Monday 24 November 2008

Left4Dead Week: Failing is Fun

Left4Dead week will feature one short piece on Left4Dead each day this week to celebrate the full release of the game.

No other game celebrates the fun of failure like Left4Dead. (Except roguelikes. And Dwarf Fortress. Screw you Jonathan Blow for making failure impossible...) So it's time to second guess the designers and come up with some game 'improvements' to see if our hypothetical Left4Dead design can improve on the high standards set by the original.

And nothing says improving game play by adding stuff randomly without testing. So I'm going to suggest the addition of three more weapon types, and one more playable zombie. Ah... variety. The spice of life to cover up the stench of death.

Three additional weapons

These weapons are placed by the AI director - but instead of having a table from which you can pick 3 from, there's only a maximum of one per level, which comes with a fixed amount of ammunition which you can't refill. Think of these as a short term power up that one player gets to steal from everyone else. And fails with it.

The Chainsaw: How Valve released a zombie game without a featuring a chain saw beggars belief. Of course, they should really have included a lawnmower. But a chainsaw is close enough.

Primary fire: You saw through zombie flesh. It doesn't so much do damage, as carve up any regular zombie as soon as you hit it. Against special zombies, the shower of blood blocks your vision much as a Boomer's vomit does, but in a different colour.

Secondary fire: Melee attack like every other weapon which pushes zombies away. Occasionally your chainsaw will get stuck in a zombie while using primary fire and you'll have to clear it with the secondary fire.

How failing with it is fun: You'll notice that the primary fire doesn't push zombies away... so getting surrounded is just as bad as before. Plus: play a coop game, and take away someone's ability to use their primary weapon at range. Then see how everyone else feels.

Wait. Valve did that in Left4Dead with the Akimbo Assassin achievement. Nothing to see here then. Move along.

The Flamethrower: Lots of burning stuff. Check. Zombies on fire. Check. Ability to set zombies on fire using a flamethrower... didn't Valve watch the Thing?

Primary fire: Flame. Glorious flame. Watch how it burns. I'm waiting right now for a barbecue to get delivered. True story. I wonder what zombie flesh tastes like. I'm guess a chicken version of Spekekj√łtt... mmm...

Secondary fire: Melee attack. Like everything else. Of course bashing the flaming end of a petrol tank against something hard is a low risk proposition. I wonder how often it'll blow up.

How failing with it is fun: Aside from the random petrol tank explosions - and how often have you accidentally shot a fuel canister in Left4Dead already without strapping one to your back and standing in front of your companions - the flamethrower doesn't have any stopping power. So instead of being rushed by zombies, you'll be rushed by zombies. On fire.

The RPG: Midtown USA features lots of military grade equipment. Like Russian made Rocket Propelled Grendade launchers. And General Purpose Machine Guns. I actually thought long and hard about suggesting a GPMG. Until I realised that you'd have to go prone to set it up. And as Counterstrike has shown, going prone just encourages tea bagging... can I point out that tea bagging an AI tank you've just taken down doesn't have quite the same emotional force as someone who is forced to watch you sit over them with the in-game camera? It's funny when someone tries it on a downed comrade in Left4Dead. Because your dual pistols beats their dual... no wait. Lets not go there with this analogy.

Primary fire: Great for busting tanks. And fixed emplacements. Except most tanks move reasonably slowly and you can get at the weak armour from behind. Not charge at you throwing chunks of concrete while on fire (if you're lucky).

Secondary fire: Me... I think you can guess by now.

How failure is fun: Slow loading weapon. Fast moving zombies. Hmmm...

One additional playable special zombie

I didn't quite intend this article to end up as a humour piece. How the best laid plans go awry. But that's what we're talking about here.

One of the best laid plans in Left4Dead is to hole up somewhere while you're getting rushed. If you've got good line of fire and disciplined players you can hold off the regular zombies, push Boomers and melee release your colleagues who get caught by Smokers. Ideally your position shouldn't even be accessible to the special zombies because you've closed the doors leading to it.

So that's what this zombie type does. Force you to move...

The Swarmer

Picture the Candyman. But with flies crawling out his eyeless sockets instead of bees. And pale, decayed flesh, with red raw scars. And no hook. Maybe just the stump of a hand. But you get the idea.

Primary Attack: Melee attacks. Roughly boomer strength. This guy wants to get reasonably close to the enemies. Not boomer close. But faster moving.

Secondary Attack: Fly strike.

The fly strike spits a decayed lump of flesh surrounded by a swarm of flies at slightly further a distance than Boomer vomit. The location the fly strike hits is immediately filled with a cloud of flies which lasts, say, 15 seconds. This has no initial impact, but if any survivor stays within the cloud of flies for more, say, than 5 seconds, they are affected by a denser swarm of flies.

The swarm of flies effect causes the survivor to continuously lose health until either they become incapacitated, or have another survivor remove the swarm of flies effect, using the E key for a short duration.

Fatality: Killing the Swarmer releases a cloud of flies, with the same impact as their secondary attack. (Maybe this guy plays too much like a Boomer).

Sounds: The Swarmer is identified by the sound of the buzzing of flies around it. A intense, angry buzzing as if drawn to a putrid corpse...


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