Brink isn’t just any old first person shooter, and Splash Damage are doing all they can to get this message across. In our most recent preview we described the game as a ‘revolution’, a title that “broke down the barriers between single-player and multi-player, online and offline” and made “the likes of Modern Warfare and Killzone seem hopelessly outdated.”
We got the chance to speak to Splash Damage’s Ed Stern recently lead writer on Brink, and discussed multiplayer, drop-in/drop-out gameplay and getting rid of ‘no skill’ kills. You’ll see.
TheSixthAxis: The way you guys are going about fusing the multiplayer, single-player, co-op and PvP makes the usual way of doing things feel terribly outdated. Can you see other developers following suit with this approach?
Ed Stern: Well firstly, there doesn’t have to be only one kind of FPS; different forms suit different games. We’re just very fixed on where we see we can make improvements in giving more players more fun, more of the time.
We felt that players shouldn’t have to only choose from the same few player models, they shouldn’t have fewer customisation options, and the graphics quality shouldn’t drop when they go online. And they also shouldn’t need to quit and restart the game if their friends come online to play co-op, nor if their friends lose their connection, or have to answer a phone call, or rescue a wombat.
But implementing full drop-in/drop-out support for up to 16 co-op/MP players with that degree of customisation and background detail is really difficult! We’ve had to nerd pretty hard to make it work nicely — on PS3 and Xbox 360 and PC, with robust and reliable host migration for the consoles — so it wouldn’t surprise me if Brink is the only game that lets you do all of the above for a while.
TSA: From what I’ve seen, Brink seems to be rejecting the story-heavy approach. You have an intriguing context, the motivation for each level is laid out in a concise manner, but beyond that it seems you’ve deliberately kept things lean. Why is that? And how do you feel about heavily-scripted FPSs?
Ed: As I said, there’s no one perfect FPS. I think it’s great that the genre has so many different flavours. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a well-scripted FPS; they can be amazingly polished experiences. If you can be absolutely sure the player is looking where you want them to look, you can put them in the middle of some pretty amazing situations.
But the thing is, there’s not always a pressing need for players to replay those scenarios, other than to beat their best time, do it all with headshots, etc.[drop]The gameplay experience isn’t always enormously different. And the SP campaign sometimes inadvertently but actively misleads you about what the MP will be like, which can lead to a horrible lurch: you go from a game you’re enjoying, and good at, and beating, where everything tends to happen in front of you, to suddenly being shot in the head from every possible angle by unpredictable enemies who have as much health as you do, who don’t just fall over when you shoot them twice, who maneuver much more aggressively than AI opponents, won’t let you take cover – and often freely share their observations upon you, your playing style all over VOIP.
So, before I forget, VOIP in Brink is Friends List-only by default.
Brink is all about replay value. Our first game, Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, is eight years old and has had over half a billion matches played. We want players to not just play Brink, but replay it, over and over, in a meaningfully different way every time. But no matter how scintillating the writing and acting, there’s only so many times you’ll want to watch an intro cinematic, even if you do get to see your character as an extra in the background, their clothes, hairstyle and facial ornamentation growing ever more extravagant as the foreground characters go through their drama again and again.
And once you finish one faction storyline, you can see the same events in an entirely different light in the other storyline, and then replay those maps again in a completely new way using the abilities you’ve unlocked as you level up, perhaps as a new body type (Heavy or Light, or stay as Medium), and with the weapons and attachments you’ve unlocked while polishing your skills and tactics in the challenge levels.
TSA: We’ve seen lots of Container City and a bit of this latest map set in a Security-controlled area of the Ark. How many maps/levels will the final build have and can we expect that same dirty/clean, messy/sterile visual contrast between the two faction’s areas?
Ed: We’ve built eight districts of the Ark for the game, and each of them will feature two campaign missions for a total of sixteen. On top of that, there are four Challenge levels focusing on different aspects of Brink’s gameplay – such as freedom of movement or being a good Engineer — and teaching you to become better at them.
Completing these Challenges also unlocks new weapons and attachments like drum magazines, front grips, and red dot sights for you to use throughout the rest of the game. They also feature four-player co-op support, along with leaderboards to celebrate high scores, so there’s another aspect in addition to the “main” game there that we haven’t talked about much yet.
One of the things Brink’s setting had to provide was a wide array of map and objective ideas. The goal was that by the time you’d played through both storylines you’d have seen a representative cross-section of the various locations on the Ark, ranging from the nastiest slums through some of the original Ark infrastructure, right through to some of the Ark’s dirtier secrets.
And furthermore, within some of the individual maps, you’d get to see some front stage/backstage contrast. For instance, we show you quite a bit of the Ark’s airport: both the swanky (if completely deserted) passenger terminal, and the rather more industrial backend.