Developer's commentary - Left 4 Dead

Chet Faliszek first boarded the Valve mothership when his prodigious writing talents, alongside those of hisbuddy Erik Wolpaw, were spotted at famed gaming websiteOld Man Murray. Since then he’s worked on the Half-Life 2 Episodes and Team Fortress 2, working with new techniques of contextual dialogue and background storytelling. Recently Chet’s been the face of Left 4 Dead, the non-rotting one at least. We chased the developer through Valve’s Bellevue mansions in search of answers.

Onset of infection
Faliszek: “Turtle Rock studios were the ones who started it. We’d been working with them on Counter-Strike for a while and every so often they’d come up and show us something new, and see if we wanted to work with them on it. The minute they showed us Left 4 Dead my reaction was the same as everyone’s the first time the zombies rush: you put your head back a bit, you open your mouth a little – it just hit us.

“They already had the idea for co-op, Michael Booth was the guy who had done the AI for Counter-Strike bots so he really wanted to have AI at the forefront of the game. So, even when our companies were separate, we started working with them on the game. Gabe Newell was sitting with me and Erik Wolpaw at lunch and we were just babbling about the game to him. An hour later, he sent out an email that said, ‘Hi Michael. Chet and Eric are going to help you with Counter-Strike’. We asked how much we could do, and he just said to work as much as we liked on it.

“Last winter Valve became one with Turtle Rock, and that opened up extra possibilities. That’s where you saw the new art pass happen, the new character models... but that original seed was Michael Booth wanting to do this AI thing. Zombies are great for that.”

Fast or slow?
“There wasn’t a debate. We had fast zombies in Half-Life 2, and I think the dynamic that they bring you, compared to that of slow zombies, is a lot more pulse-pounding. If you think of the first time you see a zombie horde in Left 4 Dead, then think about them if they were moving slow. You’d just think that you could take them down easily, when you should be thinking ‘Oh shit. They’re going to overwhelm me!’”

Writer duties
“The first thing we had to do was make sure that no-one put a heavy story in L4D and ruin it. Erik and I didn’t want to dumb it up. A lot of zombie games have a big evil corporation, but we just didn’t want that. We wanted people to passively enjoy the story. So some of the story is told through the graffiti, some of the story is told through the characters... we’re going to keep having the story leak out.

“Me and Erik know how everything happened. Moving forward, some of the campaigns that’ll be released on Steam may not take place after you get to Camp Echo. Some of it will be before, some of it may be even before No Mercy – the first chronological campaign. We can play with time and show you these different vignettes of what happened to these people during their journey.”