Exclusive: Brink Interview
The story of Brink is based around a civil war – do you see it as fleshing out the multiplayer Red vs. Blue tradition?
For a long time we made purely multiplayer combat games for the PC and that was really our focus. I think that when you’re a single player developer trying to add more people into your purely single-player game that would be a terribly difficult challenge – because you can’t make a human stand in the corner and always pop out at the right time; it’s all scripted and triggered. With our game it’s almost the absolute opposite of that… there’s no scripting, everything’s completely dynamic, the AI’s autonomous – they’re gonna try and focus on those objectives and those missions no matter what you do, but you really need to contribute for your squad to be able to make progress, to move forward.
When you play the game offline (let’s imagine with no internet connection) because of the big arcing narrative – and every single mission that you play there’s a really important reason to get the next big objective done – when you come out of a mission there’s an ending cinematic whether you succeed or fail. And because you’re advancing you character, it feels a lot more like a traditional single-player game than people might at first think. The thing that’s most shocking for people, is just the fact we let you go wherever you want just like in real-life – you’re never on a mine-cart, and you choose whether you want to be the hero doing the big primary objective, or whether you want to be the guy going down the side-rout doing something a bit more sneaky…
Is that the key to the game’s replayability value?
I think it makes a big difference. If you look at Wolfenstein Enemy Territory and how well that’s done for the past six or seven years – this is a game that by today’s standards looks very, very dated graphically, but still has a really, really big following. If you look at the way Brink plays out for cooperative and competitive play I think it has similar potential because it’s a very deep and compelling game, but we now also have persistent character enhancement – we have a reason for you to keep investing time in your character, because as you do so you’re going to unlock really cool stuff.
There are a lot of innovations in Brink – do you worry the average gamer will be turned off by so many new features?
I think most of the things we’re doing are nice, convenient improvements for shooters – you don’t have to play with the SMART system if you don’t want to, you can just walk around and press jump and do whatever you like. You’re not required to level up your character, or change them, or modify weapons, or any of that stuff. If you want to, you absolutely can play it as a traditional, linear single-player shooter, just picking the big objectives and focussing on those things, taking that main path through the game, witnessing all the really cool cinematics and those big moments in the game, and you’d have a game experience that, in terms of length, was similar to any of the other top-tier shooters. If that’s the way you want to play, you absolutely can do.
It’s not a complicated system and it’s not difficult to understand, but I think the idea of SMART and how it works does really change the way you play, and if anything it makes it difficult to go and play other shooters afterwards…
We’re used to seeing trends in shooters – do you think Brink is at the forefront of an emerging trend?
Well we formed our company as a multiplayer shooter developer, and I think we’re really the only company in the world to have formed specifically because we were hardcore multiplayer fans. We played in the same Team Fortress leagues as each other for two years before we even got into mod-making – our first mod, Quake Fortress for Quake 3 was essentially a fortress-style mod that was a total conversion. We played amongst 50 or 60 clans, and there were tournaments all over the world – we ran that community for a good couple of years before we got into commercial game development.
When we did Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory it was a pure, hardcore multiplayer shooter and even with Enemy Territory: Quake Wars we started to take steps with a big story, more narrative, AI and stuff… but Brink is really the first game that we feel people can play any way they like. Although there’re a lot of hardcore multiplayer fans in the office, we also have a ton of guys that are really obsessed with single-player gaming – not least of which is Richard Ham the game’s creative director. He was the lead game designer on Fable II, co-creator of Syphon Filter… he knows exactly what that more ‘softcore’ audience wants from a game – how they want it to be accessible. That’s why we brought him onto the project, and he’s done a really good job of focussing on those things.
In what sort of ways does he bring his expertise to the table?
He’ll say ‘why do you have weapon restrictions based on combat roles?’ Well, because we do. ‘But why does the engineer have to carry the shotgun? Why can’t he use an assault rifle?’ He’s like: ‘It doesn’t make any sense. Why do that? A noobie doesn’t like those sort of irrelevant, artificial constraints.’ Just because we’ve had that rule for 10 years…
Our company’s pretty much doubled in size since the end of 2007 and all of those people we’ve brought in – like Neil Alphonso (the lead level designer on Killzone 2), Tim Appleby (character designer on Mass Effect), Dean Calver (lead programmer on Heavenly Sword), Olivier Leonardi (art director on Prince of Persia, Rainbow Six: Vegas) – all of those people that have come onboard aren’t the typical ex-mod team community level-designer who play multiplayer PC games and nothing else, and I think that’s reall change up the way the company has focussed.
There are plenty of cool-looking perks in Brink – what are your favourites?
My favourite right now is ‘combat intuition’ – it’s a yellow thing that pops up and tells me when I’m in somebody else’s crosshairs. I think it’s going to be great for noobies as well because one of the big problems with multiplayer games is you get out-flanked constantly; when you play a single player game your enemies are in front of you and you’re just shooting people as they pop up from behind cover. Rarely are you being shot at from all sides. So combat intuition starts to help you realise that there are people around you that could be attacking you, and gives you just enough time to get into cover or to conceal yourself. It makes a big difference to the way that you play – it’s such a simple thing, but it has a huge impact on how playable the game is…