LOS ANGELES — Bethesda Softworks’ Brink is an immersive action shooter that blends single-player, co-op, and multiplayer into a video game experience that finally blurs the line between the single player offline experience and the often rabid online shooter world.
The game is under development by Splash Damage, the studio behind the Enemy Territory games.
Brink has RPG elements that require you to build up your player from the clothing and gear he wears to the missions he decides to go on, to which side of a civil war he chooses to fight for.
You’re on a man made city called Ark — a complex of hundreds of islands seen as the last visage of hope for humanity. It was originally one of those “Bio-Dome” green habitats until Earth’s oceans started to rise, making the Ark a refuge instead of a paradise. After 25 uneasy years, the residents of the Ark reached their breaking point. War breaks out.
The game has beautifully stylized visual elements and scenery. It also has an interesting control scheme with a “smart button” that lets you target a ledge or point on the map that your character will vault, leap, climb or fall to automatically. The game understands where you’re trying to go and interacts with the environment around you.
The game is set for a Spring 2010 release, and it wasn’t playable at E3 this year. Though, the demo we were shown looks wonderful.
Blast did get to sit down with the game’s Creative Director, Splash Damage’s Richard Ham. Ham is a powerful name in video games. He invented Syphon Filter and just finished a stint with Microsoft working on Fable II. Ham told us there’s a message behind Brink and other types of post-apocalyptic games, as video game developers, like movie directors and television producers, engage in social commentary with their mediums.
BLAST: What do you hope to add to this project? What’s your vision for Brink?
Richard Ham: When I actually went in to interview with Splash Damage I was actually a little bit nervous thinking “gosh I don’t really have a lot of multiplayer shooter experience.” I mean Syphon 2 had a little bit of a deathmatch game, and that was kind of nice. Fable has a little bit but not very much, and Paul (Wedgwood), the owner, said “that’s perfect. That’s exactly what we want because I’ve got a whole team full of guys who have been doing nothing for the last decade but make kick ass multiplayer shooters and that’s what they’ll continue to do.”
But now that they’re moving over to console, they really do want to kind of bridge a gap, and what I tend to think we’re actually going to accomplish here bringing all this together is with Brink I tend to think it’s almost a gateway drug in that players like me who traditionally don’t play a lot of online shooters — I mean, I love Call of Duty. I play them all, but I get to the end of the story, and then I shelve it, and I never go online because “that’s a dangerous place” it’s a nasty place and it’s a real shame, because for all these years I’ve been missing out on these great experiences. So a big, big push for Brink is creating a great multiplayer experience, but then making it open and accessible so players who would have thought twice about going online actually have a reason to and will find that “wow we’ve really been missing out.”
BLAST What design elements did you immediately want to bring to Brink?
RH: Probably the number one thing for me, the biggest thing that I wanted to push, was the notion of having dynamic objectives. It’s actually something I did a long time ago going back to Syphon Filter 1. You’re going through a mission and all of a sudden “oh a new objective will happen,” based on the preset storyline of the game and of the level you’re in.
We’re going the complete opposite way in that every mission you’re going to go on has a clear set of objectives you are to go through and pretty much plays by the book. …
But your personal story is radically different depending on what class you’re playing, what body type you have, what type of player you are, what level you’re at. Because in the game there’s this kind of invisible commander running the whole show, running your team, who knows what’s going on, knows who’s doing what and can basically give out orders, optional orders, to everybody.
We will bribe you as a player to do these things. “We need somebody to turn into an engineer to repair the crane. First guy that does it, 300 experience points.” That’s the equivalent of killing 30 guys. Why would you not do it? We’ll do it just to get you to change, just to try. Even if you don’t make it, we’ll reward you.
That’s a really big push. All these dynamic objectives are coming up. It’s one of the reasons I think it’s an accessible game. A first person shooter online is a pretty hardcore place. You go in there; everybody’s been playing for days and months, and they know every square inch of that level and you’re like “I don’t know what to do.”
The worst experience I ever had playing an online shooter was the first time I played a capture the flag match, and I got the flag, and I was like “What do I do? Where do I go? Everyone wants to kill me. My team wants to kill me. This is terrible!” You want to kill yourself just to drop the damn thing. You’re completely helpless. In Brink, at any given time there’s always a lot of missions you can take. You can be on the front line where all the hardcore guys are, whooping it up. If that’s not going to work for you, look at that objective wheel that comes up. There’s always going to be lots of options, whether it takes you behind enemy lines to do some sneaking around, whether it’s all about rescuing civilians, capturing enemy command posts.
BLAST: There are a lot of shooters and a lot of online multiplayer shooters. There have also been a lot of lofty multiplayer games — M.A.G. for instance. What specifically about Brink do you feel will turn on players?
RH: Well there’s a standard answer, but the big one is that mission inside a mission. But there’s other things too. Splash Damage, you go back to the Enemy Territory Games, it was the first online shooter that actually had experience points and leveling up, even before Battlefield. So, they’ve been doing this for a long time, and it’s now kind of become en vogue. With Call of Duty’s perks, people go “oh wow this is really exciting.” Killzone has a really deep system. Resistance had one as well. But these guys have been doing it for a long time.
We’re all big fans of MMOs back at the office. I think players when they finally see all the RPG options that are available so they can really customize themselves and create the perfect guy for them that’s going to be really refreshing.
The entire storyline of Brink is the outbreak of the civil war on this remote man made island, kind of the last refuge of humanity — or so they think — it’s a civil war and there are two sides. The important thing is you choose up front whether you fight on the side of “the man” of security, keep the peace or do you go on the other side and play as Resistance. The important thing is on your side, you’re clearly in the right. When you get to that mission on the other side of the fence, it’s a completely different story and there’s a completely different set of things going on. That’s a really key element in the game is this kind of two sides of the same coin and you don’t know the whole thing until you’ve seen it all.
BLAST: The post-apocalyptic genre has exploded recently. Do you see parallels to modern society with these games?
RH: We’re actually trying to use this platform to actually say something. I’ll be honest; I turned 40 this year. I’ve been doing this for 15 years, and I’m getting to the point where I actually want to say something. I don’t just want this to be about cheap thrills, and I know it has to be. It has to be fun, but when you look at the setting and what’s going on with the two sides, I’ll be honest we’re definitely trying to put parallels into whats going on in our world today, particularly Palestine and Israel.
You look at that situation, and it seems completely intractable. If you look at it from one side or the other, well everything’s entirely justified or justifiable. It’s been in a stalemate forever. We can use a setting like this, because obviously nobody wants to play a shooter set in modern day Palestine. Nobody would want that.
It’s like Star Trek back in the 60s. “Well we can’ really do anything about race relations on network television, so let’s paint a guy with half his face white and half his face black and have him have an internal struggle.” It was a way for them to actually do stuff, and that’s kind of what we’re trying to do as well.
The setting really just kind of comes out of that naturally.