Just before early access and beta testing of Back 4 Blood, we had the opportunity to see the game first hand at an event sponsored by Warner Bros. and developer Turtle Rock. In addition to that first impression of the game, there was also a chance to chat and ask some questions to Phil Robb, the studio’s creative director!
He told us more about working on this project and what we can expect from Back 4 Blood in the future. Check out the full interview below!
The first thing a lot of people think is that Back 4 Blood is a kind of spiritual successor to Left 4 Dead, considering that the same people worked and created both games. With that in mind, what was the challenge of giving an identity of its own to Back 4 Blood, whereas Left 4 Dead is still so remembered and loved to this day?
Phil Robb: They definitely have a common DNA, but I wouldn’t say it was a big challenge. We already had a pretty good idea of what our goals would be and we wanted to keep the exciting action element that follows from moment to moment, plus the sense of how fun it is to team up with your friends and kill off hordes of zombies. Of course we wanted to introduce new things, we know that Left 4 Dead it’s still very much loved and it’s still perfectly playable, so this isn’t our attempt to replace it. It was more like us going back to a genre we love, using the lessons we’ve learned from developing other projects and trying new things, as well as trying to go with that formula and take a little risk.
We know that a lot of people are interested in playing the PvP mode, but there are also those who really enjoy playing the main campaign. Can you give us an estimate of how long we can expect this campaign to last?
Phil Robb: Honestly, it’s something that varies so much depending on the player’s skill and the difficulty you play. On “Recruit” difficulty, it can take you a little less than an hour to do the first mission and I don’t even remember how many different missions we have, but there are many.
Yeah, it took us a long time to go through four different phases of Act 1 in our test.
Phil Robb: Yes and I believe you were only in the first mission of Act 1 and there are four different missions in this first act. So, yes, you can wait a long time in the campaign. Especially when you add the replay factor and all the different things you can have with cards and characters.
Since you mentioned the replay factor, it’s worth asking: do you think people will keep playing this game for years to come? How do you plan to support it?
Phil Robb: I really hope so. Our goal has always been to make something that works well and that people would want to come back to for a period of time, however long we can make it happen. But, yes, we have post-launch content plans and we want to support the product. You know, there’s a fair amount of content that we just weren’t able to fit into the schedule and budget. Right now, we’re concentrating on making the main product, but we have some ideas for new characters, new things to continue the campaign after launch.
It’s really cool that we have something like crossplay in a game that’s so reliant on having more people to play on its team. We’d just like to know if it was difficult to bring this feature into the game, especially considering that crossplay will be available between consoles of different generations.
Phil Robb: Our engineers could give you a lot more details from their perspective on this aspect, but we had the idea of offering crossplay from the beginning. Even so, it wasn’t so difficult to implement it. I think the challenge is that some companies are more open to it than others. So, it’s more about making sure you know the different console makers well, you know? I can’t even tell you how happy I am to be able to bring crossplay to this game. And it’s something I’m not alone in, it’s something I’ve wanted to see in our games for years and years. It’s like you said, it’s about the game being better with other people and making sure everyone has access to everyone else is a big win.
And how do you feel about the new generation of consoles? When started the development of Back 4 Blood, were you already thinking about that generation or did you still have the old generation in mind?
Phil Robb: We knew that consoles were coming. So yeah, we definitely had them in mind and it’s been great to work with them. I think the challenge for us has been getting the game to work on older consoles. You know, how to get a good frame rate and still look good. That was a challenge, but the team did a really great job.
Left 4 Dead fans will be well served with Back 4 BloodSource: Turtle Rock/Reproduction
This is something we wanted to know as well, as we’ve seen some games that don’t run as well on consoles considered to be from the past generation. Did you feel that you had too many limitations? There’s something they had to do differently than planned because they had to work with the hardware of the PS4 and Xbox one in mind?
Phil Robb: In a way yes. Old consoles can’t reach the same level as new ones, right? So you have to make sure you’re right on the edge of what you can do visually, among other things. This is something we’ve worked a lot on, especially optimizing all the art elements, so that we could bring the maximum visual beauty to last generation consoles.
Over the years, we’ve seen many games that were inspired by Left 4 Dead, but who also took the opportunity to improve certain mechanics or add new elements. After so long, have you also had some inspiration regarding these new games or tried to follow your own path or a previously established vision with Back 4 Blood?
