It may not have been completely grasped at the time, but there is a very strong chance that when history looks back on this generation of gaming, Left 4 Dead will be one of the properties pointed to as an embodiment of more than a few breakthroughs. Pitting four cooperative players together against endless waves of zombies and special enemies, and relying on communication and teamwork over macho machine gunning, few other games are as straightforward (or nuanced).
Surprisingly, though, developer Turtle Rock Studios is one group of game developers who were less than satisfied with Left 4 Dead as a finished product – and they’re the ones who made it. The game was far from a failure, but the team is back to prove that not only are they responsible for what L4D got right, but they’re set to raise the bar even higher with their cooperative Monster-hunter, Evolve.
For those who may have let the zombie action of L4D slip by them, the attention to detail that Turtle Rock paid can’t be understated. Whether it was small details like the ability to see co-op partners through walls (to keep the group intact), or the seemingly unavoidable death that awaited those who felt they could succeed without help, Turtle Rock crafted a shooter that was easy to jump into, but challenging to master – and thrilling at every step along the way.
With Left 4 Dead in the rearview mirror, and their independence from Valve re-established, the studio is still making sure to carry forward some lessons, while seeking to improve in other ways. As design director and studio founder Chris Ashton explained to vg24/7, the priority with Evolve is giving players more ways of contributing to group success:
“You can only tackle so much every time that you make a game, especially if you’re trying to do new things. So there were a bunch of things, when we came out of Left 4 Dead at the end of the day we weren’t happy with, that we wanted to make sure we really addressed from the get-go with Evolve. [In Left 4 Dead] it certainly didn’t make a difference what character I chose, and it really didn’t make a difference — to a large degree — what gear I chose, whether I chose a shotgun or a rifle.
“With Evolve for example, with all the different hunter characters you can be a medic, but it’s not just about one medic, Val’s not the only medic in the game. There are more medics and they all play different ways, so maybe you’re not successful this time, but try a different medic next time.
“The gameplay itself is more complex in Evolve. It’s not just going from point A to B and C. There’s a lot more in motion so we have a responsibility to make other elements of the game as easy as possible. Breaking it into classes was one of the big, big changes in game design where we said, ‘Okay, let’s take all the medic stuff and put it in a medic category, so you have to have a medic, but then you can choose from all this gear.'”
Ashton went on to explain that even after the team had agreed to follow the rule of 4 vs. 1 being the ‘magic number’ of co-op gameplay, the means of organizing player choices was up for debate. It soon became clear that granting all squad members total control over choosing their own class (via items and weaponry) was a recipe for disaster, but even the decision to lump items and weapons into classes, as mentioned above, posed problems.
The ultimate solution was creating specific characters within each class, each possessing their own loadout and optimal strategies. Teammates can turn those characters into shorthand for their role in combat, and the systems work to achieve the two main goals of co-op, according to Ashton: “make sure that your teammates are vital, and make sure it’s easy for your teammates to do what they need to do in order to be successful.”
Ashton went on to confirm that the studio does have more of a recognizable story and explanation of the game’s many locations and challenges, but those details will only be released when they’re good and ready to be shown. It’s still to soon to tell how approachable or elegantly designed Evolve‘s classes and weapons will prove, but Turtle Rock has clearly earned the benefit of the doubt for now.
What do you make of Ashton’s comments? Is this the kind of depth and customization you were hoping for from Evolve, or was the level playing field of Left 4 Dead a positive, not a drawback in your eyes? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Evolve is targeting a Fall 2014 release for the PC, PS4, and Xbox One.
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