Left 4 Dead Early Access Demo

By Kieron Gillen on November 6th, 2008 at 5:14 pm.

Those who have pre-ordered Left 4 Dead will hopefully have noticed that the demo’s actually gone live. We only just managed it, as jetlag is preventing me noticing anything other than the taste of tea and Hobnobs. The demo is one and a half maps of NO MERCY – worth noting that the saferoom where it ends is one that’s been added for the demo – the full version of that level is a lot bigger. You can play single-player or co-op, but there’s no access to the versus mode. And everyone else gets a shot on November 11th.

However, it’s not entirely a smooth launch.

Firstly, there’s the usual bunch of PC launch technical problems – there’s a lot of complaints about bluescreens floating around. In fact, I just had one when I quit out of the demo – and, I stress, this is after I’d updated my drivers, as requested. Also, having some trouble joining servers. Or finding them.

Secondly, there’s a little bit of a furore over its server system. Left4Dead411 reports, quoting a mail from the HLDS mailing list explaining the new system:

Left 4 Dead will use the new matchmaking system we’ve been working on.

The new matchmaking system replaces the traditional server browser. By running a public dedicated server your server will be added to a list of servers available for clients to use when playing. Games are started from a Game Lobby by clients, who are then connected to a dedicated server when they start the game. When they’re done, your server is added back to the list of available servers. Clients will be able to “Quick Match”, “Play Online”, and “Play With Friends” when they want to play a game.

You will still have access to the traditional Message of the Day for your server. For Left 4 Dead, we’ve added a banner ad you can create that will be displayed to clients when they’re playing on your server. There is also a ranking system to show the popularity of your server.

This is the first version of what we’ve been working on, and we’re going to want feedback from all of you once things start turning up tomorrow.

In other words, there’s no traditional browser or explicit way to join a set server, etc. Which has caused 411 to get uppity – though, to their credit, they do add that, “This is about all the information we have at this time, so we warn you that the following is an overreaction caused by lack of knowledge of the situation.”

You will not be able to select a specific server to play on. If your clan pitches in for a dedicated server, it will just be added to the system. You will have no easy/intuitive way to just connect to the server you’re paying for. You could spend $100 a month on a super high-quality server while some other guy runs one out of his basement, and instead of enjoying what you paid for you’d be equal with everybody else.

Anyone got any thoughts on the matter?

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117 Comments »

  1. cHeal says:

    It’s Rubbish?

    Why not a dual service, where you can join any server you like and your ranking then affects the listing of that server on the matchmaking service?

  2. Dan Dickinson says:

    My immediate thought is, what’s the point of having a popularity ranking system if the choice is forced on players?

  3. Roman Levin says:

    Too bad you can’t preload the demo.

  4. Sweedums says:

    it’s caused nothing but problems so far, but i will admit i’m glad it’s all going down now rather than on release day, they still have 12 days to fix these problems which should hopefully be enough time for valve to work their magic. I will say that from what i have been able to play so far, it is just as amazingly good fun as it was the previous 2 times i got a chance to play it. Personally i think it would be a good idea to have a server list AND a matchmaking system… I mean, why not cater for everyone?

  5. Pace says:

    Anyone got any thoughts on the matter?

    I suspect the answer lies in the affirmative.

  6. Ian says:

    “preventing me notice anything other than the taste of tea and hobnobs.”

    Heaven?

  7. the affront says:

    Current system is just utterly stupid… I’d like to know their reasoning behind this. I simply can’t fathom what made them go with something like this.

    Although there still is the /connect ip command via console… anyone know if you can set a password to a dedicated server? I’m guessing it should be possible – would only be half as bad then, this system (which is still too much) – but I haven’t messed with that yet.

  8. Gurrah says:

    So it’s basically like the CoD4 server-”browser” on the XBOX? I’d say for a game that relies on 4 players working as a team, matchmaking isn’t a bad idea in general, but it shouldn’t be forced upon the player and should rather be an option if none of your mates are online.

  9. MacBeth says:

    Any thoughts? Yes, a few…

    Reports say you can’t determine server latency until you join, and that people get ‘matched’ across the world so they end up laggy as hell.

