Sections

Splash Damage boss on Brink, PS3 and “cocks”

Wednesday, 9th September 2009 08:56 GMT By Patrick Garratt

brink3

Interview by Nathan Grayson.

Splash Damage’s Paul Wedgwood is living the dream. The UK developer’s working on a massive shooter project for Bethesda in a new, wholly-created IP in Brink, and has been given the opportunity to cherry-pick some of the biggest names in game-making to do so (“Our lead character artist is the guy who created Shepard in Mass Effect”). He’s a lucky guy.

But you make your own luck. Paul’s becoming more visible now the game’s approaching its early 2010 launch. VG247′s Nathan Grayson caught up with the Brit in Texas recently and manage to make him say “cocks”. No lie. Get the full chat after the break.

VG247: Why name the game Brink, of all things? It always reminds me of that Disney movie. And it always reminds Google of that Disney movie as well.

Paul Wedgwood: [Laughs]. You know, the reason I love the name “Brink” is because – well, the literal definition of the term is “the edge of a precipice.” So it has good connotations in that sense. But actually, the definition that comes to mind for most people is “the brink of disaster.” Because what Brink really means is that critical moment just prior to catastrophe or success. And so that works really well. I think that the Ark itself, as an artificial city floating at sea – because it exists apart from the rest of the world – it is on the brink of a civil war, so it’s kind of the perfect description of what it is.

You’re launching in the spring of 2010. Now, thanks to numerous delays, so is everyone else. What does Brink have to offer in the face of such stiff competition? How do you think Brink will fare against games like BioShock 2 and Activision’s Singularity?

Paul Wedgwood: We try to concern ourselves with what it is that we’re making – that we’re making something that we would really want to play. Because we believe our tastes as gamers are generally in alignment with what everybody else enjoys. We generally agree with review scores and things like that.

As far as Brink is concerned, when we came back from E3, we were just buzzing. We got 30 nominations for awards – multiple Best Game of Show (as a hands-off presentation!). Multiple Best New IP – you know, tons of favorable previews. And we feel that we’ve made the right choice. But our hard work isn’t over. The final nine months of a videogame – done properly – are entirely consuming, and that’s exactly what they are for our team.

But also, we’ve got a bunch of great guys at the helm. I mean, Richard Ham, our creative director co-created Syphon Filter. He was lead game designer on Fable II. Olivier Leonardi , our art director, is the art director behind Rainbow Six: Vegas and Prince of Persia. Our lead level designer is the lead level designer from Killzone 2. Our lead character artist is the guy who created Shepard in Mass Effect. Even our lead programmer was the lead programmer behind Heavenly Sword. So across the entire company, we just have really good guys who are really focused on making multiplatform triple-A games as best as they can.

Sort of an all-star team?

Paul Wedgwood: Yeah, but luckily for us – in the studio – there’s absolutely no sense of arrogance or anything like that. Everybody’s really just cool – kind of gets on with it. I think right now, morale’s at an all-time high in terms of where we are and how much we’ve matured as a studio. And Richard and I used to have such massive arguments, going back, like, seven or eight years. I’d be like, “Get your coat! You’re fired!” and all this stuff. We were just so immature. You know, we’ve just grown up as a studio.

I think that our taste for really compelling online shooters hasn’t changed. They’ve just become more sophisticated.

Brink is your first game that’s really being developed with consoles in mind. So, status report: have you had any trouble developing for either console?

Paul Wedgwood: Well, we identified pretty early on that the PS3 was going to be the biggest challenge for us, because we were a PC studio. And more than that, we were known as being a hardcore multiplayer shooter PC studio. I mean, Richard and I literally met each other because I was in clan Fleetwood and he was in clan Earthquake back in 1997. We fought each other in clan matches. That’s how we know each other.

