When you think of first person shooters in today’s market, you instantly think of Call of Duty, Half-Life, or Battlefield. Think of games with parkour or free-running mechanics, and you can’t help but have Mirror’s Edge, Assassin’s Creed, or Prince of Persia come to mind. With such mechanics holding such heavy correlations to certain franchises, how does a game like as Brink go about redefining those very mechanics and, in essence, redefining the very genre it belongs to?
Free-running is something that is attempted in many genres, but have yet to be successfully implemented into a first person shooter title. Lead Writer Ed Stern thinks it may be a more perfect fit than most people might think. “[...] It’s not quite like [Assassin’s Creed or Mirror’s Edge] because we’re primarily a shooter,” Stern said. “So, Assassin’s Creed – AMAZING game! Mirror’s Edge – Wonderful game! But they’re not primarily about the shooting, which we kind of are. [...] It’s more about trying to get rid of the problem; I always think of it as kind of the ‘refrigerator on roller skates’ problem of ‘alright, I’m a super-fit ultra Marine Special Forces guy, but I cannot get over a chest-high wall!’ That doesn’t make sense! So just hold down the sprint and move towards it. If you can get over it… you can get over it! It’s really rewarding to watch people playing it and kind of getting questions of [how to play] and then 20 seconds later [...] they’re just incorporating it seamlessly.”
Often times, players are able to beat the campaign modes of shooters in record time, but when they take the experience online, they perform in a less than stellar manner. “We made a big list of all of the things that people found frustrating about multiplayer games,” Stern said. “So, quite often, you’ll play the single-player mode of a shooter and be really good at it. You’ve beaten the game [...] and you go online and everything changes! You’re used to everything kind of happening in front of you, like Time Crisis, then suddenly you’re in an online environment where people are coming at you from the sides and from the back and it just doesn’t prepare you well. Sometimes the controls are different, the health and the damage is all different. It’s so, so different. Also, everyone is kind of in it for themselves. You go from you being kind of the hero of the show to you being part of a team where there is no playing like a team. We want to make it as easy as possible for players to cooperate as a team.”
Stern was adamant about one problem that exists in first person shooters: the no-skill kills. “There’s a problem that players spend too much time in online games dead; not playing the game,” Stern said. “That’s not fun. I don’t mind dying in a game if I know who killed me, how, and if there was something I could’ve done to avoid it. If it’s skill that killed me then, fair enough, you’ve earned that kill, but if it’s a no-skill kill with no counter, that’s kind of frustrating. So we’re trying to get rid of the no-skill kills. No airstrikes, because there’s no counter. No grenade spam; the grenades are on a timer. Also, they’re an assist weapon, not a kill weapon. The grenades will knock you down, but they won’t do you much damage. What they do instead, is kind of make you vulnerable. If you grenade me, I’m knocked down, but I can still fire my weapon; not quite as accurately because I’ve only got one hand on the weapon, but I can still fire. If you knock me down and follow that up by shooting me or running towards me and meleeing me… really close, personal interaction, if you’re filling my crosshairs as you get near and I’m firing at you and you’re firing at me and you still manage to kill me, then fair enough, you have earned that kill.”
Sniping has always been slightly annoying to the close-range gun-fighter, but those that exercise the skill love it. For a game that’s trying to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, that puts Brink in a tough spot. “[There's] no sniping,” said Stern. “Now, hold on, I’ll tell you what I mean by that. I define sniping as they kill you and they’re too far away for you to even harm them. Frankly, that was a problem in our previous game, Quake Wars. You’ve got guys up on the hill with a really high powered sniper rifle – headshot, headshot, headshot! [...] There’s nothing [the other players] could do to avoid it. It’s not fair and it’s not fun, but we don’t hate sniping! That’s an amazing skill and you should be rewarded for that. So what we do have are slow-loading, high-damage rifles with big sights on them. But we’ve turned them into more of a support thing [that takes about half or 70% of] a guy’s health. If you hit someone, he’s got practically no health left and he’s got to back away to let his health recharge. It’s a tactical victory for you, but you’re both still playing the game. It’s not like ‘oh yeah, I’m dead’ and you have to wait to respawn! We love the snipers, but this is about what’s the most fun for the most people most of the time.”
Splash Damage’s previous title, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars was released to very mixed reactions. Splash Damage understands exactly why, and they are taking those lessons and implementing them into Brink. “We’re very proud of Quake Wars,” Stern said very enthusiastically. “It’s the game we set out to make. It’s just a very specialized game. You had to be into first person shooters and vehicle combat and aircraft combat and kind of real time strategy. So people that checked all of those boxes had a fantastic time! Even then it was quite a subset of gamers. Now that the market has expanded so much, [we realize] that’s a lot to expect of players. One of the goals of Brink was to make it way easier to get into, but without sacrificing any of the depth.”
Even going back as far as Splash Damage’s first title, Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, the company was taking notes to incorporate into a game such as Brink. “Our first game, Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory is eight years old, still one of the top ten, top five most played online games and had over half a billion matches played,” Stern said. “A lot of that is due to the awesome mod community and awesome map-making community and all of that, but at least some of that was because no two of those matches were ever the same, even if it was the same map they were playing on, because it’s such an unpredictable gameplay model. I love story in games, but nobody, in the history of gaming ever, has come to work the next morning and said ‘guys! I was playing this game last night and this NPC said this amazing line of dialog!’ That’s not the kind of memory that you would carry with you. It’s the stuff that you make for yourself. It’s kind of a game design cliche, but it’s a sandbox, and a rule-set, and a toolkit that lets players offer their own experiences. You’ve maybe played that game or [...] that map dozens of times before, but if you’re about to disarm the charge and there’s two seconds to go, but somebody kills you, and then someone brings you back to life and then throws an EMP grenade that slows the timer on the explosive charge to give you time to disarm the charge… nobody made that! You made that yourself, it’s unique to you. And that’s the cool thing about this kind of gameplay. We’re just trying to make it easier for players to create those kinds of things for themselves.”
With Splash Damage taking so many lessons from previous titles and working them into a game that promises such engrossing and memorable experiences, the probability of success has skyrocketed. Love the idea of Brink, but wondering how the title will execute? Check out the final part of our interview, as we finish up our conversation with Ed Stern by talking about the classes, customization and teamwork within the game (Coming Soon! Stay up to date with us on Facebook).