Brink: Richard Ham Q&A
Splash Damage have made a name for themselves as a PC shooter developer- what prompted you to bring your wares to console?
It’s pretty simple, really: we love consoles! It’s fantastic to be able to play a game in the living room, kicking back on the couch, with awesome surround sound on a big screen TV, and we’re excited to be able to make a game where we can have that experience. We still love PC gaming and we are making sure that Brink plays really well no matter what platform you’re playing it on. And if you want that done right, you’ve got to do it yourself!
What do you think Splash Damage’s background can help bring to console shooters that they might not have had before?
For almost a decade now, we’ve been making a unique form of online shooter for the PC, and we think most console players have never seen anything quite like it. It’s a completely unique blend of the best of single player gaming (having a story with characters you care about, collectibles, and hand-crafted missions with deep and exciting objectives to complete), as well as the best of multiplayer gaming (working together with other players, never having the same experience twice, providing new and unique experiences, and having great replay value).
Let’s talk about the shooter genre as a whole for a moment- you’ve clearly taken a different approach with Brink, what did you feel was missing in the genre? And with increasingly sophisticated palettes what do you feel shooter fans want from it?
For us, we think multiplayer gaming is key. Human beings are social creatures… it’s in our nature; it’s how we evolved as a species. Whenever you are involved in an activity – it doesn’t matter what it is – it’s inevitably better if you share that activity with someone else. Going for a walk, watching a movie, you name it, it’s better if you do it with friends or loved ones.
Does that mean you have to play Brink online?
No, of course not. Play solo, and you’ll still have a fantastic time and get to experience Brink’s story campaigns and frantic battles. But as you’re working your way through the story, if you ever get the itch to play with your friends, or if you just want to take on other human players, we always make it very easy to go online. Play with up to seven of your buddies in full co-op or in sixteen player multiplayer. It’s all up to how you prefer to play.
You’ve had experience with class-based play before, and with multiplayer/singleplayer in games like Quake : Enemy Territory, but how have you refined those systems for Brink?
Basically, we’ve taken all these deep, complex gaming systems we’ve been developing for the last 10 years, and pushed them to the next level. Taking our basic systems and pushing them “to 11” goes for everything: storytelling in multiplayer, character customisation, and objective driven gameplay, just to name a few.
Please tell us a bit more about the objectives system and wheel in Brink- how will they ensure varied, dynamic play? And how do Command Posts work?
The objective system is key to how everything works. In your average mission, there are usually several big key objectives that must be completed in order to win the map. If your team doesn’t do these things, you lose and the other guys win. But how you do these objectives is entirely up to you. There’s an incredible amount of freedom in the game, even going so far as to say that if you don’t want to work on the core objectives, that’s cool – leave them to the rest of your team. Even if you don’t want to fight on the frontlines, there’s optional side missions that are always popping up that you can go and complete. Sometimes they’re fun little goals, sometimes they’re major things that can change the course of the mission.
Take command posts, for example. If your team captures one it becomes a new place where you and your teammates can go to restock supplies and change character class on the fly. As long as your team holds that command post, there are stats bonuses that everyone gets (a longer life meter, for instance), that gives your guys a real advantage over the enemy. But the enemy isn’t going to just sit back… they can get new objectives to steal the command post back, robbing you of the bonuses, and giving them the advantage.
So suddenly, you can be going along on a core mission (trying to destroy an enemy base, for example), when the enemy steals your command post and opens up a second front in the battle. Now you have to decide: are you going to stick with your buddies and fight on toward the base destruction objective, or are you going to break off and take that command post back? These kinds of dynamic battlefield conditions and tough choices are commonplace in the action of Brink.
The way you can make the best decision about what to do at any given time is to use the Objective Wheel. Basically, whenever you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed and don’t know quite what to do, or where to go, you can hold up on the d-pad to bring up the wheel. The wheel is a collection of all the different objectives you can select at any time, sorted by how much XP they pay you and how important they are. So you can peruse the wheel, pick something that interests you (“collect enemy intelligence” for example), and once you do, a guide arrow appears that will lead you to the area where you can complete the objective.
