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A Missive From The End Of Genre: How Brink Works
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A Missive From The End Of Genre: How Brink Works

April 25, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

The Squad Commander

The chief gameplay element that serves to bridge the gap between single player and multiplayer FPS experiences is the Squad Commander, an AI routine that generates objectives for individual players based on their physical location on the map and current victory conditions. A radial menu displays potential objectives and experience values relative to the overall contribution to victory which fulfilling that objective represents. The Squad Commander is meant to elicit the tight, coordinated gameplay that veteran competitive FPS gamers take for granted as a prerequisite for success.

It is also used as method to eliminate the necessity of voice communication between random groups of players. "We don't want all the traditional problems that get people to stop playing multiplayer like being called terrible names. We want to eliminate all the bad stuff and just leave the good stuff. So one of the things we have to do is have VOIP off by default so that no one can ever call you, I'll just say 'asshole,' but as you know they'll call you much worse things."

Ham explained how players can form Fire Teams to turn voice communications back on. How, then, does the Squad Commander play into the dynamic of a tight group of friends, organized into Fire Teams, who are used to playing multiplayer, competitive shooters together and giving out the orders themselves?

"We've found in those sorts of situations the Squad Commander takes a back seat to players communicating directly, which is totally fine with us," Ham said. "The Commander is primarily a tool to help coordinate strangers who may not be able to work together effectively.

"But once you've reached that level of socialness with others in Brink, you can get everything you need from them directly, and in some cases, the HUD." This makes it sound like the FPS audiences who value multiplayer experiences first and foremost have little to fear in the way of interference from a major design element intended primarily to serve their singleplayer-campaign-favoring counterparts.

The mission intros and cutscenes might seem like a potential annoyance to multiplayer-centric shooter fans, but they mask the matchmaking processes which keep the game flowing smoothly. "You and seven people [playing as] Security just lost. This other team on Resistance, they just won. That means if you look at it from their perspective, they get to move on to the next mission, the next chapter of their story, but you guys need to try again to win the mission so you can move forward in that traditional, narrative, single-player style.

"When you get to the end of the level and everybody's watching the final cutscene that wraps it up and explains what happens, we are already invisibly doing matchmaking for you and everybody on your team, to try and find another server out there on Xbox Live or PSN or in Steam, that just started up [the mission you need to repeat] and has spaces for you on the Security team.

"And when you try again, unbeknownst to you, you're now moved to a completely new server where the system is set up exactly for what you need to keep on playing the story. And that's really the trick that makes the single player/multiplayer hybrid work. Really clever matchmaking."

The AI Squad Commander can be ignored by tight multiplayer teams, and the narrative structure, from a multiplayer veteran's point of view, simply serves to eliminate the team assignments and other pre-match activities which otherwise take place on static loading screens. Therefore, the question of Brink's success in bridging the gap between single player and multiplayer FPS experiences would seem to lie not in how well multiplayer-centric audiences take to the title, but how well the campaign-preferring audiences accept Brink's disjointed narrative structure and relative lack of characters.

Differences in Perspective

It's impossible to make even an educated guess as to their reaction, especially without details as to the storyline's ending and how the two campaigns relate to one another, but Splash Damage has tried to capitalize on that narrative structure as a tool for conveying the game's theme. "For almost all the missions, when you see it from one side or the other, it is a radical, night-and-day difference as to the motive for what you've gone to fight for," Ham said.

"Conflicts exist in our lives because people don't see things from the other point of view. People only see it from their own myopic vision. And that's what's happening to you when you're playing through this storyline. You're only starting one side of the story, and when you get the other side of the story you're like 'Wow. It's not that sample. It's not as black and white as I thought it is.' There are shades of grey. There are misunderstandings here. There's a bigger picture that is really the cause of all this conflict." Perhaps that juxtaposition of motivations and whatever twists it provides will be refreshing for shooter campaign fans used to good-and-evil dichotomies for the most part.

I'm reminded of one of the last things Ken Levine told me when I asked for his thoughts on this question of a divide between the two audiences. "I think the problem is that when you're a filmmaker, and you're going to make a romantic comedy, you don't also have to include an action movie in your romantic comedy necessarily, and you don't need to have both those skill sets," he said. "When you're a game developer, quite often you're asked to expect to have both these very different skill sets, which are to make a really compelling single player experience and a really compelling multiplayer experience in the same package."

Levine was referring to creating two separate halves of a single package. What Splash Damage is trying to do is erase the distinction. Genre classification has already been breaking down for years, but if Richard Ham and the rest of Splash Damage can pull off the creation of a first person shooter which equally satisfies campaign-minded and competitive-leaning FPS audiences, then rather than ending genres, they might just be creating an entirely new one.

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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