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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  1. http://www.l4d.com/blog/post.php?id=4194 []

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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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What Could Have Been: Irrational Games’ SWAT 4 Dead, AKA Division 9

Irrational Games (formerly known as 2K Boston) has come out of hiding with a new home, a revamped website with a glossy Web 2.0 sheen and a fully integrated community component. Not only are there new forums for fans to sign up on, but the member account features extend to rest of the site, allowing users to comment on news posts and interact with each other and the developers themselves. As well as the the social network aspects there is a meta-game leaderboards system, based on points and achievements that can be gained by doing things like befriending other people and posting on the forums. As predicted, the company celebrates its legacy with sections on all its previous titles and promises of new content to fill them in the future.

In the anticipation leading up to the site launch it was expected that the studio’s unannounced project would be revealed, but it seems that we will have to wait a little longer for that, as Creative Director Ken Levine explains in his blog post. Meanwhile, he speaks of “secrets”, and introduces the theme for the site’s content this month: discarded ideas. The following weeks will focus on the concepts and assets that were created for games but were ultimately left out of the final product. Starting things off is a new podcast series, Irrational Behaviour, lead by former games journalist Shawn Elliot. The first episode features the developers discussing various ideas that were cut from games, like dogs in wheelchairs in Bioshock, as well as a previously unrevealed project that never passed the prototyping phase, a game called Division 9.

Game Informer’s ongoing coverage of Irrational Games’ rebirth fills us in on how Division 9 came about. What started out as SWAT 5 became something that eerily resembles Valve’s Left 4 Dead, a tactical shooter with a co-op play and endless hordes of zombies to face. Irrational’s design included a more strategic layer, with base-building and resource management, and the project was deemed too ambitious and lacking in appeal. Fortunately for fans, the studio put together a trailer of sorts that demonstrates their concept. The video shows footage from the raw, unpolished prototype that was put together in a week to convey the premise to the suits.

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The End of a Decade

This year was a curious one, and I don’t mean to refer to the VG industry alone: 2009 was, after all, the first full year of The Slowdown for us three, and boy, it sure went past real fast. For various reasons, this year has also been a very trying one for each of us, yet we were still able to find the time and enthusiasm to write and post together. Taking up writing, I’m certain, has only worked to enhance our enthusiasm and interest in the medium. As if to commemorate the very end of the decade, though, my relatively recent motherboard had to be shipped over to Germany for replacement recently.

You’ve probably also noted how we’ve yet not engaged ourselves in the “best of” discourse, at all; we enjoy making lists just as much as the other guy, sure, but perhaps unsurprisingly also tend to get over-analytical and –intellectual with the concept.

Slowdown Boys

Therefore, as our final post of the year, the three of us have jotted down our personal lists of the decade. The simple rule was not to make it too difficult for ourselves. Therefore, I have sought to paint an impression of the zeitgeist, warts and all. Very subjective. Nabeel wanted to paint a portrait of himself as gamer, and Richard hoped to be accurate and inclusive. The games listed below have not been included based on their perceived merits or qualities; instead, we selected them with the aforementioned focuses in mind.

All three free-form lists after the jump. Here’s to a new gaming decade, everyone!

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On the PC, Only the Maximum Settings Are Canon

The eternal cycle that plagues us PC gamers is the constant need to upgrade our hardware, to keep up with the newest and shiniest games. It’s not just the fact that we need a rig that passes a new game’s minimum requirements and barely manages to run the game at all – we desire more than that. We want to play the game at its maximum possible visual settings, so that we can see it in its full glory. I’ve wondered, though, whether it really is just a craving for the best eye candy that drives that desire in me.

Maximum CrysisWhen I play a game at less than maximum settings, there is a nagging feeling I get that is separate from the disappointment in the reduction of graphical fidelity, or the dismay that my PC is getting long in the tooth. I find myself wondering if I’m really experiencing the game as it was intended by its creators. Developers speak more and more about wanting to deliver an experience to gamers, and wanting them to play it just how they envision1. I think about the interpretation of what I see, and whether what I’m seeing is ‘canon’. If the object detail is down so low that I can’t tell what a character is wearing, am I missing a crucial point about that character? If I make a certain conclusion about a room that I wouldn’t have if I could only read the writing scrawled upon the walls, is my understanding of what happened ‘non-canon’? It’s a minor point but it’s something I keep thinking of in an age of games that are finally able to tell stories with every kind of narrative device available.

Of course, console gamers don’t face this dilemma at all. A console game plays the same on every unit of that console, and developers have a lot more control on how the game will look and perform without having to think about different hardware combinations and permutations. So I’m just restricting this thought experiment to PC games. There are a number of questions that follow this thought. Does it really matter if the graphics are not at the very max? Would you even be able to glean some higher level meaning or nuance from the details? Are we at the stage in game technology where this would matter, and developers can use this level of detail to add subtle enhancement to a games story and atmosphere? If so, in what games released today would it make a difference? A few games came to my mind immediately, and I’ll restrict my selection to just these few already installed on my hard drive so as not to belabour the hypothesis.

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  1. http://www.1up.com/do/newsStory?cId=3162366 []

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