Quickly, without thinking too much, describe Left 4 Dead in just a few words. You’ve probably come up with something like “a co-op zombie shooter.” Or maybe “an online co-op FPS zombies game from Valve.” The thing is, there would almost certainly be zombies in it. Still back during Left 4 Dead‘s development, Valve president and co-founder Gabe Newell wasn’t sold on making undead from the game’s bad guys, apparently he found the concept of zombies a little cheesy.
As noted by VG247YouTuber Kiwi Talkz recently interviewed former Valve writer Chet Faliszek about his time at Valve, working on half-life† his new company’s recent game The Anacrusisand of course 4 left dead. And according to Faliszek, writing a zombie game around 2006 wasn’t that difficult, because The living Dead TV show and the massive zombie media spread that followed hadn’t happened yet. The genre hadn’t gotten that tired yet and the clichés hadn’t been so overused.
But that didn’t stop Valve president Gabe Newell from wondering if there should be zombies in the game. At a dinner meeting with Newell, Faliszek explained how the president criticized the choice of zombies.
“I went out to dinner with Gabe once,” Faliszek explained. “And he beat me up, that uh…”when you watch zombie movies” [Newell said] †Night of the Living Dead about racism…Dawn of the Dead is about consumerism.’”
†[George Romero] had purposely made those movies about things like, to talk about it, and [Newell asked] ‘What is your film about? What is your game about? What’s your zombie story about?'” Faliszek said, “I’m like, ‘Well, you know it’s about working together. It’s about the game itself, it’s a reflection of the game. You know, what are you going to do in the zombie apocalypse?
Apparently that wasn’t good enough for Newell, who still thought zombies were too “cheesy” to include in the co-op horror shooter.
“We were put under more and more pressure,” recalls Falizek, “because I remember… [Newell] said, ‘Well, let’s not do zombies, zombies are just…cheesy, right? They’re just really cheesy.’”
And Faliszek agreed – at least then before – The living Dead TV shows helped make scary zombies more mainstream — the idea of the undead rising and killing people was very campy.
“But if a child saw that” Dawn of the Dead at a midnight movie [screening] and was just terrified…it wasn’t cheesy to me,” Faliszek said. “I had no idea those scenes were cheesy, until I saw them later.”
The solution that Valve, Faliszek and Newell were after was that some of the characters were in it Left 4 Dead be aware of zombie movies and comics so those characters understand and comment on how wild it is that what was once only in horror movies is now reality. And the key to making all that work, according to Faliszek, was making sure the characters played it all seriously.
According to the writer, a similar strategy is employed in the recently released version of his company The Anacrusisa co-op shooter heavily inspired by Left 4 Dead which reached Early Access earlier this year.
As regards Left 4 Deadgiven the popularity of the game and its sequel on both PC and console, not to mention all the clones coming even today, it seems that choosing to stick with zombies was the right one, even if it took some compromise to get to that point. This is a great example of how fluid and messy game development can be, with an element as important as: L4D‘s zombies might be on the cutting block even as people continued to write and develop the game. Again, a reminder: video games are hard to make.