Unperturbed by the overzealous actors hired to act like zombies for the day, we sat down with Valve’s PR spokesperson Doug Lombardi at a recent Left 4 Dead 2 event in London, to pick his juicy brain about the forthcoming sequel. Braaaaiiinsss…etc.
Strategy Informer: First question on everyone’s lips has to be why you’re choosing to release a Left 4 Dead sequel so soon while there’s still a lot of interest in the first game?
Doug Lombardi: After the game wrapped, folks got together and did a whiteboard exercise with all the ideas we have and all the ideas that we want to do with the product. There was a class of things that felt like DLC and there was a class of things that felt like (they belong in) a sequel, so that’s sort of how things came about. We’ve been very fortunate over the years in having great success with our products. The company’s very financially stable and privately held, so the decisions that we make are only based on what we want to build and what we think gamers will be interested in. I think some of the confusion stems from announcing the sequel at E3, which is what E3 is about – it’s where you go to announce the big products – and I think folks took that as a signal that we were abandoning support for Left 4 Dead 1, which is not the case.
There’s more stuff coming for Left 4 Dead 1 in addition to what has already come so far and I think once we get past the launch of Left 4 Dead 2 and the stuff we have in the pipeline for the first game comes out then a lot of folks will say, ‘oh ok! I get what they were up to. It all makes sense to me now.’
Doug Lombardi, Head Spokesperson for Valve.
The new game is set in the humid climes of Louisiana.
Strategy Informer: What do you make of all the fuss that’s been kicked up surrounding the announcement? Do you feel that it’s unjustified?
Doug Lombardi: You want to listen to customers and you want to listen to all the indicators that are happening out there. And since E3, EA has been getting really excited about Left 4 Dead 2; I mean they’re putting on this great event here today. Microsoft seem to be very excited about the title, retailers are very excited about the title, pre-orders are double right now what they were at this point in time for Left 4 Dead in terms of proximity to launch. The judges at the show (E3) have given us ‘best multiplayer game’ of the show. That’s the official judges and just about everybody who gave awards.
So, we look at a lot of those indicators and see a lot of enthusiasm for the product and then we see a group of people that aren’t there yet. And so I think we need to keep talking with those folks and keep informing them of what we’re up to like I say, and keep proving it. Actions speak louder than words and I think over time folks will realise that everything we have in store, everything that we’re planning here is very much in-sync with Valve’s history going hopefully above and beyond in terms of post-launch support and giving customers what we hope they feel is the most value out of any game that they’ve bought. With Half-Life you got Counter-Strike, Day of Defeat and all these great mods and things we put out as well. We hired a lot of the Day of Defeat and Counter-Strike guys so that development could go beyond the initial release of those mods. We did similar stuff with Half-Life 2 and The Orange Box, which in itself was great value. Team Fortress 2 has been expanded greatly over time and Left 4 Dead had survival packs for free on both platforms. We have great mod authoring tools now and there’s still more to come.
So I think folks are entitled to their opinions but I don’t think their final judgement should be rendered until everything’s at a more complete state. Our take right now is that we’ve shown people this much of what is a huge thing in Left 4 Dead 2, so we don’t feel like we’ve pled our full case yet, so final judgement should be reserved until we’ve put all our cards on the table.
Strategy Informer: So, Left 4 Dead 1 and 2 might exist as two chapters that you’ll be able to play in tandem then?
Doug Lombardi: How that all plays out is still something we’re looking at. We want to have the most elegant way possible to have those who own both be connected with others who own both or to be able to play across that. We’ve done that already with the mods, we’ve been playing around with the mods creating content for Left 4 Dead 1 now and you should be able to get that up and running easily in Left 4 Dead 2. Just last week I believe, we released the matchmaking support for the mod authored stuff, which goes back to the old days of Half-Life and Half-Life 2 where we saw great mod stuff come out and it was only getting into the hands of a fraction of people that had those games.
It’s the first game in terms of matchmaking stuff that we have now, where we feel that the mod content will be able to get out to more be people and be playable for Left 4 Dead 2 and we need to come up with similar solutions for our own content in terms of the master product having this cross-communication between the two games.
Strategy Informer: So players won’t necessarily be abandoning the first Left 4 Dead when the sequel comes out then?
Doug Lombardi: No. I think if we do it right there will be a lot of great opportunities to expand what’s next by using things from both games. How we get there hasn’t been completely defined yet, so we’re not ready to reveal that. But it’s definitely something that’s a big point on our list of things to tackle for this product and has been since well before we announced it.
The big banner outside the London event, in case we weren’t sure where to go.
Left 4 Dead 2’s zombie hordes are far more aggressive and numerous.
Strategy Informer: With Valve having gone on record to say that the PlayStation 3 is too problematic to work with, can we take it as read that there’ll be no Left 4 Dead 2 for the console?
