Last night I decided to for the first time give it a go and the developer commentary feature in Valve’s games is actually pretty great. Sure, it’s just for superfans like the DVD commentaries are but it really gives a new view on the game. It’s a bit of behind scenes, where the developers explain about all the different things that went into delivering the experience to the player.

Screenshot of developer commentary feature
There's a reason why these are available only after completing the chapter

The experience of playing in the commentary mode is different. It makes the game a bit like a movie in the way it detaches the player from the game, but on the other hand it is really interactive. In Left 4 Dead, for example, a commentary bubble spawns player and enemy models in order to tell more about the thought that went into them. In both Half-Life 2 and L4D, the player is nearly invulnerable and in L4D the zombies ignore the player. It’s a bit like walking in a museum with those headphones on.

This mode allowed for exploration and admiring the surroundings in the game, which otherwise is impossible as you’re fighting for survival every second. I finally noticed many funny billboards and had time to model the levels in my head. I had been so focused on the action that they could have had a gorilla playing basketball in the background and I would’ve never noticed.

Do yourself a favor and grab a drink and launch any of Valve’s games since Half-Life 2: Episode One and turn the commentary on. You’ll appreciate the games in a whole new way1.