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Interview: Brink (part two) - Splash Damage's Paul Wedgwood


Brink is downright fucking awesome. We know because we saw it at a pre-E3 Bethesda event outside Paris last week.

The demo was split into two, showing us one part of the story as Security and one as Resistance, with the game's impressive scale of customisation shown off in-between.

Needless to say, "downright fucking awesome".

After the demo was shown, we spoke to Splash Damage CEO  Paul Wedgwood. His interview took place a day after we chatted with Brink writer Ed Stern. You can get his talk here.

[Interview by Johnny Cullen]

VG247: I'm gonna start with co-op. You said at the beginning of the Q&A after the demo that you wanted to reward more players with less selfish moves. Can you explain more about that?

Paul Wedgwood: Sure. So to take an example, lets say at the start of the security tower, Richard takes the mission to plant the bomb on the conduit. If I then go into my mission, that’s when I play as a medic, when I go into my mission system, the number one thing it’s going to ask me to do is escort Jolly.

Now, if all I do is run over and stand near him and engage in combat near Richard, I’m going to start to get XP ticking into my retainer, going on just like five, five, five just because I’m near Richard and I’m doing stuff.

If I give him health and he needs it and he's the guy who's doing the primary objective, I'm going to get a bonus.

Also, if I give Richard health and he gives me health, or if someone else does, we only use one power pip each. But if I heal myself as a medic, it uses two power pips, so it's cheaper for us to heal each other and buff each others weapons and look after each other than it is to play selfishly. The notion of the mechanic is that we reward you whenever you make the game more fun for other people.

Of course, we still reward you for just general kills and stuff that you get done, but almost everything that you do in the game, any mission you take on and complete, actually does end up helping your squad in some way. And in the end, it feels like your kind of playing as part of a coordinated team, even though you could be a bunch of strangers just playing together online.

You said in the demo that you just hold the SMART button down, aim it to where you're going and Bob's your uncle. Would you feel that's sort of...

Paul Wedgwood: I know exactly what you're gonna say.

Do you feel like it's some sort of a cheap way to play?

Paul Wedgwood: No, it's not an auto-pilot. I know it looks a bit like that when you watch me play, Actually, it's a bit more like a sprint button or a jump button.

It's like a contextualized jump button that understands the environment in front of me. If I am sprinting along and I look down under something and I press the button, I'll side underneath it. If I sprint along and I look up and I press the button, I'll mantle up over the top. If I am running towards something I can vault and I hit the button, then I'll vault over the top. I still have to interact with the game and I have to give it my permission to do something.

The second thing is I'm not entering a canned animation, so you can interrupt it any time you like. If I'm climbing up a wall, and my first hand comes free, I can start shooting. My second hand comes free, I can start reloading. If I let go of the button, I just drop straight back down again; it's absolutely instant.

If I'm sprinting, and I press SMART and hit crouch and I slide, I can turn sideways and start shooting while I'm sliding. And now I can do combos I couldn't do previously, so I can sprint towards the top of the building, launch myself off the top and as I am coming down, hit SMART, hit my crouch button and absolutely land sliding, which reduces my falling damage.

If anything, for the hardcore player, it introduces a load more opportunities than you had before. It definitely isn't an auto-pilot.

At no point is it taking over from you. All we're really doing is removing some kind of artificial and frustrating constraints from the game that you'd never experience in real-life. Like, when you walked into this room you didn't fall over any of the chairs, yet in shooters, we stop... all the time... because we can't see our feet. So it seems wrong to punish people for the fact they can't see their feet and it also seems wrong to reward people just for being good at our interface.

There's been a lack of HUD in the gameplay videos. Can you play the game without most - or maybe without any - of the HUD features?

Paul Wedgwood: The HUD that we're showing at the moment is just our Alpha HUD. It's not the final HUD that will be in the shipping game, but it displays enough information for us to be able to debug the game properly, to playtest, and everything else.

The intention is that everything turns off, and it only turns on when you need to know about important information, so much of the time it will just be you and your crosshair. As and when you need to know things, they pop up. You can also go into options and you can change... components and stuff as well.

You mentioned as well in the Q&A after the demo that the AI has the same mission system as the player. Can you explain that a little bit more?

Paul Wedgwood: Imagine you kicked off the game and you weren't in the game at all, you could just be a spectator. You can actually watch the two squads just fighting against each other and trying to get missions completed and trying to get stuff done.

Let's say, for example, that I'm a soldier, and I bring up my objective wheel. It's a dynamic AI system that's actually compiling this list of missions I can do.

It takes into account my location on the battlefield, the abilities, tools and items that I am carrying in my inventory, my combat role, all of the other missions that the other people are on and the status of the map's big objectives to create a list of five or six things that I can do that's unique to that kind of location and that time and that moment in the game.

I could capture a command post, I could escort someone that's doing a really big mission, I could go over there and plant something and destroy it or I could just use it to find my way to a command post so I could get another kit and perhaps do something else.