    Our gaming community has been planning and costing setting up several L4D servers – we have a thriving TF2, DOD and INS community and planned to add L4D to that. No way will we go ahead and spend cash on top-end, low latency servers if we can’t play on them, and end up getting randomly assigned to someone’s spare linux box. Apparently you can connect via console but that’s clearly not going to work properly when games have started etc.

    There’s a fair bit of ‘this is just a demo’ talk on the Steam forums etc. but it does clearly say “The new matchmaking system replaces the traditional server browser.”

    Time for Valve to show they are still awesome by dealing with this rapidly…

  10. Chris R says:

    I haven’t had any problems at all yet. Played through both maps of the single-player mission, and joined a friends multi-player game before heading off to work this morning.

    The game runs SMOOOTH (it feels like 60+ frames, and not one bit of slowdown or lag) on my 8800GT and ancient AMD 3700+ cpu with the graphics turned up to 1920×1080, everything on highest settings, and 4xAA and 8xAnistropic.

    I’m really amazed at how smoothly the game runs at those settings honestly. MY CPU is very low end, and the game runs fine on it with all the settings maxed (except for AA and Anis).

    Also, this is crazy fun… I’m having a blast, the weapons feel great, movement is right on, and mowing down 20-30 zombies in 10 seconds is quite a thing to behold.

    This. Game. Is. Awesome.

  11. Downloads_Plz says:

    Granted I haven’t played the game yet, but to me “Clients will be able to “Quick Match”, “Play Online”, and “Play With Friends” when they want to play a game” sounds more like Quick Match will just match you up with random people while Play Online will let you specify a server to join. Could be and probably am wrong though, but I would assume there will still be an option to join a dedicated server if there isn’t yet.

  12. the affront says:

    Yeah, dropping in/out during a game in progress seamlessly replacing the bots with players (and vice versa) should be a given with this kind of game in this day and age.

    If that was possible I don’t see any need AT ALL for a needlessly consolized (yes, I said it) “matchmaking” system.

  13. Nero says:

    I gotta say that the matchmaking system is rubbish. I’ve been able to connect to games 2 times out of maybe 15 tries. You don’t see any ping just these damn bars. And I like to play in certain communities in TF2, and since I don’t have many of these people on my friends list I would still like to play them, but now it’s impossible to find. Matchmaking could stay on the consoles. The whole menu system and such feels like Rainbow Six Vegas to me, and that is not a good thing (horrible online service).

  14. A-Scale says:

    The game is stunning. Any issues with server hosting not being encouraged will be sorted out in the coming weeks, I’m certain. Valve is not a stupid company, and they will not push a game that no one wants to host servers for. That said, L4D has a max of 8 human players, meaning much less server traffic, meaning that traditional private box servers may be unnecessary. I also think that the ranking system is brilliant for a game like this, and I hope that it takes whether people use their boody mics into the calculation.

    Preorder and go play it now. L4D will not disappoint.

  15. eswat says:

    I should probably hold my tongue until I have booted up the demo, but I can’t see this being a good thing for people paying for dedicated servers, at all.

    I wanted to fool around with setting up a DS on my webserver, but what’s the point if I can’t connect directly to it (AFAIK connect command doesn’t work in L4D) and can’t build a healthy community on it?

    And yes, it replaces the server browser, as mentioned in the mailing list. Can Valve add a compromise before release? I hope so…

    Left 4 Dead will use the new matchmaking system we’ve been working on.

    The new matchmaking system replaces the traditional server browser. By running a public dedicated server your server will be added to a list of servers available for clients to use when playing. Games are started from a Game Lobby by clients, who are then connected to a dedicated server when they start the game. When they’re done, your server is added back to the list of available servers. Clients will be able to “Quick Match”, “Play Online”, and “Play With Friends” when they want to play a game.

    You will still have access to the traditional Message of the Day for your server. For Left 4 Dead, we’ve added a banner ad you can create that will be displayed to clients when they’re playing on your server. There is also a ranking system to show the popularity of your server.

    This is the first version of what we’ve been working on, and we’re going to want feedback from all of you once things start turning up tomorrow.

    -Eric

  16. Little Green Man says:

    So is there no way to connect to a dedicated server your friend is hosting? If so that sucks almighty balls.

  17. qrter says:

    Too bad you can’t preload the demo.

