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Why Four Versus One? Evolve’s Creators Share The Reason

by Jeff Cork on Jan 24, 2014 at 08:00 AM

Four seems to be a magic number for Turtle Rock. In Left 4 Dead, four players could team up to take on armies of zombies. In their latest game, Evolve, a quartet of hunters battle a single, powerful opponent. As it turns out, there’s a reason behind that team size, as the studio explained to us.

It goes back to the earliest days of Left 4 Dead, when it was still a Counter-Strike mod that Turtle Rock was working on. Valve expressed interest in the game, and their team decided to take a crack at making a few “improvements.”

“One of the first things that the Valve guys did when they started playing Left 4 Dead and they really enjoyed it, they were like, ‘This is great, but we could make it work for five guys or six guys,’” recalls Evolve’s creative director Chris Ashton. Turtle Rock told Valve that it wouldn’t work, but Valve insisted on trying anyway.

“They changed the code on their side and they tried it, and eventually they came back to four,” Ashton says. “What happens is there’s a weird thing in that most people I think are able to track three friends. I can know that you’re over here and you’re in front of me and you’re to my left. And I can keep that in my mind, and I can keep in my mind that you have 50 health and you have 80 health, and I can keep track of that and fight another team. But if it’s four guys, it feels like I’m always losing one. I always don’t know where someone is, I don’t know where somebody’s health is – keeping track of four other friends is too much.”

Turtle Rock’s Phil Robb says there’s another benefit to four-player teams. “If you’re going to split up, you can do the buddy system,” Robb says. “Two guys go here, two guys go here. You add that fifth player, and it always seems like that last player would run off and do something stupid and get himself caught.”

Evolve’s asymmetrical team sizes play into it as well. “As a monster, that sort of works a little bit against him, which is what makes the four versus one thing very successful,” Ashton says. “Like I said, it’s hard to keep track of four. If I’m the monster and I’m fighting four guys, it’s really hard. I always lose one. I incap somebody and I’m fighting the other guys, and the next thing I know a guy’s up and I don’t even know who got him up – I can’t quite keep track of all four, it’s just too many. But that’s what makes it a challenge for him. As soon as you kill one guy and get one guy out of the picture, I think three humans are way easier to deal with and keep mental tabs on.”

Team sizes are one of the bullet points that get a lot of attention from players, especially before a game is released. Small numbers are often looked at with skepticism, since conventional wisdom tells us the more, the merrier. If fighting with a few of your friends is great, then why wouldn’t bringing along a dozen or more of them along be even better? We didn’t get a chance to play with prototyped versions of the game with more than four-player teams, but what we did experience was perfectly tailored for a smaller group.

 “It’s kind of weird,” Robb adds. “There’s kind of some strange voodoo-type magic there. We’ve sat down and tried to figure it out from a scientific point of view, but there’s something about four guys.”

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