The Brink Diaries; doing it for the hardcore
Splash Damage have added many features to Brink that will make the game accessible to the softcore player: VOIP is automatically turned off , there are game balancing systems, and even the much talked about SMART (smooth movement across random terrain) button prevents the gamer from getting frustrated.
As good as these are for the novice, they aren’t music to the ears of the seasoned online pro who doesn’t want their hand being held. The hardcore gamer wants friendly fire turned on, and they want to be able to communicate with their team mates, amongst other things.
When we spoke to Richard Ham, Creative Director, we wanted to ask him what Brink had to offer the hardcore gamer. The designer was delighted to have a chance to discuss the subject: “I’m glad you ask because no one ever asks about the hardcore user.” You see, the design features you put in a game for a hardcore user, does not make good material for a marketing campaign. Neither are they they things that a developer will get asked about regularly. However, this doesn’t mean these issues aren’t at the forefront of Splash Damage’s thoughts.
The team made their name through creating intense shooters for the hardcore market. They are hardcore gamers themselves: the company was created by members of the famous eQ (EarthQuakers) clan. Frankly, there’s more chance of Fred Goodwin waiving his pension than there is of Splash Damage forgetting their roots.
Ham spent some time explaining the various design choices that Splash Damage have made to ensure the hardcore user gets the most competitive gameplay possible…
[Richard Ham] Splash Damage’s background is the hardcore player: with Enemy Territory: Quake Wars and Enemy Territory: Wolfenstein those are great hardcore games. You still to this day – if you’re a noob – [need] good luck because those games really throw you into the deep end and make no apologies. Softcore needs not apply. We definitely want to have our cake and eat it too. So all these features which we put into Brink that make it more friendly and inviting and makes sure that everyone gets a place at the table… they can be turned off.
For the hardcore player [who says], “I don’t want you holding my hand. Fuck this intel shit, we were winning fair and square and we’re going to stay that way.” We still give those kind of players the control over the kind of experience they want.
For the default campaign – if you want to play it like a story – VOIP is off, friendly fire is off, the intel system (which helps struggling players) is on. If you’re a hardcore player who wants none of that crap, then don’t choose campaign. Instead you choose ‘freeplay’. If you choose freeplay, you go to a whole different section of the menu, which is very much like what you’d expect to see from a more hardcore, old-school shooter, where you can set up your own custom servers.
Amongst other things, you can turn off that intel stuff; if you don’t like the game balancer and you want it to be 100% equal if you win or lose, turn it off. You want VOIP on because you know you’re playing with a mature bunch of people and you want immediate communication, then turn it on. Turn friendly fire on because obviously that adds a huge tactically level to the game because you have to watch your shots. Play it the way you want to play it. So we totally make sure that we’re making a game for the hardcore as well. All the stuff they would consider Care Bear, they don’t have to touch with a 10ft bargepole.
The subject of the hardcore user was revived when discussing Brink’s very SMART button
[Ham] You can argue that it (the SMART button) is another one of those Care Bear features… basically if you’re ever just wanting to go from point A to B, and it looks as if you should be able to do it… then you can do it in the game by holding the SMART button down and just moving at it, the game will take care of everything for you; So you can focus on what’s really important, the “shooter” in “first-person shooter”. A lot of hardcore fans have argued: “But yeah, that’s fucking holding my hand. Turn that crap off.” We don’t turn it off – because it’s really kind of key (to the gameplay), but the important thing is that if you’re a hardcore player and you don’t need that SMART button, you never have to touch it. Instead everything the SMART button can do you can do yourself with a combination of the sprint button, the jump button, and the crouch button.
Richard described a player running towards an obstacle while using the SMART button. When the player gets to the wall, the characters puts their hands onto it and leaps over.
[Ham] There is a bit of a delay. A delay while you’re putting your hands on it, and then coming over it. It’s really not much, a noob player wouldn’t even know. We can call it smooth (the S part of the acronym) because to them it is smooth. To a hardcore player that quarter-to-half-second lost is a life and death situation. So as a hardcore player, you don’t run at this thing holding the SMART button down. Learn the rhythm and the speed of your character, because if you’re coming at this and hit the jump button at just the right time, you’ll jump and instead of putting both hands on the thing and pulling yourself up, you’ll just put one hand down and throw yourself over it. That half-second delay wouldn’t happen.
There are so many neat acrobatic things you can do with SMART – efficiency-based timing things – that even the hardcore will get something out of SMART. We have a full team of testers and they are all hardcore players and when I go on, my job rocks at seeing all the things they are doing with all the body types.
This is the third article in the Brink Diaries series. Follow the links below to read part 1 and 2. Make sure you visit the site next Monday for part 4 which will have Richard Ham and Edward Stern (lead writer) explain how Splash Damage are going about educating the single-player gamers on the ways of online gaming.