on Jul 7, 2009
Left 4 Dumb, Part 21. It’s the beginning of the end, now.
I’ve realized that one of my great joys in writing is finding cracks in an existing plot and coming up with “clever” explanations to cover them. During DM of the Rings, I explained the seeming nonsense and inexplicable changes of the Lord of the Rings movies. In my book, I filled in plot holes in System Shock. A lot of my humor is based around finding gaps in someone else’s writing (real or contrived on my part) and then justifying it in unexpected ways. I really, really wanted to do that for Left 4 Dumb.
The one thing that prevented this was that I just couldn’t get screenshots using the in-game environments. I use Garry’s mod to set my scenes, but Left 4 Dead uses a newer version of the source engine and GM can’t load the levels. It was possible to get the character models out of the game, but I was still stuck using levels from Half Life 2 or Team Fortress or other Valve games.
What I wanted to do was to go through an existing campaign. This would have provided a familiar story arc to hang everything on, so that I didn’t have to waste panel space setting the stage. Like DM of the Rings, the story would have supported the comic instead of the other way around. This would have left me free to make fun of individual areas and set pieces. It also would have made for better screenshots, since I wouldn’t have been fighting to keep explicitly Half-Life themed scenery out of every other shot. (I never really thought about that aspect of Valve level design until now, but there are very few spaces in the game that don’t have Half-Life specific elements in them. Graffiti, combine infrastructure, posters, not to mention the stuff that would clash with L4D, like pseudo-Euro signs, buildings, and automobiles.)
Below is a bit of what I wanted to do. Note that this is just a synopsis, not a series of jokes. This won’t be funny, although maybe you’ll be able to see how it could have been funny. Maybe. I dunno. Read it and find out, I guess.
Once they reached the street, Francis would have explained the path ahead: Through the subway, then a warehouse, then into the industrial zone, and finally through the sewers. Zoey would then point out how stupid, gross and difficult that sounds. They’d scale a fence and walk to Mercy Hospital in a single strip, thus skipping most of the first campaign.
Then I’d jump to Death Toll. (I never worked out how I’d bridge between the two, since I abandoned the idea.) This is where the bulk of the comic would have taken place.
Now that I’m looking at the screenshot: What gives with the inner-city spray paint graffiti thirty feet off the ground, on the side of a municipal building in the middle of the woods, where nobody will ever see it?
Finally they reach an open city street. As part of his ongoing and eternally doomed plans to impress Zoey, Louis decides to build defensive fortifications for them, and he ends up constructing the set-piece we see in the game:
Louis has taken the time to errect a wall of sandbags, which might offer a slight amount of protection to the guy using the minigun – if the zombies actually used firearms. He’s also locked the keys inside the van so they can’t hide inside, and parked the van beside the gun so that almost half of the useful firing arc is blocked. The (still operable) forklift is placed in front of the gun to give the attackers a bit of additional protection. The big boxes of ammunition have been placed out in front of the gun where they will be unreachable during an attack, and the small arms and ammunition have been placed way back. Finally, lights have been placed to illuminate the defenders instead of the attackers.
In the end, you have “fortifications” that are far worse than the open street they started with.
Bill leaves without even realizing he just blew their chance at rescue. The team then goes on to the Left 4 Dumb ending we’ll see this week.
In the end, I cut more than I used. We never got around to seeing hunters, or smokers. I never got around to the joke where Louis invents the pipe bomb, throws it, and Bill chases it. Never got to make fun of the people downing bottles of vitamins to treat zombie bites. Along the way I’d have also tried to blame the Dead Air airliner crash on our heroes. I’d also have liked to do a couple of strips on the car alarms.
Someone said that Left 4 Dumb should have been spun off into its own strip. I certainly would have done so if I’d been able to maintain both at once. I think the timing of Left 4 Dumb was fortuitous. It’s covered ten weeks, giving me a nice build-up of games to get us through the summer gaming drought.
I haven’t decided if it will end this Friday or next. The Escapist’s 4th birthday is next Tuesday, so I can have the b-day comic in the middle of the finale, or I can shorten the finale.
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.