Top Five Left 4 Dead 1/2 Custom Campaigns

In August 2010, Chet Faliszek announced Valve would begin to rotate biweekly custom-made campaigns on the official servers of Left 4 Dead 2:

Every two weeks we are going to feature a new community campaign on our servers. We will feature one campaign at a time to make it is easier to find games. We’ll be keeping it featured for two weeks so people can familiarize themselves with the maps for competitive play.1

Though we wholeheartedly agreed with Valve on their choice to start their campaign off with 2 Evil Eyes, their subsequent picks have not been as bold as we had hoped, as the team has since gone on to pick Detour Ahead, City 17, Haunted Forest, Dead Before Dawn, One 4 Nine and I Hate Mountains. Now that the slow trickle of maps seems to have dried up – sans Cold Stream, of course, which is still a river running wild – we wanted to introduce to old and new players alike a list of five great Left 4 Dead 1 and 2 custom campaigns – that is, the best maps Valve is yet to highlight.

We applied a loose criteria to this list of Left 4 Dead 1 and 2 maps. First and foremost, each level was to be available for both games. Second, we expected proper playability on the “expert” difficulty setting. Third, all these levels enjoy a degree of popularity in the community, so as to make finding servers and players easier.  Fourth, we did somewhat consider artistic merits like overall look and feel, setpieces, setting and brushwork.

Fifth, we also sought out campaigns that would adhere to the gameplay standards and Left 4 Dead fiction as defined in practice by Valve. This meant no nasty surprises, traps, or major changes to campaign flow. The reason all the campaigns below have been tested and completed on the “expert” difficulty level is because we found that this particular setting best reveals the extent of balancing (or lack thereof) in terms of campaign length, pacing and structure.


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New Left 4 Dead DLC: The Sacrifice

This Friday’s Portal 2 GTTV episode also had a brief but promised Left 4 Dead segment to it. Valve’s Chet Faliszek talked with Geoff Keighley to announce the details of the new Left 4 Dead 1 and 2 DLC, called “The Sacrifice,” to be released free on the PC and on the Macintosh, too.

Unlike the previous Left 4 Dead 1 DLC, “Crash Course”, which did so in name only, the forthcoming downloadable content is all about Valve bridging existing gaps in the games’ storyline: “The Sacrifice” will reveal to players exactly what happens to the original four survivors, leading all the way up to the events of the previous DLC, “The Passing.”

In addition to the new playable content, a digital L4D comic by Michael Avon Oeming (best known for the Powers comic with Brian Michael Bendis), of 150 pages and four separate parts, will be released. Each part will tell the background story of one of the original four survivors, the first of which will be released as early as September. Gathering from the screencaps below, we’ll probably see Louis’ story first:


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Slowdown Slowdown

While you have probably noticed the tell-tale signs of a steady stream of “Quote of the Day” posts (as fun as they are to post…!), I would just like to take a moment to clarify the situation somewhat: Richard, Nabeel and I have all been beyond busy lately. I’m telling you, it feels so good to be able to write that down, even if it doesn’t change a thing: Busy!

(Kinda dig the earlier one – it doesn’t read “TORMENT” all over it…)

To write about games, you have to think about games. To do that, you do have to read and discuss them, too. Doing that properly means you have to play them first. The problem? The above chain of events simply never even gets rolling when you’re pressed for time! We try to take each and every post seriously and this sometimes means more work and delays.

Right now, our @slowdownvg Twitter feed is slightly more active than the front page, as is my own @martynzachary – if only barely.


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Fly, Gabe, Fly!!

Though we’re slightly behind the actual bandwagon, there is no way I can not touch upon a wildly imaginative exchange between a Left 4 Dead modder and Valve, something that has got to be the flat-out funniest occurrence within the Valve community this year.

The seeds were sown last week, when it came to our attention that Valve had flown the Left 4 Dead 2 boycott group leaders over to their headquarters for a tour of the forthcoming game – something only the Valve masterminds, wearing their best pair of silk gloves and armed with a jar of lube, would have been able to think up; To add insult to the injury, the boycotters came out of the experience feeling positive.

Meanwhile, a relatively unknown Left 4 Dead modder, Joe W-A, jokingly sends an e-mail to Gabe Newell, asking:

Why the hell haven’t I been flown to Valve?
I mean, you guys need to preview my campaign.

Gabe, jovial as always, retorts:

We are boycotting your campaign.

Not one to shy away from a verbal fracas, ripostes Joe, “Does that mean I have to fly you here?”, to which Gabe counter-ripostes, “Me and Erik [Wolpaw]”. Only moments later, a blog collecting donations for flying the Valve duo over to Australia, Brisbane appears, and a mere few days’ worth of gathering, the undertaking has already broken the rather amazing 3000 dollar barrier required for the plane tickets. Joe additionally promises the surplus will go to the Penny Arcade charity venture, Child’s Play.

The hilarity of this inconceivable succession of events aside, I’m not sure what it will mean for the overall complexion of interaction between Valve and its fans, but as far as the actual realities of this meeting go, it is either going to be an awkward trainwreck or a fantastic fête of funk: Plans are being made for capturing the occasion on video, too, so we’ll be privy to the plot! Either way, I do commend both parties for their geniality and their willingness to engage, something which Valve has built their reputation on from the very beginning.

Lastly, Rock, Paper, Shotgun make a great point in their latest coverage on the story:

If we were a multi-million dollar company who could afford a billion plane flights, we’d certainly make sure most of the money raised went in that direction and still go on the trip.

I second this notion! Don’t forget to take your sleeping bags, Gabe and Erik!

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Dissecting the Casts of Valve’s Left 4 Dead Series

The last-minute visual overhaul of the original Left 4 Dead cast, revealed during EA’s 2008 E3 conference1, came mere months before the November 18 launch date for the game. The changes, though minuscule as well as practically-minded, felt like a crushing blow to some, yet wholly inconsequential to others.

Revision Comparison
Revision Comparison

Some players might have missed the debacle altogether. Me? In response to the news, I envisioned a future scenario wherein Beyoncé models for a revised Alyx in Half-Life 2 EP3. I was desperate to commentate on the topic right there and then, but ultimately decided against it. Phew. Now, despite the fact that Left 4 Dead 2’s characters have barely been cast out to light, however, I am bold enough to suggest that an intriguing pattern has emerged, that a trajectory of design can be seen in the way Valve and Turtle Rock Studios have designed the various characters of the Left 4 Dead series.

In this text – which is just as much a history of the games’ development cycle as it is an analysis of the concept of “character” in the gaming medium – I will first navigate us through a series of dates, occurrences and currents that ultimately affected the make-up of the casts of both games. I will also attempt to explain and pinpoint decisions related to the series’ art direction. Since we’re broadly three months removed from Left 4 Dead 2 release date of November 17th, you’ll have just about enough time to read through my admittedly thorough assessment. Thanks for reading!


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