    I preloaded it yesterday.. or do you mean for people who haven’t pre-ordered?

    Maybe Valve’ll do the same thing they did for the pre-orderers, making a preload available the day before the demo goes ‘live for all’.

  18. RichPowers says:

    Heh, I was just gushing over Valve’s server browsers in a different topic. Hopefully they can fix this snafu before the official release.

    So many decent online games have died solely for lack of a good server browser (not suggesting this will happen to L4D, but one should never underestimate the need for excellent matchmaking tools)

  19. Drakkheim says:

    Hmm, yuck?

    How about Lan play? is that still there or do you have to go find someone’s empty server on the net to play locally on?

    So how do you get 4 friends on a server since you won’t be matchmade into an empty server…

  20. Dorsch says:

    Matchmaking with friends works, there is a lobby system. However, you have no control over what server you and your friends play on. Since there are very few servers right now, almost every game lags.

  21. Sweedums says:

    iv been hosting a dedicated server from my machine for the last half-hour… i have a 24mb line and a fairly decent rig… it has been full ever since, the problem is now i can’t join it, though i wouldnt be able to anyway since there is no direct connect….

  22. cyrenic says:

    I think once they start grouping people by continent and more dedicated servers go up things will get better. I still hope they include some kind of server browser by the actual release. I suspect they might be forcing people to use the matchmaking for now to give it a good testing.

  23. Shadowmancer says:

    This is the worst decision that Valve has done to date, this console crap needs to be removed its fine for the xbots and other console tards, but I was hoping for a proper server browser on which I could join servers with FRIENDS on not random people, also the game only detects so far LAN’s and not internet games for which I can join couple with the fact that Silent Hill Homecoming was today announced by Valve to be US only I’m in a seething mood, however the game runs fine and the single player mode is great especially on expert mode, the game should get 86% its not super great its just ok.

  24. Mman says:

    When did 86% become merely “ok”?

    Unfortunately I seem to get the same modem-related connection problem in L4D I get in TF2, which makes online play a pain in the ass even without the matchmaking system to make things even more awkward. Of course every other steam and online game has to work except for the ones I give a damn about.

    At least the SP AI seems to be pretty well implemented; they could handle themselves on Advanced at least (although I did seem to get some super-lucky run with barely any bosses).

  25. rocketman71 says:

    The demo is only for Steam preorders.

    I don’t really like that server browser replacement. They should at least give you the option to choose whichever method you want, the old one or the new one.

  26. eswat says:

    Update from Erik on the mailing list.

    We’re going to add support for what you describe, it just isn’t something that is done just yet.

    The case that will be difficult if not impossible to deal with will be a mixed system, where you have a private “clan server” for you and a friend, and you want two other public players to come in via matchmaking.

  27. Andrew Wills says:

    Me and the guys from ModDB have been using Hamachi to create LAN servers, then joining those through the Lounge system and it works flawlessly and very fast, considering we’re split between the US, UK and Aus.

  28. Masterdog says:

    GCF files should really be available on torrent sites. Steam’s crawling along downloading the demo for me.

  29. cyrenic says:

    @eswat

    I’m assuming the “support for what you describe” is referring to setting up a private server?

  30. Blake says:

    I have requested a refund on my preorder. The quality is just not there. :( Disappointing.

  31. StormTec says:

    @Blake

    Care to elaborate?

  32. Mythrilfan says:

    Really, Blake? Although I’ve only been able to play perhaps three games this evening, it’s basically not even out yet, so I’m not complaining.

  33. eswat says:

    @cyrenic

    Yup, it’s a response to admins not being able to join their own servers or being able to set a password on them.

  34. Blake says:

    I am very disappointed in some technical aspects. First and most obvious is the lobby system; I’ve been successful at even getting into a game less than a third of the time. Once you’re inside the game, lag seems a fact of life even on dedicated servers with good pings… any time zombies spawn, the game lags. This happened even on my local computer, which is a high-end gaming rig.

    The gameplay is also… well, I just don’t find it very compelling. Even on Expert there’s not a great deal of tension, and failure feels more like random chance than a failure of the survivors. This probably has something to do with the weird spawning system, honestly. I was fighting with my back to a small alcove with a bath-tub in it, and a pile of zombies spawned in the bath-tub.

