FPS master Valve has a lot going on at the moment. As well as the stunning-looking Left 4 Dead, it's working on a Portal sequel, and then there's that little project known as Half Life 2: Episode Three.
We got the chance to sit down with Valve's Doug Lombardi last week at EA's flashy Games Showcase event in London for a hearty chat about all these things, and how it's all coming along.
What else? Valve's "desire internally" to work on Wii, the big boss' passion for MMORPGs and the company's will to step outside of its PC FPS comfort zone in future projects. Read on...
You said that Left 4 Dead does for co-op what Counter-Strike did for multiplayer. Can you expand on that?
Doug Lombardi: At the time, Counter-Strike really brought people together to do team-play. It was one of the first times that people did more than things like Team Deathmatch. The bomb and hostage-rescue scenarios seem sort of prehistoric now, but at the time they were revolutionary.
Counter-Strike wasn't afraid to take chances and be completely unapologetic about it. For example, if you were killed in the first thirty seconds of play in a five minute match, you were out until the end of the round with nothing to do.
Luckily that came out of the mod scene, because if it was officially pitched to a publisher in 1999 there's no way it would have ever been green-lit. Yet it turned out to be the recipe for the number one online action game in the world for nine years.
In a similar way, L4D is trying to innovate in the co-op space, which really does need something new now. L4D is multiplayer gaming that is tailored to playing alongside a friend. What we're really doing here is trying to create something like a Half Life-style experience for you to have with your friends.
And you have this interesting new mechanic called the 'AI Director'...
Lombardi: We want L4D to be something that you want to play every night and it be a little bit different every time, so that's where the AI director comes in. It decides if a location will be really full of zombies or empty.
You can play the same area one day and there might be a boss in there, and the next there's nobody in there at all. So it keeps things fresh and serves up a more dramatic experience that's more than the usual 'team reaches here, team wins' scenario.
How will Valve, and L4D, evolve the online action gaming scene going forward?
Lombardi: With L4D, we want to give you something that's not just totally mindless to play because you and your buddies have to work together. We call it co-op for lack of a better term, but I think you're going to see a lot of multiplayer games go in this direction.
We've already seen games like World of Warcraft and the MMO scene doing this - you have parties, you stick together, you work together, and obviously it's really popular, so why shouldn't action games be going in that direction as well?
PS3 is being left out of the loop, though. Any chance it'll follow Orange Box to Sony's platform at some point?
Lombardi: We're not PS3 developers - we're doing PC and 360 like with Orange Box. EA came to us and said "Wow, Orange box was an incredible project, can we do a PS3 version?"
Left 4 Dead doesn't have that guaranteed appeal yet - it's a new IP. If you mention a new Half-Life, people want to make as many versions of it as possible. If Left 4 Dead is big, then we may see a PS3 version later, or if and when we do a sequel, people may be more interested in that. We're only 150 people, so there's only so many things we can do.