And if you’re in a hurry and just need answers quick (“What should I DO?!?!”), just tap up on the d-pad instead of hold, that the wheel will automatically give you the best objective available. And then it’s all up to you to get it done to help your squad and yourself!
Please tell us about how you’ve approached class weapons design in Brink and just how you’ve balance classes to make playing them feel unique. How will other player tools in the environment, like the bots and drones we’ve seen influence that play?
There are four classes you can choose from in Brink: Soldier, Medic, Engineer and Operative, and you can switch between any of them at any time, even in the middle of a mission. Not only does each one have kind of a ‘core responsibility’ in the heat of battle, but they can all level up independently to get entirely new optional functions, depending on which abilities you decide to unlock while levelling.
For instance, the Soldier starts out as the “tough guy”, who can take more damage than the other classes, can blow up core objectives with heavy explosive charges, and can hand out ammo to his teammates to keep them going. So already he’s got a lot on his plate. But as you level up, you might also select new Soldier abilities like new types of grenades, or the ability to shield teammates and soak up damage for them, and those decisions make a massive change to how the game plays for you.
You can make those kinds of level up choices for all four classes, so there’s tons of variety to explore in the basic gameplay and you always have the opportunity to redefine what type of player you are based on what you focus on.
We’ve seen the character customisation features of Brink now, and they seem fairly in depth – but just how will your physical characteristics affect game play?
While there are a lot of different outfits, tattoos, hairstyles, etc., for you to experiment with, none of them actually affect gameplay (there are no “boots of speed +2”, for example) because we want players to choose a look that lets them express themselves rather than be forced to choose clothing based on stats.
However, there is one bit of customisation that has a huge impact on gameplay: your body type. Basically, you can choose to be a big guy, medium guy, or small guy and as you would expect, this choice makes you stronger or weaker, faster or slower. It defines how big the weapons are that you can use, how much damage you can soak up, and how high you can climb using our freedom of movement system called SMART.
So when you choose your body type, choose carefully because it has a major impact on how the game will play.
What do you feel is the draw of Brinks player progression system, and how does it work?
It works pretty simply: earn XP during missions by doing stuff that helps out your team. Complete objectives, protect teammates, stand guard…if it helps your team, it earns you XP. Once you’ve earned enough XP, you level up. At this point, you get the opportunity to buy one new class ability, and you have to decide: will it be an ability for Soldier, Medic, Operative or Engineer, or will it be a “general” ability that you can use at all time? The more you level up, the more abilities you can buy, and you start to find all kinds of cool combinations. So there’s a lot to explore and experiment around with in our progression system.
There appear to be two sides to the tale in Brink, with the Security and Resistance factions, but will they be separate campaigns or interlocking stories?
Brink features two completely unique campaigns and to truly see everything the game has to offer, you’ve got to play through both. The stories in each follow completely different paths, as both Security and Resistance are trying to accomplish entirely different high level objectives. But the stories do intersect from time to time, and in sometimes surprising ways.
Paul Wedgwood has often spoken of the concept of shooting for AAA quality in everything you do- how has that been reflected in Brink?
We’re working to make a game that looks and feels truly AAA – from the visuals to our unique gameplay mechanics. We’re really pleased with the audio in Brink, as well. Our Audio Director is Chris Sweetman, who was behind the sound in games like Black and Burnout Paradise, both of which really impressed us when they came out. Brink, by his own admission, is his most impressive accomplishment yet and words really can’t do it justice.
But I think the most important place this focus on quality shows is in our level design. These are maps that you can happily play over and over and still discover new secrets.
At this stage of development what is the team proudest of in Brink?
I think the thing we’re proudest of at this stage is the sheer replayability of Brink. We have internal play-tests several times a week and we’ve been doing them for well over a year so by now, we’ve all played the game for literally hundreds of hours — be it against each other or against AI. And yet even after all those hours clocked, every day that we have an afternoon play-test people still drop everything they’re doing to make sure they can get in before the server fills up, because the game is just so fun.
Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions.