Gameplanet: Splash Damage is better known for modifying existing id titles, so was it much different for you guys to make a brand new IP?
Yes, it was very different, there were a lot of challenges. Firstly, releasing a game on three different platforms; it's the first time we've done it. It's using id Tech 4, which is the Doom 3 engine, so we actually branched the engine from the point Doom 3 was released, and evolved it into a kind of separate branch. We added a lot of in-house features into the engine, and we had to make it run on PS3 and X360, so we re-wrote a lot of aspects of the engine so it can run at a proper solid 40fps. This was quite a challenge! (laughs).
The problem with a new IP is that you kind of have to come out of nowhere. We were known as a PC developer first, the console audience had no clue who we were. And the reason why we chose the art style is that we really have to present a really unique visual signature for the game, so people start talking about it before they see any kind of gameplay videos. The idea is to create a buzz around the game just with the art style.
A big step for us was the E3 demo in 2009, which was a hands-off demo. We had such a positive reaction for the art style, we knew that was the right choice for us. I describe the style as being "exaggerated reality" – we start from relative proportions and kind of exaggerate everything. We upscale the detail on the outfits, facial proportions are very different from real ones, but all those components give the game a unique look.
GP: Have you expanded the team a lot?
Leondardi: Yes, the team went from 24 to 75 at the peak of production, but that's still a small team when you consider the scope of the game. That was a challenge as well. But we have a lot of good guys.
Paul Wedgwood (CEO and Game Director) wanted to hire high-level people like Richard Ham, our Creative Director, and Neil Alphonso who was lead designer on Killzone 2. Our new character artist is Tim Appleby, who worked on the first Mass Effect, and he's done all the main characters. So we have a lot of high-profile people in the company. That's really how this game can work with such a big scope, and with so many challenges, because Brink is really about redefining the shooter genre, and mixing all the different gameplay types. You can start by yourself, and invite your friends which turns it into co-op, and you can have others on opposing sides so it becomes a full competitive multiplayer, so it's quite ambitious for a small team.
Our audio director Chris Sweetman comes from Criterion, where he worked on Burnout Paradise and Black, and he had very specific ideas for what he wanted for the weapons in Brink. He actually went to Nevada to record something like fifty different weapons, so we actually had accurate sounds for them. And after that, he transformed them completely, mixing animal sounds with the bass of the weapons, and so I think the result is pretty satisfying.
GP: It's unusual to see new IP's launch so late in the console generation, you guys aren't afraid obviously?
Leondardi: Brink isn't just about new IP's, it's about new ways to play first-person shooters. So the new features we add to it are really more important than it just being a new IP. You know, we have this mix of single and multiplayer, we have SMART, we have the deep customization system, we have character progression, these are all really really big features.
GP: The map designs appear more enclosed than Enemy Territory: QUAKE Wars?
Leondardi: Yes, those maps had to work in a single-player, narrative-driven way, as well as in a competitive multiplayer mode, which brings a lot of challenges in terms of how you balance the levels. We needed maps that can work if you're just playing the game on your own. If you just want to follow the story, gain XP, unlock weapons and outfits, that sort of thing. But they also needed to work when you go into a multiplayer mode where you can fight against humans, so this balance in the maps was a big task.
GP: There's one thing missing though: girls. Why?
Leondardi: (laughs) You know, because we had such a deep customisation system, it actually required a lot of work in the way we generate outfits. This system is used by the player when they customise their character, and also in the cut-scenes, the guys you see in the cut-scenes are using the same system. If you look carefully, your character always appears in the intro cut-scene, he's not in the front talking with the other actors, but he's in the background and you can actually see your character progression in the outfit you choose. So working on two different rigs, with two different sets of animations, and adding twenty additional outfits was a very big ask for the timeframe we had, so we decided to just drop it instead of doing it badly.
GP: From an art perspective, are you more excited about the PC version?
Leondardi: Yeah, the PC kind of removes all the technical constraints of the consoles, so yes, the fidelity of the graphics is better on PC for sure. You don't have those limitations, and you don't have to work within those constraints.
GP: Excess customisation can lead to imbalance - do you think you've got the balance right?
Leondardi: It has been difficult, but yes, I think we've got the balance right. All of the customisation supports the class-based gaming we've been doing for years now. The balance is good, we've worked a lot on tweaking the weapons, and all the abilities you can assign to your characters. Some of these are challenging to master. The Operative class is very complicated, and some people might choose a medic instead because they can get XP from supporting your team by healing them, or buffing their weapons. So if you want an easy way you can go for those classes, but if the AI sees that there isn't the class available to achieve the next objective, they will change class.
But if you want competitive play, you're going to want co-ordination in your team, so we allow voice communication just for your friends. You can't hear the enemy talking, but you can hear your friends.
GP: What kind of server options will there be? Hardcore?
Leondardi: You can set the difficulty level for the AI, and you can customise the settings to transform it into a truly competitive experience. We support clans as well, so players that like to play the game the hardcore way can do so.