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The Brink Diaries; Hyper Realism and the move away from the photo-real

Submitted by on Monday, 15 November 20105 Comments

Brink’s exaggerated art style is a breath of fresh air in an environment where every developer appears to be striving for impeccable realism. Developers Splash Damage accentuate body parts in a way that reveals something about the characters in the game, and what you get from this is big guys with huge chins or massive hands. Yes, it can be comical, but this approach allows Brink to stand out in a way that few games can. It also looks very cool.

Richard Ham, Brink’s creative director, tells us about the influences that inspired the art direction, and why going for a photo-realistic approach would have been the wrong route for them to go down. Brink isn’t the only game to shy away from realism either; both Borderlands and Gears of War can be said to do the same. They are also games that he admires. Ham foresees more developers going down this route in the future. Here’s what he has to say:

[Richard Ham] It’s actually based on this real-world art movement called Hyper Realism. I didn’t know about it. You can go down to London Art Museum; you can see it in any museum. [It’s] this notion of actually taking very realist approximations of life and skewing them, distorting them, for artistic means, to actually try to create a new and interesting view. You know, accentuating certain elements to actually say something about whatever.

Our art director Olivier Leonardi, who was previously art director on Rainbow Six: Vegas and Prince of Persia [The two thrones]; when he started, he knew he wanted to make a game where, any screenshot you look at, you know it is our game – it can’t be mistaken for anything else. And he’s a real fan of extreme sports games (he’s a real extreme sports fan in real life; he loves snowboarding and all that) and he looked at all the daring choices these guys were making, and then looked at what first-person shooters do. Everyone is working overtime to look as good as Call of Duty, trying to look as realistic as possible.

[We think] if everyone is going this way, let’s go a different direction, and that’s how we got this hyper real approach. Now I think it’s really cool because we’re not the only ones; Borderlands: such a huge breath of fresh air. Here’s another thing people say: “Why can’t it be more realistic like Gears of War”. “Excuse me? I can’t think of a more crazy, over-the-top, stylised characterisation than those Gears of Wars people, who could not possibly exist in the real world.

I think the thing is, you know, we got it: we’re photo-real or we’re close enough to photo-real. We’re to the uncanny valley point; there’s nothing to be done about that until we get holodecks. So maybe it’s time to go in a new direction, and I think over time you’re going to see more games like Brink…

To me, one of the most amazing things when I just started, when I was actually interviewed to come and work on Brink: I was looking at the concept art they were doing, they were just starting out, [and] it was real art. I have seen concept art by the dozens, on all the games I’ve ever worked on, and it’s always just very functional and it just describes what we need to do to get going. The art for Brink was art; you could frame it in a museum… It’s not going to please everybody because art is implicitly subjective by its very nature. Some people are not going to like it, but, actually we’ve been very lucky, most people tend to respond very positively.  Some people don’t, but you know what? If you personally don’t like the style, you think they all look like horse-faces, that’s fine. It doesn’t prevent you from enjoying the game – and it is a game after all.

This is the seventh entry into our Brink Diaries series, and sadly it will the last.These diaries were written to give you an idea of what Brink is about, and to explain why it won’t be your run-of-the-mill shooter, and we believe we have achieved that aim.

We also hope that you have found these diaries to be entertaining to read. Both Richard Ham and Edward Stern are entertaining speakers; they are passionate about the game they are developing and that shines through in their words.

Don’t worry, this isn’t the last time you’ll read about Brink on PS3 Attitude. We’ll still be bringing you the latest Brink coverage, whenever news becomes available. Until then, why not read the previous six Brink Diaries? You can find links to them 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

Part 5: classes, upgrades and body types explained

Part 6: The Ark and story explained