Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Left 4 Dead... alone

I'm sitting at my partner's house  right now, and her roomie is playing Left 4 Dead (or L4D2, I'm not sure). I really enjoyed the L4D games when they first came out, and spent a lot of time playing them a few years ago (has it really been four years? I think it has... ugh.).

The first few times I played L4D, they were downright spooky. The people I was playing with were relatively new to the game, as well, so we were caught off-guard by a lot of the little tricks the game pulls on you. The first time I stumbled upon a witch was downright creepy. It was a really cool experience.

The problem is, of course, that the more you play, the more you learn to anticipate and prepare for the climax moments. Hearing a witch in the distance stops being creepy, because you know exactly what it is, and how to handle it. You know exactly who has the materials you need, and you know the best way to either move around it or attack it.

This is inevitable, since the more you play, the more comfortable you get with the mechanics. Another big part of this is because the players have unlimited communication available through the mic. No matter how far apart you get, you can always hear each other just fine.

So, as I was listening to B play the game, I started to think about how little of his L4D experience is about the spooky, creepy, horror elements, and it got me thinking about how the game could be changed to reinforce the horror elements. What I came up with is something like this:

First: either the players should start in different parts of the map, or there should be some mechanic that encourages them to split up sometimes. The tensest parts of L4D are the parts where you realize that there's nobody around to watch your back or pick you up if you fall. Having the players have to search for each other or have to split up and do things in multiple areas simultaneously creates moments of tension.

Of course, if you're going to have people splitting up or starting in different areas, I think that you need to make it a "sound matters" sort of game. I'm not even sure how possible this sort of thing is to do, but I'm imagining two things: first, you don't have world mic capabilities. When you speak into your mic, your voice can only be heard near where you are. The farther you get from the person speaking, the harder they would be to hear. If they're in a building, and you're not, you may not hear them. Second, the zombies are attracted to noises. If you shout for your friend, the zombies in the area are going to react to that. Maybe you've got a key you can tap to make your voice a shout, but it attracts zombies from farther away or something?

Would this sort of game be interesting to people? I'm not sure. Obviously a lot of people could just bypass the whole "sound matters" thing by going onto third party chat services like skype or whatever, but I would find this kind of gameplay extremely interesting.

What do you think? Any kind of gameplay you'd be interested in that you don't think is likely to come out?


Mark said...

It's not a game I've played a ton of, but when I have played it with friends, the thing that always impressed me was when you get towards the end and things start to get really crazy. The scariness level is something that will always contain diminishing returns, but tension can still be ratcheted if you know and care about the people you're playing with. There were a couple of times playing this game when it really felt like I was almost watching a movie or something. Someone would, say, sacrifice themselves so that the rest of us could make it to a safe point (or whatever they're called - like I said, I'm no expert) and there were at least a couple times when we escaped by the skin of our teeth.

That sort of thing requires a lot of balance, and I think Valve did a pretty good job of that, but again, there's always going to be diminishing returns as you get to be more and more familiar with the game...

Roy said...

It's definitely a very well balanced game, no doubt, and I think that the game does a really good job of creating that kind of dramatic tension, even when you know the levels. But I think that the tension becomes more of an action movie tension, and less of a horror movie tension (and, frankly, I think that they knew that would be the case, which is why they have giant mobs of enemies attacking you non-stop, and dramatic music... the whole goal, I think, is to have those skin-of-our-teeth escapes).

I've definitely sunk a lot of hours into it, and I think it's best to play with people you're friends with, for sure.

Have you played any of the special modes they put up from week to week? I forget what they're called, but they tweak different elements of the game to create new experiences. Kind of neat.

Mark said...

I actually have not played it for a few years, and even then, my exposure was limited. That being said, I was able to get some of that "action movie" tension going on a few occasions, which I was impressed with, given that none of us were really experts. At this point, people have moved away and I don't have an xbox and no one plays the pc version, so I'm pretty much out of luck...