Sunday, July 17, 2011

Game On: Let's Play 3.03 - Left 4 Dead (Death Toll)

Game: Left 4 Dead (Death Toll)
System: Xbox 360
Developers: Turtle Rock Studios / Certain Affinity
Publisher: Valve
Player: Michael Jackson

Game Background

The development of Left 4 Dead began in early 2005 by developer Turtle Rock Studios. Formed in 2002, this Lake Forest, California-based company started development with Valve-published products in the Counter-Strike series. In particular, the company worked on Counter-Strike for Xbox, Counter-Strike: Condition Zero, and a number of additional maps for the original Counter-Strike. In 2006, however, the company would announce its own new game using the Source engine. Originally, Left 4 Dead was more open-ended and had different character designs and additional special infected, but play-testing and years of development eventually turned toward more linear experiences with less special infected. In January 2008, less than a year before release, Valve Corporation announced its acquisition of the company, renaming it to Valve South. The game released that following November, to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Half-Life.

The Xbox 360 version of Left 4 Dead was developed in conjunction with ex-Bungie developers who comprised the developer Certain Affinity. Formed in December 2006, the developer’s first development project would be the creation of two maps for Halo 2: Tombstone and Desolation, which were remakes of Hang ‘Em High and Derelict. The company’s first original title was Age of Booty, released by Capcom for all major downloadable distribution services in 2008. While helping port Left 4 Dead to Xbox 360, Certain Affinity also developed Call of Duty: World of War multiplayer maps for the game’s retail release.

The game’s publisher, Valve Corporation, was originally formed as an LLC in 1996 by ex-Microsoft employees Gabe Newell and Mike Harrington. Its first title, Half-Life, is seen as one of the biggest PC first-person shooters of all time. In 2003, the company incorporated and would release Half-Life 2 and its Steam service a year later. Left 4 Dead was not the first time the company acquired a developer who was modding or developing its own shooter using Valve’s engines: other games which fit that category include Counter-Strike, Team Fortress, Day of Defeat, and Portal.

Left 4 Dead is a four-player cooperative first-person shooter involving the survival against a zombie apocalypse. The game contains a number of scenarios in which four survivors (Francis, Zoey, Bill, and Louis) must venture through a number of zombie-infested locales between safehouses until they can eventually be rescued. Cooperation is pivotal in surviving against the myriad of enemies; other players can heal or help incapacitated players in order to ensure cooperative safety. Working together may be helpful, especially when faced against the special infected, a number of uniquely twisted zombies. Left 4 Dead contains five special infected: a bile-filled fat infected (Boomer), an agile infected which slashes at its prey quickly (Hunter), a long-range infected which suffocates its victims (Smoker), a super-powerful and extremely muscular infected (Tank), and a seemingly innocent but actually extremely deadly female infected (Witch). Initially, the game had four campaigns: “No Mercy,” a trip through a city toward a hospital; “Death Toll,” a small-town setting near the woods; “Dead Air,” a trip through another city and into an airport; and “Blood Harvest,” another wooded scenario involving a trail through farmlands. At the end of each campaign, players usually have to remain within a specific location in order to be saved, requiring additional teamwork in order to survive the hordes of zombies and special infected.

Since then…

Left 4 Dead was a massive success, rekindling the desire for cooperative multiplayer games in the first-person shooter genre, as well as other genres. Releasing not too far from The Orange Box, (another Valve-published product involving Team Fortress 2, Half-Life: Episode Two, and Portal) Left 4 Dead eclipsed its sales, sparking desires to create more for the franchise in a short timeframe.

Left 4 Dead has seen three additional campaigns for download since the game’s initial launch. The first, “The Last Stand,” is a versus-exclusive “what-if” scenario in which the four survivors end up at a lighthouse with no way out. “Crash Course,” a two-segment campaign, takes place immediately following “No Mercy” after finding the helicopter pilot succumbing to the infection. A final DLC campaign, “The Sacrifice,” acts as a bridge to the game’s sequel, in which the survivors encounter a massive horde of infected, and in the end, one character must sacrifice him or her in order for the others to survive. To further encourage custom campaigns, Valve developed editing software to players, allowing for heavy modifications and customized maps for download. All three DLC campaigns were developed by Turtle Rock Studios.

