TSA Talks To Brink’s Ed Stern

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single-player and multi-player, online and offline” and made “the likes of Modern Warfare and Killzone seem hopelessly outdated.”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are going about fusing the multiplayer, single-player, co-op and PvP makes the usual way of doing things feel terribly outdated.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.

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  1. Nice read. I’m extremely excited for this, the SMART thing looks incredible.

    I’ve got a couple of questions that you might know the answer to; firstly, do you know if there’s any local multiplayer and secondly are there standard online multiplayer modes that you get in FPS’s such as TDM and CTF? I wouldn’t miss them, I’m just inquisitive.

  2. Sounds real hot, damn hot!

  3. This is one of my most anticipated games for this year, been looking forward to it a long time. I really like that they are changing the recipe and making an FPS different from the others.

  4. Great read, thanks for that. I am excited for Brink, not only because of it’s potential, stye and graphics, but also because I’ve met Ed and some of his team and they cam across as really down-to-earth, enthusiastic but sensible people which makes all the difference for me. I’m not pointing the finger *cough*David Cage*cough*Peter Molyneaux*cough* but it shows that they aren’t caught up in all the extra hype and shit that goes with a new game.

    • Hopefully they deliver.

      • Yes, hopefully. Brink has potential alright/ Just a matter of spit and polish.

  5. it does sound good, I’m really looking forward to this, I just hope they can get the online part (drop in/out)of it correct from day one. Hardly any companies seem to release a game that works on day one

  6. i wasn’t overly enamoured in the game in the first place, and the developer’s opinions about adding female player characters not being worth the effort kind of put me further off the game.

    not that much of an issue for some games admittedly, but for a game where the developers boast about the customisation options, it’s kind of galling that they neglect half the population.

    women or more options for the men, and they chose more options for the men, you have to wonder about the attitudes of these developers.

    so what with not being wowed by the game, and the no women allowed attitude of the developers and my fears that the whole first person parkour thing will make me ill like it did in mirror’s edge, i think it’s highly unlikely i’ll be buying this game.

    why do people think platforming works in first person?

    “Whether you think of yourself as Gamer-with-a-capital-G, consider yourself a hardcore PC /console gamer, don’t really identify as an online or MP shooter fan, or have never even tried going online, Brink is going to make it very easy for you to have a good time.” provided you’re a bloke?

    • Platforming does work in first person. HL2 had platforming sections, if you played it, you might remember the part with the Antlions where you had to negotiate the terrain without touching the ground. It was an amazing part of the game.

      Also, I do to an extent agree about the women, it’s a bit stupid they aren’t there. But, it does mean x2 customisation for the rest of the characters. Which is a lot, also, I hate the fact that women in games are often just hardly dressed sex objects, so i’m glad there wont be as much of that..

    • Im just trying to think.. Killzone doesnt have multplayer female characters, neither does COD. Bioshock 2 and that’s about it, isnt it?

      • There is 1 playable female character in AC Brotherhood.

      • maybe, but this is brink we’re talking about, not those games, they are trying to do something different and not just be like every other fps out there, aren’t they?

        and those games aren’t promoted with big talk about customisation.
        “We felt that players shouldn’t have to only choose from the same few player models, they shouldn’t have fewer customisation options”

        and plotwise, it makes no sense to not feature any women, if it was a prison ship or something then fair enough, but they build a floating city, and only allow men on board? no wonder there was rioting.

    • I think by ‘not worth the effort’ they mean it wouldn’t be worth the effort to add female characters, then design all the outfits and items they can wear. If they did add Female characters, they’d effectively have to double the amount of clothing within the game.

      • Not just the clothing, but movement, weapon handling and the body types/faces as well.
        It’s a lot of work for not much return I think I read somewhere.

      • i grant the clothing and body types would take more work, but nearly half of gamers now are women, you think catering to possibly half the consumer base offers little return?

        and as for movement, a new walk cycle, sure, but running wouldn’t need to use a different cycle, i don’t think there are real differences in the gait of a man or a woman when they’re running, i doubt there’s enough to need a different animation set for a female character.

        saints row 2 had a couple of dozen different walk styles, men and women, and several combat style.

        and how exactly would a woman handle a weapon differently than a man?
        what, are they too weak to hold the gun properly?
        or maybe their little girly hands don’t fit the big men’s guns?
        or do they have to daintily hold out their pinkie finger like they’re taking tea with the queen?

        i don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect to be able to create a character that reflects myself when a game offers character creation options.

        “create any character you want” is a false claim if you can only create men.

      • Well to start, do you have to have female characters in order to cater to the female gamer population? Did Mirror’s Edge cater to females more than males? Do female game players refuse to play a game based solely on whether they can play as a female character?
        If anything it is not just females that they are not catering to as I know many men who choose a female character in the majority of the games they play.
        However, I would like to think that female or male, a gamer does not choose their games based upon character alone (if that’s the case, then the rest of the game must be pretty damn poor if that’s the most important aspect).

