This is the second in a series of articles for the Demonbreed campaign for Left 4 Dead 2. You can read back how the first map was designed here.
The subway is the second map in the campaign, so obviously the focus points were slightly different for this map.
* Slightly higher difficulty than first map.
* Better weapons and pick ups.
* A coherent connection to the previous map.
* A change of scenery. Changing wide open areas to tight tunnels.
* Bringing the hell theme to the front, to make the level vastly different from the subway in No Mercy (one of the official maps for L4D1).
* Maximum use of vistas and decoration.
* Different more intense panic events than the first map.
* New door mechanics
The players start off in the saferoom where the previous map ended. As they exit some creepy music kicks in, and a fence to the right allows them to see the last part of the previous level. This is done deliberately to tie the two maps closer together. All too often do L4D2 campaigns feel disconnected, and that is something I really wanted to adress here.
As the players make their way down the first tunnel, smoke obscures their view, and fire burns down below the rusty gratings. They are greeted by cocoons and spiderwebs, a theme that was already lightly introduced in the previous map. This tunnel intentionally bends left and right a bit, to make the corridor more interesting and to make the room that follows a little bit of a surprise. In long corridors like this it is also important to have spots where special infected can spawn. This is why there is a hole in the ceiling. A hole in the ceiling is something the players easily miss, since their view is focussed on what is ahead of them. The bending of the tunnel also allows infected to spawn just out of view from the players. There is a small waiting area just before the main lobby on the right hand side. This small side tunnel allows players to dodge incoming Charger and Spitter attacks, but it also allows the Charger or Smoker to spawn behind the players as they enter the next area.
The main lobby had to look as hellish as possible, because this map is an introduction to the hell theme that follows in the next map. I had to slowly build that up, so I decorated it with lots of barb-wire, metal plates and boarded up tunnels. The hole in the middle of the room is an opportunity for a Charger to insta-kill a player. The players are also forced to walk around it, allowing a Smoker to perhaps drag a player into the pit. Infected can spawn on the upper levels of the structure and drop down from various points, as is visible in the video when a Jockey climbs up some of the pipes. The upper level connects to the hole in the previous corridor, allowing enemies to attack from a variety of directions. The lobby has various fake tunnels that suggest that the underground train station is a lot bigger than it really is. This helps the map feel less confined. At one point I had an idea of perhaps randomly opening up different paths, but I got rid of that idea because that would mean skipping the waiting area and the associated event.
The players head down another corridor, where more smoke obscures the view. There is a corpse on a bench that triggers a scare sound if players get too close. I like adding these mini stories to levels, because it adds a bit of character. Splotches of blood and bullet holes suggest this victim was killed in a spray of gunfire. The players arrive at a creepy looking door, which when triggered, opens slowly. I wanted this door to look unnatural and dangerous, which is why it has metal spikes that interlock. Players must be careful when closing the door, because anything caught in between is instantly killed. It closes slowly, but what I really liked about this concept, is that it allows the players to secure the area them selves. However, I soon realised that this could potentially cause players to lock another player out by accident. Which is why I added an extra tunnel that can only be opened from the other side. This would allow players to go back to the previous area and rescue a player that was left behind.
In the waiting area the characters automatically comment on the pile of corpses that covers the floor. These types of automatic dialogues tend to add a lot of life to an L4D2 campaign. A switchbox is conveniently located in front of a window, allowing players to see a train from another world arriving on the platform. This is all part of telling a story within the level. After activating the switchbox, the exit can be opened. The waiting area is meant as a “breather”, a resting area, where the players can stock up on supplies.
Outside the waiting area is a random event. 50% of the times the elevator opens and hordes of zombies come running out. The other 50% of the time, a loud puff of steam simply bursts from the pipes right next to the players, just to scare them. There is a rescue closet nearby, incase any players need to respawn after being killed in a coop game (rescue closets aren’t used in Versus mode). In coop, players can rescue their team mates from these closets, to bring them back into the game.
The players head down an escalator and arrive at a collapsed platform. The players have to jump down into the zombie infested water here, but if they do not jump down together, a Smoker might come up from behind and grab a survivor before he can join his friends. This is a deliberately designed separation point. Separation points are great in Versus mode, because they allow the enemy team to kill off a survivor early. By working together and timing their attack right, an Infected team can abuse this area to separate a survivor from his team. This area also allows the players to have a distant look at the bionic train that they saw arriving earlier.
The next creepy door triggers a horde, forcing the players to quickly head inside and close the door. If a player is locked outside by accident, a door will open after the event, that allows that player to catch up. As the players lock themselves in, a train comes crashing down on top of the room and the players must fight a horde of zombies in a really small space. This is a really tense battle, and will consume a lot of the ammo and health from the players.
Now we reach a point in the map where we have a lot to cover. The finale is cleverly constructed, and although the players haven’t reach the finale yet, it plays an important part in the lay out of this area. The players leave the falling train area, and probably find themselves low on ammo by now. Above them is a small walkway that is purely used by enemies. There also is a connection to the catch up tunnel here. Up ahead are precious tier 2 weapons, the best weapons in the game, and extra ammo. A breakable wall nearby allows zombies to ambush the players unexpectedly. They will most likely be facing the wall if that happens, because that is where the supplies are. Then they head through the train carriage (a placeholder for now). This is often where a tank or a witch spawns, and this can easily drain the players of a lot of ammo (good thing there are supplies here). The players make their way to the other platform which is half flooded with mirky water.
