Sponsored By

Featured Blog | This community-written post highlights the best of what the game industry has to offer. Read more like it on the Game Developer Blogs.

The Unique Creatures And Characters of Left 4 Dead 2

Valve did an outstanding job with their new approach to zombie mutants and also gave us lead characters, that defy current game hero conventions. A closer look at L4D2's line-up reveals how much thought actually went into Valve's unique designs.

anjin anhut

August 30, 2010

9 Min Read

Today, we examine the characters and creatures from Valve's Left 4 Dead 2. Valve's designers did an outstanding job in delivering a new and fun approach to zombie mutants and gave us a roster of lead characters, that defy current game hero conventions. A closer look at L4D2's line-up reveals how much thought actually went into Valve's unique designs.

From left to right: Rochelle, Ellis, Coach, Nick.

There is something that makes the L4D2  characters stand out as a group. They are no idealized characters, like most video game heroes are, which makes them very accessible. Nobody's perfect, but everybody is likable.

Rochelle is an attractive young woman, but never ever inserts sexuality into the game. She is well dressed, has a nice body and good looking face, but never does anything seductive. While there are many woman in real life like that, in video games girls and women usually insert sexuality into a game. Well, maybe not in kid's titles. Also noticeable is that she is a black lead woman, which in video game land is also quite uncommon.

Coach defies all current gaming hero cliches at once. He is way older than the target audience, he is bald and overweight, not very agile and he is black also.

I mention that both characters are black, because it makes them stand out from the crowd of other video game heroes. Unfortunately, most black lead characters are made to fit a racial stereotype. With Rochelle and Coach, no racial stereotype is displayed. This is rare, very very rare. Try to name 5 video games with black lead heroes, where the hero is no criminal, no musician/DJ or talking in ebonics. Its kinda hard, isn't it?

Ellis is the closest thing to the actual young white male target gamer, most shooter games are aiming at. He is the closest thing to the guys who buy Modern Warfare and Halo and L4D2. He is physically fit and courageous, but to deconstruct him, Valve made him not the smartest guy. He is kind of slow and talks a lot and he is emotionally numb towards many aspects of the horrific situation the characters are in.

Nick is the closest thing to the male white lead characters that dominated the shooter genre. He has the proper age, he has stubble, wears a nice suit and is comfortable with guns. He would be a perfect fit for a GTA title. But he is broken. He is a drug addict and he is used to be stealing things, no impressive big heists or anything, just a wallet here and a cash register there.

With Coach and Rochelle Valve gave us characters, that usually never get a lead role in a video game from a big publisher. And with Nick and Ellis, Valve took what big publishers in general view as an idealization of their target gamer and damaged it, to make it something special. At least since Half-Life 2 and Portal, Valve showed how to make unconventional characters work for big audiences. Good job.

Various regular infected from the game.

 With the regular infected, basically the game's cannon fodder, Valve did a lot of generic jeans-wearing male and female zombies. But often enough they added some diversity in look and gameplay by varying the clothing and former occupations of the infected and even asked for new strategies to beat them. The security guards in riot gear were tough to shoot down, because of their armor and the clowns made funny squeaky noises, that would attract special infected.

Edit: Tynan Sylvester gave me a heads up on some the other gameplay variations that come with the infected above. The guys in hazmat suits can't be set on fire and the construction worker's helmets protect the infected against bullets.

Before we take a look at the special infected individually, a few words about overall design themes here.

The special infected are a more advanced zombified mutation. Their bodies mutated in a way that would give them special powers and they are named accordingly. Visually their physical mutation defines how they look, with the exception of the Witch and the Hunter. All infected wear very basic clothing, but the kind of clothing they wear and how they wear it supports their abilities visually. We will examine how every special infected clothing and physical appearance suits their powers and combat strategies individually. Also of note is that the designers took good care of creating individual silhouettes for those creatures, so they could be easily recognized in the heat of battle and when you think of the special infected as carnivore animals, we get a diverse assortment of deadly predators.

