Brink Interview: Decreasing Learning Curve and Increasing Fun

How many times have you played a first-person shooter and you are annihilated for the first few online matches because you’re not used to the control-scheme? Even then, once you’re familiar with the controls, you aren’t very good, and thus, the game isn’t much fun because most of the match you’re just waiting to respawn half of the time! Well, Splash Damage and Bethesda have something for you in their latest title, Brink.

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For Ed Stern, Lead Writer of Brink, it’s all about making the title easy to get into for new players and experts alike. “What we’re trying to do is to take all of our expertise in […] making online shooters and just make it way easier for players to get into it,” said Stern. “Maybe they’ve tried it before and didn’t really like it, or they haven’t even tried it because they didn’t think it’s for them. [We do this] without getting rid of all of the core stuff that we know.”

Brink looks to introduce an excellent free-run mechanic into the first-person shooter genre. The S.M.A.R.T. system, which delegates how players will move across the land within that very free-run mechanic, is designed to make the game more enjoyable for all. “[…] It’s really about getting rid of all the irritating stuff and building new stuff and introducing to the genre a couple of new things,” Stern said. “For example, movement; we’ve got the S.M.A.R.T. system – Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain. We have to thank Bethesda marketing for that! We probably would’ve come up with a 40-syllable acronym for that, and then they said ‘how about you call it S.M.A.R.T.?’ ‘Yeah, that will work! Good, fine!’ It’s all about flow. It’s all about getting people with their heads up in the game world, making tactical decisions and fighting the enemy – not looking down at their controller going ‘what button do I press again?'”

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Stern recognizes the cluttered nature of the first-person shooter genre and understands that a new take on the genre might be just what Brink needs in order to gain an audience these days. “We had better have something [to set us apart]!” said Stern. “There are a lot of very good games out there and a lot of very, very good shooters out there! We knew we’d have to give gamers as many solid reasons as possible because there’s a lot out there. Also, as gamers ourselves and as developers, we wanted to make a game that we wanted to play! There’s no point in copying the other games. They’re really good at what they do, so we don’t want to try to muscle our way in there as well. But that gives us the opportunity to work on something different!”

Brink is all about letting the experts of the genre have their fun, but also including the players who might not always be on the top of the scoreboards in online first person shooters.“If you’ve played as a clan and you’re sort of an expert player, think of how many skills you’ve acquired there: you know the maps, you know the routes, you know all of the objectives, you know everyone’s class, you know what class you have to be, all of that stuff!” Stern said. “You shouldn’t have to be an expert to play a shooter. We made the game an expert instead. The game is always scanning what’s going on. It always knows what the most useful thing you could do in that moment is. If you hold ‘up’ on the d-pad, we will turn you to face where you should go and what you should do; and that’s what we give you the most XP for.”

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Stern asserts that in order to make people want to keep playing it, Brink must instill a sense of gradual achievement in how players learn to play the game. “If Brink is a game that people buy, play for a week, and stop, frankly we have failed,” Stern said. “It’s about making it really easy to get into the gameplay and having a nice, smooth learning curve. It’s amazing what you people are playing at [PAX East]; we’re showing the tutorial video in the queue and then it’s straight into the action! Then, people have only got like 20 or 25 minutes to play it. You see them where like the first 10 seconds are like ‘what’s going on?’ and then it’s ‘oh, I get it!’ and they’re active and they’re using all of the game systems. Obviously, when you’re playing on your own time, you’ve got more time. The first time you put the game in, we say ‘how would you like to level up immediately just by watching the tutorial video?’ We’re going to introduce players quite gradually to our systems”

In addition to the tutorials leveling players up, Brink will also include other ways to develop players by offering tangible incentives in return. “We’ve also got these four challenge maps which is partly how you practice your skills, you can play them up to four-player co-op as well, so you can practice skills with your friends, but also that’s how you unlock the weapons,” Stern said. “You can’t just grind, grind, grind and all of a sudden I’ve got the magic gun. No, you go to the weapon screen and [a weapon you want is locked] and it tells you that to get it, you have to do this particular challenge on a certain difficulty. That’s skill-based.”

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Perhaps the biggest thing that Brink does to level the playing field is it equips all players equally. “Another problem we see in shooters is when someone’s just got a better gun than you,” said Stern. “They’ve either been playing the game longer or they don’t need to [go to] work, so they can grind. That doesn’t seem fair because it’s not based on skill. None of the weapons [in Brink] are better than the others, they’re just a different variety of range, damage, rate of fire, damage over distance, accuracy, that kind of stuff.”

With such promise of allowing new players compete with the resident experts of the genre, Brink certainly has the potential to appeal to a wide audience. If you’re still wanting to know more about the upcoming Splash Damage FPS, check out the next installment of this interview, where Ed Stern discusses how Brink compares with other games on the market.

About Brian Shea

Brian Shea is VGW's Editor-in-Chief and one of the founding members of the site. In addition to leading the team at VideoGameWriters.com, he contributes such regular features as “Shea’s Say,” "Eleven Things," "Commercials from the Past" and “Essential Gaming."
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