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Left 4 Dead – Group Play

By Shamus
on Friday Mar 20, 2009
Filed under:
Video Games


Thanks to those who have joined the Twenty Sided Steam group. I hope everyone has found a few good playmates. Thanks in particular to Randy Johnson, Mad Flavius, and the other players who have been nice enough to join me in Left 4 Dead despite my tendency to scarf up all the pipe bombs, cower in the center of the group, and spray teammates with panic fire. (I’ve been playing with the AI teammates for a week, and have come to think of them as expendable resources. This habit is difficult to break, even after repeated gentle reminders from my teammates that my bullets are of no benefit to them.)

The transformation was abrupt. On Monday I was having a fine time with the single-player game. On Tuesday and Wednesday I played online. By Thursday I was ruined for single-player and wanted nothing more to do with it.

Although, I really wish the game allowed you to practice playing as undead in single-player before going on-line. I was useless in my first few rounds of versus because I was completely inept. How far is my attach range? How far can I jump? How much damage can I take? There’s a recharge on this power? It really is unfair to other players to have to drag newbies through those first few painful steps. You can’t practice strategy against the oblivious AI, but you should be able to develop a basic competency with the controls before you’re thrust into the game with people.

I haven’t had this much fun online since my UT99 days. It really is all about who you play with.

Comments (51)

  1. Gandaug says:

    I’m extremely happy you found some good fun with Left 4 Dead, Shamus. It really is a great game. Maybe not worth $50, I got it for $20, but with the right group it’s extremely intense. Campaigns on expert are a totally different experience as well. When not playing vs. it’s all about expert campaigns. Very tactical.

    I joined the Steam group. Hopefully it’ll rekindle my interest.

  2. Randy Johnson says:

    Yes, Campaigns on Expert are the apex of awesome. I’d like to add that while you may like scarfing up pipe bombs, in the first online game we played, you had killed the most infected nearly every round, so you were doin something right, even if the tank had a good time beating you senseless.

  3. Cineris says:

    Counterpoint: The only Infected that really requires any specialized skill to use is the Hunter. Both the Smoker and the Boomer can be effectively played just by knowing the layout of the maps.

    Although a simple tutorial telling you to spawn your Boomer the half-second before the team of survivors turns the corner might be useful, but there’s not much more to it than that.

    Re: Range, the Smoker’s tongue crosshair displays a red ring when you have moused over a survivor in range.

    Re: Damage, although the different special Infected have different health values, I just behave like I die instantly if the Survivors start shooting – Close enough.

  4. Brandon says:

    I am still under the delusion that UT99 is the best competitive on-line multiplayer game ever made. It even trumps Marathon 2 multiplayer over Appletalk, if only just. Marathon 2 takes my number 2 spot.

  5. Jericho says:

    You can, in fact, practice offline with the infected to a certain extent, using some creative console commands.

    Map l4d_vs
    sv_cheats 1
    sb_stop 1
    sb_all_bot_team 1
    jointeam 3

    Granted, it is a pain in the ass, but it is workable.

    I still enjoy a good single player romp, usually when I don’t feel like feeling guilty over my clearly lacking skillset.

  6. Lebkin says:

    Glad to see you are enjoying it. L4D is the most fun I have had online with others in a long time. One of my core team got the RROD recently, and it was devastating to our game. Just not the same without a full insync team. Definitely an amazing game.

  7. Pickly says:

    What sorts of games can people play on steam?

    (It seems the people there would be a nice group of people to play games with in general, and if it was a pretty much open group, i may want to join depending on what sorts of games are available.)

  8. SatansBestBuddy says:

    Sorry, I jumped the gun and joined the group before I realized that I haven’t played any Steam games in quite a while, and likely won’t until well into summer.

  9. Calite says:

    Pickly: Pretty much anything can be played through steam. If it’s not a steam game you’ll still have the overlay(though it may be a little wonky). Steam sells lots of games, mainly FPS, but you’ll find something from almost any category for sale.

  10. Rutskarn says:

    It honest-to-god just occurred to me that a perk of membership could be a chance to actually, honest-to-god play a game of L4D with Shamus at some point.

    Call me ludicrously fanboyish, but the prospect is staggering.

  11. Rutskarn says:

    I’m not sure it’s technically possible to top my friendly fire incidents.

    At this point, I think the only conclusion is that I’m still purging some sort of subconscious belief that all people are pinatas, and that a delicious candy feast is just a spray of griefing bullets away.