Doug Lombardi: You won’t see Left 4 Dead 2 on the PS3 anytime soon, that’s for sure. I think on balance what we’ve come out looking at is, we did Half-Life for PS2 years after the first one and it was done by a separate company who did a great job on it. We did The Orange Box (on PS3) with a separate company and it came out a few weeks after the other versions. And looking back at the Metacritic scores for those games and looking back at the lack of post release support for those games we say again, if we were customers who’d bought that, how would we feel? Looking at The Orange Box in particular, the Metacritic score on Xbox 360 and PC is 96, tied with BioShock and I think GTA IV knocked us off the top. But anyway it’s the third highest 360 game ever and ironically it’s tied on the PC side with Half-Life 2. The point is that they both have the same Metacritic score and the same is true of Left 4 Dead: the 360 and PC versions have the same Metacritic score. To us that’s something we’re proud of, because if you flip it around and say we were gamers, would we feel we’d got shit on if we bought the 360 version that we got the stepchild version? And the answer’s no. It’s just a matter of whether or not you want to play with a controller on your television or with a mouse and keyboard on your high-resolution display.
You can’t look at the PS3 version of The Orange Box and say the same thing. I don’t think the Metacritic score is even in the 90s (it’s ranked number 16 with a score of 89), so for us what we’ve got from that is we need to get a PS3 team together if we’re going to do PS3 content. Valve has the ability to dictate that quality bar with the initial release and Valve has the ability to support post-launch: something I think we’ve done really well with Left 4 Dead. We hit the quality bar out of the box on The Orange Box, but we haven’t really followed up on the post-launch support. We’re still actually working on that because we still want to make good on that promise, but with Left 4 Dead we were able to release the survival pack DLC and for me and a lot of people it was like, ok cool that’s something we can be really proud of - the guys who bought it on 360 are locked in step with the PC guys. For us, that’s the open question for the PS3. We need to find five or ten or however many really smart guys that want to work at Valve and want to do PS3 development and then it will make sense, because it’ll be in-house, we’ll be able to put that same badge of quality on it, we’ll be able to have that same flexibility of supporting it post-launch the same way we’re doing on 360 and have been doing for years on the PC.
Strategy Informer: Can you elaborate on the post-launch DLC support you’ll be providing for both Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 then?
Doug Lombardi: For Left 4 Dead 2 we plan to carry on our history of putting new stuff out. Nothing to announce today in terms of what specifically that is, but it’ll be a combination of tools and content like its always been to enable the mod authors to make cool new stuff. Sometimes they have better ideas than we do (laughs) and accepting interesting and different ideas has definitely been worth supporting. It’s helped us find new franchises - the likes of Counter-Strike and Day of Defeat - over the years and adding more content from us helps keep the game alive and keeps people playing the game, which helps drive word-of-mouth, which in turn helps continue sales. So, it just makes good business sense to do it.
Strategy Informer: With the amount of mod support you have on the PC could any of this crossover to Xbox 360 in the form of a downloadable mod community map pack for instance?
Doug Lombardi: Yeah. The way we see that happening is that it all needs to come back through us, then to Microsoft and back out to the 360 customers. Back in the day, nobody had released a mod at retail until Counter-Strike came out. We were the first ones to get a mod and commercialise it with Counter-Strike, but we did it again with Day of Defeat and Portal, which wasn’t exactly a mod but it was a student project that made its way into being commercial.
We’re looking at the mod thing on the console and we’re supporting Left 4 Dead content post-launch on 360, but the mod stuff just isn’t there yet. What we’re thinking about right now is once there’s a truly interesting mod that’s of size, or a set of maps or mods that we can gather together into a reasonable size, we can then take it back and put it through certain trials to get it out on Xbox Live. That’s our hope right now and something that we’re talking about with Microsoft, but we’ve just given the tools to the community to make that stuff, so we’ll just have to wait and see what comes of it. I think that’s the pathway to make it happen though.
Strategy Informer: With such a high quality back catalogue, is there ever any temptation to revisit those games and put a weapon like the Grav Gun into Left 4 Dead as a homage to Gordon Freeman for instance?
Doug Lombardi: (Laughs) The Grav Gun, no – that would be really, really hard! Yeah, we do look at that and I don’t want to show my cards too early but it is actually something that is an idea right now that we’re playing around with for Left 4 Dead 2. Not the Grav Gun, but more like cameos for certain weapons or characters from our other properties are something that we’re looking at and ironically it’s something that folks at retail and at EA are clambering for. Maybe because they’re hearing it from the community or whatever. It’s something that’s on the table right now, so we’ll see where it goes.
Somehow the daytime locations are every bit as eerie as the nocturnal settings.
Teamwork is possibly even more important than it was in the first Left 4 Dead.
Strategy Informer: Finally, do you have any tips to survive the zombie apocalypse when it happens?
Doug Lombardi: (Laughs) I would say just make friends with anyone who’s not a zombie, because that works in Left 4 Dead!
Strategy Informer: Excellent! Thanks!
Left 4 Dead 2 is slated for a November 17th release. We’ll have a tasty hands-on preview for you soon.