Before I get to the business of replying to various things, then trying to write some more, I thought I'd put something a little lighter and less inflammatory than my previous few journals up here. For the lulz!
Bear in mind, as always, this is just me having fun and rambling for a bit to occupy myself. Most of these gripes are deliberately silly, and I know that, and I don't really care. Ahem.
As a lot of you know, one of my favorite games at the moment is Left 4 Dead 2 - especially now that the original game's maps have been ported to the sequel. It's an excellent game, especially if you have good friends to play it with, have fun and generally enjoy the atmosphere. Valve, in general, do not make poor games.
They have, however, made mediocre games. Personally, I feel the original Half Life was not impressive and several precedents it set actually hindered the sequel. To be fair, though, at the time, I hated most FPS games; they literally made me physically ill. Not because they were first-person shooters, after all I grew up on Doom and Duke Nukem 3D, but because most of them had simply shithouse design of, well, everything, and flowed like a cement river.
That said, Counter-Strike went on to become one of my favorite games ever. Then Left 4 Dead did. Now Team Fortress is creeping up there. Portal would've been, but it was too easy (I'm so humble!). Cough.
But for every spark of sheer incredible awesomeness, Valve does something so foolish that you can't help but find it endearing. I can't fathom why anybody would "hate" Valve, even for their mistakes. They're just so adorable. Except for the level design in Half Life, but we're not going there.
First, though, I want to rant about the current "semi-official" campaign they're promoting, called Cold Stream. If you've played Left 4 Dead 1/2 then you'll pretty much be fine for understanding this. If not, go play it or just read on, you'll get it anyway.
I'm not a professional game/level/art designer, but I am a damn picky consumer of video games. I'm pickier with games than I am with movies - says the guy who ranted obnoxiously throughout the entirety of some shitty horror movie two days ago - and I happen to agree with Yahtzee: professional designers are better at design than most of the community. You might "know what you like" but that doesn't mean you have any clue how to achieve that ideal. You might not, in fact, truly understand and know what you like. The Simpsons episode where Homer designs that ridiculous car is entirely correct.
I used to fool around with toolsets, level creators and so on, so forth. In fact, wow, it's one way to make me utterly waste my time for hours, guaranteed. To be fair, I don't think I've created something as complex and interesting as Cold Stream for L4D2. But that sure as hell doesn't mean I can't criticize from a player's point of view.
Before I get started on the funny little quirks with the game (and the devs!) itself that make me all twitchy and irrationally- but amusingly- plaintive, let's take a look at all the juicy flaws with Cold Stream, and why it might be the most hated campaign in all of L4D. Especially with the people I talk to.
1. More is not better. Cold Stream features almost every f*cking single "uncommon infected" in the game. This in itself is not a big problem, but it sure as hell indicates a problem with the design philosophy. Even if you can rationalize it, people, you do NOT approach designing a level, or even a game, with the intention of "cramming as much as possible in it to make it as cool as possible!" Anyone who has played Cold Stream can tell: it needs to take its Ritalin. Now.
You're practically drowning in special weapons, upgrades and so much flashy bullshit per level.
2. You want the player to win. Don't try to "beat them." Many amateur level designers set out to try and "defeat" the player. Make a harder, tougher challenge than was in the original game, perhaps. If the intent was to create something like a super-hard mode, that's okay, but it's amazing how often it bleeds into what's just meant to be another community map. Two community campaigns come to mind here. Cold Stream and Dam It 2. I like both of them to a degree, especially the latter, but it's painfully clear that the designers were trying to create a harder experience for the players... when the entire point of having difficulty settings is that the player regulates that his or her self. In Dam It, actions that would cause a horde (a rush of many zombies attacking the survivors, usually due to an action of theirs that causes noise) would spawn two or three consecutively. Causing boring, 5 minute delays spent dealing with a horde with no cooling down period. Or pacing. It breaks the flow and atmosphere of the level. I'm playing Left 4 Dead 2, not Ninja Gaiden. Give me a break from swinging that katana.
It's not that you don't want to challenge your players, it's how you want to do it. Players know when you're deliberately trying to sabotage them, or when you're out of tricks, so all you can do is throw tedious marathon-style "challenges" at them until they succumb. Cold Stream, though certainly not a poor example of community map making, is downright annoying this way. Virtually every level has at least one "crescendo" event - rarely any "panic" events, presumably because the designer didn't want to give the players a chance to avoid being annoyed with relentless zombie hordes - and they're mostly the worst kind: gauntlets, where you have to charge into the teeth of an often unending stream of zombies that pour endlessly from obviously closed and empty rooms. The final level is, shock, a gauntlet finale a la The Bridge. Except there's less room to maneuver, avoid, and you're basically a sitting duck, slowed to a boring crawl by ceaseless zombie hordes.
3. Wasted space, followed by criminally narrow corridors. The problem with the finale is endemic to the entire damn campaign. No use is made of the AI Director's ability to modify the level, nor are there many (any, as far as I remember) viable secondary or tertiary paths to objectives. Rarely will you be rewarded for exploration, on that note, assuming you can find much to explore. L4D2 is very linear, for a reason, but I'm not saying to make it a sandbox all of a sudden. Team Fortress 2 showcases many levels that are essentially linear, but have multiple paths to objectives. This allows for variety as well as strategy and stealth/flanking (hello, Versus...). L4D2 can go well beyond that, quite comfortably. Maps don't need to be friggin' corridors of zombies.
