I’ve never really been a big zombie fan; I haven’t seen most of the undead horror flicks or read up on the apocalypse survival guides. Exposure to Jacko’s “Thriller” video at a tender age (awkward) probably influenced my disdain for brain-eaters’ media, though it’s also probably one of the reasons why my latest gaming obsession has taken over like the zombie need to feed. Left4Dead (L4D), developed by industry visionary Gabe Newell and his crew at Valve, is a four-player cooperative action title casting you and 3 of your friends as the remaining ‘survivors’ battling to outlast the relentless zombie hordes through four distinct scenarios. The most absurd part, aside from shotgunning zombies in the face and saving your comrades from becoming brain stew, is the fact that your play-through experience will never be the same twice thanks to Valve’s ingeniously evil creation, “Director AI” through procedural narrative.
Reload your shotgun and hit the jump to read on.
Playing through the campaign a few different times, you start to get the feeling that the intricately coded Director AI may actually just be a human ‘director’ somewhere who’s jacked into your game, watching every detail and dialing up the madness just as soon as you and the rest of the survivors think you’ve got the game beat. Always frantic, yet never annoying, Valve’s unique, on-the-fly game management system keeps the action fresh every time and looks to be a giant step forward in making good on the artificial intelligence promise of the “now-gen” consoles (beauty and braaains). The system analyzes how you and your team confront each individual challenge (do you work as a team, are you wasting ammo, are your movements frantic) and uses that data to affect the narrative and subsequent scenarios throughout gameplay. Instead of simply throwing more zombies at you to keep the difficulty level constant and intense, Director AI rewards you for handily dispatching the un-dead, creating experiential peaks and valleys, a long-time Valve staple that had been statically scripted, until now. And while L4D is making both the critical and development communities reevaluate their expectations for in-game AI, Newell and company are already looking to push their own dev boundaries by using EEG-wired testers to determine exactly what a player is feeling when their shotgun’s empty and the escape chopper is still 60 seconds away (RUN!!!!).
And then check out Valve’s Lead Designer Chet Faliszek as he walks you through the helicopter rescue mission from the game’s first chapter.