How Valve's Left 4 Dead almost didn't have zombies because of Gaben

The iconic FPS series could have gone a different direction entirely (Images via Valve/Gabe Newell)
The iconic FPS series could have gone a different direction entirely (Images via Valve/Gabe Newell)

Publisher Valve is synonymous not just with its Steam digital platform but also with its catalog of great games. While entries in the Half-Life and Portal series have revitalized the single-player aspect of the first-person genre, Left 4 Dead (L4D) did the same for co-op games. Valve's zombie-themed series is renowned for delivering atmospheric and tense 4-player-co-op romps against hordes of undead.


But did you know that Valve's head honcho, Gabe Newell (AKA Gaben), was against L4D being a zombie shooter, to begin with? That's according to series writer Chet Faliszek.

In a recent interview on the YouTube channel KIWI TALKZ, the ex-Valve writer reminisced about his past as an employee under Gabe, where he detailed how the president did not want a zombie game due to associated cliches.

Ex-Valve writer describes Gabe Newell's thought process behind straying away from the zombie setting


Chet narrated that the vision of the game boiled down to wanting to deliver something original that also carries a message. Additionally, the zombie setting was seen as "cheesy" and "campy" at the time due to the lack of serious representation in the media. To quote Faliszek in a nutshell:

"Once I went to dinner with Gabe and he was beating me up that 'if you look at zombie movies, Night Of The Living Dead is about racism; Dawn Of The Dead is about consumerism - what is your game about, your zombie story about?"

He essentially points out that those movies use the zombie exterior as a medium to talk about those abstract concepts. To answer Newell's question, Faliszek responded:

"It's about working together, it's the game itself, it's a reflection of the game. Of, you know, in the zombie apocalypse what are you gonna do? And then we'd kind of get pushed more and more because I remember he [Newell] said 'well let's not do zombies, zombies are just cheesy.' And at the time you did not have The Walking Dead TV series and all of this, so it was very cheesy."

However, Faliszek wanted to retain the humorous tone of those "campy" B-horror movies while maintaining a realistic and serious tone and presentation, and thus Left 4 Dead was born.

"So I was just like why don’t we just take the characters and the world, and make some of the characters in the world aware that they’re in a zombie movie essentially. Zoe and Lewis understand that like 'oh my god this is the thing from movies,' but they play it seriously and they take it seriously."

He continues:

"...Early 70's, late 60's sci-fi is very campy, very cheesy. But if you just take that as serious, and you have those characters inhabit that world and play it for teh serious, then it just has a different feel to it. And I think you transcend that campiness and cheesiness"

That seems to have been enough of a reason for Lord Gaben to give the team the green light and look at how it turned out. Today, Valve's both Left 4 Dead games are some of the most acclaimed horror games in video game history.

The last update for the latest entry, Left 4 Dead 2, was a community-developed DLC called The Last Stand, which features The Lighthouse campaign for Survival mode.

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Edited by Danyal Arabi
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