The tunnel has collapsed onto the train carts, so the only way to continue is by going through the trains. At some point the train rumbles and dust drops from the ceiling, to frighten the players and make them aware that the tunnel is unstable. After a few train carts the players need to cross over from one train to the next. If the players explore a nearby corpse hanging through one of the windows, a scare sound will be triggered. The players leave the train shortly and traverse the platform with the strange bionic train blocking the left side (this is the train they saw arriving earlier). This was an excellent opportunity to allow the players to have a close look at the creepy train.
Then they head through another traincart, and through a waterfall of cascading water. There also is a corpse on the far end of the train cart with a magnum, and a scare effect when they approach. The ceiling has partially collapsed in the next area, causing water to rain down and flood the area. The waterfall that covers up the door, allows zombies to come charging through and surprise the players, because it obscures the area beyond it. Finally, the players head into a small tunnel towards the abandoned train station. A green light directs the player’s attention to this tunnel. Other corners of this area were left intentionally dark, because players naturally move towards the light. Notice the blocked area on the map. This area initially was a direct connection to the finale, but I decided to make the map longer. More on that down below.
The players enter through a dark corridor, with wooden boards covering up a hole in the left wall. I deliberately set up the lighting in this tunnel to create eerie striped shadows from the boards across the right wall. This adds mood to the area, but also sets the tunnel apart from the mirrored tunnel on the other side (see top right of map).
The abandoned train station was the last area I added to the map. In the initial design, the players could walk straight from the flooded platform, to the bridge gauntlet. That area is blocked off now by debris. I felt the map wasn’t long enough, and needed a resting area before the finale. So I decided to create a rather large room where players could stock up on supplies. The room can extend the length of the map depending on the strategy of the players. You see, in Versus mode the survivor team generally wants to move through the map as fast as possible, cutting corners when ever possible. Because the longer they take, the more time they give the Infected team to respawn and attack. So if the players play smart, and conserve ammo, they may not need to stock up here. So they could skip the area and take the short route past the ladder. However, the shortcut does not have any railing, so a Smoker could drag a survivor off the raised area causing a lot of falling damage. If they take the long route, they can stock up and properly prepare for the finale, but this also allows the Infected team to respawn and attack more.
Visually, I wanted this area to look very large, yet also dark. I was inspired by the underground railroad in the movie Ghostbusters 2, which had a river of slime, and the same purple lighting as the area I made. I was also inspired by the abandoned train station in New York. I didn’t want to give away too much of the mystery of this area. And the fact that a large part of the lower area cannot be accessed, and is shrouded in fog, makes this a very sinister and mysterious room indeed. The players can never quite grasp how big it really is, and how far the tunnels in the distance go. In reality, they don’t go far at all beyond what is visible. But the area suggests that it is much larger than it really is. The stairs that lead upward, but cannot be accessed, suggest that there used to be a logical entrance to this part of the station (until the tunnel collapsed). I always want my maps to seem logical, so I make sure to include doors that may just be purely decorative, but suggest that the area could have actually been in use at some point. Everything needs to have a logical use. Which is why there are a lot of blocked or collapsed passages throughout this map. It makes the player believe that the station is part of a large complex, and not just a lineair level.
The bridge gauntlet is the finale of this map. A gauntlet in Left 4 Dead 2, means an event where hordes of zombies spawn infinitely until the players reach their goal. Balancing a gauntlet is tricky, because it is easy to deplete the players of ammo, or simply wear them down. This is why I made the gauntlet short. A button causes four gates to rise slowly, giving the ai director time to put the horde into motion. Because once the gates are open, I want the zombies to be ready to attack. The players can choose between two lanes. The left lane is free of obstacles, and the right lane has two jumps across pits (which makes a Charger attack exceptionally dangerous here). These drops are not deadly, but they do force any victim to backtrack a bit. To avoid forcing the players to head through the collapsed tunnel and the abandoned train station again, a door in one of the trains is automatically destroyed by the horde as soon as the gauntlet starts (thus opening up a shortcut back to the bridge). This makes the pitfalls less punishing. A tank always spawns at the far end of the bridge, and will charge down one of the two lanes of the bridge. The players may need to quickly change to a different lane to avoid the tank if they don’t want to fight him.
What makes the two lanes interesting, is that they are covered in barb-wire and metal plating. So if the team splits up and takes different lanes, they will often not have a clear shot at the other lane. This makes rescueing a team mate really difficult when splitting up. Only occasionally does the plating open up, to reveal a glimpse of the other lane.
The area after the bridge has a nasty separation point that is intended to be exploited by smokers. A smoker can drag a survivor down from the ledge here (which is not protected by a railing) just before they reach the saferoom. At this point the walls in front of the players also crumble, revealing a fire covered hellish maze of rusty corridors from which countless zombies spawn. The players must quickly run into the back cart of the bionic train, which will take them to another world in the next map.
One final note; The area in the top right corner of the map is an easter egg area (or bonus area), which is shown at the end of the video linked at the top of this article. It is not needed for the players to go here at all, and it can only be reached through an airduct that is hidden underneath the stairs. I wanted to add an extra area, because it adds to the sense of mystery of the map. The bonus area leads to a creepy well in a cave, with a terrifying and deadly surprise for the players.