    I wasn’t initially particularly excited about this game, but pre-ordered when some of my friends started hyping it, with the intention of playing it with them. I think, maybe, it’s just not for me.

  35. StormTec says:

    Also, how it played out for me and my friends was like this:

    I started a lobby, and everyone else joined on me via the friends list (r-click contact > join game). Once we were all here, I let the game try to find us a server. This was attempted about 3 times before it finally loaded us all into a server.

    And that was how I managed to connect to a L4D server, playing with only my friends, and not randoms. Not sure if this will work as well with everyone else, but it’s not impossible to play with just your friends =P

  36. Optimaximal says:

    Doesn’t the concept of a random matchmaking system make a total mockery of Valve’s Steam Community?

  37. Heliocentric says:

    Don’t fuck up valve. If they haven’t added a regular browser by a few days before release i’m cancelling. I’m refuse to be at the mercy of match making. Stuck in high ping servers with massive choke. It’d turn l4d into a single player game.

    Just put in the half life 2 death match browser, your so close to greatness.

  38. fishmitten says:

    This game is currently unavailable. Please try again at another time.

    No, you shits. I pre-ordered so that I could try now.

  39. Nny says:

    Having fun with 3 of my irc buddies there now – expert mode is hard and awesome, we can’t finish the appartments level :D

  40. Kadayi says:

    Back so soon Kieron? Did you manage to wangle some big interviews as well as the play testing?

  41. yns88 says:

    Expert mode is really great. Advanced requires cooperation, but you still mostly make it through to the end. Expert, on the other hand, is like having a guy punch you in the gut, and while you’re reeling in pain he kicks you in the balls.

    And losing is so much fun.

  42. Broseph says:

    I’m waiting to get off work to actually play it, but I’ve always LIKED the idea of matchmaking for PC games. To get a game going with similar skilled players there’s no reason you should have to: play awhile, get involved in a community, join a clan, get on Vent, organize a pickup game, set the rules on the server, then have everyone join it. Matchmaking streamlines that entire process into “click button.” It’s not dumbing it down, it’s called making it easier. Go install Gentoo from scratch if you just want extra steps to make yourself feel more leet than everyone else.

    Along with that though I agree that yes, it should be easy to join games with friends/teammates as well as have the option of specifying a server.

    +1 for implementing both systems.

  43. Tei says:

    We don’t need to consolize Steam. Valve is a PC company, and we love his work. This crap of not having support for a proper server browser is amazing retro. Valve already have a rock solid server brownsing, so activelly avoiding it is failwhale.

  44. qrter says:

    I believe the proper verb is “to consolerificise”, from the full “consolerification”.

  45. Dave says:

    I’d been hoping for improvements on the current server browser. Examples:

    - I want to be able to blacklist particular servers and maps.

    - no server should be able to lie about how many players are online… several times I’ve joined TF2 servers that report 28/32 players and there are really 6.

    - this is more minor, but it’d be nice if, when a server has reserved slots and you can’t actually log into it, it shows up somehow.

  46. Nick says:

    It’s extremely awful and a terribly stupid idea from Vavle. I can’t understand what posessed them to force this awful matchmaking crap upon people rather than just having it as an option, it’s truely rubbish.

  47. cheeba says:

    @Nick: It IS just an option, you people make it sound like there’s no other choice but to play with random people.

    Yeah, the whole server management thing is a mess, but I don’t see any problem with the actual matchmaking system itself. Just add options to play on your own dedicated server or whatever and they’re there.

  48. cyrenic says:

    I can’t confirm it myself, but players are reporting you can bring up a server browser from the developer console using the command “openserverbrowser”.

    Proof: http://i159.photobucket.com/albums/t135/Cremefrog/games/l4d/left4dead2008-11-0620-26-15-32.jpg

  49. The_B says:

    There is a workaround!

    If you open the console and type openserverbrowser then you can actually see a list of servers and connect to the one with the lowest ping. You have to be on the Custom tab though for some reason.

  50. Squiff says:

    Friends! Rejoice! A quick stalk of the steam forums reveals this – http://forums.steampowered.com/forums/showthread.php?t=744540 – the coveted server browser!

    Is that exactly what it looks like or am I getting excited about nothing? Maybe everything will be ok after all!

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