Confessions of a Left 4 Dead Vet: An Interview with SideEffex
"You owe me for this."
At once intensely private and yet oddly outgoing, Nathan (SideEffex) has been playing anything he could get his hands on since he was five years old. From Super Mario Brothers to Call of Duty and Age of Empires, he’s tried his hand at everything he’s able to.
I first met him while playing Global Agenda, when I was one of the leaders for my agency (read: guild in every other MMOspeak) and hopping through other agency Mumbles to coordinate AVA attack and defense gameplays. My first memories of Nathan are of a huge group discussion about the wherefores of sweaty, saggy tits (...don’t be fooled, these are the conversations that facilitate victorious strength... honest!) and defending him to the rest of my team as not being a douchebag.
He isn’t. (Usually.)
I caught up with him for a few hours after a pell-mell dash from a weekend trip camping out in the wilderness (read: about 40 minutes outside of Toronto) in order to talk about his favorite game.
This proved to slightly harder than I’d thought because it began, with little preamble, like this:
What’s your favorite video game?
...I don’t know. This is your favorite here.
[there’s a long, thoughtful pause while he muses on the matter]
This is going to be a very short interview, isn’t it?
It’s a hard question to answer. It changes.”
I know what you mean... there’s always something new that you get into for a while, and then you find something else to move onto?
“Yeah, but I guess Left 4 Dead was the one I stuck with the most. Definitely according to Steam [hours played]... but that game’s fallen apart so badly for a long time. There’s no community for it anymore. The only guys on there now are self-absorbed, condescending, and just not worth playing with.”
Why did you stick with it as long as you did? What got you into it?
“I played the demo. The Versus mode (play mode where two teams switch between playing co-op survivors traversing the map and special Infected zombies who try and stop them) was unlike anything else out there. It was a 4-person versus team that needed you to be good at playing both sides to understand how to play properly. It was a challenge, and that’s something I didn’t find a lot in other games.
Plus, for a while, the tournaments were fun. I really liked playing the Infected, it was a really different style of play—it still is a really different style of play. For a while there was a great community, a lot of new mods coming out that were fun and challenging and interesting. Competitive team vs competitive team games also added more challenges, made it all more fun.”
So would you say that a lot of the fun came from the people that were playing, rather than the game itself?
“It was all one thing. The community was great for a while. In the beginning of Left 4 Dead everyone was trying to help each other out... there was a very minimal amount of shit-talking, it was all about getting better at the game. Then after a while it just devolved into a shit-talk fest where everyone just put each other down... maybe about 5-6 months in? When it started getting more competitive, when more mods started coming out, that’s when it started up bad. Shit-talking, cockiness, guys always running their mouths. Granted, I started to get that way too...”
Not so much now though, right?
“Nah. I try to avoid talking altogether in videogames nowadays.”
And the game?
“The game itself is still good, I still really enjoy playing it, especially with people that I know. That became the worst part of it, when you get to the point where you just don’t want to put up with strangers. No one really wants or understands how to play as a team and everyone thinks they know better than the other person. You just don’t get anywhere.”
“And it’s exhausting to try. I know that feeling. Now, the competitive side of things definitely has died down for Left 4 Dead, especially with Valve dropping a lot of the official servers for it. Splitting the attention between Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 probably didn’t help either. I know L4D2 has quite the healthy modding community, but...
L4D predated the Steam Workshop... were there ever any mods made for it? Did Valve ever release a mod kit or development tools?”
“There were some mods that people made, most of them were server editing tools so that you could set up tournaments. You could open up the game file and change certain commands: you could make Tanks spawn (a large rampaging special Infected that hits like a ton of bricks), take away tier 2 weapons, increase Infected spawn time, completely remove med kits from the game... These sorts of things were standard in a tournament game.”
But you were never really involved in that sort of thing right? You just played?
“Yeah, competitively too for a little while.”
What kind of competition circuit ran for that community? It wasn’t just the type of match that you threw together for fun, right? Were there sponsored tournaments?
“There were, most of them supported by the L4D communities. There was nothing as big as, you know, an NVIDIA sponsorship, nothing like the Starcraft sponsorships... but there were events, I know Twitch.tv sponsored one. It’s been a long time since I was into this stuff, I don’t really remember much now. I played in a few of those, but the teams I was in never realy got anywhere. We’d go through a round, maybe two? Low-tier stuff.”
What was that like?
“It was time-consuming. It takes a lot to learn to work well together to play as a team. I just got sick of it after a while. I got sick of all the other people. And then L4D2 ruined the competitive part.”
How, everyone jumped ship?
“Kinda. Then there were Steam sales which brought in a lot more people which weren’t as interested in building any kind of community. And then that game... the scoring system sucked, hell, it still sucks. The Infected are horrible to play in L4D2—several of the new ones are useless except in certain favorable situations, the hitboxes are ridiculous, you can run through people and still not hit them. The maps are decent. At best.”
So that’s why you left?
“That, life, and in the competitive stuff, it was simply being outskilled. It was really cool meeting people better than you, you need that challenge if you want to get better at a game. But... I don’t like losing that much.”
What kind of skill is involved?
“Have you played versus?”
I didn’t play it much... It always seems unduly complicated. And I never liked playing a character whose point was to run in and die. Strategically or otherwise.
“But that’s what you needed to know, all tournament matches were Versus. You have to know maps, where Infected are likely to come from, stuff like that. It was fun to learn all of it and then put it to use while in play. It was another aspect of the challenge.”
You don’t play much anymore, right?
“Nope. I don’t play many games as much now, especially not FPS. If I do play, it’s usually with people I’ve known for a while. Otherwise, I just don’t.”
But you still do play other games. What are you into now?
“A lot of them. Some of them I try for a while, some of them I don’t even bother to finish.”
We still have a Borderlands 2 game to get through. That Tiny Tina DLC.
“Yep. That is true.”
- - -
Suffice to say... that was the end of all the questions for a time. At least ones that weren’t “So we’re going with the metal bikini armor right? Right?”
Thanks again, Nathan! He was a trooper, putting up with stuff he despises, just because I asked nicely.