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On The Brink Of Change
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On The Brink Of Change

May 10, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 5 Next

I thought there were definitely a few nods towards accessibility -- rather intelligent concepts about accessibility.

PW: There's this kind of buzz, this satisfaction, that comes from coordinated team play -- not just from first-person shooters online, but from soccer and football and sports. I'm sure in the armed forces they feel exactly the same thing; and racing teams and relay teams and the Olympics and all of those things.

Mostly that buzz comes from working out plays in advance with your team and then it working out A-Team style when you try to do the thing that you're trying to pull off. In the best and most tense moments, it's almost heist-like, because of the failings along the way and the way you react to those things; it all feels like you had a plan the whole way along.

What we're trying to do with the new mission system in Brink -- and it seems egotistical to compare it to such lofty things as the heist genre -- but what we've tried to do with Brink is just create a dynamic mission system that intelligently understands the best thing that you could be doing at any given time.

It takes the pain away from worrying that you're not doing something that's contributing. If you just hit up with the D-pad once, it takes into account your combat role, the case on the battlefield, the states for the objectives, and what your teammates are doing, and gives you something you could be doing to contribute.

Okay, it gives you suggestions, which is something I remember very clearly from...

PW: ...from ET: QW. But the difference with Brink is that it then provides four or five other options, so it becomes an active system, and not a passive one, because, when you say, "I'm going to go do this thing," it's also a contextual communication system that lets your teammates know that that's the thing that you're now going to focus on. It never just gives you missions without your say-so, without your agreeing.

In doing that, it means that an entire team can communicate using a relatively simple input device, an analog controller, without using VOIP. For strangers playing together, VOIP seems to be the biggest issue; everybody's had that experience in going online and some racist 14 year-old is telling you your girlfriend weighs four-hundred pounds before he headshots you five times, teabags you five times, and then ragequits. That's the experience people have. We want you to be able to realize how much fun you can have with like-minded team people.

We found -- through essentially the big social experiment that is PAX, QuakeCon, E3, and everything else -- that, when gamers turn up and play, even though you've got 16 complete strangers playing together, they just coordinate; they really work together because the mission system takes away the punishment that's normally associated with not knowing what you're doing. I think that's the idea.

It's the same reason why we worked so hard on the SMART system. It's true that shooters have always suffered from these kinds of artificially frustrating constraints that center on bumping into tables and chairs and walls that are out of your view height -- in essence we're punishing you for a lack of user interface; you can't see your legs.

So what SMART tries to do is, rather than reward you for pulling off mashing six-button combos that get you over a wall and fly you through a table, we just think, "Well, in real life you wouldn't have to put that much thought into running over this chair." What we should try to do is reward you for moving and shooting. So the SMART button just tries to anticipate what it is that you're trying to do.

It's very intuitive once you get used to the concept of it. You look up, and you can mantle over a container. If you look down at a table, you'll slide underneath. If you look up as you sprint towards the table, you'll vault and slide across the top. If you walk towards it and hit the SMART button, you'll step up onto it.

It just does the thing that you expect, but since it's entirely procedural it never starts a canned animation. You can interrupt it at any point and continue to look around, shoot, reload your weapons, and do other things. So if I come sprinting down this corridor and go into a slide and turn left, I can be firing as I slide 'round the corner. This suddenly opens up a whole bunch of tactical possibilities -- and of course creates complete hell for the level designers.

I was about to ask -- did it influence level design?

PW: Oh, massively. Yeah. You have all the standard things like kill boxes and choke points and out-flanking positions and everything else, but now, because we have three body types -- we have the heavy guy who can carry half a dozen minigun-sized weapons that he fires from the hip, we have the medium body type who can do basic parkour moves, and we have the skinny body type who can't carry anything but submachine guns and pistols but can wall-hop and mantle and vault faster and sprint faster than everybody else.

So the level design is motivated by saying that they have these three advantages and disadvantages based on body type; there needs to be fun associated with that. There needs to be a route that the skinny guy can go where the other guy can't go.

All of our maps have multiple routes built in that you can discover as you play for weeks or months to your tactical advantage, and it's brilliant because, previously, if you got killed by somebody from the other side of a battlefield and you're all just on this big open area like ET: QW, you're like, "Okay, he's just a brilliant shot." But now, if you get killed by someone who drops a Molotov cocktail on your head from a bird's nest, it's like, "How the hell did he get up there?!" He spent some time thinking about playing that map and practicing stuff.

So what we did was we hired a brilliant lead level designer called Neil Alphonso. He was the lead level designer on Killzone 2, and he heads our level design team -- in fact, he's our lead designer now, so he's responsible for the gameplay scripters and designers as well. His approach was very similar to the one that we wanted for Brink anyway, because he was already capable of producing an environment that had the level of detail that we wanted; we just wanted to remove the need for tons of enemies and scripting mechanics to support movement through that environment so that it becomes more natural.

If I look at a table or a chair or a low wall -- 'Cause you know what it's like. You're a super soldier and run up to a four-foot high wall that you can't get over because the level designer didn't put an entity there. That obviously wasn't going to work for Brink. So Brink started out having a system that dynamically traced the environment, determining all of the potential routes. Now, of course, we bake it all in, and we can't place and effectively render out all of those routes; but it's still fundamentally the same system. Everything mathematically possible is there for the player to do.

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