Splash Damage made a bold move when it announced an early release for Brink, essentially boasting to the world that the game needs no more more primp or polish. We spoke with Art Director Olivier Leonardi about original IP, the importance of narrative, and the reason behind the recent release update.
Game Informer: How has the experience been working on Splash Damage’s first original IP?
Olivier Leonardi: It has been very, very intense. But also very good because you have carte blanche on everything. When I joined the company in 2008 there was the start of the story, and the setting, and the floating island. It was all very inspirational for me. I felt that I could do anything that I wanted. Previously I worked at Ubisoft, and there was legacy there and you have to pay homage to what came before you. And here there was this freedom. Brink has really pushed for very unique features and we really want it to be a game changer, with the SMART and all the game modes and the deep character customization. So we had a lot to do. There was always a lot to do.
GI: Speaking about character customization, how did the team decide on this exaggerated, almost caricature-like presentation for the game?
Leonardi: We summarize it by saying that it is exaggerated reality. We take reality and push it one step further in terms of proportions and details and fabrics on the outfits. And the way we treat facial features as well. The main goal was to establish this very unique visual signature for the game. We are a small company, and we are launching a new IP, and basically we wanted the first screenshot from Brink to show that it was very unique and so that people would follow it just because it was different. We also use quite a bit of color, which is fighting against the browness of first person shooters. Not all shooters have to be brown characters on brown backgrounds. They can have blue skies.
GI: Emphasis has been firmly placed on action and multiplayer in Brink’s trailers and developer diaries so far. How important is the narrative to play?
Leonardi: It is very much important! If you play the game offline because you want nothing to do with other players, you can focus on the story and the background. There are many details that tell you the story of the place and how it started as this self-sustaining artificial island that turned to hell for one part of the population that joined after the flooding and were treated as refugees and placed in slums. And that is why you have the conflict. There is a very big focus on the story as well. It is true we have focused on the gameplay in our communication, but that is because there is so much to talk about.
GI: Do you feel that the SMART system (Smooth Movement Across Random Terrain) has changed the nature of competitive play?
Leonardi: I hope it helps, and we always say that you don’t have to use it. You can actually achieve everything you do with SMART with the classic sprint plus jump plus crouch. So it isn’t an automated system that you have to use in the game. But for those people who aren’t trained as much in multiplayer shooters and have to focus more on aiming, we have them moving so they can focus. It is in a way changing how people play shooters. And so many people are pleased that they aren’t blocked by a table. There is no reason you should have your movement limited by these sorts of objects.
GI: How do you balance cooperation and competition in team-based missions? Basically, how do you ensure that individuals are working together instead of all attempting to grab at the objectives that will earn them the most XP?
Leonardi: If you are not into the pure, competitive, “I need to be king of the hill,” you can enjoy Brink by doing support roles like Medic and Engineer. Those are the best roles if you don’t want to be very aggressive. But we try to push people to really play together as a team. So all the objectives are based on one guy going for the objective, and all the other guys are going to have to support him. So the way the mission system is done is that every time someone takes a mission, it updates the objective wheel, so it pushes you to help people already doing something. You will get XP for protecting, and it all helps everyone have a better game experience.
GI: Communication is imperative, then. Is it still possible to fulfill those objectives if your team isn’t properly communicating?
Leonardi: Yes, we allow the VoIP for your friends only. So you don’t have all the griefing. You won’t hear the enemy talking. So you can push that coordination. But I think that we have provided enough visual and audio information to know who needs to be revived, and who is out of ammo, and who is working on an objective. There are so many cues that give you information on what is happening on the battlefield at any given time.
GI: Have any classes proven to be a favorite so far?
Leonardi: Yes, I was naming the Medic. People who don’t want to fight they choose Medic and throw syringes and buff health bars. And as you progress as a Medic you have new abilities like boosting their metabolism or their strength or their speed. You have revive grenades that have a cloud of healing product, and eventually you can revive yourself, so you could even play without firing a single shot and top off the boards. We give so much XP for helping other people on the battlefield.
And your XP is not class-based. It is session-based. So at the end of the match you get XP that will unlock abilities or new outfits, and you choose to assign those XP to characters. You can have up to ten characters and they can evolve in different directions. So one guy can be more of a Medic, and the other guy can be an Engineer and play with turrets and mines. XP is shared between all four classes.
GI: It’s not often that a game’s release date is pushed forward, and it seems a sign of confidence that Brink doesn’t need any more polish. What was the reason behind the updated release?
Leonardi: The reason is that yes, the game is ready. We had just been tweaking the balance of the weapons and the maps. But another reason is that the release windows are so close to each other with L.A. Noire. So you take your chances. It was ready to go so why not release it earlier? It was a good move from Bethesda.
GI: Does Splash Damage have plans for post-launch DLC or support?
Leonardi: Yes, Brink is not a one shot game. There is continuity and we will feed the player new content for sure.
Brink hits retail for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC on May 10. Feel a tad in the dark? You can learn more about Brink’s class-based play here.