September 30, 2008 - Mike Booth
Since we announced Left 4 Dead in late 2006, the growing online community has been a great source of feedback and support during the development process. We're planning on using this blog to talk more directly with that community - through stories, artwork, and insights into our design and development process. There's also a Left 4 Dead forum
where we're hoping you'll let us know what you think of the blog, the game, or anything else L4D-related.
The game is finally nearing completion, and we're down to the final tweaks before it goes out the door. This week, we're all playtesting the Xbox 360 version of the game non-stop. There are two kinds of playtesting at Valve. There's the kind that happens throughout development, where we bring in people from outside the company, watch them tackle the game, and then make changes based on their experience.
Then there's the kind we're doing right now, when we're just about to ship and well beyond the point of evaluating the design or tightening up the graphics
. This testing is all about making the game crash in some spectacular way. The tests go on more or less around-the-clock and require everyone at Valve (plus whatever friends and family we can rope into helping) to playtest in shifts. This is pretty much the only part of the job where we can say we're literally getting paid to play games. And it sucks. I mean, Episode 2 is a great game. Until you have to play it 30 times in a row as fast as you can and also get the "Collect All the Grubs" achievement or you're fired. This is the dark secret the government doesn't want you to know about game design: At some point, playing your own game becomes torture. One company we know calls its weekly playtest session "The Hour of Fun" out of pure, ironic meanness. After three days of testing Half Life 2, Gabe Newell's cousin gouged out his own eyes, turned his bloody face to the sky and began screaming, "I can still see Alyx!" So what with the constant game playing and the eye trauma, it's all pretty horrific.
One of the unintended consequences of making L4D, a game that's built from the ground up for replayability, is that we're actually having a blast playtesting it. The final sprint to ship has truly been one completely un-ironic "Hour of Fun" after another. "Company Loves Own Product!" probably doesn't sound like a huge newsflash. But, in all seriousness, it's a rare feeling at this point in the process. We're thrilled to be experiencing it, and even more thrilled that it won't be long before you're experiencing it as well.