The Left 4 Dead Personality Mod

by Steve Bowler on October 20, 2009 · 5 comments

in general

That you’ll never play.*

Awhile ago Justin Keverne wrote a piece, the Taxonomy of Left 4 Dead, which compared the characters in L4D to the MUD definitions of online game players set forth by Richard A. Bartle.  It’s a pretty insightful piece, pointing out that the characters emulate the four different type of players (Bill is the Achiever, Zoey the Socializer, Francis the Killer, and Louis the Explorer).  Go read it, then come back here.  You’ll be glad you did.

One of the things that struck me about the piece after reading it, is that there’s a bit of disconnect in the idea that I can be a Bill player (Achiever), but 3/4 of the time, I can’t play as Bill.  Someone else has already logged on and “stole” him before I could get there and pick “my guy.”  (For the record I like playing Louis just because he cracks me up).  So the majority of the time I’m playing, there’s a disconnect between my personality and the character I’m forced to play.  I’m playing against type.

So, I wondered if I couldn’t fix that.

Using Keverne’s character definitions (which were based on Bartle’s) as a starting point, and projecting them onto the characters of Left4Dead, I wondered if I couldn’t create a Personality Mod for L4D.  How could we reward the multiplayer personalities of Achiever, Killer, Socializer, and Explorer, or in the worst case, force players to play with these goals in mind?

First, I’d need to make it so that there were 4 alts of each of the four main characters.  This way, if four people wanted to play as Francis, they could.  This at least alleviates the “identity” issue I raised earlier with Left4Dead, where I never can play with the character I want to.  If we wanted to make it more “real” (so we didn’t have some alternate reality with four identical Francis’s walking around with different clothing), we could easily make four characters who are very similar iconically to Francis.  Be they Black, or Asian, or whatever, you’d have the equivalent of a Biker Gang of Francises, a VFW of Bills, a chatty social clique of Zoeys, and a nervous office pool of Louises.

Second, for this mod to work, there needs to be a new rule implemented regarding weapon pickups, and that is that there can now only be one of each weapon, bottle of pills, or health packs in the world.  If someone picks a shotgun up off of a table, the shotgun is now gone from the table.  All objects will work this way (I think health packs already work this way), for reasons that you will see later.  Ammunition will still be an infinite spawn pile where they’re found currently in levels.

Next, I’d explore giving each of the character social classes actual character traits which would reward (or force) the player’s natural social gaming traits.  This was the heart of the challenge; can we create a class based system based on personality behaviors, rather than just pure Strength/Health/Damage stats?

Starting with Francis, we must reward The Killer.  He gains his largest bonuses to accuracy and damage with the Shotgun.  He also gains smaller bonuses to the assault rifle.  However, this comes at a price.  As we all know, Francis hates everything (and presumably everyone).  For this reason, he’s a bit of a loner.  He cannot be healed refuses to be healed by anyone in the party, and refuses all offers of pills and weapons, choosing to go it alone.  He can heal himself, however, and as he is The Killer, he’s tougher than the rest of the group, and gets a boost in health to 125.

Zoey is The Socializer.  She gains a 25% boost to healing others (but not herself), and can choose how much health to give others from any given health pack (stopping the healing animation at 50% does not revert healing; it instead gives the target player 50% of that health pack).  As Zoey is smaller than everyone else, she has less total health, coming in at 75 hit points.  However, as she is The Socializer, if she is within 10 feet of any other survivor, she gains 1% of her health back per second.  Big weapons are a problem for Zoey due to her size, so she has less accuracy with anything larger than the SMG.  But to make up for this, she is proficient with her favorite pistols and gains an accuracy and damage boost when using them.

Louis, being The Explorer, needs to be rewarded for his adventurous and curious nature.  Louis starts with 88 hit points, and he gains 1% of his health back per second if he is more than 10 feet away from any other survivor.  His other Explorer trait is that if he is completely alone (i.e. can’t be seen by any other survivor), he gains a 10% chance to find a small item that wasn’t available to the other survivors (such as pills or pipe bombs or a pistol).  He likes pills more than any other survivor, and so he starts with an effectiveness bonus the first time he uses them.  On first use, the pills last 25% longer than usual.  Every subsequent use, they lose 5% of their duration, until he reaches -25% of their useful duration, for the life of the campaign.

The Achiever is probably the most problematic one to think of as a personality.  Bill‘s pretty cut and dry.  I was originally tempted just to leave him alone, as a sort of control group, but there’s no fun in that.  So to reward an achiever, Bill will gain objects and item bonuses whenever the party accomplishes the impossible.  Did the party kill a Witch?  Bill suddenly has an extra health pack to hand out or use that he forgot about.  Did a Tank just die?  Hey, check it out, Bill found some more Molotov cocktails!  Or possibly whenever these obstacles are overcome, or if a checkpoint is reached in a level (you know them when you hit them) if a player comes within 5 feet of Bill they gain a 10% immediate boost to their health.  And maybe we balance that out with Bill not being able to use a sniper rifle, or he only has 90 hit points, or better still, he takes twice as long to pick up when he’s down because he’s an old man!

It’s certainly not a perfect mod, hell, it won’t ever even be built*.  But it accomplishes (or at the very least attempts) to do two things:

1).  It rewards and enforces the Taxonomy of Multiplayer Games theory through new “Personality” classes.

2).  It removes the irrelevancy of character choice from Left4Dead.

One of the reasons why I stopped playing L4D was because every game was the same, despite the AI Director and brilliance of the gameplay.  Character choices became arbitrary, and they all played exactly the same.  I’d love to try and win with four Francises.  Or four Zoeys, or really any combination thereof, and have those choices actually mean something other than “I’m the chick in the red jogging jacket,” and maybe even be a reflection of the player themselves.  I can just imagine four Francises, all trying to get to the Shotgun first (since only one of them can pick it up and get the bonus for using it), or four Zoeys, all hanging close and healing each other like crazy.  Hell, even three Zoeys and a Louis, who constantly darts out into the darkness bringing back small treasures, with the girls healing him like crazy to reward his adventurous forays into the night.  It just works.

In the end, I suppose it could be argued that I’m really not doing anything more than creating a Fighter , or Medic, or Ranger, or Paladin here, but the fiction and the expectation of how the game is played funnels it down into more of a personality than just a fantasy class.

If anyone knows how to mod L4D to make this work, I’m all ears.

* As it turns out, you can’t really mod Left 4 Dead, probably due to the EA publishing agreement.  It’s the only game that Valve makes which doesn’t use the default Source engine, so as a modder all you’re left with is the ability to make new levels, for the most part.