    Just to be safe, I should probably stay away from careers in law enforcement. And from pinatas.

  12. vbigiani says:

    I just finished playing with the Young, and I think I dealt more damage to him than the zombies did… stupid 200ms ping.

    Link is the Cr0wning tutorial I mentioned in-game.

  13. Nick says:

    Friendly Fire in versus isn’t that much of an issue. You don’t wanna open up with the shotgun or a full SMG/M16 clip, but the occasional uzi bullet from a paniced spray and pray to get the zombies off of your teammate hurts less than taking your time and fine aiming it. It’s not much, either. Try killing a teamate with the uzi, even a full clip to the face is only like 30 damage, so two or shots every now and then is nothing. People still give me crap for it.

    Beware, probably the most annoying thing you’ll get is someone spamming a goddamned emote constantly as survivor. I hate hearing Zoey constantly scream, Louis shouting out “PILLS!” and Bill calling out “TANK TANK TA-TA-TANK-TA-TANK!”

    Makes me want to punch kittens.

  14. Xpovos says:

    Any chance of doing something like this on XBL?

  15. Dr. Strangelove says:

    L4D multiplayer with a good group is actually one of the most holistically intense and enjoyable experiences I’ve had using a computer in a long time. Of course, as others have said, this is balanced by poor groups being a stroke-inducing apocalypse of frustration.

    Never fear about learning to play as the boss zombies, Shamus. As long as you’re giggling while trying to whale on the survivors, you’re doing the right thing, my good man.

  16. JT says:

    I gotta be honest, I played through the 4 campaigns on single-player, and a couple of them on co-op, and then I tried Versus a few times and it just hasn’t grabbed me like it has my regular buddies. They’re all talking like it’s the greatest thing since Tie Fighter, and I keep finding myself feeling like I’d rather be playing Mass Effect (again).

    Just seems like I can’t get a handle on the maps and always get turned around and lost ’cause I’m always so worried about getting attacked that I can’t pay the proper attention to actually learning the maps. Even playing with a couple good buddies who should have been helping little n00b me, it still felt like they were talking about stuff I had no idea about, and then laughed when I got caught out in the open during a zombie rush when – it became clear later as the zombies – I was supposed to be taking cover behind some refrigerator in a corner or something. Stupid me for having to turn my back to the zombies to look at my teammates who were saying, “get in the corner”. With the ad infinitum repetition of the same couple of maps all the time (are the other two available on Versus yet?), the gap between the veterans who’d memorized the maps and all the best places to do everything and the n00bs who know jack squat was made wider than in most multiplayer games in a shorter amount of time.

  17. Mad Flavius says:

    Shamus, I fear you do yourself a disservice. I was rather impressed by your rookie (I rather dislike the term noob and its negative connotations, particularly with someone merely new to the game and not perpetually incompetent like those for whom this label was made) runs, until I remembered that you were, after all, the author of that excellent series of posts (http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=168) on FPS skills acquired through a lifetime of practice. I remember one particular instance where there was much thrashing of the witch upon our party, and I turned, expecting poor Shamus to have been long since dragged off like a Sabine woman by some vicious Smoker, and there you are, covering the rear and absolutely wasting some Hunter…poor fool. Little did he know that the Kung Fu master awaited him with pointy, pointy lead.

    If you couldn’t tell, I think this game fantastic and I can’t wait to play it with more Twenty Sided friends.


    Err, regular-shaped friends. From Twenty Sided. Ehem.

  18. Felblood says:

    Blood take it!

    Now I wish I had L4D, just so I could see this Mecca of decent people playing together on the Internet, with my own eye.

    You make it sound…

    …so beautiful…

  19. Rutskarn says:

    Awesome time playing with you, Shamus.

  20. CrushU says:

    Mmm. Played just a couple minutes with Shamus and a few other D20’ers… Fun times. All four in the heli ftw!!

    It *is* a brilliant game when played with competent people. They did their best to encourage competence everywhere they could, but we all know the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory…

  21. BlackBloc says:

    Was fun Shamus. I can’t wait until you guys start trying out Advanced. Me and the gf are able to go through all the Normal campaigns with zero difficulty but we hit Advanced and suddenly we get a death each map with 2 bots (except the easy, first one) and we can’t complete the finale even with 4 human players, though we have much less problems actually getting there than with the stupid bots.

