Brink is as exciting as senior game designer Edward 'BongoBoy' Stern is excited about it. At Bethesda's recent Gamers Day in France the Splash Damage developer was on interview overdrive, answering our questions so comprehensively that there now seems little point in playing the game. That's not true, but it's almost true. In a not really true at all kind of way. You'll get the idea once you read this monster of an interview. Over to you, Ed...
Q: Describe what you've shown here today.
Ed Stern: There's some new stuff we're showing off. A lot of it is making good on what we were showing earlier. The stuff we were saying you can do, we actually show you doing it. And a lot of the gameplay systems, which we hadn't actually put in the game. So there's a whole bunch of new stuff. Where to start! The mission system is one of the most direct ways of seeing how the game works. It reads everything. It knows what team you're on. It knows what body type you are. For example, if it knows you're the heavy body type - so you've got less agility, more health and access to heavy weapons - it's not going to give you a route that uses the freedom of movement parkour style. It knows you can't make them. It's going to give you a ground route to go through there. If it knows you're agile, it'll say, oh wait, there is a way over here. Follow the arrow this way instead. It knows what class you are, so it'll only give you objectives you can actually do. Or, if there's no-one of the correct class on your team, it's going to bribe you and say, why not change class and do this and do the main objective? We'll give you loads of XP. It'll even bribe the second person to change class. But by the time you've got three players of the right class you're probably going to be able to do the objective eventually. So we're not going to bribe the third person. Even if you don't really take part in the game, and just keep on bringing up the mission wheel, you'll see how it changes as the game progresses. Right now the most useful thing you can do for your team, which we're going to bribe you with the most XP for, is this. Oh, now it's this. Oh, he's doing this. Go escort that guy. Or, wow, you're the right guy to do this, go defuse that.
The class roles are very fluid. We've got soldier, who's got the demolition charge and gives out ammo. There's the medic, who obviously heals and revives. There's the operative, who does the sneaky stuff like disguising and doing reconnaissance and reporting on locations. And the engineer, who can plant turrets and mines, and defuse the soldier's charge. Also, forgot to say, the operative can hack things, but it's the engineer who can destroy the hack box that's on the objective. So it's that rock, paper scissors deal of, they've done this therefore you do that. The natural flow of the objectives means it's never just, okay well this is the game where I just do this, and you can do the same thing all the time.
If you're not a particularly experienced gamer, you can just shoot people. That is absolutely fair and valid. You're probably best off being a soldier to do that. We work hard to make it simple for the player. All you've got to do is look at the command wheel and we'll just smother you in XP, and you'll always be doing the best thing for the player. If you're not an experienced multiplayer gamer, we will be educating you how to do that. It's a definite goal for the game. I think we've all been in a situation where we've played a single-player game and felt pretty good, I beat this game. And then you go online and it feels totally different and suddenly you're not good at it and you're not enjoying it and you're dying all the time and you don't really know why. One of our goals with Brink is that it's a totally consistent experience. It's the same game. The weapons do the same damage. Your opponents always behave in a realistic way. They may well be human opponents. We're really breaking down the difference between single-player, multiplayer, co-op, and online and offline. Those aren't meaningful distinctions any more.
You're always in a team of eight against another team of eight. One team attacks, one team defends. The players on your team and on the enemy team could be human players if you've got an internet connection. They could be friends who just join your game. They come online, see you playing and they swap out one of the AI players and become a human one. That's technically a co-op game now because there's two of you, but also it's still multiplayer because it's still eight versus eight, but also you're still in the same single-player game, just one of the guys who's helping you or fighting against you happens to be a breathing human being.
The time is definitely right for this. It's something we've been wanting to do. That's our background - multiplayer shooters. We know the best stories we get are from multiplayer games. There are some satisfying plot turns in lots of games, but the things you really nag your friends about - 'oh man, he headshot me but then the grenade went off!' - Brink is just a machine for authoring those experiences. All you've got to do is play it and it'll generate endless different replayable situations. There are lots of very good games that you don't want to replay, because it's always the same. It's a totally repeating experience. We knew our stuff had to be different.
You'll play through a map maybe from one side; if you play it through from the other side it's different. Also the storyline is different. You get told different things by the powers that be, which seemed like an obvious way of making the story interesting - it's what motivates people. We didn't want to make it good versus evil. The choice between right and wrong is boring because there is no choice. The choice between right and right is interesting. That's drama and that's conflict. Two sides that both think they're right has more meat to it than, ah, evil versus good. There are some great games that do do that, but just because it's a shooter doesn't mean it has to lack depth or not mean anything. That's what we've been trying to do with the factions - Security and Resistance - is make it so you can bring your real life, real world political affiliations and suspicions and character. That was something about Deus Ex that I loved. I didn't know who to trust, not because they were all lying to me, because they all have good reason. That's definitely something we try to do with Brink, is to make it so each faction is sympathetic. None of them are just complete loon tunes. It's about giving players the tools and the narrative means to produce cool stories.