As hinted earlier, Left 4 Dead has since seen a sequel release. Left 4 Dead 2 was announced at E3 2009, which many thought was too early for a sequel announcement, but the game was highly praised upon release. The game introduced four more survivors and also brought out new special infected to face off within the world. Unlike the Philadelphia-based predecessor, Left 4 Dead 2 takes place within the hot and heavy south, complete with a setting very fitting to Louisiana. The game, which launched late 2009, contained five campaigns and received additional DLC campaigns, including re-released campaigns of the original Left 4 Dead. More extra content is still being produced to this day.

However, Left 4 Dead would not remain developed by the then-Valve South. In 2009, the company ceased to be called Valve South, and by February 2010, Turtle Rock Studios announced that it had reformed and was making videogames apart from Valve. Since reforming, the company has created a subsidiary called Turtle Rock Garage, dedicated to casual game development. So far, out of the two companies, the only release has been Leap Sheep! for iOS and Android. THQ has confirmed that it is publishing Turtle Rock’s next game, which is expected for unveiling this year.

Certain Affinity has continued work on first-person shooter content, most of which relates to the Halo franchise. Working alongside startup 343 Industries, the developer created Halo Waypoint, a Halo-focused application for news and other content. The company worked continually at the development of multiplayer maps, specifically with Treyarch and Activision’s Call of Duty: Black Ops and “First Strike Map Pack 1,” as well as the “Defiant Halo Map Pack” for Bungie’s Halo: Reach. While it is working alongside Saber Interactive and 343 Industries on Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, Certain Affinity is developing its next new property: a dungeon-crawler adventure game titled Crimson Alliance, set for release Fall 2011.

Valve Corporation’s output as a publisher has not been massive since Left 4 Dead’s release, save two particularly large games: Left 4 Dead 2 and Portal 2, the latter of which came out early 2011. Outside of the major releases, Valve released Alien Swarm through its Steam service, which is today regarded as the best downloadable distribution system to date. Valve is currently working on DOTA 2, a real-time strategy game based off a customized game of Warcraft III, Defense of the Ancients. The lead creator of the original game, IceFrog, is now employed within Valve and is heading up the development of DOTA 2. Alongside this game, Valve is said to be working on the next Half-Life adventure. Furthermore, Team Fortress 2 has since become a free-to-play FPS.

The Let’s Play

We could not hold MJ back after enjoying a fun romp with Taito Legends 2. As a result, we asked him to venture through a game of his choosing, rather than a weird compilation like last time. He gladly chose to take down a campaign of Left 4 Dead by himself and in a high difficulty setting. He assured us everything would go smoothly.

Having his choice of campaign, Michael Jackson gladly chose Death Toll, and the episode is labeled as such in case any other campaign is to be played by Third Rate Minion in the future. Because of his skills before playing this episode, MJ decided to play the game in Advanced, which is certainly going to show a lot of intense moments throughout the campaign. With his Xbox in check, he began his journey.


He died. Many times. However, the deaths were not entirely his fault. In fact, he died several times within eyesight of his teammates who, for some reason or another, found themselves completely dumbfounded by each scenario. A lot of Hunter attacks and unsuccessful Tank offensives would make MJ become increasingly aggravated and the audience more delighted. In order to eventually complete the game in a timely fashion, MJ opted to lower the difficulty some time into the game. While he was not able to survive through the whole way in Advanced, there was plenty of fun to be had.

As for the episode content itself, Michael Jackson’s banter remained pretty smooth throughout the game, even if the gunshots were so loud that the game volume had to be diminished greatly in the process. Unfortunately, Alex was suffering from a cold, so coughing would erupt every now and again. Also, note that the player window is a bit larger than it should be, as the original was compensating for the cut-off of SD televisions.

Overall, this would be the last episode of Game On: Let’s Play to feature MJ. We enjoyed our times together, and from the looks of things, he really enjoyed his time with us as well. We wish him the best and hope to see more hilarity and fun stuff from him in the future.

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