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RPS Summit: Why No L4D Director Mode?

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As much as we pretend to loathe one another, the RPS-members do talk to one another. Earlier today, our standard chat broke into something resembling an actual discussion. John, sitting silently by, suggested this chat about Left 4 Dead’s lack of a Director Mode is the sort of thing we should post on the site. So we did. Blame John. Always blame John.

Quinns: The only thing I think I care about is whether they’re going to put in a full blown Director mode. Which I doubt they ever will.

Alec: As in one a player can control?
Quinns: Yeah.
Alec: Yeah, they probably won’t. Reduces the appeal of DLC, etc really
Kieron: I’m not sure I’ll be as cynical. It just demands too much from the players. Valve are always about easy entrance. It’s just not the sort of game they’ll make
Alec: I think you could do it very easily in terms of interface. HL2 weapon menu, but with Horde, Boomer, Tank etc, Just shoot to place, a la Gmod
Kieron: I mean, I wouldn’t expect it any more than Half-life 3 will be influenced by Deus Ex. When I say “easy entrance” I mean “minimising the chance of you having a shit game”. i.e. A player-director mode would make it too easy to ruin games. By Easy entrance I mean almost anyone who plays with will have a good time.
Quinns: Heh. I have my own personal reason. I don’t think they’d do it because it would peel back the vinyl of their game. Seeing an entire map viewed from a noclip perspective would be bad enough.

Kieron: I can see Quinns’ point. But you’re close to no-clip in the monster mode, yeah?
Alec: There is that, but I think they could tie its hands – e.g. limited max number of tanks and if you did it from a first-person perspetive, so you’re roaming the halls like you do pre-spawn as Infected. It could work quite well. Keeps balance too – you’re only affecting the area where the survivors roughly are, rather than setting mega-traps ahead
Kieron: Alec – but think the other way: Someone who chooses to spawn no monsters and makes it really dull. So you modify to prevent that and you rapidly get to a game mode where you aren’t really you doing anything because there’s so many things stopping you being a twat.
Alec: But in the same way you get players who machete their mates in the head or ignore everyone to get the gnome! If you make it competitive – i.e. Director Wins or Survivor wins – most people will go for it.
Kieron: “most people”.
Alec: “most people” play okay in standard L4D. There will always be outliers. But if everyone’s trying to win you can contain that fairly accurately.
Kieron: Putting that one aside though… It wouldn’t surprise me if they’ve tried it and they just don’t think it’s fun
Quinns: Yeah.
Alec: Yes, they’ll have certainly thought about it

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Quinns: I guess my vision of it would go: director player gets a point total you can blow on spawning zombies or special infected. You get points every second, but also by spawning items. The only twist would be that you can drop into the shoes of any Special Infected at any time. I think that’d make the difference.
Kieron: You can see the difference between Deus Ex and Half-life though – as in, how one goes much further to make it “fun”. Which is what I’m saying. You can say that Deus Ex does everything reasonable for you to have fun… but Valve don’t agree.
Alec: I think you’re being too absolutist. It really could be very similar to the monster mode
Kieron: Valve have never made a game with any real freedom, is my point. The entire concept of what you’re talking is anti-Valve. I mean, I’ll be all over this. You both know that
Quinns: Yeah, I think I get you.
Alec: well, all the TF2 customisation stuff is leaning more towards player choice than they traditionally have
Kieron: This is going to sound sarcastic, I know, but: hats?
Alec: if they could come up with a Director system that worked quickly and easily on a 360 pad I daresay they’d be tempted. There’s absolutely no reason to read “towards” as “granting 100% choice”. I meant the weapon loadouts – creating your own sub-archetype.