Q: Do you and the team feel you're genuinely innovating the FPS genre?
ES: We've been very fortunate as a studio in that we got to try stuff out. Lots of people just have got to repeat a game. All we've ever done is take multiplayer first-person shooters and add stuff. I'm still not sure about this. It seems impossible but I've yet to be contracted, but I think Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory was the first first-person shooter to have XP. Which now seems completely axiomatic. But then it was like, hang on that's an RPG thing. What's that doing in a shooter. Then in Enemy Territory: Quake Wars we added some RTS things where there was deployments and stuff. Now deploying things in shooters seems obvious. And now we're taking all of the things. There's more of an RPG element. There's more persistent stuff and you've got your own character. That was something we lacked in our previous games. There wasn't one guy who represented you, who you could customise with clothes and facial hair and tattoos and all that. So we've got that, and also we're extending it to consoles.
There's been a lot of really exciting gameplay for PC gamers but it's quite tough to get into. You need to be pretty savvy. You've got to have a pretty nice machine with a pretty nice graphics card. To make it easy for players to understand what's fun about it - a lot of players have tried multiplayer gaming and it's been no fun for them. With Brink it's a huge, gentle sloping slidey slope, trying to get people into multiplayer gaming and making it easy for them. We'll bribe them, shamelessly, with XP.
Let's say you're playing offline, in single-player. You've just bought the thing, you've put it on and you're playing it. You happen to have an internet connection. We'll detect that and we'll say, right, in this offline storyline mode, the next chapter in that campaign, how about you play it online? We'll give you double XP for it. Just give it a go. You don't have to do it. If you don't like it, you keep the XP. You don't ever need to do it again. We are training players as they go. Well, here's the situation you're in. Oh, that guy buffs you. That's good. Oh watch out, use cover. Watch out you're being outflanked. It's one of the reasons we backed off on going big on a cover system. The AI opponents kept outflanking us. We don't want to teach players: stay where you are. That's not good. Much more interesting is, no, the enemy can turn up anywhere. So stay mobile. Use cover by all means but not for long. That's more interesting.
Q: Why play Brink instead of another shooter?
ES: That's always a good question. We're gamers. We're consumers. We're players. Why buy this one? There are lots of good games out there. And also, these things are expensive. It's a real investment. Why play this one? What's new about it? All the standout games, even if they're made out of familiar components, they all offer something different. Specifically, it's set somewhere you've never seen before. It's not made out of things you've already seen. That's why we've worked so hard on the setting: to come up with somewhere strange and unique that was an inherently interesting place that told its story. The environment is the best narrative medium we've got. It's much better showing stuff than telling stuff. We'd much rather players looked around the environment and went, oh wow, forty years ago this place must have been really something. Huh, hasn't worked out so well since. That's much better than some NPC right at the beginning going, 'wait! Stay while I tell you what has happened. Thirty years ago...' That's not a good use of anyone's time.
So yeah, on a number of fronts we're innovating. In terms of controls, just ease of interface. The Smart Button we've been ranting about. It's weird going back to playing a shooter that doesn't have it and there are tiny things in your way you can't get through. They feel un-fluid by comparison. I think we're innovating there. In terms of blurring the lines between single-player and multiplayer and co-op, and offline and online. And it's a really good shooter. If it wasn't fun it's no good. If it doesn't work as a good action shooter then all of the other bells and whistles are irrelevant. But I think it does deliver. It's a really solid action shooter.
Q: Splash Damage's heritage is on the PC. Brink is multiplatform. What challenges have you experienced bringing the game to the Xbox 360 and PS3?
ES: We had to go hire a bunch of people. We knew we couldn't do it. We did not have the experience to do it. So we brought in Richard Ham, who was the creative lead under Peter Molyneux on Fable II. In terms of making stuff work on consoles, I'm hopeless at that. Thankfully we have somebody who's very good at that. Our art director, Olivier Leonardi, he was the art director on Prince of Persia and Rainbow Six Vegas. Our character artist lead, Tim Appleby, who worked on the first Mass Effect, designed Shepard and the aliens. Audio we've got Chris Sweetman, who's the award-winning audio director on Black. We went out and assembled that team because we knew we could carry on making the same shooter with more knobs on. That wasn't what we wanted to do. We needed the console experience we lacked. We've grown and changed as a studio because we didn't want to carry on with the same mindset. We wanted to be doing other stuff.
Yeah, it's different. It certainly is different. Quite often you'll go, oh you know that would be brilliant! Oh no, it wouldn't work. Or like, yeah that would be brilliant for consoles only but not PC, or sometimes, oh that would be brilliant for PC but not for consoles. We have to make it so it's completely consistent. We're developing on all three platforms simultaneously, using the same assets. It's exactly the same model you'll see on all three platforms. It's not like, oh here's the high res PC version and here's the dumbed down one for a console. It's got to be completely consistent, online and offline, and on any of the platforms.
Brink is due out on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC this autumn.