into a level now, because we've worked on the efficiency of the engine and stuff, so we keep changing the number of levels, but the goal is for each of the campaigns to be the same amount of game time as the originals, if not a little longer. And there'll be five of them versus the four that were in the first.

And this will a full price game?

Yeah, full price. Full sequel. Bigger than the original.

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