The Brink Diaries; ‘We view Brink as having the opportunity to convert single-player gamers into online’ gamers
In last week’s Brink diary, Richard Ham explained how Splash Damage are catering for its hardcore audience, and, in another diary, he explained how they are trying to bridge the gap between single-player and multi-player. In theory, this shouldn’t work because a single-player game is a completely different experience from that of a multi-player game; they each require different skills. In addition to this, the multi-player arena is an intense and often hostile environment, so it’s not a great place to learn how to play properly.
So for this diary, Richard is joined by Lead Writer Edward Stern, and they tell us how Splash Damage are actively encouraging single-player only gamers to go ‘public’. They’re not only making it easy for the novice to go online, but they’re also educating them, teaching them how to be better at multi-player.
When you play most other first-person shooters online, there’s normally a lot of pressure to continue playing until the end, and developers often punish gamers who have to leave early (for whatever reason) by not giving them experience points (XP). Splash Damage are more supportive of these gamers. Richard tells us that if you want to go to the bathroom, you can – an AI bot will take your place until you get back – and they won’t punish you if you have to leave early.
[Richard Ham] ‘The important thing is, if you do have to leave to pick up your wife from the train station, or take your dogs for a walk, and you have to quit, you’re not screwing your teammates because the game will automatically, seamlessly have a bot (an AI) take over for you.
Those bots can do anything any human player can do. They can do all the moves; all the advanced moves; they can use all the abilities; they smartly choose weapons. We had to do a lot of work on this, in terms of AI: if you’ve played multi-player games where you get into a rut – you got to get there, even if it’s just a captures the flag… you got to get there – and you just keep banging your head against the wall. A smart player doesn’t [continue banging their head against this wall]. They say “screw it”, and find a different way in and hit them from the back.
We had to do a lot of work so our bots are smart enough to do that. They recognise that, “So I, my fellow AIs, and the humans that I’m playing with, have actually died here, I should not come through here anymore. I should actually take the long way round, and come in through the back door.” That’s something you never see an AI doing, but we had to emulate that because that’s what good players do. So, if you have to jump out, you’re not screwing me because the bot that takes over will do a very good job.’
[RH] ‘You can’t even tell the difference between the human players and the bot players, if you have a mix of them online. So many people play here and at the shows we’ve done recently, assume that it was all human players. In fact, in the game you played, you had four people on your side and four AI on your side.
Maybe we’ll get a Nobel Peace Prize for nailing it; that we’ve totally fooled people, that you cannot tell the difference between humans and AI.’
[RH] ‘For us, it’s really important that voice is off by default, so you will never have to experience that [- having a horrendous insult thrown at you]. We view Brink as having the opportunity convert single-player gamers into online [gamers],
[RH] ‘Brink is kind of breaking them out of bad habits. The biggest bad habit that I know of, that most single player first-person shooters teach you (this is from the tutorial onwards) is that the best way to survive is to go for cover and pop out and take a few shots every once and a while and stay there, and anybody who has ever played a multi-player will be able to tell you that that is a sure fire way to die – over and over and over again.
It’s no surprise that you get single-player gamers who think they’re really good at the game and then they go online [and complain] “I keep dying. over and over again. I’m using all the skills I’ve learned from the single-player game.” Yes! That’s why you’re dying.
So when you’re playing Brink as a single-player game, you’re being exposed to players who are not very polite, and who are not scripted to wait a 100 yards away from you, to just pop their heads up every once in a while, get killed, and wait for you to hit the invisible trigger that will make the next event happen. The world is always alive. Your enemy is always thinking, always finding ways to one-up you. The rest of your team is doing that [thinking] as well. So for you to actually keep up, you have to bring your A game, and kind of break those bad habits.
One of the things you’ll find is that every time you complete a mission, there’s always that ‘online bonus = 0’ [when you look at the breakdown of your XP rewards]. You think, “Well I’d really like to level up faster, I’d really like to get that online bonus.” So the next time, just flip that switch that says public. Just give it a try. There’s no harm in trying, and what you’ll find is: “Wow, this is nothing like when I’ve played other online multi-players before, when I just get my ass handed to me because I don’t understand how to play, and because people are calling me terrible terrible things.”
