- Left 4 Dead is an online co-op shooter developed by Valve and Turtle Rock Studios.
- L4D lead Chet Faliszek comments on the game’s development on its 15th anniversary.
- L4D2 was only made because the Left 4 Dead engine was extremely broken and fragile.
Left 4 Dead is officially 15 years old. Celebrating its anniversary, L4D lead Chet Faliszek reminisces over the making of the game and its now beloved sequel with Game Developer. Contrary to its reputation today, Left 4 Dead 2 was initially heavily maligned when it was first announced, released an exact full year after its launch, many players felt they were given the short end of the stick by Valve.
According to Faliszek, it seems like this was a necessary evil. Faliszek describes the original game as “such a broken thing that nobody wanted to touch it.” Trying to fix these issues meant seeing other bugs sprout in, like survivors disappearing into thin air. Each map also had to be loaded two or three times in the background, it really is described like a house of cards held together by the word of God.
I don’t think outside people can appreciate how broken the Left 4 Dead engine was but still shipped. It loaded each map two or three times in the background. As the game approached its certification window, an engineer took it upon themselves to try and fix this issue. Their solution didn’t work: During nearly every session with the fix, ‘a survivor just disappeared.”
Falsizek mentions that this is why Left 4 Dead 2 was made as a standalone game rather than a content update or DLC. It would have been impossible to fix or add something to the original Left 4 Dead without breaking something else or causing the entire game to fall apart. He refers to the rich modding scene of Left 4 Dead 2, saying that the level of freedom in modding would have been impossible for the first game.
Left 4 Dead was such a broken thing that nobody wanted to touch it. That game iterated so quickly that if it meant breaking something horrible, where you had to load a map two or three times but you could playtest it today, we did it. That meant at some point, you had to pay for that debt. There was no way you were going to support mods for Left 4 Dead in the same way we did for Left 4 Dead 2 without a big reset.”
When asked why this was never mentioned during the backlash around the game’s announcement, Falsizek admits that he wanted to be appreciative of the effort that took to get the game out the door.
When people kill themselves to ship a game, you don’t really want to say that there were problems with it. It was a lot of patching and Bondo-ing to get it through the door. To be appreciative of that, I’d rather just have somebody mad at me because they thought it was my idea.”
For Falsizek, the development team, and Valve, the gamble paid off. Today, it is hailed as the benchmark of online co-op shooters, with developers still struggling to capture what made it so captivating. While those attempts may not have been as fruitful as the game it’s inspired from, L4D2’s legacy continues to be solidified as time goes on.
Falsizek himself is working on The Anacrusis, a very L4D-inspired 4-player co-op shooter where you gun down hordes of aliens instead of zombies. The Anacrusis is currently in early access with a full release planned for December 5.
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