So, looking at the console, we knew how to make a good, solid shooter. We understood netcode and physics. We knew what the mistakes were that we made with Quake Wars. We knew fine timing, because we were obsessed with mouse latency. And when you know what the hertz rate of your mouse is, you’re probably at a very high point as a shooter fan. I still play on a Razer, an Everglide, and I balance it with weights and stuff – tape things to the bottom to get it perfect.

But as a console player, I went out and played with some of the pro clans, in games like Halo 2 and stuff. And they just kicked my ass. Absolutely annihilated me. And I could see that that skill they had achieved on an analog controller was similar to the skill we’d achieved as mouse-and-keyboard players. But that wasn’t going to be enough of a solution. It wasn’t a task that I could simply go out and research. I had to hire people with experience. And so that’s the reason for sort of doubling the size of our studio over the course of 2008. But only by hiring people with multiplatform, triple-A resumes, people that knew exactly how to solve these problems.

In the case of the analog controller, my feeling was that, if I come into a room as a somewhat chubby, 200 hundred lb. guy, I reckon that I could still vault that table. I could run and slide across the top of it. But in the game, if it were two pixels too high, I couldn’t even jump onto it, right? If a level designer hadn’t placed the right entity there that said I could climb up and over something, I couldn’t do that either. And that was frustrating for me – not just for PCs, but for consoles as well, because then you come to consoles and you can’t lean, because there aren’t enough buttons. So we wanted a solution that just rounded out all three platforms to create one compelling interface, and that’s really what the SMART system is about.

It’s the idea that it’s not on autopilot. It’s not 1,000 entities placed telling the game what you can and can’t do. It’s just simply a fluid, platformer-style interface that involves real-time traces out across the environment that figure out what you could do if you’re near something. And then an animation blend system that lets you get in and out of animation states super fast. So if I start climbing and stop, I just drop back down. If I start climbing and hit jump, I just jump back off the wall. If I start climbing and continue it through, I’ll do that, and the minute my right hand’s free, I’ll shoot. The minute both my hands are free, I can start reloading. If I’m stepping up, I can reload because it’s a real system; it’s not something that’s being faked. What’s nice about that is, you know in a shooter, I can’t see my feet. I can get good at jumping, though; I used to strafe-jump like a demon back in the Quake I and Quake III days. But that’s a super hardcore skill that really fundamentally relies on exploiting the game.

And I think that with Brink, we have a system that, instead of punishing you for not being good at our interface, rewards you for your tactical and combat skills – which is a much better thing to be doing with players, I think.

Traditionally, you’ve developed games around existing IPs. Is it sort of scary working with a new IP, especially considering how competitive the shooter market has become?

Paul Wedgwood: It’s certainly a huge challenge. I think that we were comfortable at first because we knew we had a setting that was unique, that was different from what other people were doing.

But what sets bring apart as well is the art style. It has a very distinct look. To achieve that, we hired Olivier. And he’s just obsessed with every inch of the look of the game, and how he wanted that to be represented. And he works in tandem with our senior game designer and writer, Ed Stern. Ed believes in a system called “Instant Deep Context,” which mean that he writes hundreds of pages of backstory on how that container got there and what it looks like and where they got that canopy from and all this kind of stuff. Olivier directs our concept artists to then create content that isn’t just “What does it look like today,” but how did it get to look like that over the past 40 years? They did the same thing with Lord of the Rings, you know? You’ll have a monster on-screen for two seconds, but if you’re really looking, you’ll see that he has his family emblem on the button of his shirt – and we’re just taking that same approach to videogames.

In the pre-planning, pre-production stage, being so obsessed with environments that they tell their own story – then, when you get to the point when the game is released, you don’t have to have that massive exposition by somebody who takes up three minutes of your time telling you why the environments there. You can just see for yourself what it was. That’s the goal.

So I assume that in… well, you can’t really call it single-player or multiplayer. The Mode, perhaps.

Paul Wedgwood: Mingleplayer.

[Laughs] But no, I assume that the ratio of cutscenes to gameplay will be very lopsided in gameplay’s favor?

