With Brink launching tomorrow in the US and Friday in the EU, we speak to game director and Splash Damage boss Paul Wedgwood about the challenge of making a new IP, transforming into a multi-platform studio, and what comes next.
Developed in Bromley, London by Splash Damage.
Studio behind Enemy Territory: Wolfenstein and Quake Wars: Enemy Territory.
The developer’s first console title.
Releases tomorrow in the US and on Friday in the UK for PS3, 360 and PC.
Hilariously, we are on the ‘Brink.’ After a couple of delays from the shooter’s original spring 2010 release date, Splash Damage’s Brink finally releases this week. The game is the London-based developer’s first truly original IP, following Enemy Territory releases for id FPSes Wolfenstein and Quake Wars.
In such virgin territory with a new IP – which was supposed to be going up against The Witcher II and Rockstar’s LA Noire until the release date was pushed forward recently – you’d think Splash Damage CEO Paul Wedgwood would be worried. Not a chance.
“Everything that we’re playing right now that people really enjoy playing – Mass Effect, Assassins Creed, Left 4 Dead – these were all new IPs less than three years ago, so it really isn’t something that bothers me greatly at all,” Wedgwood tells VG247.
“And in that same period you’re talking about, we’ve also had Bulletstorm come out. So I don’t think it’s really an issue for us.
“We’ve got a great publisher that knows how to handle new intellectual property.”
Brink will be Splash Damage’s first foray into a single-player experience, having focused on multiplayer in the past with Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory and Quake Wars. But to work on a story the studio needed to develop new tech, such as squad AI. Wedgwood motions through the window of the Utah press event’s hotel, and jokes about expecting a squad of skiers to attack the building.
“They wouldn’t politely go via reception and come up the stairs and all come through the front door because that’s the direction I’m looking in at the moment. They would come in through the window, through the door, through next door’s balcony. They’d out flank us. That’s the kind of stuff they’d do,” he says.
“While it’s very difficult for a traditional developer of single-player linear shooters to add multiplayer to their game, for us, it’s actually incredibly easy to add story to good multiplayer.”
“One of the big goals with Brink, in addition to the story, was to create autonomous AI that does think for itself, that makes decisions based on the same mission system that you use, whose shopping list for abilities, items, tools and gadgets is the same shopping list that you have. When you get access to big body types, they start turning up with big body types with huge mini-guns and everything else. They level with you alongside.
“The story side is actually quite an interesting one, because while it’s very difficult for a traditional developer of single-player linear shooters to add multiplayer to their game, for us, it’s actually incredibly easy to add story to good multiplayer.”
Brink is also Splash Damage’s first dip into the waters of console development; it handed off work on the PS3 and 360 versions of Quake Wars to Nerve Software and Underground Development while it constructed the PC version. Needless to say, the switch to multi-plat was difficult, but Wedgwood maintained a “platform agnostic” ethos on Brink, no matter how different development styles were for 360 and the “alien” PS3.
“The truth of it is the Xbox 360 is quite similar to a PC in terms of architecture,” he says.
“Certainly, there are things that it does better and there are things that it does worse. But in terms of developing a game for it, setting aside the needs for certification when you actually get the game ready for release, it’s largely a similar-ish experience.
On the Brink
Some trailers and videos of the game released by Bethesda, including its debut trailer from E3 two years ago.
“The PlayStation 3, for us, was just alien technology. Take the cover off and its probably organic. We decided from the beginning we’d get the PC up and running as quickly as possible for gameplay testing. Within about three months of starting we were playing multiplayer games, just deathmatch with the initial weapon loadout. Then we started playing with the basic first couple of objectives. Then as SMART came in, we started playing with the basic vaulting, mantling, sliding under things and leaning around corners.
“Sometimes, we would play with a 360 controller connected to PC. Other times we would play with mouse and keyboard, just depending on what we felt like. But we had this very definite vision from the beginning that we would be platform agnostic.”
Not everyone’s a console player. The PC hardcore are keen on the game – which comes from a developer with roots deep in the desktop – but you’re not going to be needing Crysis-like rig for Brink. Wedgwood says he’s pretty comfortable with the PC version’s spec requirements.
