On The Brink: Splash Damage Interview
Multiplayer has become the reason many people invest in a game – is Brink’s ambition to marry single and multiplayer a reaction to this?
Actually, our fusion of single and multiplayer gaming came about for the opposite reason. We think there are still too many players out there who love solo shooter gameplay, but never go online once they’ve finished their single player campaign, and therefore are missing out on some of the best action videogames have to offer.
With Brink, it’s really important to us that there are no barriers to entry that would prevent players from going online. So while they’re playing through the campaign, we’ll actively encourage them to make the jump and play the story online, with their friends in co-op (up to 8 players), or taking that next step and trying to play online competitively. But no matter how they play, they’ll still experience the same story, they’ll still earn XP and unlockables for their characters, and they’ll have a fantastic time.
It’s interesting too that it goes the other way. For players who traditionally only play online and ignore the single player game, they’ll find themselves experiencing stuff they don’t normally get to see when they jump from random match to random match: an actual story that ties everything together, collectables that flesh out the background of the world and the conflict, and tons of great character customization.
It seems the designing of Brink centres around enticing players to work as a team by designating XP – why did you come to this decision?
Teamwork has been really important in Splash Damage’s previous Enemy Territory games, and Brink is taking it to the next level. And while there are plenty of great games out there that encourage team play, most of the time, a player’s experience in those games will still be that of a bunch of individuals running around, pursuing their own agendas, ignoring their teammates; basically being lone wolves. We feel there are very few players who ever really get to experience the incredible rush you get when you’re working as part of a well-organized squad, accomplishing objectives and defeating the enemy together.
So in Brink, we’ve added a lot of features that really enhance teamwork, and make it rewarding to accomplish. One of the biggest features centers around communication, ensuring that everybody knows what’s going on everywhere on the map, so they can make smart decisions.
For instance, if you’re alone standing guard at a computer server that the enemy is trying to destroy and bad guys start to attack, your character will automatically tell the rest of the team, via radio, “We’re under attack in the server room”, and everyone else on the team will get new objectives to come and help you defend the room. They’ll also have their mini-maps updated immediately to show where those enemies that you’ve spotted are.
That sort of thing happens automatically, so as a player in this situation, you can really just focus on the task at hand: defending the position. But because that report has gone out, everyone else knows what they now need to do, and they have interface systems that make it really easy for them to get their jobs done.
This “auto-spotting enemies” example is just one of many different ways that we encourage team play. I think when people really get into Brink, they’ll find it hard to go back to same old death match/capture the flag gameplay!
The structure of the world seems perfectly suited for the red vs blue set up but also has some darker connotations with players not understanding the motives of either side – what other elements of narrative are you fusing with multiplayer?
Probably the most unique and exciting element of our narrative is that we’re telling the story of a modern civil war from two different sides. To me, this is really interesting as a storyteller, because we let players decide what they think is “the truth” in the world of Brink.
We fully support multiplayer in every element of the game (including story), meaning that every time you’re playing in an online match, fighting on the side of your chosen faction, pursuing objectives that help finish your storyline, you’re actually playing against other players who are on their own campaign, pursing their storyline, with wildly different goals and motivations. And when you finish the storyline you’re on, you can start playing the game again and experience the civil war from the other side, and you’ll learn all kinds of new insights and points of view about the overall conflict.
It’s really fresh and exciting, and it’s the kind of thing we can only do because we’re a multiplayer shooter. We have to make sure that both sides of the civil war are equally fun to play. So players get twice the value out of every map!
Many multiplayer games now allow customisation on a huge level, not just of characters and their abilities but often what players can do within matches (call in air strikes etc) have you approached these ideas in Brink?
Definitely! In fact, back in 2003, our title Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory introduced earning XP (experience points) to level up and earn new combat abilities. So we’ve been doing this kid of gameplay for a long time, and Brink definitely takes it to the next level. I think players are going to be really surprised by the sheer number of new items, abilities, weapons, weapon add-ons, and outfits they can earn as they play.
Since Brink is a class-based shooter, you can choose to be a Medic, a Soldier, an Operative, or an Engineer (and you can change from one class to another at any time). But the type of Medic, Soldier, etc. that you are can change hugely depending on what abilities you buy for yourself as you level up.
