Back in June I was on a flight to London returning home from E3 2009. We had just completed three days of non-stop, behind-closed-doors demos of Brink, to standing-room-only crowds of journalists and industry veterans. The response at the show was phenomenal and very humbling; at one point I had to ask someone not to sit between my legs while I was presenting! What really struck me more than anything was simple: "People get it, they want to play this way too, and we’re not completely mad!" Since the show, the interest in the game has continued to grow. All these ideas we’ve brought together into one game are resonating with audiences.
It’s been a fun road to get to this point.
Blurring the Lines
First up, we knew that we wanted to make a game that worked as a fantastic online competitive shooter (that appealed to our roots as hardcore shooter fanatics), but we also wanted to make an immersive and cinematic single-player experience. But, above all we wanted to create BOTH - in the same game.
So, for the first time in the history of Splash Damage, I stepped back and handed the design direction of our game over to someone else, and that someone was Richard ‘rahdo’ Ham. Richard had come to us after successfully completing Fable 2 (which we loved) but even before that, he was the lead designer on and co-creator of the Syphon Filter games - one of the most popular shooter franchises on the original PlayStation.
Richard presented us with a great set of ideas that built on our initial goal of blurring the lines between single player and multiplayer. It was through a combination of unique match making rules, branching narrative structures, rigorous anti-griefing safeguards, and robust AI, that the game would achieve this blurring effect. In the end, Brink becomes an experience that you can play online or offline, by yourself or co-operatively with friends or competitively with strangers, and get a seamless and contiguous experience as you advance your character’s skills, upgrades, and look. When Richard gets going about it, he talks so fast and waves his hands around so enthusiastically you have to fear for your life :)
Playing it SMART
It started out as a simple attempt to make a shooter that had the same kind of fluid motion you feel in a really good platformer, but when Aubrey ‘bezzy’ Hesselgren (our Technical Designer in charge of character motion, and a real life parkour practitioner) sunk his teeth into the issue, it became an even greater challenge. In the end, what he and our team put together with his "Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain" system (or SMART for short) is something we’re really excited about.
Of course, I was a bit concerned when I saw Aubrey skulking around the office basement, brandishing a real AK47 (modified to be un-shootable, of course) with a video camera taped to his head "for research purposes." But then when I saw the footage he taped at home during weekends (again, all first person with the aforementioned camera and duct tape) wherein he had his Dad repeatedly knocking him over after scrambling up 15 foot walls and doing summersaults off of trampolines, I knew he was the right man for the job. His passion and enthusiasm for kinesthetics (the "feel" of a game) has all worked out for the best, and after having spent so much time with Brink, I now find it weird playing our past shooters where my progress is constantly blocked by obstacles that I should be able to jump, vault, or climb over.
Whether using an analog controller or mouse and keyboard, Brink uses those traditional shooter controls that you’re familiar with - walk, run, jump, lean, crouch, shoot, etc. - but without several frustrating artificial constraints. As a slightly chubby 200 lb guy, I’m pretty confident I could get over a five-feet-high wall, or vault-slide over our board room table, and yet in our past shooters I’d be stumped! SMART solves that - when you indicate to the game you want to get somewhere fast by using the sprint button, it will help you mantle, vault, slide, climb, wall-jump and step-up in a really intuitive way, taking in to account at all times the direction you’re looking in. This is not an autopilot, you’re in complete control at all times and there are no canned animations that you can’t interrupt. If you point up, you’ll mantle, or look down and you’ll slide, and if you want complete manual control, you’ve got it.
One of the great things about partnering with Bethesda has been getting to work with the people who’ve made some of our favorite games of the last decade, including Oblivion and Fallout 3. Both of these games served as great inspiration for the persistent character advancement system in Brink.
First person shooters don’t traditionally allow players to have very much control over how their player looks while also advancing what he can do. In the rare case that they do, your character in single-player is distinct from those rewards you might earn online. We want to give players the freedom to advance their same in-game character, irrespective of whether playing offline or online. This is incredibly important to us because we want players to enjoy Brink for hundreds of hours. After the Resistance and Security story campaigns are over, you’ll find yourself enjoying new experiences, still earning XP and being rewarded with the next great ability, special item or cool piece of gear.
A whole new world
If someone were to ask me, "Why make a game set on a city, floating all by itself hundreds of miles out to sea, cut off from the rest of the world, whose look is inspired both by the soaring architecture of Dubai and the favela slums of Rio de Janeiro?" I’d answer, "because it will be completely unlike anything players have ever seen before!" and I’d add, "And it will be cool!" But even with a compelling story, the city still needs great art, and I’m no Art Director! :)
So we hired Olivier ‘nosebone’ Leonardi, the Art Director behind Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones and Rainbow Six Vegas, and he’s taken that idea and really ran with it. As a result, I think we’ve got a game that looks like nothing else (I hope that’s a good thing!). And our character designs, developed by our Concept Artist Laurel ‘Tully’ Austin, our Lead Character Artist Tim ’spacemonkey’ Appleby (the man behind the lead character of Mass Effect) and his team, stand out too!
Olivier and I didn’t all see eye-to-eye at first, and heading to E3, ready to show the world the look of our game for the first time, I was still a little nervous. Would players like our stylistic direction? Was it okay to be different? Did everyone just want realistic art? I’m happy to say, my fears were completely unfounded as Brink’s unique look appears to be a success and one of our strongest features, and of course, Olivier was right all along! In the coming months, you can look forward to Olivier talking more about the inspiration for his designs.
If you watch this space in the near future, I’ll be asking other members of the team to bring you new and exclusive info about the game. We have a great team working day in and day out to create what we hope everyone will find to be a unique and really fun experience.
But for now, I’ll just say that when I think about how successful E3 was, and how excited everyone was to get their first look at Brink, it was all I could do to bite my tongue at the show and not spill the beans about every cool and special feature we’ve got planned. The same is true for this diary - and I hope I’ve wetted your appetite for more details on the game.
Do let us know what you want to hear about in the next entry. We know that no matter how much love and sweat we pour into this game, it won’t be a success unless we keep you in mind while we’re burning the midnight oil.
Well that’s the end of my first diary entry for Brink. I’m here for id Software’s QuakeCon 2009 - the ninth year I’ve attended! And I can’t wait to give the first ever public demo to all the attendees!