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Thinking Brink: Splash Damage's Console Evolution

July 31, 2009 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next
 

[UK-based Quake Wars developer Splash Damage is making a larger play onto consoles with the Bethesda-published, Brink, which tries something fairly unique -- completely seamless transitions between singleplayer, multiplayer and co-op while playing. Gamasutra talks to senior game designer Edward Stern about the company's plans and philosophy.]

In the last few years, publisher/developer Bethesda Softworks has become a major gaming concern -- whether through the commercial and critical success of games like Fallout 3, or via its parent company acquiring id Software.

One way in which the publisher is gaining more exposure and building excitement is by working with external developers to create games. One such game is Brink, from acclaimed UK-based developer Splash Damage (Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars). The team, with a strong PC background -- having begun as modders -- seeks, with Brink, to elevate the art of multiplayer through some interesting new tactics.

In this in-depth interview, Gamasutra speaks to Edward Stern, senior game designer at Splash Damage, about why the developers feel strongly about this topic, how they intend to go about it, and about what steps must be taken to bring a team with strong PC heritage into the age of console dominance.

Chris Remo: It looks like the main hook of Brink is that you're attempting to do away with the traditional concept of separate modes for single-player, multiplayer, and co-op.

Edward Stern: Yeah. It's ridiculous. It's one of those things where you think, "Up to this, why do we put up with it? Why are multiplayer gamers a second-class citizen?"

It's just inane. You get games shipping with separate executables, a completely different experience, sometimes a different control scheme. Why would you ever do that? It's crazy now. There's no reason to do that. It seems ludicrous that we've got this notion of completely separate online, offline, single-player, multiplayer. That's in the past. There's no reason to put up with that anymore.

There are really, really good games -- we play them a lot -- where you do just move through on a rail, and that's really satisfying, but the same guy comes out the same doorway every single time. There's not much reason to replay that except to make it harder or do a time trial and stuff.

Obviously, from a PC hardcore FPS background, we know both the best and worst time you can have playing a game is online. It can be astonishing four-dimensional chess. It can be absolutely the best thing you could be doing. It could be tactical and brilliant, or it can be just an exercise in soul-crushing frustration and homophobic, racist, misogynist abuse as well.

Now, which one of these things are we trying to get gamers into? [laughs] We're trying to get all the good stuff, and that's really our legacy as a studio. All we've ever done is take the stuff we know is great, add new elements, and try to draw new gamers in.

It is ridiculous that 70 percent of next generation console owners aren't even aware that you can connect those machines to the internet, let alone have done so. Or maybe they tried it, and their first experience wasn't a positive one. So, promise number one: the only voices you will hear in Brink are the game NPCs and your buddies. Just because you've got a voice, there's no reason to default it to on. That was not a good idea.

You could boot up Brink and see that one of your buddies is online. As far as he's concerned, he's playing solo, but you can join him and we'll swap out one of the AI players. And the AI players are really good. We proved that with our last game, [Enemy Territory: Quake Wars]. Quite often, we'd get hardcore journalists in, and they wouldn't realize they were playing bots. Generally it's the human players that fail... what's that test?

CR: The Turing Test?

ES: Exactly. We saw a write-up of the Brink demonstration saying, "Yeah, some of the AI doesn't seem quite there" -- but it was the human players in the back of the room.

And it's been really weird for us to hear people saying, "Wow, four-player co-op is really good." We know! We've been trying to tell you guys. But we've got eight-player co-op.

Take someone who doesn't think of themselves as a multiplayer gamer at all. We're monitoring everything they're doing solo, and we'll say, "Just try this online, try this competitively. We will bribe you with double the XP." It's all about reward.

This is almost more carrot than stick all the way through. We want you to play the game the way you want. It's all about giving the player the choice to do stuff. One of the biggest choices is body type. How do you want to play the game? All of the stuff that you've unlocked -- the facial scars and the tattoos and all that -- stays with you, whether you're security or resistance.

CR: Does that affect gameplay in any way?

ES: No, those are purely cosmetic. But there are certainly unlocks that do very much affect it. The stuff that really affects gameplay is body type. When you're learning a game, you might say, "I don't really know the levels that well. I'm just going to shoot stuff. I haven't learned this properly." So, take a heavy body type. You've got more health, you've got access to heavier weapons. There's not as much mobility, not as much agility. You can't make the more extreme kind of jumps and grapples.

Or you're thinking, "No, I know these routes. I'm going to go light. I'm going to have less access to heavy weapons, I'm going to have less health, but I'm going to be able to make bigger jumps. I'm going to be able to get up to high places."

And we've got four classes as well: soldier, engineer, medic, operative. It's eight versus eight -- it's bits of linear objective with one team attacking, one team defending. We've spent a lot of time over the years polishing this kind of stuff. That's the sweet spot for us.

We could have enormous player numbers, but you just tend to die. You never live very long. With Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, we had enormous servers. It was fun once, but it doesn't give the most fun for the most players most of the time.


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