For instance, will you be a Medic who focuses on improving “the basics” (healing people and keeping them alive)? Will you branch out and focus on other elements (like focusing on a wide variety of medicinal “buffs” you can give to others and yourself). Or will you ignore all the neat potential Medic abilities, and focus instead on being a strongly varied Operative?
The amount of choices you can make is staggering, and what’s even better is that you’ll be playing online with tons of other people who also have this huge list of things to choose from. So every match you play in will be a new adventure of fun and surprising combinations.
How have you balanced a single player narrative with matches that can be joined by multiple players?
Very carefully. The way it basically works is that you have to think of every level of the story that you’ll play through as an 8 on 8 match, even if you’re playing by yourself. Now, when you’ll start the level, there’ll be characters and cutscenes that establish why you’re doing what you’re doing, what’s at stake, and what the ramifications of your previous actions in other levels have been, and then you’ll start the action, with 7 teammates, trying to achieve your new mission.
Now the important thing to remember here is that you’re not the center of the universe. The world won’t wait for you to make big things happen. Each one of your teammates (whether you’re by playing by yourself, or co-operatively with others) is as capable as you of doing whatever needs to be done to win. So maybe you’ll take the lead and always stay on the front lines, fighting against the enemy to complete big objectives, or maybe you’ll hold back and support the other guys, while they take all the big risks. Or maybe you’ll search around on the battlefield to find other opportunities to ensure your team wins the day. Eventually, your team will complete their objectives, and then move on to the next mission in the campaign storyline.
Meanwhile, a completely different group of people out there will be playing through their own storyline, on the other side of the civil war. They’ll have their own opening cutscene that explains why they’re fighting, what their goals are, and why they’ve got to win. They’ll start the same match as you, and do everything they can to stop your team from succeeding. And if they do, then they win and get to move forward in their storyline.
This is what makes Brink so unique. But it’s a lot of extra work for us to pull it all together so it always makes sense for players, and they always have a great time and feel like the heroes of their own story.
There have been very few games that have focused on just providing a multiplayer experience. Brink is a step in a new direction and is crossing the divide – with consoles now constantly online is Brink the sort of experience we can expect to see in the future?
I hope so. I think we’re starting to see this a little bit in other titles. Left 4 Dead is easily one of the best examples to date of a radically new approach to multiplayer structure. We hope Brink inspires other developers in the same way!
Would you consider Brink to be the console equivalent of a PC MMO – Or at the very least as far as an MMO would realistically work on a console?
It’s an interesting analogy, but I don’t quite think so. Brink is something that’s really different to everything else out there, taking the best of single player shooter gameplay, the best of multiplayer shooter gameplay, and meshing them into something completely new. It’s kind of hard to even describe to players who haven’t tried it, because it breaks so many rules.
How exactly will the squad single player work with drop in drop out co-op, will the enemies for example be controlled by the AI or real players, will there be a lobby system or will the inner workings be invisible to the player?
Yeah, it’s all invisible. There’s only one place where the player has to get involved with the inner-workings of the system: when they accept a mission, they’re asked “Do you want to play this publically, or privately?” If it’s private, that means they can play on their own, solo, and have their friends seamlessly join in the action mid-mission (no lobby screens or any of the traditional stuff) for co-op, if they like.
If it’s public, it means that anyone can join in the game, either as teammates or enemies, again, completely seamlessly. Either way, the player will be able to continue working through the storyline campaign, continue to level up his character, and continue to have a great time shooting bad guys.
How have you structured mission objectives around the storyline and the fact that there may be multiple players of differing skills playing all at once?
The most important element that makes this work is gameplay variety. At any given time in any mission, there’s up to six different objectives the player can give himself. There’s always so much to do in any level, that if you find you’re having a hard time completing one objective, you can switch and try a different one. For example, in the middle of a match, you might be a medic with the following choices:
a) Stand guard at an important objective that must be protected
b) Change class from medic to soldier to blow up an obstacle that’s impeding your team
c) Revive a couple of teammates who have been injured by the enemy
d) Search for hidden intelligence somewhere on the battlefield that would give your entire squad the upper hand
No matter what, one of those things (usually more than one) should be doable by you, regardless of the skill level of the enemy you’re up against. And all these tasks are hugely important to the overall success of your squad. So you can’t make a wrong choice, but it is up to you to make the smart choice. And that’s where the fun comes in.
For more, check out the new Brink cinematic trailer…