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On The Brink Of Change
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On The Brink Of Change

May 10, 2011 Article Start Page 1 of 5 Next

[Splash Damage CEO Paul Wedgewood discusses the creative drive behind Brink and explains its execution -- sharing the secrets of the team's drive to take the best elements of multiplayer cooperative team shooters and make them work for today's console gamers.]

Splash Damage was originally founded by multiplayer-focused mod makers, and has been trying to find a way to turn the tight, cooperative gameplay of hardcore PC games of the '90s into polished, appealing, accessible experience for the console shooter fans of today.

The company's last attempt was Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, which featured a great deal of interesting design aimed at making team play simpler and more accessible for the player while maintaining the integrity of what it had to offer. However, that game failed to reach its potential with console gamers.

Now, the team is back with a more ambitious project with the online shooter Brink. Having hired developers who have strong backgrounds in the single player space and blended them with more recruits from the PC mod scene, the the studio blends these two sensibilities in the game. It's a single and multiplayer game wrapped into one; it's a unique experience with the DNA of a multiplayer-focused shooter.

In this interview, Splash Damage CEO Paul Wedgewood explains the thought processes behind Brink, and how the team worked to realize them in a way that would be polished and enjoyable for today's console shooter fans.

He talks about what's wrong with today's genre classifications, and also dives into how creating an experience that encourages good behavior in players will benefit the game's audience.

The big, first thing that we heard about this game was the intent to make single-player and multiplayer bleed seamlessly in and out of one another. The mission I played -- and I don't know how representative this is of the game -- is a team-based mission. I can see how easily people could drop in and out of it in co-op. Is that essentially how the campaign runs?

Paul Wedgewood: I suppose, to a degree. Without an internet connection, you can play through the entire game like a traditional linear single-player shooter. You don't ever have to complete any objectives; the AI will do it for you. You can just run and gun and watch the cinematics and pay attention to the story and treat it that way.

But if you want to, you can start leveling up and buying new abilities and tools and items and gadgets, playing through the challenges and unlocking loads of weapons and weapon modifications, upgrading your outfit and then playing cooperatively because you've got something to show off and play it that way.

Generally, I think when people play cooperatively they don't tend to play the whole game from start to finish. They'll play this mission or that mission -- their favorite moments from the game.

For us, one really important thing was that the story had to work if you play it linearly all the way through, if you play any single mission on its own, if you play the missions completely out of order, and if you completely ignore them; the environment should still have an obvious and apparent back story and be unique and distinct from every other mission such that, as the map's loading, it acts as a mnemonic that immediately reminds you what you had fun doing the last time you played because that might be two or three weeks ago.

When Container City loads, nothing else looks like Container City; you're like, "Oh! This is the map where I blew up the gate and I did this, and I know this wicked camping spot that I go to and then I camped their command post!"

Those player stories that emerge in an almost metatextual postmodernist way from that arching narrative into player stories -- that comes from (I know it's un-vogue to call it that) emergent gameplay. It's not repeatable. Your game is never going to be anything like my game. It doesn't matter if we play the same combat roles at the same times on the same levels; we're going to have different experiences.

It's that combination of fixed, reliable, linear objectives that are always the same and then all of those secondary objectives that change depending upon what everyone else is doing and the waves of combat and the choke points and how that kind of tug-of-war gameplay experience exists, which is why games like American football and soccer are so watchable by spectators. It's the same field; it's the same rules every single time they play, but no game you watch is ever the same.

The thing that struck me is that it feels like a multiplayer game when you're playing the single player game -- at least the level I did.

PW: Sure; if we put you on a minecart and play the same cinematics, it would feel more like a traditional single player game. But, to me, the definition of single player is simply a game that you can have fun playing on your own. It's the important thing that defines single-player gaming. To be single player doesn't mean you have to look and feel and breathe like every other linear, single player shooter.

I think we're quite proud of the fact that our investment is in interactivity and emergent gameplay, not in orchestrated, scripted, canned cinematics that you have no impact on and can't change and always happen and occur in exactly the same way. That type of gaming -- which I love, and I enjoy playing single-player games of that type for that very specific experience -- cannot be taken easily into a cooperative world or a versus world because adding humans into your AI single-player game is a real challenge. It's not naturally balanced that way.

A better comparison is to think of something like a racing game. With the racing genre, you can have great fun playing on your own, and you can have great fun playing against other people. Obviously, the story mode -- the campaign mode -- is a lot lighter than a traditional story-driven game. We try to be somewhere mid-point.

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