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The Brink Diaries; classes, upgrades and body types explained

Submitted by on Monday, 1 November 201011 Comments

Splash Damage love class-based gameplay, and with Brink they’re looking to build on the great class-based experiences that they’ve offered in the past with Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars.

Brink has your typical multiplayer classes: soldier, medic, engineer and operative; each offers a different tactical advantage. It also has three body types: skinny, medium and heavy. Once again, each has their advantages and disadvantages. There are also 50 abilities (gained as you level up) to choose from.

With all this going on, the player has an incredible number of options at their disposal, so it’s unlikely they will see the same game twice. We’re speaking to Richard Ham, Splash Damage’s creative director, who is describing the many interesting things that they are doing with Brink’s classes, body types and abilities.

One of the great things about Brink is the way its SMART (smooth movement across random terrain) system takes into consideration the character’s body types before deciding whether they are capable of reaching those higher reaches – or not.

[Richard Ham] There are so many neat and acrobatic and efficiency based timing things you can do, and even the hardcore team can get something out of SMART.

Our Skinny guy, the acrobatic body type: that’s the one. Not only does it let you do the SMART stuff that lets you very smoothly and easily traverse any terrain. The skinny guy can actually do double-jumps. They can actually climb up twenty foot tall walls, because they get half-way up and then they jump again, and they can sprint off of walls, and grab onto ledges, and get to places that our level designers never expected to get to.

And when they start running around with those abilities, running at hyper fast speeds – speeds that I should say we’ve never actually shown online (every video that’s been put out online has shown a medium body type and a medium speed) – when you see the fast guys running and doing all these cool acrobatic stuff, it’s like “oh my God, this is like a whole new game.” There’s so much left to learn, and that’s one of the big parts of Brink: it just keeps giving.

Every time you get to a new rank – and there’s suddenly anything from five to 10 new abilities – it’s like it’s a whole new game. We were matchmaking you into matches through levels one through to 4 which ensured that you were with like-levelled players. You think you’ve learned everything you need to know about the game (all the cool tricks and the abilities) and then you make it to level five and that’s when you go to rank two, and all of a sudden you’re playing with guys from level five to level ten, and suddenly you see them doing all kinds of things.

You start seeing these different body types, and watching acrobatic guys. You start watching engineers putting down turrets (for the first five levels they could only put down mines) and that changes everything. You start seeing operatives hacking those turrets and taking them over. Five levels later and you’ll start to see operatives being able to remote control those turrets. There’s a natural progressions; so every time you go up a level it’s like a whole new game. That, to me, is one of the most exciting things.

In class-based games – in just about any of them – there’s one character who actually has to interact with his team mates, and that’s the medic. He’s the only one who’s playing a true cooperative game. Everyone else is a lone wolf, who can’t really do anything for each other. We thought, “Why is that?” It’s so cool actually helping someone else and getting help in return. That’s a human connection; why limit it to one class?

So the engineer; they are traditionally stuck with shotguns, and they put turrets down and build stuff; that’s all they ever do. We thought: if they can upgrade things in the world, why can’t they upgrade the weapons of their friends? If you play as an engineer, you toss this kind of wrench (which is actually based on a real weapon maintenance tool) at your friend and their gun is now upgraded. So you are helping someone else, so they can hep you in return.

But on the flipside; the medic has always been the one who got to help someone else. They’ve also been the class that never got to be the hero. They are always support: they never get to be the guy who wins it for everybody. It’s always the soldiers who are blowing stuff up.

We’ve introduced new objectives on some of our maps (not all of them), where the core objective is keeping a dude alive and getting him to safety: VIP escorts. And suddenly in those missions the medic is the hero. That’s a really big deal for us: adding that kind of gameplay.

We’ve worked really hard to make sure that medics have that feeling [that you eagerly anticipate their arrival as they come to you with a syringe], and I’ll be honest, right now with the build we have today, we haven’t done that well on the other classes, but we intend on doing that.

If you’re a medic, and you see me, you’ll see my life meter over my head, so you can know whether you should heal me or not. If you’re a soldier, and you look at me, you won’t see my life meter, you will see how much ammo I have, so you know if I’m about to run out of ammo, so you can give me some. What we don’t do yet – and that’s a subtle thing; you really need to look to see if he’s getting low – is when I do get super low, you need to see a really big icon above my head saying “Jesus Christ. Give this guy some ammo.” The same way that if you were a medic, you’d see those big icons going “come on; go revive this guy.” That’s still something we’re working on to make sure all the classes get that same really good feedback loops.

So many people complain if you’re an ammo giver in the game. They say: “this guys sucks.” And they stand in front of you and jump up and down shouting “give me ammo, give me ammo.” But you say: “I had no idea you were low! I’m not playing as you.” So we’re really working hard to make sure it’s compulsive. You see all these big balloons; you want to pop them all. “I’ve given you some ammo, you some ammo, and you some ammo”, and in doing that you get a 100 experience points for each one of those.