The AI works in exactly the same way. If you're not playing medic, the team still needs to have one, so the AI's going to use that mission system to work out who needs reviving, he's gonna prioritize the squad-mates that are trying to do big objectives, then it's gonna prioritize other medics because they could help more people get back on their feet, and it's gonna prioritize other team-mates that are doing secondary missions.

They just use exactly the same priority system, the same mission system to organise themselves into a group, and the great thing is that it means if AI does nothing but simply follow the missions... Of course they're smarter than that; they know how to use other abilities, tools, items, they know which weapons are appropriate, they'll run for cover and they'll hide. When they're losing health, they'll back off and wait and they'll heal and they come back at you and attack again. If I hold them down, a whole bunch of them, they'll go round the outside and start attacking you from the side instead, so they do exactly what you kinda expect a squad to do in real-life. Which is really cool.

Awesome. You mentioned Brink was being built on the basis of id Tech 4. For a start, Brink's been built from a new engine on the basis of Tech 4, yes?

Paul Wedgwood: Yes.

Would be able to say...

Paul Wedgwood: Is it completely a new engine or is still kind of id Tech 4?

Kinda bit of both.

Paul Wedgwood: RAGE is its own game. id Tech5 is ideally suited to that, and if you've seen it, you know it's beautiful, it's absolutely beautiful. Probably one of the best-looking games that I've ever seen.

But what we wanted for Brink was to be able to take advantage of things like spar-spiral texturing that allows us to have super high-resolution textures in our environments and maps and stuff, but we’re also gonna be radically changing the way movement works, the way the networking model that works, no matter how you play: single player, multiplayer or co-op.

And it means that, in essence, it’s like you’re hosting a server the entire time; just in case you change your mind and you want to invite your friend in or something like that, you have complete control, you have to give your permission.

But because of the way that works, we knew we were gonna have to take the engine in a slightly different direction, so while we’ve kind of advanced from id Tech 4 onwards – of course id Software have done the same thing with id Tech 5 – but we’re at the point where it’s really a completely new technology, highly specialized for this game.

How long can you off the beaten path with missions that aren't connected to the main story? How long before you're brought back to the main story arc?

Paul Wedgwood: Basically, the way that it works - and we're pre-Beta at the moment; we're doing Alpha play-testing, so some of this is subject to change - but we use a system at the moment where you essentially have a set amount of time your squad is gonna attempt this next objective for. And while they're trying to complete the objective, if they're successful, imagine for example their morale is boosted, they'll now take additional time on the next objective they're working towards.

That's the time limit for getting that first big objective and the next objective done, and the game is gonna require your contribution in some form to the squad to help them progress forward. Now even those side missions, like capturing a command post, can really change the way the battle flows, because if you capture a command post everybody on your team gets an extra health pip or power pip, and the whole squad can become slightly more powerful as a result of that.

If you go up and you hack into a back door, and you open up a back route for your squad to run through because your playing operative, that opens up additional routes that makes it more likely they're gonna complete their objective. So almost everything you do as a side-mission contributes in some way to improving the progress of your team, or impeding the progress of the enemy squad.

I asked you in the Q&A about clan support. Can you clarify what you intend to do, what you'd like to do with that?

Paul Wedgwood: Because we're pre-Beta, most of our focus is on game balancing and deciding which things we keep because they're fun, and which things we cut if they turn out not to be fun.

Once we get to the end of Beta, we have very ambitious plans for online services, but we're not ready to announce yet because we haven't finalized all of the gameplay components of the game. It would be a mistake to describe the nature of how we'd think how a perfect tournament would work if we might still change the way a gameplay mode or an objective functions.

Once we get to Beta, we'll have a better sense of what that plan is and how it's going to work out. But in the past we've always done really great things for our games and supporting the community and stuff, and we really hope to be able to do the exact same stuff going forward as well.

OK, last question. I spoke to Ed [Stern, Brink writer] about this last night. I brought up DLC for Brink, and on the screen it said "downloadable content" in the demo. What would you like to do in terms of downloadable content?

Paul Wedgwood: All we're doing at the moment is what every good game developer should do, which is to make sure our game supports that kind of technology.

But right now, we're just focusing on Brink 1. I think there's loads of great potential for things that could be done, but really, I just want the studio to focus on this game first, get everything done, make sure that we're really happy with it.

Because again, I think if we go off on a certain path of worrying too much about the design for things we're gonna sell to people after the game has shipped... It's kind of presumptuous, it's nice to know they like it first. You know, that's part of the plan.

Part of the charm. Ed also said as well about any potential plans for Brink 2 and Brink 3. Would that be something you'd like to do, maybe DLC could be branching between the two?

Paul Wedgwood: I think there will, we always want to work on things that we've created. But again, beyond Richard Ham, our creative director, saying "Yeah, of course I've thought about the future," there are absolutely no firm plans to do anything at all at the moment.

All we're doing is we're focusing on Brink 1, and that's the sole focus of the studio. It's the only thing anybody's working on at the studio, and I think that's the right thing to do: make one really good game first, and then worry about what's coming after that.

Brink releases this fall for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC.

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