Brink news: Neil Alphonso on level design
Brutal Gamer has conducted an excellent interview with Neil Alphonso, lead level designer at Splash Damage, in which he shares lots of interesting details about Brink.
The interview covers the following topics: learning to work with Brink’s dynamic SMART button, radical ways to avoid spawn camping, the different approaches required for each level, and many other topics.
The interview begins with Brutal Gamer asking if Brink’s SMART button made designing levels more challenging. SMART (smooth movement across random terrain) is a magic button that cleverly calculates where a player wants to get to and makes it happen. Characters, especially the skinny class, can reach very high heights so you’d think keeping players within the arena would be a struggle, but apparently it isn’t:
“Not really, you’d be surprised. Technically, it’s really once you get it into your head how it works as a system [that it gets easier]. It’s not like any other systems I’ve worked with before where you have to plan things out to a grid, because things have to have very fixed heights. The SMART system doesn’t work that way as it does everything on the fly. Really all we have to worry about is creating things that are really high so the player absolutely can’t go there and they don’t read as a place you can go.”
This effectively means, areas have to be walled in. Thankfully this also limits the amount of invisible walls:
“Things do have to be walled in a bit, and that was one of the things I was very big on. Nobody likes invisible collisions. We have it on the edges of the maps as we don’t want you to go off and drown. Also there really is nowhere to go out there. Other than the edges of the maps we never ever have it.
We had to modify geometry early on when we were still getting used to it frankly. Now we’re used to it, in the play space we have to assume that everything is going to be something you can get over or will be really tall.”
Brutal Gamer asked if Alphonso finds the SMART system liberating, to which he said yes, before citing Quake and Quake 3 as inspiration for the system. He also laments the fact that movement has become somewhat neglected in modern first-person shooters:
“Extremely. It lets us have an old school first person shooter feel like Quake and Quake 3 with jump pads etc, but in a more grounded and realistic shooter. That was really the inspiration for the whole system, is that sort of gameplay. Movement as much as shooting has gone by the wayside a bit as everybody is trying to be more realistic. It’s all sprint to cover, peek-up, fire a few shots , sprint somewhere else. Which is fun but…”
Alphonso accepts that new players can take a while to adapt to the SMART system, because climbing hasn’t played much of a role in the history of first-person shooters (“They [the players] don’t even think about climbing up stuff.”), but at the recent shows, they added several bot players to the teams to show human players what can be done with Brink’s SMART button. We can testify to the quality of these bot players, we could not tell who was and wasn’t human.
Team-based first-person shooters is what the guys at Splash Damage are interested in – as shown by their previous games: Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars – and they are sticking to that tradition with Brink:
“It’s sort of one of the founding things of the studio of which this latest evolution is Brink. That sort of team-based competitive, objective-based, gameplay is the most fun sort of multiplayer there is. Because you’re not just on your own, you’re forwarding with your team, it’s immensely powerful. It’s why Counter-Strike was so huge, albeit a slimmed down version. Grab that bomb; get your team to Dust; it’s why it was so popular.”
“One of the reasons we did Container City, which incidentally is made by the same guy that made Dust, it’s a bit more linear and leads the players a lot more, so is a good introduction to the game. Whereas the level we showed at E3 this year, Reactor, it’s a very different level with a lot of flanking routes, centralised objectives but requires a lot of team work. It’s hard to pick a favourite as things play out differently every time.”
Elsewhere in the interview, Alphonso discusses how they are trying to tackle spawn camping, and one solution to this problem has been to include indestructible spawn-turrets:
“We have spawn turrets that you would see in games like Killzone 2, except ours can’t be blown up. They are completely invulnerable and incredibly powerful. You don’t really have any chance to react to them, you’re just taken down.”
Alphonso is also aware that this only delays the issue, because the other team just defend the next choke point. Their solutions for this (which they’re still testing) is a little more radical, and we’re a little more sceptical about this one:
“The other thing we do is we have this hidden invulnerability that I’ve never talked about. Basically until you fire or are in a responder’s area you’re invulnerable. We can define where and how long it lasts from when you leave the spawn area. So we can give you a couple of seconds to get around that first corner knowing that those guys are sniping. We’ve been careful to make that something we can change maybe later if there are problems when the game gets out into the wild.”
One of the most exciting things about Brink is that it could have been in stores at this minute, but Splash Damage managed to persuade Bethesda into giving them an extension, one that gives plenty of time to do balancing and testing. So, in theory, the team will know if this new measure to combat spawn-kills is to be a success or failure long before it hits shelves.
Head over to Brutalgamer.com to read the rest of this excellent interview, and if you’re still looking for more Brink coverage, you should definitely check out our very own informative series of Brink Diaries.