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Surviving a zombie apocalypse

In "Left 4 Dead," the new game from Valve Software, you'll feel like you're writing your own zombie story. Gone are the laborious cut scenes.  It's just straight-up action and carnage from the word go.
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People love zombies. There are zombie survival guides, horror, action, drama, comedy, and yes... even zombie love stories.

The most common zombie story line involves a band of survivors working together to make it through another day, to survive another impossible encounter with terrifying masses of the undead. In the typical zombie movie, the threat ultimately comes not from zombies, but from within the group of survivors. Death comes either from betrayal, poor organization or panic.

In "Left 4 Dead," the new four-person co-op game from Valve Software, you'll feel like you are writing your own zombie story. Gone are the laborious cut scenes or awkward pauses for dialogue that can slow game play. It's just straight-up action and carnage from the word go.

Like "The Matrix" movies, in this story there is a force — an artificial intelligence watching the game play and orchestrating the atmosphere, lighting, music, sound, and oh yes, zombies. Hordes and hordes of zombies.

I sat down with "Left 4 Dead" writer Chet Faliszek to talk about the game and the challenges of breathing new life into the zombie genre.

Question: What is "Left 4 Dead"?

Faliszek: The core game is (a) four-player co-op in the zombie apocalypse. So it's anywhere from one to four players fighting the zombie apocalypse, which has finally arrived. Now you can test your mettle with four friends over Xbox Live or (Valve's online service) Steam, and then we also have 'versus' mode, which is our competitive side. You actually get to play the side of the infected, so the four infected play against four survivors and you switch sides going through maps seeing who can get the furthest as a survivor.

Q: There are a lot of zombie games out there. What new elements does "Left 4 Dead" add to the genre?

Faliszek:  Probably the biggest would be that not only is it all co-op — that you can play with your four friends — but the AI director mixes it up to make sure it' s different every single time you play. So, while the architecture stays the same, the zombies themselves and the special zombies and the weapons, the items you find in the world, the health you find in the world, all change up every single time you play.

Q: What gives these zombies character?

Faliszek: They are the fast, come-at-you, scare-the-hell-out-of-you zombies. Also, some of them have mutated and ... these are zombies you get to play. So you actually get to play as a zombie who has a stomach full of bile that you are able to vomit out on to other players.

You can also be the Smoker, which has a 50-foot prehensile tongue that can come grab a survivor outside of his friends if they are playing really tightly.

You can be the Tank, which is the big giant guy that can crush people with its fists, pick up pieces of the earth and throw them at you.

Lastly, there is the Hunter, which is this cool kind of cat-like creature that can jump around. You can do wall jumps up on top of buildings. You can kind of survey and then do your deadly pounce down and take care of survivors.

Q: Are there any zombies you can't play?

Faliszek: The only zombie you can't play is the witch and that's because when you approach a witch, if you can pass by her and leave her alone, you don't have to fight her. So if you were playing as the witch character you would just sit there waiting, and waiting, and waiting and hoping someone pisses you off, and if they didn't piss you off you wouldn't be able to attack and that just wouldn't be very fun.

Q: What is your favorite zombie boss in this game?

Faliszek: Right now it's the Boomer. I enjoy projectile-vomiting on people.

Q: What is your advice on killing zombies?

Faliszek: Shoot for the head. While our zombies are the classic zombies that can only be killed by that, you still do more damage shooting in the head then the rest of the body.

Q: What is your favorite weapon in the game?

Faliszek: The pipe bomb. You throw it out there and all the infected will go chasing after like little dogs after a bone, and then they explode into a bunch of tiny little pieces. So, I mean you shouldn't do that with dogs, but you can do that with zombies.

Q: Is this a game for zombie fans or is this a game for the casual gamer?

Faliszek: I think it's both. ... A lot of (people with) mixed skills can play because you help each other out. You're not competing against each other. ... A lot of zombie games gum it up with some kind of a secret government agency or corporation behind everything, where traditionally in your zombie movies it's more like "Hey, it's the zombie apocalypse. It's on. Go!"  We wanted more of that feeling to it.

Q: In the end, what is the most unique experience that comes from playing "Left 4 Dead" with your friends?

Faliszek: It's just those moments when you want to just go scream out to your friends, "Oh my God, did you just see that? Holy s*** that was crazy!" We see that again and again.