Paul Wedgwood: Yes, definitely. We don’t believe in telling you stuff just to flex our narrative muscles. That’s not the idea of the game. It is a game that has a strong narrative structure. And it has branching narratives through the game. You can play through the entire games as resistance or security, and witness their different sides of the story as you play through.

But we know that after you’ve been through the story once – that first playthrough – and you want to play co-op, you’re less interested [in the story], so we allow you to skip cinematics while you’re friend is watching them for the first time if it’s his first time through the game. Meanwhile, you go straight to configuring your character and doing all those things you would normally do in a multiplayer or cooperative match. So it ends up working very fluidly. We have full drop-in and drop-out support for up to seven people to join you while playing.

Your whole story setup kind of reminds me of how Left 4 Dead did things. Levels ran in straight, fairly linear paths – things like that. And a lot of people have complained that the game’s sort of on the short side, that you play for about a week and then move on to a different game. How does Brink plan to avoid this pitfall?

Paul Wedgwood: Well, I can’t speak for Left 4 Dead. But, what I would say for Brink is that, because you take on a combat role that supports your preferred playing style. So say you’re playing an operative, sneaking around behind enemy lines, disguising yourself as the enemy, interrogating enemy players to generate additional missions for your team. Well, that’s just nothing like playing an engineer, deploying defense turrets, planting landmines, defending a command post against evil enemy operatives.

The way our game works is that we have a mission director that we call the Squad Commander. And what happens is that, at any point in the game, when you bring up your objective wheel, you don’t have to go somewhere and use it. You can just bring it straight up at any point you like. The Squad Commander floods out that mission wheel with different objectives that you can use, and each one of those objectives can take you on a completely different path. And they will be different types of paths: interrogation, hacking, opening a security gate, capturing a command post, assassination, disabling enemy defense turrets. You take [a mission] and it’ll give you an arrow that tells you exactly where to go, what to do there, and what your reward will be for success. As you play through the maps, if you play through as, say, an engineer, it is a completely different gameplay experience and you’ll probably find yourself taking different routes through the map and shoring up your defenses in different locations than an operative.

And second, you can choose your body type. So if you’re a big guy, you’re a meat shield – you can take a lot of damage. You saw in the demo; you can cover and shield other players, and there’s a level of interaction. Going down a big street and taking all the damage while your skinny guys cower behind you is nothing like playing as a solider who’s trying to get an explosive charge planted on a gate.

So I think it’s the objectives. That’s what makes the real difference. And then there are the big, linear cinematic objectives that draw your whole squad through the map, like getting a robot up over a crane, and to the other side of a wall. You have a big chokepoint battle that happens there while you’re trying to get that done. And then you have these side missions that are designed to suit the way you like to play. So if you look at a game like Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, for example, even without any of that functionality – just character classes and objectives – it’s still in the top three most-played multiplayer games six years after release. It’s had 13.5 million downloads. Half-a-billion matches played online.

So I feel pretty confident that Brink, through its mixing of offline compelling gameplay and cinematic structure – but then as you get toward the end of that, you’ve got this badass you’re trying to build up that’s got tons of weapon unlocks and tons of new abilities – you can go online and start playing. It just keeps getting better and better and better.

[PR motions for us to wrap it up]

OK, so you’re saying spring 2010. Can you narrow down the release date to a particular month?

Paul Wedgwood: I can’t. Somebody online said May 18. I don’t know where [laughs]. We quite often find that retailers tell us when we’re finishing [laughs].

We’re pre-alpha, and the exact release date is something that Bethesda Softworks will decide.

One last thing. Websites like Gamasutra and Eurogamer always manage to have their interviews end with someone saying something really thought-provoking or profound. So quick! Say something smart!

Paul Wedgwood: Cocks.

Breaking news

2 Comments

Sign in to post a comment.

  1. deanimate

    Horse.

    #1 5 years ago
  2. Herlock

    I love this guys and Quake Wars on PC, cant wait!!!

    #2 5 years ago