E3: Valve's Lombardi On What Happened To Turtle Rock

Left 4 Dead creator Valve South, the redubbed Turtle Rock Studios, no longer exists as a Valve subsidiary studio -- marketing VP Doug Lombardi explains what went down, and hints at a new Turtle Rock/Valve collaboration.
In the year leading up to the release of Left 4 Dead, Valve acquired longtime collaborator Turtle Rock Studios, the team that spawned the co-op shooter and worked alongside Valve to complete it. The studio -- founded by Counter-Strike AI bot creator Michael Booth -- was renamed Valve South and planned to operate as a satellite studio to Valve's main Bellevue, Washington office, but Gamasutra received information suggesting the studio no longer exists in that form. During E3 this week, Gamasutra tracked down Valve marketing VP Doug Lombardi to confirm and clarify those reports: Booth himself remains in Irvine, California; several team members moved to Bellevue to work at Valve proper; and although the physical Valve South office is no longer in operation, the remaining team members are currently working with Booth on another unnamed project. "It's not like we shut it down. We bought the studio and we're still working with, I think, every single person from the studio," Lombardi explained. The exec referred back to the situation leading up to the acquisition to better frame the events: "Turtle Rock was just Mike at the beginning, and after he refused to move to Seattle, we said [to] start hiring people and build prototypes for what became Left 4 Dead, which was called Terror at the time," Lombardi recalled. "Finally, we said, you guys are a bunch of contractors working under Turtle Rock Studios; why don't we just call you Valve South?" But after the game was complete, the traditional Valve practice of team members moving around to different projects was more difficult in the context of a remote location. "Kim Swift, who was on Portal, really liked Left 4 Dead and wanted to work on Left 4 Dead 2, so we said, okay, work on Left 4 Dead 2," he said. "With the remote office, we wanted to give them that freedom, but it ended up closing down that space." After several members of the Valve South team -- which Lombardi described as only ever numbering "nine or 11 in total" -- moved up to Bellevue, the remaining staff were not enough to justify a fully-fledged studio. At that scale, "the idea of having an office with a receptionist and all of that kind of goes out the window," Lombardi said. As far as Booth and his current team, "that group of people looks like the original Turtle Rock again, and I think they may even prefer to call themselves that," he added. No details were offered regarding that group's upcoming project, but Lombardi did conform it is once again a collaboration with Valve.

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