A crapload of work goes into these maps, I know. The problem is, you're not getting paid, you're unqualified, and you're not part of a team that makes these things and tests them. You think it's tough making a community map? Your standards are too low, buddy. It's even harder than you think.
This problem is kind of an issue for all of L4D2. Exploration is encouraged, with the chance of being rewarded, but you're guaranteed to be punished for splitting up, delaying, or otherwise doing anything aside from rushing through a level. You'll find enough items on the main path or just off it to win.
L4D had a far better idea, with larger, scary maps you could get lost in (and also, like, 100% better for Infected players), which still means you can get punished for deviating but hey, it was fun, right? Community maps should address these problems, not be even worse with them.
4. Oh Jesus, the Infected are unbeatable! IE: PLAY TEST IT!! See number 2. Ever played Cold Stream on Versus? Holy hell. I was part of a public team and we squished the survivors at the starting point of the first level despite our average ping being 600 (mine was 1150). Got nothing to do with the skill of the survivors, the maps are death-charge heaven and those prolonged, shitty horde events are just too bullshit. Weirdly, in most other campaigns, the infected are at a huge disadvantage.
Don't get me wrong, it's great fun to rip people to shreds. Problem is, then the teams switch places. :(
So, basically, most community maps need to lay off the sugar and understand that sometimes less is more. This goes for maps in almost every damn community I've ever looked at. Again, nothing wrong with making a super-hard thing, but do it with a little bit of sophistication and thought, without seemingly like an amateur trying to "defeat" the player.
Now, for the sheer silliness of it, I was gonna rant about some of the minor things in L4D that bug me. Ironically, most of them will not be bugs. They will, mostly, be freakin' silly! :D
1. Anyone else notice that Valve has a tendency to mirror-image the firearms in their games? Ejection ports on the left, spraying hot brass into survivor's faces? Bloody hell, guys, come on.
2. On a similar note, can someone please take the Valve design team out for a day on the shooting range? Just so they get the basics? They make so many games with guns in them, but they make more mistakes than an 80s action movie. These little things are so minor and so asinine but you just can't help but cringe - it's like being a learner driver and sitting in the car with your dickhead mates, ceasing your drunken ranting about how smashed you are to bitch about them not indicating off the roundabout. My teeth subconsciously start gnashing when I see the survivors fuck around with the SCAR, and... in Counter Strike, is it me, or do they smack the forward-assist instead of pull the charging handle on the M4?! God dammit, stop pumping the shotgun every time you take it out, it's already loaded! No, leave the slide alone, it's loaded, what are you-?! Not only is it stupid and unnecessary and shows they dunno what they're doing, but I need that pistol right now because a zombie is munching on my eyelids!
3. Fuck the Desert Eagle. Am I the only one on the planet sick of seeing this gun in video games? It's not cool or original anymore. Pick something else. I could handle seeing it once or twice, but now it's ubiquitous and utterly lost its charm. Even worse when it's confirmed to be the .50AE version. Nobody uses these guns except collectors or aficionados, there's no reason for them to be so common in L4D2 or anywhere.
I dunno, this isn't a logical gripe. Just sick of this manly, macho, tiny-penis compensatory pistol that we see everywhere and is just a super-gun with no drawbacks. One shot kill regardless of difficulty. No problem with recoil. More accurate than the smaller pistols - doesn't work that way. Ugh. I guess I wouldn't complain so much if I could find a skin that turned it into a Smith and Wesson M29 (Dirty fucking Harry baby!) or something cool like that, with speed-loaders. How cool would that be!? But no, can you believe nobody has thought to make a skin to ditch the fucking Desert Eagle and instead it's all shit like gold-plated ones or ones with a little bit of dirt on them, or shitty modified anime versions and ohmygodIhateyouall!!! RAARRRGH!!
4. Dude, did Rochelle just slice through ten zombies with a katana?! Damn, I never knew all female news reporters were trained swordsmen with the strength of a PMSing Xena. *Deadpan* No, seriously, why are there katanas lying around everywhere in Georgia? Is the deep-south populated by samurai? It's really impressive how well Valve thought out the availability of each weapon, except for the damn katana. For instance, the SCAR had been issued to the Georgia-based 75th Ranger Regiment, explaining its limited presence in L4D2 but not in L4D, which was in Philadelphia. Genius! But it's just like they wanted to let you have a Japanese sword for some reason. I can't fathom why.
5. Why doesn't anything have enough gas in it?!
6. Why doesn't shooting your very, very loud gun for ten seconds attract zombies, but pressing the button for an elevator does?
7. How do they signal Batman in the daytime?
8. If a lesbian cock-blocks another lesbian, is it called a 'beaver dam?'
9. Fuck the Deser- oh, done that one already.
10. Why is it I don't get tired swinging a five kilo fire-axe through hundreds of zombies for ten minutes, but I get exhausted when I smash zombies away from me with it for five seconds?
11. Why are there eleven things here? Because I like to go one step beyond.
Ahem. Again. Bear in mind, as always, this is just me having fun and rambling for a bit to occupy myself. Most of these gripes are deliberately silly, and I know that, and I don't really care. This is one of my fave games, but that doesn't mean I can't have fun. :D