Everything about the game is ensuring that when you make that switch you will still feel – I’m not going to say that you will kick ass, I’m not going to blow smoke up your ass and say you’ll kick the ass off the people who have played this map a 100 times – but you will be able to compete. You will be able to contribute to your team. Even if you’re not the MVP (most valuable player), you won’t feel like a waste of space and feel bad about yourself, because I think that’s the wall where so many people say: “Wow, I just paid 50 bucks so I can feel really shitty, maybe I’ll go back to the single-player where I felt really kick ass and cool.”
We’re always looking for ways to ensure that you get that feeling, that buzz from a multi-player game. So even if you don’t know what’s going on, and you’re just thrown into the deep end of the pool, with a bunch of people who are much better than you, it’s fine. Just look at the wheel (which lists various optional objectives), there’s so many options for which you could do.
[RH] ‘There’s no better example of this than enemy intelligence. That’s a particular objective that can come up when one team is completely dominating. Sometimes that’s just unavoidable. It’s just random luck of the draw that this team has a combination of people and combination of ping. For whatever reason, they are just dominating that other team. That’s demoralising for the other team, and the kick ass team isn’t having that much fun either, really.
When we recognise when that’s happening, the team getting dominated get a new objective called collective intelligence. It’s a side-objective. They go off and find some intelligence that’s generated in the world, they carry it to the nearest command post. Generally we try to look for players who are clearly having a bad time, who have a negative 5000 (note: exaggeration) kill ratio, and they’re clearly about to quit. We say, “hey, this is the most important mission on the universe, there’s intel out there on the field, nobody knows where it is; you are the only one who knows where it is, follow the arrow and collect that thing.”
As soon as you pick up that intelligence, everybody in the enemy team goes: “Fuck. Someone has intelligence, find this guy, track him down.” Now suddenly you become the most important person in the team, even though a few minutes ago you couldn’t carry anyone’s [ponders various analogies]. Suddenly you’re really helping a lot.
If you successfully deliver that intel, what that does is: for your entire team – for the next (we’ve still to work out the exact time) say one minute or two minutes – the respawn wait gets cut in half. So, suddenly that can help the team that’s been getting completely dominated, and suddenly they’re spending twice as much time on the field and can start turning it around, and they can start feeling good about themselves.
You were an epic hero for making it happen, and that’s right after you were having a really terrible time. We found a way to get you involved, and I would argue that the other team is having a great time as well because they now have some competition. It’s not an empty victory for us if we continue to win. It helps create that incredible drama and tension, and suddenly everyone is back together, and it’s neck and neck. In the end, the good team will likely win anyway as it’s not a game-breaker, but it is something that can help the other team… and give them a chance to kick it back into overdrive.’
[RH] ‘Once that happens to you there’s no going back. ‘Jeez, I really shouldn’t be here, they want me gone and I’m not having a good time. Why should I stay?’ So that’s why the default campaign – if you just want to play it like a story – has VOIP off, friendly fire off and the intel system that I just described is on.’
[RH] ‘These are fun to play, they have this compulsive element to them, but they also teach you very important skill-sets that you would never get any other way. For ‘be more objective’ (one of Brink’s challenges) the fundamental underlying skill-set is to learn to rely on your team mates. Learn to pay attention to the fact that, “Hey, I don’t have to spend an additional 15 or 20 seconds outside of the target building, clearing out all these bad guys, because I’m aware that I have two guys over there, to the side, covering the angle (my entrance). I can get in there while they are providing cover for me, and I can trust them to do it, and if I do that I can shave about 20 minutes off the clock – and we don’t have much time to get this done.” You play these over and over again, and hopefully you will have fun… and hopefully you’re having too much fun to realise that you’re learning how to be a better multi-player gamer. Learning how to rely on others; learning how to make smart decisions.’
[Ed Stern] ‘Basically, we come from a PC hardcore background. If you know how to play these games already, then they are really good fun, but how on earth do you get to know that you should prioritise that guy over the others because he’s the objective?
We came up with a syllabus, I think we actually called it The Syllabus: these are the skills that good clan players have. They know not to do this, and they know not to do that. When you view the objective wheel, that’s remodelling the decisions of a skilled player. They know that the most important thing that they could be doing is the objective; the next most important thing is supporting the guy doing the objective.
We are bribing you with XP to do that, we’re breadcrumming it in a way so that you know the most useful things you could be doing for your team. We’ll always give you the most XP for that. We don’t give you that much XP for killing an enemy, but if you keep your team mates alive (so that they can do the objective) we will smother you with XP.’