You could have spent that time shooting guys, and got 10 of those for each kill or a 100 for each ammo you gave out. That’s because we really bribe people to do the right thing for other players. We don’t have to reward you for getting kills: that’s fun; that’s a reward in itself. It’s kind of crazy to give a lot of experience for that. Let’s give all the experience for the things you might not have naturally done.

At the end of a match, when we see the leaderboard, we do show kill death ratios and all that, but we actually sort it by how much experience you’ve earned. So whoever is at the top of the list you can pretty much take it as read: that player was the one who helped people the most. That’s what we respect and that’s what we reward. A lot of people say: “well that just means the medic is always at the top”, but that’s not the case. We make sure that a soldier giving out ammo is just as rewarding, in terms of the XP they earn.

[PS3 Attitude] The skinny: they’re fast; they’re agile, but not very powerful?

[RH] That’s interesting. Obviously he’s very powerful, because he’s so fast and because he can get to places that no one else can get to. You can get to places… you know where – death from above – nobody would even [think of]. “How did you even get there?” Oh he climbed up that thing, then jumped across, and grabbed that and then pulled up. All that stuff. It’s all very very cool. So that’s where your power comes from.

Now what you give up: you give up the big guns and (this is really the odd one which a lot of people wouldn’t appreciate) you give up some of your supplies. Everybody has a supply meter; it’s down at the bottom of the screen. Every time there’s a medic who gives out a syringe (it’s like manna) they use a little bit of their power, some of their supplies. Skinny guys can’t carry as many supplies.

If you’re a skinny medic you cannot revive people as much as a medium medic. If you’re the big, fat, heavy, slow medic you can hand out supplies until the cows come home. So that actually creates this really interesting dynamic that the skinny guy can’t do as much; he has fewer choices (with putting down mines, turrets or revives, or whatever) but he gets there fast. So he’s like this really elite, hyper fast strike team, who gets in there, focuses on a thing, and then moves on. So constantly in motion.

The big fat guy: he’s got enough power to hand out things to everybody. So it creates an interesting, and I think unexpected, combination of different play styles which you get by mixing and matching.

Now the important thing is: we let you level up. We have about 50 different abilities. Every time you level up, you get one new ability; and you level up to 20 (that’s our level cap), so you’ll be able to give your character 20 abilities. So, you know, that’s a small percentage of all the stuff which you could possibly do. In doing that, it creates a very specific character that’s unique to you, where you can’t do everything, but you can choose to supplement weaknesses.

If you want to be skinny all the time, but you don’t want to run out of power, you can really focus on making sure your power meter is as long as any medium guy’s. So you don’t have to suffer. Because you have chosen that, you might not be able to buy the operative’s ability to hack enemy turrets (to use them as a remote control device) or fire at enemies from safety. There are so many abilities: it’s a long list.

The engineer: they start off not being able to do turrets; then they go to level one turrets; then they go to level two turrets; and then they go to these really powerful Gatling turrets, but maybe you’ll never get there, because you want your power meter [instead]. So there are a lot of choices, and a lot of that comes from how you want to play and what your preferred body type is.

You can change class as many times in a given match, but you cannot change body type. Once you’re in a mission you’re that body type throughout. You live with the choice you made, but you can make that right by adding the abilities.

There are a lot of RPG elements. You could argue that this is an RPG in the same way that Borderlands is an RPG. We don’t have a hundred hours of cutscenes, dialogue trees, and all that kind of stuff, but we do have a lot of character advancements. Our’s is really simple: we don’t do a lot of really elaborate tech trees. “Oh you have to get all three of these things and you have to minor in this before we give it to you”: we don’t do any of that stuff.

It’s very straightforward. Every time you earn enough experience to go up a level you can buy one new ability. Those abilities can either be for the soldier, medic, operative or engineer. You can switch class at any time. So you can focus on having a few abilities in everything or on having all the abilities of one particular class. There’s also a fifth kind of ability, where, it doesn’t matter what class you are playing, you will always have this ability. Things like ‘sense of perspective’, which takes the camera into third-person every time you do an extended action [like hacking a turret]. You can spin the camera around and see if anyone is coming at you. That’s an example of an ability you can buy, which you’ll have no matter what class you are. There’s so much variety.

We recently got extended to ship in spring 2011, and we could actually have made it for this Christmas – totally could have. The reason why we got the extra time was because Bethesda was awesome; they gave us the time to do balancing. We could have got it out but it wouldn’t have been balanced. We wouldn’t have months and months to spend time just tweaking, you know: the speeds the different body types can run and the heights that people can and can’t climb and what depth of field should that downfire have [you have limited depth of field when down, because you’re hurt]. Basically we have half a year of just tweaking, balancing and tuning.

This article is the fifth entry in our Brink Diaries series. Visit the site next Monday for the next entry. In the meantime, check back on the previous four articles, which you’ll reach by clicking on the links to below:

Part 1: fireteam squads explained

Part 2: bridging the gap between single-player, co-op and multiplayer

Part 3: doing it for the hardcore

Part 4: converting single-player gamers into multiplayer gamers