Why Ellis is Valve's favorite character

All the fun of the…

“We’d been going with the idea of the fair, and at first what we had in mind was more of a county fair thing – and we were going to have the map end on a train. We had a few problems with that, and it wasn’t as fun as we’d hoped. Sometimes you just think something will make you laugh or be cool – and it isn’t.

“We kept iterating out of it, and thought how county fairs in the US are normally where washed-up rock bands end up. We were joking around with that idea for a little while, and kept it on theme. Originally there was going to be this old roadie there you talked to, but what it was about kept changing. At the same time, the fair started getting a little goofier, with the different games you can play and you running the roller-coaster – all of that. So if that was getting odder, we had to get the finale to match it!”

Hearing voices

“I think Ellis’ friendly-but-smart personality works because Eric Ladin really got it, worked with us on it and really pulled it off. That session was scary: wondering if he’d sound like a crazy hayseed redneck hillbilly or a cool character you’d want to hang around with.

“Eric has been in Generation: Kill, and Chad Coleman [Coach] was in The Wire. So both were slam dunks once we heard them.

“The guy who plays Nick plays L4D, and heard we were casting for L4D2 – so he’d asked to be in it, and his first reading was hilarious. Finally Rochelle, we liked her so much that we named the character after her!”


“We wanted to play with the gore a bit more, we felt comfortable that we could push on that tangent. One of our guys Gray Horsfield [one of the lead visual effects specialists on the Lord of the Rings trilogy] went home to New Zealand for a period, and came back with the wound system done, pretty much. It added so much, chopping an arm off and having them still coming at you – and that was on top of having about 3,000 variations of combinations of common infected.

“Then one of our programmers, Sergey, had been working on the physics stuff – having the bodies flying with pipe bomb mechanics wasn’t so demanding that it wouldn’t work on low-end machines.

“In L4D we had this phrase – ‘kill zombies, see cool shit with your friends’, that was our pitch. So we wanted to expand on that with the visuals in the world that were either impacting gameplay or rewarding the player; so you’ll see the bombs dropping when you’re in the French quarter, or the storm coming in the Hard Rain scene that harkens back to the cornfield in Blood Harvest.”

The new batch

“The order of development was: Charger, Spitter and Jockey. Along the way there were a couple that didn’t make the cut. The Charger came from the fact that, by last December, when playing online in Versus there were teams that were really, really hard to break apart. We wanted something to split them, that people couldn’t melee.

“Then we started getting problems with people sitting in corners, camping and not moving out. So at that point in L4D we let the Tank take out multiple people at a time. At first he could only do it to one person, while everyone else in the corner could keep on firing at it.

“With L4D2 we wanted something else to play with that, not just a Tank – the Spitter. The original idea was that they’d be spitting something like in Episode 2 with the Hunter flechettes – and then they would explode on out. But the goo worked a lot better, it was a lot more versatile.

“Finally the Jockey was in response to people running on ahead or lagging way behind their teams – taking the way they are as a player and exaggerating it to a very bad end. If they’re running ahead, and you get them with a Jockey, then you force them to run even further ahead than they want."

Feb 2, 2010