Quinns: Kieron’s right. Valve have never done anything you can’t blissfully waltz into. And while I think they could potentially make an accessible Director mode, I’m not sure how much that would interest me.
Alec: Yes, they’d never allow that.
Quinns: In my initial point I was referring to full-blown control. I want a mixing table of options and traps….
Alec: But something that’s ostensibly Infected mode controlled by one person, with horde-summoning, could be a lot of fun
Quinns: Yeah. Like- you know the thrill that comes from a Boomer drenching the entire team at the same time as some other disaster?
Quinns: Imagine the thrill from orchestrating that yourself.
Quinns: Like, spawn a horde, drop a boomer, drop into the boomer for some direct control, drench the team, then spawn a charger. Or something.
Alec: And then sending in a jockey from a sideroom and you’re basically choosing whether to splurge everything at once or eke it out, wear them down.
Kieron: I’m thinking of Sacrifice here. A bit. Sacrifice meets Dungeon Keeper. The problem for me is that – as Quinns notes – the more accessible the mode becomes, the less interesting it is and to make something truly accessible, you’re not doing anything creative
Alec: Four against one is what makes it interesting. Yeah, it’s not the same as being a GM, as Quinns originally posited, but it could be an ace, breathless mutliplayer variant
Kieron: You’re basically getting to a sort of Pet-Class situation, almost. If we go MMO terms

Kieron: Here’s a thought. We’ve only talked about whether it’ll be fun to play. We haven’t talked about whether it’ll be fun to play against.
Quinns: It would be Versus mode to play against, surely. No reason why it wouldn’t.
Kieron: As in, I suspect you’d have to do quite a bit of work to smooth the infected’s responses so it’s not actually all artificial
Alec: Well, it’d use the AI that’s already in the game
Quinns: Right. With the same spawning limitations.
Kieron: I mean, I wonder – and I’m not sure – whether there’s a difference between some infected being controlled, and it all being orchestrated by a mind…. Unless it has no precision. And if it has no precision, we’re back to the “director” not having enough control. I know this is being pretty anal with this.
Quinns: Practically speaking, it wouldn’t be too hard to have an aggressiveness rating when you spawn zombies.

Alec: Good grief, we’re actually trying to design a game over instant messenger. Perhaps it could use something like Frozen Synapse’s drag-a-direction mechanic. That could be done very simply on a gamepad
Quinns: That’s what I was thinking. Actually- you wouldn’t even have to drag a direction.
Alec: Just fire at it.
Quinns: Because what direction are zombies going to move other than “At the fucking survivors”.
Alec: Well, you could try and get zombies to loop behind survivors – flank them rather than simply spawn behind them
Kieron: I’d love that. I mean, this is all Dungeon Keeper meets Sleep is Death meets L4D meets Pikmin. It’s pikmin with zombies
Quinns: Pikmin. Now we’re talking. L4D turned on its head, so you’re piloting a crowd of zombies through a gauntlet of humans.
Kieron: Which leads us to Overlord. Or Stubbs the Zombie, if we want a shitter version
Alec: Well, the key here is that you’re not really corporeal. you can just jump into a special if you’ve got nowt else to do. Dungeon Keeper is the better reference, certainly
Kieron: Yeah – and the reason why Valve will never do it like that. They dropped the commander mode in TF2, after all.
Alec: Yes, it’s too much to hope for there to be, essentially, an RTS mode for the Director – but it would be ace.

Kieron: In short: someone do it, as there’s a great game here, and Valve won’t make it. Killing Floor guys! C’mon! Step up!
Alec: L4D has never been modded much out of its fundamental mechanics, has it? Maybe the SDK doesn’t allow it
Kieron: I honestly dunno, though I’m sure this comment thread will tell us. I suspect the L4D/L4D2 split has hurt it.
Quinns: The comments will also mention Zombie Master.
Alec: The solution – L4D1 owners get to be Directors for L4D2 players
Quinns: Genius!
Kieron: WE WERE HERE FIRST! WE GIVE THE ORDERS!
Alec: AND WE HAVE NOTHING BETTER TO DO BECAUSE OUR SERVERS ARE EMPTY.*

That’s that, then. L4D is fixed. Next!

* I have absolutely no idea if this true or not. I just really like writing things in capital letters. – Alec

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