Saturday, June 6, 2009

So, let's talk about L4D2.

E3 has come and gone. Last year, I talked about how such a venue seemed mostly useless, especially because of the downfall of it's presentation. But alas, just when everyone thought it was over, the old skool E3 of yesteryear stormed back on the scene with its booth babes and "huge" announcements and expensive party atmosphere. Did it work? Well, in a word, yeah.

The coverage of E3 has been enormous, and with good reason. Hell, Nintendo actually managed to announce things people care about! But I digress from this post's title.

Valve, arguably one of the best developers in video games (up there with Blizzard, I'd say), announced Left 4 Dead 2 at this year's E3, and it pissed some people off. Did it piss me off? No, not really. I was surprised, though. Valve, like Blizzard, doesn't do fast sequels. Even the Half Life 2 episodes took longer than a year between each release, and those certainly aren't to be considered "sequels". At least not in a full-form, anyway.

Valve's forums erupted with anger from gamers claiming that Valve has betrayed them, with players accusing Valve of undercutting them by undercutting the original L4D. Valve told the gaming community that they would be supporting and updating L4D for a long, long time, much like Team Fortress 2, which, through constant free content-adding updates, has proven that such a strategy would pay off quite nicely. So, why change it? The answer is probably something like "because they can." L4D generated a good deal of money for Valve, so why wouldn't they want to produce a sequel, which in turn would generate more money?

Oh, right, that whole "promise" thing.

Let's look at how L4D has done with it's content-adding-ness:

1 Major update.

...And that's it. Hrm. Well, surely that update contained a variable shitload of content, yes?

Added 2 Versus maps and Survival Mode.

..oh. Well, gosh, that kind of does suck, doesn't it? Unless those Versus maps were new experiences...

The Versus Maps are "Dead Air" and "Death Toll".

...Wait, the maps that should have been in Versus when the game was released? God damnit! Survival Mode better be awesome..

Survival Mode puts players in the various "crescendo" moments that the normal maps contain, only the zombies do not stop coming until everyone dies. Difficulty increases the longer you are able to stay alive, with games rarely lasting longer than 10 minutes. Also, there is a new map for this mode, the "Lighthouse."

...But the Lighthouse map isn't a full, new map?


And isn't that kind of gameplay already in Gears of War 2 and Call of Duty: World at War (with Nazi zombies for some reason)?


So, let me get this straight...we got two maps we technically already had (and arguably should have had from the start), and then a new mode that's technically in other games and is just an extension of moments in the game already. That, and there's the fact that the new mode will always end in failure, no matter how great a team of players you have with you. So, if one were to be an over-the-top critic/douchebag, one could say that the only "new" content that was given is everlasting failure, and Valve calls this an update?


Cool, I'm going to stop conversing with myself now.

Granted, I don't completely stand behind everything I just wrote there, but I can (obviously) see where people would get upset. Valve has always been considered a beacon of hope when it comes to post-release DLC, showing that if you do something well and make it free, people will continue to buy your game well after it's release because of the free goodies. And so we come back to the question "why are they changing this?"

I think that L4D might have been a sort of experiment. Valve had this great idea for a game, but it had never been done before. And though they could bank on selling the game based sheerly on the Valve brand, I don't think they wanted to (and it probably would have been stupid to do so). So, they made this game, and put pretty much what they wanted to put into it, and what they did release was an extremely polished starter for what they ultimately would have liked to do in the first place, which is L4D2. Would people be able to deal with a purely co-op experience on the internet, land of overwhelming asshats? Would players enjoy doing essentially the same things over and over again, only with a few minor differences in enemy and item placement? Would the AI Director actually be decent, or a pile of crap? Well, they now have their answers.

But does this mean that they couldn't simply update L4D with improvements that would reflect their newly acquired knowledge? Surely they could add new maps, characters, content, etc. without a full-on sequel. After all, they did say that's pretty much what they'd be doing.

Honestly, I don't know, because I'm not Valve. But they're walking on thin ice. They have, however, asked us to trust them, and I think they might have earned a little trust from us. They have from me, anyway. Besides, there are many ways that they can approach this whole sudo-fiasco with intelligence. There's no reason why they couldn't combine the games a-la-Rock Band 2, yes? Why not allow all L4D content to be accessible from within L4D2? That way, if they still are going to be releasing additional content for L4D, those who have the sequel can enjoy everything at the same time, seamlessly. Just something to think about.

But, taking a look at what's promised within L4D2 (entirely new location, new survivors, new weapons, new zombies, new special zombies, new crescendo moments...) I'd say yeah, there's enough there for a sequel. Maybe not a $50 sequel, but at least a $30 kind of thing that merges with the original content. But hey, you know people will buy it anyway, regardless of what it really is or how it's really done. So maybe all this hub-bub is pointless.

But maybe it isn't.