A week from now, we will either celebrate our victory (and returned trophy), or wallow in our shameful defeat in the annual gaming tournament between the Cleveland Institute of Art and Case Western Reserve University. As obvious as I could make it last time, Left4Dead is the game of choice this year. Although our project is a campaign for Cooperative play and not Versus Mode, Left4Dead makes for a really interesting game in this specific competition and provides some insight into its inner workings we still take into account as we design and create for it.
The excitement for Vs. mode came from our realization that Team Fortress 2 did not support a drop-in drop-out live competition very well. First, is the reality that most of the tournament goers already show more enthusiasm in L4D than they did for TF2 last year. Part of this comes from TF2 being a class-based game – it’s not easy for anyone to just pick up the game and understand the complexities of nine distinct characters. In addition, based on score people were swapped in and out of our six-person teams, sometimes these were the most experienced of players unfortunately. While L4D has some class-based characters in vs. mode (the infected) they have a third of the abilities to manage from TF2’s classes, and provide an entirely different function, which is to coordinate grief for the survivors based on what the director spawns you as – you don’t have the choice here.
This is one of the largest and most immediate “fairness” solutions. The director takes care of a lot of our potentially mistaken choices. Having the director to count on as Infected means it’s a little less to manage being class-based, and gives less for the survivors to point the finger at in terms of exploiting or cheating. The Director is by no means nice, or fair to be quite honest, but it is a neutral party since both sides have to face its wrath accordingly, and that is ideal at a tournament setting. Rushing is always unexpected, but the Director tracks it, and often provides the Infected with the means to counter this if they’re coordinated enough.
The final thing that I’m eager about in this tournament is the levels. L4D has one type of competitive mode whereas by now TF2 has 4-5, which vary from level-to-level. TF2 brought this along for the ride as an issue, and resulted in settling for a mostly unideal situation. CIA wanted to do Attack/Defend, while CWRU preferred Capture the Flag. Both sides disagreed with the practicality of each choice, so we agreed to do the neutral Control Point maps, a tug of war of sorts. While these maps are well made and mostly fun with larger groups of people, our groups were tiny, thus when a few people were dead so was half your team. This was really a bad situation to have on the maps we played because a rush becomes too effective of an approach with zero penalty. Banking on the situation wasn’t unfair, but certainly made things meaningless in being competitive. Having inexperienced teammates to thwart it as well resulted in our overall loss; the best way to counter it was pure and simple veterancy.
If I had a choice, I would actually play TF2 over L4D most any day of the week online – it fits that setting better and people don’t rage-quit from automatic skirmishes nearly as often. Even if they did, 2 people quitting a 12-16 person team is negligible as opposed to a 4 person one. However, a tight-knit LAN tournament seems to have more preferable conditions for L4D to be enjoyable with both veterans and some newcomers. The most important choice L4D provides is whether or not you are willing to help a teammate, something anyone can do if they mind their surroundings. Time to find out who’s got our backs.