    Also, the fact that you lose around 40-50 health when I FF you with the autoshotty doesn’t help. I think I killed Bot-Bill way too many times to count in Advanced (stupid bots always pop up in front of me).

  22. lplimac says:

    Joined the group, I’ll look out for you all next time I play :)

  23. RedClyde says:

    You do that, lplimac. I just played with them for the first time tonight, and it made me remember why I fell in love with the game. :)

  24. bryce says:

    I’m all for playing with you fine fellows, and thanks for Shamus for playing the Yenta to get us all together.

    Now if only steam could provide us a tabletop…

    Edit: My avatar seems to be an angry modron…

  25. Teron says:

    Just wondering what other multiplayer steam games you guys play,as i dont have L4D, but play TF2. “If that dont work, use MORE GUN!”

  26. mark says:

    I’ve been playing this on the xbox 360 (four players, two games, two consoles, two TVs, and system link, so no ping to worry about) and its the best game i’ve played all year.


    • Shamus says:

      Mark: I’m all about the hunting rifle, myself. Although, that would certainly change if I was using a thumbstick. Hunting rifle seems to have more penetration, which means you can nail specials through the wall(s) a bit more freely. Two rifle users in a group will tend to end up competing for distance kills, which isn’t very useful to the group, but having ONE person on the team with the rifle is very useful.

      I go for hunting rifle most of the time , but will go for the shotgun if we’re going to be doing a lot of corridor fighting. (Like in the hospital.) Then I switch to assault rifle for the finale, as it suits the “spray and pray” mayhem of the finale a bit better.

  27. Cineris says:


    Auto Shotgun is superior to the Assault Rifle in pretty much every situation except for shooting a Hunter or Smoker off a teammate. As for Hunting Rifle, it might be worth taking if you’re not playing Versus. No room for it in Versus unless you thoroughly outmatch your opponents.


    If you’re still getting turned around in maps, the only solution is just to play more. Most of the maps are actually quite small (“cramped” if you’re Infected). I do think that’s a failing of the map design, though, since if you’re still in the “OMG Zombies!” phase, and not yet in the “Zombies, yawn, Shiva up,” phase it’s hard to figure out where to go.

    Even though everything I heard indicated the other two campaigns (“maps”) would be released in March, it still hasn’t happened.

    Also, I agree with the game not grabbing me, although we probably have different reasons why. I had moderate fun with the game for about a week before I lost almost all my interest. I can only back into a corner and hold down Right Mouse Button so many times before it loses its novelty. And it’s not at all fun to play Versus against a team that realizes they’re virtually invincible once they activate Shiva.

  28. CrushU says:

    I’d played with RedClyde that night… Heh.

    I’m accurate enough to use the Hunting Rifle, and being able to fire it like the pistols ain’t bad… But I’m pretty much with Shamus on this one; Rifle’s good except for Finale and if you have More Than One.

    It also tends to suck in Versus… I usually take the AR for campaign and AS for Versus. AS did get a nice nerf when they made it not do as much damage against Tanks, now you actually see groups without all 4 Shottie.

    @Cineris: That’s the lame style of play. :p Sure you can be nearly invincible, but wheres the fun in it if you have no challenge?

  29. Cineris says:


    I’m not sure you can say that anything built into the game is an illegitimate (“lame”) tactic to use. There’s not even a way to set up a gentleman’s agreement against Shiva because what constitutes abusive behavior in that respect is just unclear and impossible to adjudicate.

    The way I see it, there are a couple things that could happen, at at least one of them needs to happen:
    -Shiva is weakened, whether by making Survivors interrupt each other with melee when stacked in one spot or otherwise.
    -Infected get a non-Tank option to attack Shiva. At the moment all of the Infected characters are weak in close quarters. There ought to be at least one which benefits from close quarters.
    -Scoring changes. Factoring in time, or giving the Infected team points for damaging could encourage moving more rapidly and less boring tactics.

  30. Let’s get something like this started for Xbox Live!
    For all of us rats who have scurried away from the PC ship…

  31. Riksa says:

    The only reason I haven’t really gotten into online FPS’s is the lack of gaming friends. Now that it seems I have a decent chance of filtering a fair amount of the dicks of the internet, I guess I’ll have to join and see what the fuss is all about.

  32. Derek K. says:

    Cineris: I completely agree that it’s a legit, but annoying, tactic. That being said, I use it when I’m outmatched. ;)

    Survivors interrupting each other’s melee would do it.

