The Brink Diaries; bridging the gap between single-player, co-op and multi-player
Brink is one of the most exciting and ambitious first-person shooters on the horizon, on any platform. Splash Damage have a track record of making first-rate multi-player FPSs (Enemy Territory: Wolfenstein, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars) and with Brink they’re looking to take the genre further than anyone else.
One area where Splash Damage are pushing innovation, is in the way which they are looking to blend the single-player, co-op and multi-player experience, by allowing players to seamlessly jump from public to private matches.
PS3 Attitude caught up with Richard “Rahdo” Ham (Creative Director) and Edward ‘BongoBoy’ Stern (Lead Writer) at the Eurogamer Expo, and we discussed, at length, this aspect of Brink.
On how this works
[Richard Ham] When you turn on Brink, there’s not an option to play single-player or multi-player, you don’t choose that. Instead you choose to pick off where you left off in the story, and right before you start there’s one little screen that comes up which asks, do you really want to play privately or publicly? Do you want to open your doors to the outside world, or do you want to keep this private? You make that one simple choice, and that means you’re either playing by yourself, with close friends or with people you invite, and having this kind of private party where you are all working together in the traditional co-op way (up to eight people), trying to complete all these objectives.
If you choose to instead make it public, that means you’re still getting that same great story… but it’s like playing a single-player game where the enemy is played by human players, and a match can switch back and forth.
On how unusual this is
[Rich] I think it’s pretty unheard of from a multi-player, but that’s a big part of what the game is. We’re bridging the gap between traditional single-player, bringing all the great stuff from single-player – story, characters, and a real context and meaning for what you’re doing – and cramming it into a great multi-player experience. You know with classes and dynamics and objectives, and a really fantastic competition that brings out the best in you.
On the same side, bringing the same great stuff you would expect from a multi-player. You know, that real sense of “I don’t know what’s going to happen next”, and “I’ve played this level a hundred times and it still surprises me every time; I still learn something new.” We’re giving that to people who traditionally only ever play single-player games; scripted games, where it’s a real pain in the ass to die. They’re like “I was having so much fun playing, but now it’s shit because I have to do it a second time.” We ask, how did something that was so much fun turn into something that’s now an annoyance? Because it’s the exact same thing every time. Whereas with Brink, even when you’re playing by yourself, you still get that great sense of: it’s always new, it’s always fresh, it’s always exciting.
On the ease of implementing this structure
[Rich] It’s been a real pain in the ass, in all honesty. But Splash Damage does not make simple team deathmatch games, or simple capture the flag. For us, we’ve always had a really strong push for a series of objectives that one team on offence has to complete to win, while the other team on defence has to stop them. Our multi-player has always been single-player friendly in that way, even going back to Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory.. So we already had that going for us, and we wanted to bring that kind of gameplay to a whole new audience (the console gamers who have never seen this kind of stuff).
The brilliant thing is. Because we have this system, that seamlessly transitions from a killer, in your face, high intensity multi-player shoot-out, to me playing all by myself and still having that great system. you get to play the way you want to play.
[Note: Splash Damage also hopes that this new type of gameplay will be less intimidating for the people who normally avoid multi-player. They want them to be curious and hit that public button taking them online.]
The level structure
Before the level starts you have a cutscene. These are fast, about 30 seconds long. They flesh out the story, giving you a reason behind your fighting. They also have an alternative purpose; they do away with the lobby-waiting screens. Rather than sitting watching a countdown for 30 seconds before playing, you instead get immersed into the story. If you win you get the end cutscene showing you winning, driving your enemy to the sea. If you lose you see the losing cutscene and then you’re giving the option to try again. You can skip the mission if you like, but Splash Damage expects the player to want to go through that traditional experience of a single-player game.
On the subject of drop-in, drop-out
[Rich] Sometimes people have to go to the bathroom, sometimes the door goes; and traditionally you would be kind of screwed, but with us you can go ahead and go, and that means AI automatically takes over for you – Left4Dead does this brilliantly, we’re huge fans of that – and then you can just pick back up. If you have to leave early – here’s a big thing we don’t do which other games do – sometimes life intrudes, you may have to pick up your wife at the train station, and you think crap I’m got to leave, I’m going to lose all my experience and 15 minutes of my life. If you need to leave in the middle of a match we do not punish you that way. You’ll get a little message saying how much experience you’re going to collect, but you won’t get that bonus. If you stick around to the end, whether you win or lose, we’ll give you a bonus for completing, but we won’t punish you if you have to leave early because you’ve got a life
The important thing is, that if you do have to leave, you’re not screwing your team mates, because the game will automatically, seamlessly, have an AI bot take over from you and keep up the fight. Those bots are capable of doing anything a human player can do.
[note: these bots are extremely intelligent, but that's for another article]
On stopping matchmaking interfering with the story
What Brink’s matchmaking looks to do is put you in a game with other players of similar skill, but it also looks for games that are just about to begin. Splash Damage do not want to drop you halfway into a game because that would diminish the effectiveness of the story. With the thousands of people expected to be online, it’s likely that it will be easy to find a game that’s about to begin. However, should there be no game available, what they do is start up a new game and make you the server, and AI bots will play the role of the other characters.
[Rich] This is all done seamlessly so you don’t notice, it doesn’t break the experience.
On the difficulty of writing for 30 second cutscenes
[Edward Stern] It’s an interesting length to try and write to. There are so many films which are only 40 second long and only have three people in them; oh wait, there aren’t any, are there? It’s a challenge, particularly because they don’t really end, they kind of pause and then suddenly you’re in on the action. In some ways it helps having those kind of constraints and to have it that brief… You really have to force yourself to think of what this scene is really about.
[Note: the cutscenes may be short but they have lots of subtle touches for you to pick up on when you replay them over and over again.]
On keeping it fresh
[Rich] We have the cutscenes populated with the actual models the players have customised themselves.
[Ed] Which could be face-painted barbarians, stripped to the waist, wearing enormous hats.
[Rich] It’s kind of problematic from a serious storytelling point of view, but it’s so widely entertaining.
[Ed] One of the great joys of multi-player games is the infinite repeatability of it, you just play them again and again. The first time through, it’s dramatic. The second time though it’s kind of like, we’ve seen this before, and third time through you go, “hey, this is starting to get silly.” There is a delicious irony to the fact everyone knows that you’re not characters in a drama, you know that you’re people playing other people, but you’ve still got those dramatic aspects. So it’s entirely appropriate that you see scene which you watched with furrowed brow and dramatic concentration with actors and beautiful facial rendering, and the next time through you have these huge gay bouncers and clown guys.
This is the second article in a series of Brink Diaries. We will be rolling out more diaries, every Monday, for the next month or two. If you enjoyed this entry, definitely come back. Why not revisit previous entries?