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Brink Q&A w/ Creative Director, Richard Ham – Part 1

31 Mar 2011  by   Paul Younger
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It’s always nice to play something that feels fresh, original and exciting. Brink, despite it’s first-person shooter label, is one of those games. If you haven’t already read our hands-on preview then we suggest that you do so because Brink is one of our most anticipated games of the year and one we believe should be on everyone’s radar.
As a result, we posed a few questions to Richard Ham, Brink’s Creative Director, with a view to gaining a bit more inisght into the world, the gameplay and the inspiration behind Brink.
Mr Ham is a bit of a talker so, in the interest of your time and our page space, we’ve cut this Q&A into two. Look out for the second part tomorrow.
IncGamers: Where did the inspiration for ‘The Ark’ come from?
RH: It was a combination of factors, but it really started almost a decade ago, when Paul Wedgwood, the founder of Splash Damage, one day mentioned off-hand “wouldn’t an arcology be a great place for a shooter?”  And everyone said “yeah, that’d be nice… can we get back to Wolfenstein Enemy Territory now?”  “Right, yes, back to it” said Paul, and the idea was dropped. 
Flash forward many years later, and Splash is starting to think about the setting for its first wholly original IP, and the idea comes up again.  And this time, we don’t put it on a shelf, but start studying it, and thinking about how it would work, and researching what an arcology is (we weren’t sure originally if it was just a word Paul made up!), and all of that led to the Ark, our setting for Brink.

IG: Brink is very much focused on co-operative gameplay. How difficult is it to create an experience that’s rewarding for players playing in multiplayer as well as those that opt to play singleplayer alongside A.I teammates?
RH: I think with your average multiplayer style game, it would be impossible.  But fortunately, Splash Damage has never been in the business of making fancier and fancier variations of deathmatch.  Instead, our “Enemy Territory” style gameplay has always taken the best of single player, objective-driven gaming and meshed it with fantastic, infinitely dynamic multiplayer gaming.  So with Brink, it was just a natural progression of our last 10 years of development to finally bridge the gap between solo, co-op, and multiplayer once and for all.
IG: With so many well established franchises in the FPS genre are you at all nervous about introducing a completely new IP into the market?
RH: Any developer will admit that they’re nervous when they put any game on the market, whether it’s a sequel or something completely new.  We just keep reminding ourselves that once upon a time, today’s big shooter franchises were completely new IPs that nobody had heard of.  It’s easy to forget that players reward bold innovation, provided that it’s really good. We’ve been refining our brand of objective-driven gameplay for nearly 10 years now, and we’re looking forward to bringing it to a new generation of gamers with Brink.

IG: There’s a lot going on in Brink. How have you gone about making sure players don’t feel overwhelmed upon loading it up for the first time? 
RH: There’s quite a few things we’ve put in to ease the transition into our game.  But what we didn’t want to do was get in the way of the player experience, or force unwanted and unwieldy tutorials down anyone’s throat.
So, for example, when you first start Brink and create your first character, before the main storyline starts, we pause for a moment and ask the player “Hey there, would you be interested in watching a training video introducing you to the concepts of Brink?  Not only could this info save your life, but we’ll also give you 1000xp for watching it, which is enough to level up immediately!” 
And if they say yes, they’ve got a nice video that explains all the basics, and we believe players will be more invested in absorbing the lessons it teaches because we didn’t force anyone to watch it.  We made it all about player choice.
Another example is our challenges.  Again, most games force you to go through some mandatory tutorial that teaches you everything about the game, when you just want to play the game.  Players don’t buy games to study, they buy games to play!  So in Brink, we’ve taken those tutorials and re-molded them into fun mini-games, with a variety of challenges (races, king of the hill, etc.), and we simply point out to players, “Why don’t you give this challenge a try?  It’ll be quick, fun, and if you win, we’ll give you two new guns and two new gun attachments!” 
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So we think where most people would groan at the notion of a tutorial, in Brink they’ll actually have fun, and be rewarded for their time, making the lessons of the game stick in their minds better. In fact, every single weapon and attachment unlock in the game is earned through beating challenges. We don’t force you to play for a thousand hours before you get to put a scope on your rifle. You can quickly unlock everything, before you ever step foot into the main campaigns, by mastering all the challenges if you like.  And if you do that, there’s the added benefit of you now being very good at playing the game!
And just as importantly, we strive to make sure all the information the player needs is available at all times.  We don’t believe that it’s wise to “hide” elements of the game from players, and decide for them what they need to know. For instance, a lot of games will hide the player’s life meter when he’s not actively taking damage. We think this is not a good idea, because how can we be 100% sure when players will want to check their life meters? If we ever get it wrong, we’ve frustrated them, and for no good reason.
Now, this can create a HUD that’s a bit “busy” by today’s modern standards, but then, Brink has a lot more going on than other modern shooters, so we feel that a well informed player is a better teammate.  It’s also important to bear in mind, that if you’re watching video of someone else playing, the HUD may seem a bit much, but if you’re actually playing, all of that stuff just kind of fades into the background, always there if you need it, and you can just focus on what’s in front of your gun.
By the same token, we never want players to be confused, even for a nano-second, about who to shoot at, because that’s a real life or death decision not only for the player, but for his entire team. So when enemies are really far away from the player, and are in danger of getting lost in the background, or mistaken for friendlies, we start to introduce a red glow on them (called “rim lighting”) to ensure that there’s never any doubt in the character’s mind about who he should be shooting at. But the closer the enemies get, the more we tone it down, and eventually eliminate, the rim lighting, because once they’re up close and not represented by 10 little pixels, you can rely on their unique look and customization to spot who to kill. So even our art style plays into educating the player.

IG: The visual style is pleasingly fresh and original.  Did this come about organically or did you purposefully set out to create something different from the norm?
RH: When Olivier Leonardi joined the team as our new Art Director after his successful stint at UbiSoft overseeing tons of games like Rainbow Six: Vegas, Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones, Shawn White Snowboarding and plenty more, he said from day one that it was his team’s goal to ensure that every screenshot released of Brink could not be mistaken for any other game. And he brought a range of influences to create an entire new fusion of looks for the game. 
You can see a lot of his Rainbow Six work in the Security forces, and you can see some of his Shawn White influences in the Resistance, for instance.  And tying it all together is a modern art approach called hyperrealism, which creates bold and striking elements that really make characters pop.
Pop back tomorrow to check out part two. Our hands-on preview of Brink can be found here.

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