Left 4 Dead: Splitting the group

Having played quite a bit of Left 4 Dead, that fantastically fun zombie shoot-em-up, and with the scheduled November release of the sequel just around the corner, I’ve had the hankering for a bit of mapping.

One thing that’s always bothered me was the lack of variety in the maps. Yes, one is set on the rooftops, one is set in the forest yadda yadda yadda, but really all you ever do is keep together and progress forwards in a very linear fashion. What keeps it interesting is that while the maps never change, the zombies are unpredictable in their spawning and the boss infected throw some complications into the mix. I’m sure you’ve heard it all before as to why people keep playing, but there are a few points where I believe it fell down.

One of which is addressed in the sequel, and in the new L4D 1 map that’s just been released – the Gauntlet – the idea is to prevent huddling and hiding during crescendo events, forcing teams to keep moving onwards, hopefully keeping the flow of the game running while heightening the tension.

Another part I’ve had a long hard think about is splitting the group.

Is there any way to forcibly seperate a group, while maintaining the security that moving in a group of four requires? The whole point of keeping the group together is so that special infected cannot easilly pick off stragglers, and also, if someone has been incapacitated, then forcing the  group to split will likely ruin their chances of winning.

Splitting the group would require a few things:

  1. All members of the team must be able to cover each other at all times
  2. There must be a valid reason for splitting the group
  3. The decision to split must be pre meditated and planned
  4. It must be possible to complete solo, but have minor penalties for doing so (to discourage 4-player grouping to complete it)

Item 1 requires that the distance between each pair must be short enough so that if someone gets pounced then they’re not so far away that they cannot be rescued by a team member on the other pair. This would most easilly be done through some kind of paralell catwalk system, with a precipice between them. The problem with this is that there are quite a few knockbacks in the game (Boomers, smokers and even hunter pounces can knock back a bit) so either the fall is small, into water, or there is a waist-high hand rail to prevent falling (and allow shooting)

Item 2 basically means it must fit within the flow of the map, there must be a valid, sensible reason for blocking the players path, and forcing them to split up to quickly achieve their goal. In my example concept, I’ve used a pair of sluice gates that must be operated by seperate switches.

Item 3 requires that splitting up should not be done using scooby-doo style trap-doors, or any other automatic mechanism for splitting the group up. The team must see the puzzle and decide who is going with who before setting off.

Item 4 is insurance, incase the one or two players have been incapped, and splitting the team isn’t feasable. This is the biggest obstacle in creating successful team-splitting puzzles is the fact that it will need to be soloable.

Example: Sewage Works

Setup: the team arrives in the waste treatment works in a bid to escape their zombie pursuers. Ahead of them lies a pair of sluice gates used to regulate the flow of sewage from one bath to the next. Directly above them is the exit, however, the stairwell has collapsed. Ahead of them, suspended above the bath is the Sluice gate control room. There are catwalks on either wall, and one running down the center. The center one runs from the control room to the upper level where the exit is, and the wall ones run from the lower level to the Sluice gates, with a ladder on each leading up to the control room. Beyond the sluice gates are mirrors of the catwalks, connected to a common platform.

It is obvious from the outside that the control room has suffered a roof collapse, and is split into three areas. The left and right areas contain the buttons for the sluice gates, and the central part is clear, meaning only the central catwalk is goes from one end to the other.

The path the team must make is from Lower Side A to the Control Room, lower the gates, Go to side B, then run along the central catwalk through the control room again and out the other side to Upper Side A and the exit.

Lowering the Sluice gates is noisy, and will attract the horde.

The downsides to activating one gate after the other are:

  • There will be two crescendo events, severly depleting the teams ammunition.
  • It will take longer

During the Crescendo event(s), both pairs will technically be together, seperated by a mound of fallen rubble.

While on the Catwalks, each pair can easilly cover the others with ease. If a player is knocked off, they land in the water and can easilly run back to the start of the catwalks.

This is a proof-of-concept map, so ignore the crude texturing, there are people-sized slits in the Sluice gates to allow those who fall into the water on the far-side to run back to the start

Initial Setup, Both gates are down

Initial Setup, Both gates are up, the two catwalks are on the walls, with the ladders right next to the sluice gates

The Control room, the two buttons and the wall of rubble.

The Control room, the two buttons and the wall of rubble.

Both gates are down, and can be run over.

Both gates are down, and can be run over.

Control room from the Central Catwalk

Control room from the Central Catwalk

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2 Responses to Left 4 Dead: Splitting the group

  1. The Orange says:

    Yours is an interesting concept, but I think most of the people would stay together in the case of a zombie apocalypse. Aside from realism, there is a big problem with the bots: How to make them understand that they have to split?

    • canazza says:

      That’s another good reason to make any split puzzles soloable, is that at the moment I don’t think it’s possible for the AI to be that clever. Something to petition valve for maybe.

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