So, my back has been getting slowly better over the last month since my hospitalisation experience; I occasionally have a small relapse, like just after I picked up my new guitar - you wouldn’t think that shifting a small practice amp would be a big deal, but I certainly felt it for the next few days - but overall steady improvement. Part of my rehab is to take more regular gentle exercise, and to mix up my routine a bit so I’m not hunched at the desk in ‘work posture’ for such long periods of time, which means, among other things, daily walks of a few miles, daily guitar practice and plenty more gaming time (hence more game-related posts on this blog).
Often I don’t actually have anywhere in particular to go during my walks, but I need to do it anyway, so I tend to wander off in a direction and try to figure my way back. Despite living in this area for 6 years there are still lots of small country lanes in the vicinity that I’ve never been down before, so while it’s impossible to get properly lost (ie the ‘stranded on the moors’ kind of lost), I nevertheless end up on unfamiliar territory a lot of the time.
Since I don’t have a lot to do except listen to my iPod and think, sometimes I’ll think about work, sometimes about new ideas I have for various things, but today as I walked past fields and picket fences, the defensibility of each location against zombie attack kept wandering into my mind. Last night we made our way through Riverside in Left 4 Dead, which is a small town with many rural sections, and the dynamics of the game are much different from the fairly claustrophobic sections of city streets and buildings in the previous ‘movie’. Not only can you be attacked from all sides, but the surrounding undergrowth is adept at hiding many a boss zombie, and it’s really easy to get separated from your teammates because of the open nature of the scenery. You may think you’re just quickly darting behind a shed to check for pickups, but when you come out again and see your friends are a few hundred yards away, it feels like miles. I couldn’t help but notice that a lot of the landscape fairly near to my house is like that, making it less than optimal territory for zombie defense. The estate agent unfortunately did not point this out when we bought the place.
We’re loving Left 4 Dead now the full version has come through. The ability for it to generate memorable situations from pseudo-random behaviour is masterful, such that you end up talking excitedly about the ‘scene’ you just experienced afterwards as if someone had deliberately directed it. After L4D the reliance of many games on pre-scripted set-pieces looks a little boring and repetetive - repeat a section in L4D and it’s never quite the same, while still being memorable. Of course, the range of situations L4D can generate are, on a macro scale, fairly limited, since they are basically all about surviving zombie mayhem, but even so the combination of several factors does make each game feel unique within itself. Some people would say that multiplayer games have generated their own ‘stories’ for years, but actually in most cases since it tends to be a PVP experience it’s less of a story and more of a sports commentary. L4D is, AFAIK, the first game where you get a really successful blend of the dynamism of multiplayer and the unpredictability of variable settings within a context of a traditional ‘human versus computer’ story play. Diablo was perhaps the closest I can think of, since that had randomly generated content and co-op multiplayer, but it never felt as refined as this. Perhaps that’s because the levels themselves and overall objective remain the same, and so tend to add a little more story structure, while still the actual detail of the action varies enough to keep you interested.
One of the memorable moments from last night:
The helicopter had just arrived on top of the medical building, but I’ve gone to help Louis up after he was flattened by a Tank. I fire him up with pain pills so he has enough strength to run, and he’s off towards the chopper where the other 2 are already jumping in, shouting wildly for us to follow. I turn and run after Louis when suddenly a Smoker hiding out on a nearby roof lashes me with his toungue, pulling me backwards off the landing pad and away from rescue, leaving me dangling and choking. Someone in the chopper shoots the toungue to release me, but that drops me down to a lower level, tantalisingly out of reach of the chopper. They’re still screaming at me to run for it.
I run madly for a ladder, catching out of the corner of my eye that the roof access doors are being smashed in and are disgorging hordes of zombies on to the roof, each with the express intention of feasting on me. A few make it to the ladder ahead of me, so I slam the rifle butt into them make some room - I know I don’t have time to try killing them, they’ll just be replaced by the dozens around them, I just need to make enough space to flee because I don’t have a chance down here on my own. I scramble frantically up the ladder and sprint across the roof, the snarling masses literally right over my shoulder. The guys in the chopper are shooting over my head to pick a few off, but there’s too many of them. I just about dodge a Hunter that leaps at me and pile into the chopper, and we lift off leaving a crowd of disappointed flesh eaters seconds behind.
The culmination of each movie has a frantic ending like this, but you never really know precisely what’s going to happen. It’s some of the best co-op fun you can get IMO, and since co-op is my preferred play style now, this is just what the doctor ordered. Highly, highly recommended.