Why Ellis is Valve's favorite character

Chet Faliszek began his life making amusing scribbles on the legendary websiteOld Man Murraywith Erik Wolpaw, before being plucked to work at Valve by Gabe Newell himself. Since then, Chet has provided delicate words to tumble from Alyx’s mouth and has been, among other duties, chief scribe for the Left 4 Dead series. He’s a charming and gentle sort: thoroughly undeserving of the YouTube hate videos he’s popped up in over the past year. (And all because Valve dared to release a sequel to L4D that people had to pay for.) We shoved a microphone in his face and requested that he talk.

Unchosen characters

“There were hundreds. For character creation for this we had artists go off and start sketching characters and writers coming up with characters they were interested in, then we’d have meetings and throw some totally off-table. One side would take somebody else’s; so I’d take something that was drawn and write the backstory for it and an artist would take something written and draw from it.

“On top of that it wasn’t enough to have the individual character, but you have to make the group and what would make it interesting. Would you want to play that character? Would you be annoyed by that character? There’s some really bad stereotypes out there [about the South] that we don’t want to play on. If you’re from that area you know they don’t really exist, and instead we wanted to celebrate all these differences.

“Ellis is a good example – a fun-loving crazy character who’s very definitely from the South and is the sort of guy you’d want to hang out with.”

The Jockey

“We’re more comfortable with the world we’re in now. The Jockey is a creature we came up with right here in this room, going back and forth looking at videos on YouTube of dogs with boxes on their heads running into walls. It’s just funny, it makes you laugh every time. The Jockey is the funny creature in there balancing out stuff like the Charger which is the big burly creature and the Spitter that’s horrific. We understand our place in not being too campy, because of the weird places you can go, but also not being too hardcore.”

Frickin’ laser beams

“Laser sights were something we had going into L4D as well actually. The weird thing is that until you play with them you think ‘Ah, they’ll probably just help me aim a little better when I’m running’ – but the real benefit is when you go to train a red dot on a zombie, only to see someone else’s and thinking ‘OK, that’s already a dead zombie’.

“A really good L4D team is one that knows where each other is looking – and I think that’s the real benefit. And it looks good – you know it’s badass.”

Why didn’t they give Zoey and Co. a call?

“There are some jokes we made about doing cameos with the L4D cast, but really we decided there was something bigger that we wanted to do. Going beyond, we thought it would be an interesting pay-off that people would see further down the road. So we held off on that.”

Running the gauntlets

“We wanted to try to do Gauntlets in L4D, but realised that we had to change the AI Director a lot for it to work. There’s a lot of technical things in there about how the creatures spawn and how the Director behaves – a lot of tweaking and re-coding. We wanted to have them in general after watching players cower down – you’d go into games and people would yell at you for not hiding behind a steam pipe. Screw that! The best way to play is the funnest way to play.”

Utility belt additions

“We just liked the idea of you having more choices to make and giving you more reason to scavenge around and look for things. Adrenaline was an early one, we wanted it for those moments where you were the last guy standing and you need to heal three people and do it as fast as you can... to let you be a hero rather than run away from your team.

“Then we looked at the other slots that were open – thinking about all the things you’d ever wish you could have. Boomer bile is something we’d talked about a long time ago, a L4D idea, but we’d never really wrapped around how it would work or why you’d want to use it. In L4D there actually isn’t much point in using it, but in L4D2 there’s so much water where the Tank can put his flames out so that alone is a good reason for it.”