        Moving on though, female characters would need additional modelling for each face – just like for the male, but additional body types for each of the weights.
        Then on to animation and movement… Remember this game isn’t just about running and walking, it’s about sliding, vaulting, climbing, jumping and probably more. Unless you wanted every female to move like a guy or have clipping issues you’d need to tweak the majority of the animation, not just walking.
        Do this again depending on the different body builds. (Some will not have the full range of animation.)

        As for weapon handling, such comments can be taken as derogatory, but clearly show a lack of understanding at the very least. If a body build is different (which is often the case between men and women) then weapons tend to be held in slightly different positions – again goes back to more animation work, again multiplied by body builds.

        The multitude of clothing means more styles (female orientated, or reuse the male ones, depending on how they display clothing, but I can’t imagine it wouldn’t need work), and again tweaked for builds etc, etc.

        In short, the extra expense required to model, animate and design female characters seems like it would be much more than it would be worth doing. Sure they could be cheap and reuse all of the male assets with female faces and hair but I’ve a feeling that they made a decisions that if they couldn’t do it well, then it should be done at all.

        Would I have liked to have female characters in game? Sure.
        Will I still play and enjoy it even though it doesn’t? I damn well hope so, but if I don’t won’t be because it lacks the choice of being a female character, I know that much.

      • if you’re boasting about the customisation in you game then yeah, you should include a female option.

        maybe mirror’s edge catered more to female gamers with a woman in the lead, maybe it was the fact it didn’t revolve around shooting somebody in the head every five seconds.
        anyway, games like that and games like brink are totally different, mirror’s edge had a tightly scripted story about a specific character, much like most of the other story based games i’ve played that featured male leads., gta, RDR, assassin’s creed, numerous others.
        brink on the other hand doesn’t feature such a predefined story for the player character, they are in essence a blank slate.

        as for the body types, women and men have the same basic body structure, there are differences sure, slimmer shoulders and wider hips usually, but other than that, skeletally we’re basically all the same.
        the biggest difference you see between women and men’s gait is when they’re walking.
        there just isn’t that much difference when doing more high impact activities like running and climbing, and other activities in the game.
        i don’t think i’d mind seeing female characters using the same animation sets for running and jumping and whatever as the male characters do, because, to be honest, i don’t think there are enough differences to make a separate animation set necessary.

        as for clipping, what activities would these characters be doing that would produce clipping issues only for women?
        honestly, i’ve been thinking, and i can’t see what activities in the game would mean clipping only for women.
        well, maybe climbing over a fence depending on how you do it.

        i really want to go back to this weapon handling thing.

        derogatory? because i don’t think you have a firm grasp of anatomy?
        if you say so.

        i’d like to know what you think there is different enough about men and women’s bodies that would mean they couldn’t handle the weapons the same way.
        you’re not basing your opinion on marcus fenix and the women in doa are you? because while those two extremes would probably require the kind of work you’re talking about, however i’ve seen some of the character designs for brink and they don’t look anything like fenix, they’re kind of skinny if i recall.

        since i clearly don’t understand the differences between a man and a woman’s body how about you enlighten me as to exactly how a man would hold a gun differently than a woman.

        i’ve said before, i won’t not buy a game because it features a male lead, i have plenty of games with male leads.
        of course the thing is, those games all have prewritten characters who all have their own story in the game, not like the blank slate you get with most create a character games.

        but it does make me wonder, if this was too much work, what other parts of the game did they consider not worth the effort?

        maybe they didn’t have enough time and/or money to test for bugs properly.
        maybe they skimped on the environments.
        who knows.

        all i know is the last game i recall where a similar thing occured, that being people calling for the option for a female character in a game, at least for a game where you start with some a selection of generic player characters.
        that game was crackdown 2, they said they couldn’t add women, “it was too hard” not enough memory”, “not enough time”
        and i heard the same arguments from other users then “too much work” “new animation sets”, never saw anybody who thought women would hold a gun differently though.
        looked like they were wrong in the end, crackdown 2 ended up being one of the laziest sequels i think i’ve ever seen.

        bugs: check.
        lazy environments: check.

        in the end brink hasn’t got an extensive customisation set, it has half of one.

        oh and, don’t you play as one of the little sisters for a bit in bioshock 2? :)

      • wall-o-text tm hazelam. ^_^

  7. This has been on my watch list for ages. It only seems to get better and better as development goes on. Looking forward to it so much. Especially the SMART system, although I think it has a silly name..

  8. Nice read, really looking forward to Brink, I’m in desperate need of a good FPS, haven’t played a good one in ages.

  9. Wow, this looks damn hot. Really hyped for Brinks different take on the whole FPS genre, as the fantastic interview says ‘the fuse’. One that I’ll be picking up with friends, I need a good co-op game on my PS3, this will suit my requirements to the tier.

  10. A good friend of mine wants this and Portal 2 more than anything … my interest in either is still waiting to be ignited. This in particular, I’m more hopeful than expectant for.

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