    For the people that don’t know (and I’m assuming here that this is Shiva): In L4D, if all four survivors get in a corner and constantly melee, they are, for all intensive purposes (yes, I did that on purpose), invulnerable. No zombie can get them, no special can get them (hunter is knocked back, smoker tongue is blocked, boomer is irrelevant because it’s just more zombies that can’t touch ’em). Tank can throw rocks at them, but the survivors usually all have auto-shotty, so the tank dies really fast anyway.

    There are such points at nearly every location in the game that has a climax point, making those points, ironically, the easiest parts of the game.

    I think a ranged infected would fix that handily – one that throws body parts and does a DoT, or some such. Also a possession infected, who takes over a survivor. Or my favorite, but probably unbalanced, idea – the merger – an infected that is extremly fragile, but can travel within the walls, reaching out to pull a survivor through to another room.

    And I’m glad you’re enjoying it Shamus. It offends those of us that love it to see people say “Eh, L4D is okay, but it gets boring” or the like. Cause it sure as hell doesn’t.

  33. RedClyde says:

    Hunting rifle’s good if you know how to use it. It’s harder to run out of ammo for it, and it has the best penetration and range. You have to stop running to get the most out of its accuracy, though.

    I don’t have the best aim, so I practically only take it on the No Mercy finale if we’re protecting the roof. I go to the highest point on the roof and try to snipe the specials. It usually works well, especially against the smokers that pop up on that other roof. Then when the tank comes I run down and switch to the auto shotty.

    Normally I just stick with the shotty. One-hit kills close up (good for a non-FPS person like me who doesn’t have great aim), fast firing, and spread. I also like how you can interrupt the reload but not lose all the progress, and how you can tap the reload button and just keep melee’ing while you’re reloading (although you can do that with all weapons). The only thing that sucks about it is when you’re trying to pop a smoker from far away…

    @CrushU: Yep. Me, you, Shamus and Rutskarn. (And BlackBloc, who dropped.) I have a feeling I’ll be playing L4D a lot more now. :P

    EDIT: Wow, I wrote a lot. O.O Uh, don’t mind me.

  34. MadTinkerer says:

    I’m reinstalling Left4Dead now. See you online, maybe!

    EDIT:Autoshotgun FTW. I didn’t think it was possible to make the shotgun (from HL2) better. I was wrong.

  35. Rutskarn says:

    I wouldn’t have thought the hunting rifle would be useful in any situation, but clearly Shamus made it work last night, so I’m second-guessing it.

    Not that I’d actually try using it. I suck at sniping.

    • Shamus says:

      Additional on the hunting rifle: I use the zoom maybe once every other game. I do my “sniping” in standard view. It’s too dangerous to give up your peripheral vision, and there’s no point to zooming anyway. It’s not like you need to tell friend from foe. If you see some moving pixels, it’s a zombie in need of shooting.

  36. BlackBloc says:

    Well I didn’t drop as much as the server dropped me…

  37. Cineris says:


    The single biggest problem with the Hunting Rifle is that it is useless if you’re on the move. Having a precision weapon doesn’t gain you much if you’ve got to stand perfectly still in order to benefit from it. Meanwhile, with the Auto-Shotgun you can be doing double backflips from ropes of congealed boomer bile and not lose any significant accuracy. Also, the M16 is just as accurate at medium ranges as the Hunting Rifle (potentially more accurate, since the Hunting Rifle’s inaccuracy jumps up more than the M16’s every time you press the trigger). If a teammate is isolated enough that you need that extra range/accuracy, you’re probably in trouble already.

    If you’re not playing Versus there can be some use for this weapon Expert campaigns. In that case, a misplaced/lagged Auto-Shotgun blast can do more harm to your allies than several zombie attacks. So you kind of have to temper the incredible power of the Auto-Shotgun with the fact that if you try and shoot an infected off of a teammate with it, you may end up killing them.

  38. Yar Kramer says:

    Hmm … I might try this out once I get a microphone or headset of some sort and can adequately communicate with other players without needing to drop what I’m doing and type.

