Richard Ham: Brink’s Brave New World
Sick of Modern Warfare? Bored of Halo? Splash Damage is here to shake things up with Brink, its ambitious new direction for online shooters. games™ talks to creative director Richard Ham about making the future a pleasant place to play.
Another issue facing multiplayer games is the gulf in skill between the more experienced players and novices, and how alienating that can be for the latter. How did you approach this with Brink?
There’s a couple of ways we address this. One is via ranks. As you level up and earn more and more special abilities, you’ll find that when you play online, you’re playing against other players who have earned similar abilities. When you first start playing, you’ll never have to go up against some godly player who’s unlocked tons of special skills… the playing field will be balanced.
The other great balancer in Brink is that there’s so much a player can do in our matches. This is not a simple capture-the-flag game, or territory-hold game. At any given time, there are lots of different activities and objectives you can set for yourself, and as such, no matter how good your opponents are, you should usually be able to find a way to help out and feel good about your contribution to the team. For instance, if you find you’re dying a lot when you go and try to defend the core objective, you can step away from that and instead capture a command post that will give your entire team a boost. Or go find some hidden intelligence and deliver it to your base, again giving big bonuses to your entire team. Or just focus on staying out of the line of fire and providing support for other players who are knee-deep in the action. Keep them full of ammo, equipment, or health, for instance.
I’ve also read that a lot of attention is being paid to ways of avoiding the more unpleasant side of the experience of playing multiplayer games – homophobia, racism, and so on. Can you tell me a little about what you have planned?
VoiP will be turned off by default – you will never hear the voice of anyone not on your friends list while playing Brink so if you hear some nasty stuff thrown your way, you need to find new friends.
Of course, on the surface this looks like a potential problem because a major line of communication is cut off between players, but that’s where our auto-chatter system comes in. We’re working hard to identify everything that good teammates would ever want to say to each other, and the circumstances under which they’d say it, and basically adding all of these lines of dialog to the game as things that happen automatically. So players won’t have to worry about shouting “enemy spotted”, or “I’m out of ammo”, or “I’m on my way, hold on!”, because the game will do all of this automatically for you based on what objectives they set for themselves.
There’s other stuff as well: having friendly fire off by default, having strong anti-spawn camping measures, etc. And it’s important to mention that if players don’t like some of these measures, they can always turn them off by setting up special server settings. When they change away from the normal rules, they’ll effectively be creating what we call “hardcore” matches, where there’s more of a traditional “old school” feel to gameplay. So hopefully everyone’s needs are being catered to.
One of the unique features in Brink is the S.M.A.R.T. system. What motivated you to include it? Is that approach to movement something you’ve wanted to see in shooters in the past?
We have seen it in some cases. Specifically, the first game I was ever lead designer on (SyphonFilter, for the original Playstation) allowed players to climb on just about anything, all with the simplicity of a single button. It’s always struck me as weird that ever since then, games haven’t really tried to build on this approach; that is, not until Assassin’s Creed came out.
The S.M.A.R.T. system is reminiscent of the movement in Mirror’s Edge, only more streamlined and simpler to use. Are you concerned that it might attract the ire of those put-off by “dumbed down” gameplay? Are there any advantages to not using it?
A lot of people draw parallels to Mirror’s Edge since Brink is an FPS, but our SMART system is really more closely related to what Ubisoft did in Assassin’s Creed. There, they were trying to make the acrobatic gameplay of Prince of Persia more accessible to a broader audience, and we’re trying to do the same thing with SMART. Since we’re a shooter first and foremost, we really want players to be focusing on the shooting, not on the moving around. So SMART basically just takes care of complex movement for you. You want to scramble up that wall to chase after that guy who’s escaping? Just hold the button down and run towards the wall. You want to slide under the table and surprise the enemy? Just run towards the table and hold the button.
But we recognize that for a lot of players, this kind of streamlining is a bad thing, and they don’t want their hands held–they want to do the heavy lifting themselves. So we definitely support that; there’s still fully functioning jump, crouch, and sprint keys, and the combination of these three plus your movement can perform all the same moves that just holding down the SMART button does. And, if you do it yourself and your timing is spot on, you’ll find that you can actually complete acrobatic actions a little bit more efficiently than those players who rely on SMART. So for those that want to master it, doing the moves yourself can be a worthwhile pursuit.