“I think there are certain technology advances that we’ve made with the game’s engine itself that require a certain specification of graphics card, processor or amount of memory. And that kind of thing is largely unavoidable,” he said.
“We were, I think, very responsible with Enemy Territory: Quake Wars for the PC, to make sure the spec had barely moved on from the Quake 4 minimum system spec from two or three years before.
“Obviously, with Brink, it has a higher system requirement. Its not id Tech 4; it’s moved on by three years and the stuff we’re doing graphically with visual fidelity, with gameplay fidelity, with networking, those things wouldn’t have worked on that previous platforms of PCs. But I am pretty comfortable with the spec that we’ve ended up selecting.”
Technicalities aside, though, gameplay will determine Brink’s fate. The shooter stinks of teamplay thanks to Splash Damage’s history. Wedgwood insists co-operation is primary driver for Brink, comparing it to something that he says he’s not even “remotely” a fan of: good ol’ football.
“Think about football. Fundamentally, there shouldn’t be any really difference between the game you play in the car-park next to your house with your mates – jumpers for goalposts – and the game that takes place in a stadium,” he says.
“At times, depending on your age, the car park thing can be really immersive. You can forgive the scraped knees and everything else. When you’re older, the stadium thing becomes the really immersive idea. But the basic thing that makes it fun is just the ruleset, and the football, and the physics of the football and the physics of the players and their abilities and their realistic constraints.
“Brink is a game that is more like chess than it is like drafts, which is a reasonable thing to say about the game if you’re to compare it with other shooters. In doing so, its really taking the FPS genre closer to that kind of stadium feel.
“Football is a complex game. It has a complex set of rules, with many people still failing to understand the offside rule. But when you see a crowd of spectators react to footballers in such a tribal way, you realise that same buzz of satisfaction that we got as clan players in 1997, 1998 and 1999 when we were playing Quake 1: Team Fortress, when we were playing in opposing clans, that buzz that you got when you worked out all your plays before you went online and then that plan that came together, it was just absolutely breathtaking.”
Its something that Wedgwood has seen in events all around the world, from PAX and QuakeCon to Eurogamer Expo and gamescom.
“In almost every single game they played, in the final minute of the game they were on the final objective and it went one way or the other, based on who took the sample at Container City. This is 16 strangers coordinating together to complete a list of incredibly complex tactical goals that would have taken us as a clan three days of planning to figure out. And yet, here we are with 16 strangers with VOIP turned off, relying only on our automated communications system in the game, and we had them cheering at the end of matches.
“And they’re not cheering because our game is brilliant; they’re cheering the experience of collaborating with each other. I think that’s brilliant.”
For a new IP like Brink, you would think that an open beta would be needed to gauge reaction. Not quite. Splash Damage held a secretive beta test known as “Project Ishmael” on PSN so it could fine-tune the game and balance out any issues. Wedgwood says the beta didn’t go open because because it was just that: a beta.
“There was a fine amount of testing we needed to do at the time, which was quite specific to balance. We were able to get 3,000 people through the closed beta,” he says.
“Through the closed beta, we could send out a version of the game where it wasn’t a demo, and it wasn’t going to be considered a demo. It wouldn’t be judged as being, ‘Hey, this is what the game’s going to be like when it’s released.’
“In a public beta, people would think we were idiots for some of the things we tried. And its good to know with a closed beta test that these people have signed up through PSN specifically to have the experience of trying out beta games, and they know what exactly they’re getting themselves into, that whatever we send them may unexpectedly turn their console off.”
After testing and several delays, Brink’s out tomorrow in the US. Where does Splash Damage go from here? Brink DLC? Wedgwood wouldn’t comment, insisting that any DLC details will be dropped by Bethesda “when the time is right.”
But what’s beyond Brink itself?
“As a company, we used to just have a single team all the time. About a year ago, we started having a pre-production team as well, just to throw crazy ideas around, work on something for three months and then do something else,” says Wedgwood.
“And those guys are still doing their thing and having fun, but the focus of the Brink team is exclusively on Brink and it’s the only thing we’re doing. Until that’s kind of done and we’re happy and everything, we’re just not ready to talk about anything else at this point.”
Brink releases tomorrow in the US and Friday in the UK for PS3, 360 and PC.