    Speaking of playing as a zombie, it’d be awesome if there was some sort of formally-supported “singleplayer as zombie” mode. I dunno how it’d work exactly; maybe the same as the Versus mode except all the players and the other infected are bots …

    I’m also going to want to practice cr0wning the Witch, now that I’ve seen the tutorial vbgiani posted. Too bad there’s no way of making her appear so I could just practice until I got good at it, i.e. making a map that’s pretty much empty except for a “npc_witch” … I suppose I could just disable the player-bots (if I figure out how) and the Director, and spawn a Witch directly if that’s possible …

    (Speaking of that tutorial, I notice that when discussing different difficulty levels, nobody EVER mentions Easy. They’ll talk about “Normal/Advanced/Expert” as if Easy didn’t actually exist, like the above tutorial. At most they’ll talk about “lower difficulties.” Ah, the joy of dealing with “hardcore” gamers, and reviewers who don’t seem aware that there’s any other kind of gamer …)

  39. JT says:

    @ Cineris:
    I agree 100% that playing more is the best way to learn maps of any multiplayer game. I got the game just after Christmas, played off-and-on (not every night, but 2-3 times/week maybe) for about 5-6 weeks I’d guess, and I don’t think I’ve fired it up in 6-7 weeks. I guess it just seemed like
    1) there’s never much of a chance to actually look around and see where you are and where you’re going, when you’re constantly just trying to keep up with the other survivors who obviously already know where they’re going – you end up following the outlines and/or gunfire rather than paying attention to the environment, and
    2) the linear Point A-to-Point B nature of the gameplay is very different from other multiplayer game maps, where typically the whole map is open to be traversed back-and-forth from any direction (“control point” style or other similar mechanics) – with the latter, you can learn one area at a time (e.g. get to know the area between two control points very very well, then start playing a new area); with L4D, it’s a linear one-directional type of thing – doesn’t really lend itself to in-depth map-section-learning.

    Those two things put together just didn’t result in the kind of “having fun WHILE learning the maps” feeling that I got with BF2142 (to date my most-played multiplayer game by far) and CoD4 (sorta), but rather a kind of “I know I’ll probably have fun LATER, once I learn the maps” feeling with L4D. I’ll probably give it some more tries here in the near future when I finish my 2nd Mass Effect playthrough, and I did join the D20 group so hopefully I’ll see some cool guys from here online to play with.

  40. RedClyde says:

    Yar Kramer, there actually is a way to spawn witches for practice. Check this tutorial out:


  41. Okay, I’ll ask the n00b question here (which makes sense seeing as how my Steam nick is Ubern00b), but how do you get into a game with group members that aren’t on your friends list? L4D shows servers and friends, but doesn’t have any info regarding groups. Am I supposed to just add everone in the group to my friends list?

  42. Ranneko says:

    I play l4d really only when friends invite me, but I had an excellent finale in death toll last night. In the first attempt we took down the first tank and first and second zombie rushes fine, but a smoker and a tank took out everyone else but me, I managed to set the tank on fire and dodge him enough that he died and rushed to the wharf trying to hide from the smoker and any zombies. Sadly a hunter got me before the boat arrived, but it really got my adrenaline pumping.

  43. RedClyde says:

    @Neil Polenske: You can’t, not from inside the game. But you can use the ‘Join’ option beside people’s names in the group’s member list to join their games.

  44. Groboclown says:


    I play TF2 nearly every night (Alias “Fire Marshal Crazy”). I’m hopelessly addicted to the thing.

  45. El Quia says:

    I would love play with you, but, alas, I don’t have the game (and I’m not really sure if it would play smoothly on my aging PC). I have played it a week ago with some friends but on an x-box. It was terribly fun, but sometimes my friends used me as bait for the horde, damn bastards!

  46. Yar Kramer says:

    @RedClyde: Ah, yes, I actually found the commands in the comments to the tutorial itself shortly after I made that post. So now I’m happily becoming a pro at crowning witches, and I’m pretty good at offing them in Normal even with the normal shotgun …

    Now, if only I had any interest whatsoever in anything beyond Easy. (Though I can at least see mastering Easy to the point that I can go to the next level … of course, I can also see finding the jump just from Easy to Normal to be too big; wouldn’t be the first time, either.)

  47. Gabriel says:

    I liked Left 4 Dead enough that I’ve bought it for both the 360 and through Steam on my PC. I find it significantly more difficult on the 360, but at the same time, I find it drastically more fun. I’ve noticed that on the PC, most very good players end up using the sniper rifle, on the XBOX, less so. Multiplayer, either on the Expert Campaigns (viciously awesome) or in Versus mode, is absolutely what makes this game my favorite game in the past year.

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