An Experiment in Modern Play: Introduction

*EDIT: We decided it’d be best to make a seperate blog we each contribute towards for the L4D Level Design project. I will post a link to it when it is ready.

I was planning to wait until the Summer to write about our collaborative game project this semester in the TIME Seminar class. The past week was Spring break for the Cleveland Institute of Art, and for our group that meant relaxed yet diligent work-at-home. Keeping in touch via e-mail, Steam chat, and Ventrilo, we found that even though our personal schedule needs adjustments to give base-production of the levels the time they need, we’re progressing at a steady rate and discovering a wealth of new things about the Source engine. Hell, we’ve collectively spent over 100 hours on the project already, so I am not too worried that things will get where they need to be – still, the sooner the better play testing will go, which is the point to this whole project.


Source engine? Level production? What is this project all about? Simply put: Zombies. In a zoo. As much humor as we might find in the gross-simplification of it all, it’s often what keeps us level-headed in the midnight-hours of testing, compiling, and reworking functionality in this Left4Dead level design project. However, we’ve come to the metroparks zoo setting pretty naturally from a gameplay perspective rather than a visual one. The twist here is having a thesis behind the project to boot, and it stems from this critical question: What play does Left4Dead not 0ffer, given its own ruleset? This question is meant to be our checks & balances for achieving our developing thesis, which has lead us to believe that it is level design that gauges the level of emergence a game like Left4Dead provides. It also gives us space to employ a professional practice for building levels and playtesting them early on in development – an example of iterative design (this project does not skimp on buzz-words, so pardon the jargon).Again, as with my last project for TF2, we’re faced with little time to do a lot, so prototyping a mod might be the way to go for future gaming-students if all goes well. Ultimately, we believe some degree of “meaningful play” is up for grabs, that emotional impact can go beyond what the game offers to those willing to back-end the Source SDK for L4D before the official release (Dear Valve, please let this delay be a short one).

Based on our past experiences with game-development, both independent and collaborative, we decided that each chapter in the campaign can be done by one of us to provide a different “argument” for our thesis, and to also disperse the workload, we’ve assigned roles each of us will take personal initiative with: Optimization, Organization, Ideation, Experimentation, + Creation (applicable to all). I plan on posting our progress from the perspective of my role, Ideation, as often as I can. Hopefully, it will coincide with my Playtest articles, so we’ll see how that goes. Matt Barton, the “Experimentation” chap will be starting his own blog/site soon to list the technical stuff we’re having to learn as well.

If you changed the shape of the chess board from its traditional square, would that make a game of chess better or worse? With something as emergent as the Director in L4D, which to me resembles a die in many ways, the potential for dynamic experiences feels ripe. And of course, playing as a method of design is the best way to find out.


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