Splash Damage CEO Paul Wedgwood is Game Director (in his words, “Basically jumped up playtester”) for his company’s latest title, Brink. He’s on the show floor for the first day of the Eurogamer Expo, tensely watching how press and public alike react to his game – despite all the positive press it’s received in recent months. It soon becomes clear that Brink is the most popular game of the show; people are queueing two to three hours for one match on every day of the Expo.
A few short hours after the first players (including myself, lucky enough to jump the queues before the public were admitted) sat down to play Brink, its popularity has made Wedgwood visibly happier and more confident. Or perhaps it’s the chance for a nice sit down with a coffee in the VIP lounge where the interview takes place; my hideous visage is unlikely to be what puts him at his ease.
“Brink is, in a way, the spiritual successor to what we’ve done in the past.” he tells me. “I hope what we’ve done this time round, is to create a game that really blurs the lines between singleplayer and multiplayer in a way that we never did in the past. The truth is that both Enemy Territory games were hardcore multiplayer shooters, largely inaccessible to anyone other than the core fans of that style of gameplay. If you were the sort of person to get offended by being headshot five times while trying to get out of your spawn points, you weren’t going to enjoy those games.”
The AI in Quake Wars was impressively lifelike, and it seems that this is matched – if not improved upon still further – in Brink.
“It’s a different approach to AI. I think what a lot of shooters call AI is nothing more than a scripted, repeated sequence. Our AI is fully autonomous; that is to say it levels up alongside you, it can use every ability, tool, item you can; it can make decisions for itself. For example, ‘We haven’t got a Medic, I’ll become a Medic’. Or thinking tactically, ‘I’m going to stick a landmine in this doorway, because I think it’s a threat to the command post I just captured’. The tactics that they use are based on the abilities that they have and that you’ve unlocked. So if you unlock the big heavy character with the minigun, you’ll be playing games with AI that also have access to that.”
“Traditionally you’ll spend 10 – 12 hours playing the singleplayer story. You go online, and as soon as you start playing you’ll get taken down with a headshot, you’ll get beaten. So what we do with Brink is it starts out with people coming in from the side, taking over this area, etc. So you think ‘Okay, I can deal with this, because I know it’s the AI’. It doesn’t offend you; it doesn’t feel like there’s some thirteen year old on the other side of the planet laughing their head off, it’s just AI. And we reward you for stuff that makes the game fun for other people; you’re becoming a good team player.
And then when you say ‘You know what? I’m going to play against strangers’, when you drop in, they’re no different from the AI you’ve been playing with all the time you’ve been playing the singleplayer game. So there’s no shock to come. If you go online with contemporary shooters, it’s so different from the game you’ve just played as a singleplayer game. In the singleplayer it’s a bit old school. Enemies coming up from behind barrels, once you’ve killed them they’re gone for good, if you die and come back they’re all going to be in the same place… that’s not how it is when you get online. More people would love online gaming if they had a slower introduction to what it’s going to be like when they get there.” He says that introducing more casual players is “what we’re aiming for”.
Headsets weren’t provided at the Expo, and Wedgwood doesn’t think they’ll be necessary to enjoy the full game.
“We have a context sensitive automated communications system. When you first pick your character you can pick one of eight accents; we have a true sense of irreverence for all accents, so we take the piss out of every single one of them. So if I plant a bomb, I’ll shout ‘I’ve planted the bomb!’ over the radio, I’m communicating. If I get shot down, and a Medic is on his way to revive me, he’ll say ‘I’ll revive you!’. If I’m defusing the bomb, maybe somebody else will say ‘I’ve got your back’. You can still use VoIP if you want to. But we can take a whole bunch of strangers who have never played together, are unable to communicate by using VoIP, and allow them all to communicate the very first time they play. Right out of the box we’re supporting all the different languages, the different territories. For instance, if you say ‘I need ammo’ via our communications system, then on a German guy’s machine it will say that to him in German.”
“I think it depends on the model. For me, today, my view is that if you own an Xbox 360, you’re already paying a subscription to Microsoft for the Xbox Live Gold, to allow you to play online. They provide the entire infrastructure for account management, networking, and everything else. So I don’t see why we would then charge an additional subscription, when we don’t have anything to do beyond release. We just have peer to peer hosting with host migration. In the PC community with dedicated servers, there are plenty of plenty game server providers happy to host. You can launch a game and have two thousand servers already provided.
I can’t really comment on other publishers; maybe they plan on supporting those games with official mods and things you don’t have to pay for, which would be an alternative to the traditional DLC model – which might make sense for some people. For us, if we were to charge for DLC in the future, maybe the subscription model works out; maybe microtransactions ends up being the right model to go for, I don’t know. But for Brink, which is all I can talk about right now, it’s a straightforward retail game – you buy it, Bethesda provides the backend infrastructure that tracks statistics and account management, all that kind of stuff – and they do so free of charge.”