From left to right: Charger, Hunter, Spitter, Jockey.

Charger, like his name hints at, charges towards the player to attack him. He puts his right side forward and starts to run, crushing everything in his path. His combat technique is asymmetrical and so is his appearance. His right side is swollen and heavy and his legs are thick and strong, so you can believe that he can build up quite some momentum. His right side is also crusted with a rock-like structure, making his ramming arm and shoulder virtually unbreakable. His left arm is small and thin, like he never used it. Along with the crust, this appears as if the Charger would be doing his juggernaut attack all his life already. His bib pants' strap on the right side is popped open, which emphasizes his suddenly swollen right section more than for example a damaged shirt would.

Hunter use stealth to prey on his victims. His strategy is by far the most advanced from the special infected, demanding planning and patience. His hoodie hides his face, like he is hiding in the shadows. His clothing is dark, so he becomes barely visible in the darkness. His pants a customized using duct tape, which hints at a rest of intelligence and strategic thinking.

Spitter is puking corrosive acid all over the place. The acid is colored in a cartoonish bright neon green, which even makes her skin glimmer in a light green glowing tint. Her mouth area is a wide open gap, burned by the acid, she is barfing. Her breast and her stomach are dangling sacks, as if the acid melted her inner body and her skin now only serves as a reservoir for the toxic green liquid. A bra is mend to keep everything from hanging and now supports the visual of her dangling skin bags.

Jockey jumps on the backs of survivors and rides them, while biting ferociously into the shoulder and neck area of his prey. He is a small creature, so survivors would be able to carry his weight. His hunchback references, how his victims look, when he rides them. His arms are roughly the same length as his legs and his hands are very big. So, he is not only able to cling onto his victims back, but also his physical appearance resembles a monkey. His cut off jeans and the worn out tank top articulate his arms, legs and hunchback.

From left to right: Tank, Witch, Boomer, Smoker.

Tank is the big hulking mutant from the bunch. He is all about punching, smashing an throwing things. Basically all action happens in his upper body section. Even when walking, he moves forward using his long oversized arms, like a gorilla. His upper body muscles are so swollen, his neck, heads and hands are buried under them, accentuating the unnatural transformation. His legs are of no particular interest, and so his pants and shoes are intact. His upper body section, on the other hand, gets fully displayed, by him being completely shirtless. Note how the Charger's asymmetrical body makes both big guys easily distinguishable.

Witch is a walking fly trap. She lures humans close to her, by pretending to be a scared and hurt girl in need of help and comfort. When you get to close and get her attention, she enters a vicious rage mode, biting, scratching and slashing. Her sobbing and crying makes her appear vulnerable, and so is her visual appearance. Thin, weak looking, half naked, wet and dirty, cowering in corners... her look supports the overall fragile character, she wants us to see in her. And the fact that her body is not as damaged as other zombies are, allows us to believe that she is still human.

Boomer works like a land mine. You get to close and he explodes. he damages nearby survivors with a strong shock wave and spurts of green acid, akin to the substance the Spitter is gushing out. His clothing shows mostly his bloated belly, while giving less attention to the chest section and lower body. His skin is covered in giant blisters, threatening to burst every second, adding another hint at his way of attacking.

Smoker are attacking by lashing their tung around their victims neck and choking them. The big tentacle tung grows out of their face, beneath heaps of boiling blisters. These blisters burst and release smoke, hence the name Smoker. The rest of his body is of no interest and covered in clothing.

L4D2 features very thought out creatures, which are more like different species, than just simple variations of zombie mutations. And therefore L4D2 features the most divers zombie line-up in a game yet. Designers should also take note of all the tiny details, that enhanced the individual features of each zombie species. The human characters are a bold move against prominent game hero conventions and the game still sold. I hope you found this analysis of the characters and creatures of L4D2 insightful and take some inspiration from it.

See ya.

Read more about:

Featured Blogs

About the Author(s)

Daily news, dev blogs, and stories from Game Developer straight to your inbox

You May Also Like