Evolve developer Turtle Rock has nothing but love for Valve, but the practicalities of working as a satellite to another developer eventually led to a parting of ways.
Speaking with Eurogamer, co-founder Phil Robb described the experience of working on Left 4 Dead in collaboration with the Seattle-based Valve from Turtle Rock’s home base in Lake Forest, California.
“Co-developing and working on one product, when both teams, two super tight-knit teams, are 800 miles apart, it’s a nightmare,” he said.
“There was a lot of tripping over each other. At the end of the day, after we shipped it, no-one was really happy with how it worked.”
Robb expressed a few frustrations with Valve’s notoriously non-standard project management approach – “Valve time”.
“Whenever we were working with Valve, it was kind of crazy. They take their time, y’know? Valve time’s a well-known thing, but for us it was like we want to get this shit done,” he said.
Turtle Rock “had a really great working relationship with Valve for like six years” before Valve purchased the team, and despite the strain left 4 Dead’s development had caused, the two companies remained amicable enough to resolve the problem in a matter that seems to have satisfied everyone.
“We sat down with Gabe [Newell] and talked about it, and it just made the most sense that, y’know, why don’t we go back to what we knew worked, which is us going independent again, and certainly they’d have work for us,” Robb said.
“The culture changed a lot when we became Valve, and not all of it was what we felt was the right way to go, and it wasn’t the way that we wanted to work.
“Once we came back out we got a lot of it back. We had most of the Turtle Rock guys who stuck with us, and for the most part that team’s still with us. Our culture has changed, but I feel really good about the way things are going.”
After working on Left 4 Dead DLC for Valve, Robb and his business partner Chris Ashton reclaimed the Turtle Rock name, because the studio had been “the best place” they’d ever worked, and “almost like a sanctuary for abused game developers”. Eventually, the DLC work dried up, and the studio moved onto Evolve, first with THQ, and now with 2K.