Phil Robb: I find it impossible not to be influenced by what other games do. Yes, there are some of these games of this type that use the same formula and I’ve been a huge fan. It’s always nice to see how someone takes an idea and improves it. We immediately knew how we felt about what the limitations of our previous games were and we had a pretty good idea of the issues we wanted to resolve with this one. So I can’t say that we weren’t influenced by any of these other games. I can’t say what exactly would have influenced us, but mostly we kind of had a vision of what we wanted to do, and that was kind of our driving factor.
What kind of new elements do you believe you are bringing to this type of game with Back 4 Blood?
Phil Robb: Well, the replay factor has always been important and I think some of the things we’ve added definitely help with that. Also the card system, which is pretty big and some people were skeptical at first. It’s just something we’ve found that once people start messing with them, they really like the system. I think it’s a great addition to the game because it gives players more, more agency, options and ways to customize the way they want to play.
We put a lot more things to find in the world, which is something I don’t see a lot, or haven’t seen a lot, in this kind of games. You know, players have a kind of natural propensity to want to explore the environment and we feel like that should be rewarded because it’s a risk, right? When you have your team wandering, there is a risk that you will get caught, but players still like to find treasure, for lack of a better word. So we have all these different weapons and upgrades, and there’s even an in-game currency that you can use with vendors to buy the gear you want.
So actually what we’re looking for is that kind of game that’s addictive, attractive and visceral, but still adding depth. It’s a game you can start playing easily and be moderately successful, but it’s deep enough to keep you thinking all the time or trying different strategies for a long time.
The characters are very interesting and charismaticSource: Turtle Rock/Reproduction
There are many new games inspired by Left 4 Dead which feature different moments in which hordes of enemies always appear at specific points on the map. This can be interesting for those who like to strategize how to beat them, but breaks a little of the game’s surprise. What kind of approach can we expect from Back 4 Blood in this regard?
Phil Robb: We managed to find a good balance between the two because now it’s about the characters that are going on quests, right? It’s no longer about running away and trying to find a safe place. I mean, our characters are zombie slayers and need to leave the safe place so others can get out. This required us to come up with a few different types of mission goals and objectives. So, there are definitely some half-scheduled moments that will always happen, but there are different ways to solve certain situations, each with different results that can happen.
Considering that early access and open beta are just around the corner, can you say your team is open to making changes to the game based on fan feedback or could this be considered another test to find potential issues or bugs?
Phil Robb: I think it’s a bit of both, you know? We are already at a later stage in the development cycle, so a lot of that is testing everything possible at the moment. The information we get about what people like and don’t like is super valuable and helps us make decisions. Of course at this stage the game is at it depends a lot on what is possible to do, but we want feedback from players. Of course, we’re not just doing this to find bugs, as it’s also important to see how people play the game and react to different systems.
Phil Robb assured us that we can expect more post-launch contentSource: Turtle Rock/Reproduction
I also noticed that there are a lot of interesting characters we can play with. Do you feel that people can really cling to these characters?
Phil Robb: Well, I can’t speak for every player, but the characters were designed to be really nice. We want people to like these characters. We’ve chosen archetypes that are familiar so that when you see a character, you’ll remember someone you know who looks kind of similar or something. So we definitely want people to be able to cling to these characters and be interested in their stories or how they react to certain situations.
The characters are very unique in their perspective, personality, look and they also have some unique aspects of gameplay. We prefer this approach to offering generic characters without a specific face.
In the last year, we’ve seen a very high demand for cooperative games, even as a means of social interaction. Considering this, how do you believe that Back 4 Blood can you stand out among so many games that are focusing on this aspect at the moment?
Phil Robb: It’s hard to answer that question, but I think we made a great and fun product. We realized that the gaming community had been yearning for games like this for a few years and we were very happy to get back into the genre. We wanted to give people a new and updated experience of this kind of zombie shooter. Honestly, I don’t think you can have something like co-op games too much, you know? These co-op games are great and are my favorite type of experience. I’m not sure what other games are doing, but we’ve taken big steps to create a deeper experience that’s still easy to understand and easy to pick up to play, just deep enough that it’s going to take you a long time to master. .