Brink's Lead Writer Tells How to Write a Multiplayer Game

Brink's Lead Writer Tells How to Write a Multiplayer Game

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It's a tough problem to create a nuanced and believable setting in a game that's really just a series of multiplayer maps and objectives.

Edward Stern has his work cut out for him. The lead writer of Brink was certainly excited to work on Splash Damage's first original IP - having previously created Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory and Doom 3 - but it was more difficult for him to develop a story without a defined protagonist. The Lead Writer title is a bit of a misnomer, as he is the only writer on the team, but Stern had the significant challenge of pulling players into the new intellectual property without heavy-handed exposition. That's especially difficult with a game that focuses heavily on multiplayer and coop, without a separate single player "story mode" - a gametype dubbed "crossplayer." When Brink comes out May 17th on PC, Xbox 360 and PS3, players will create their avatar and be able to jump into any mission with their friends or solo on the fly. But with such gameplay, Stern was still able to craft a coherent story by using the environment.

"It's just better when players pull information [out of the game] rather than the game pushing it at them," Stern told me at PAX East 2011. "We can render environments really well, but it's really hard to do convincing characters."

The story of Brink is that a huge floating island designed to be a self-sustaining refuge for the fabulously rich is flooded with refugees when the seas rise in 2045. The Ark cannot sustain so much population, and tensions are rising between the original inhabitants and the "guests" - a sort of slur describing the poor newcomers. The technology for these "sea steddings" exists now, and it's a perfect setting for a first-person shooter because of the isolated environment.

"We wanted it to be real," Stern said. "We didn't want [Brink] to be too far in the future ... because that turns into sci-fi and that turns into magic. We'd lose that sense of immersion, that's what shooters are good at. That feeling of, 'Oh my god. That guy is shooting at me.'"

The Ark becomes the main character in Brink, and the players can participate in 8 different maps or scenarios for each faction - the Resistance or Security - and get a sense of a continuing story. But there is no good or bad guys on the Ark as it teeters on the brink of full on civil war. Stern gave a great example how one mission can be viewed completely differently, depending on which faction you are playing.

"If you play the Security storyline, we've got credible intel that there is a bio-weapon lab. So you go, 'That's what that map is about,'" Stern said. "You play that [same map] from the Resistance side and they say, 'They're stealing our vaccine.'" Once you realize that vaccines are made from viruses, which could be used as bio-weapons, a simple mission suddenly has a lot of grey area morality that will hopefully engage players.

Another way that the writing filters into a multiplayer game is through art design. The Ark was meant to be self-sustaining, but in the areas that are overpopulated with Guests, the metal has been allowed to corrode. Red colored environments denote poor or Resistance areas, where as pristine white coral is the color of the rich and powerful.

Taking a cue from games like BioShock, Stern has written audiologs that will populate your dossier - an in-game database - that will unlock as you earn XP. These logs will provide the inner thoughts of the leaders of the two factions, Captain Mokoena, leader of Security forces, and Brother Chen from the Resistance. "It's a total game-ism," Stern said of audiologs. "But's it's just too handy." Unlike other games, Stern felt that playing the audiologs over play was too disconcerting in a multiplayer game, so instead they are accessible as a reward from the menu screens.

But will there be a climax? Will players feel like they've accomplished something after they play through all 16 missions from both factions? "Once you play eight missions from the first faction, there will be a end of campaign movie that will ask you, 'Do you want to see the other side of it?'" Stern said. "Then once you finish the second eight missions, there will be an outro cinematic that will resolve or conclude the story."

Brink attempts to break new ground by offering a story within a game that is built completely on multiplayer. It's hard to tell if playing one mission cooperatively, or against other players, will work and if the narrative will feel coherent once the game is out, but at least it seems like Stern and the Brink team is trying something new and interesting.

Hopefully, this new angle on storytelling will dovetail nicely with the innovations made in shooter gameplay that the game offers as well. Check out my impressions of playing the multiplayer of Brink hands-on.

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Multi-player based storyline? This concept intrigues me. Looking forward to your player review.

Eeeaaarrggg...

Interesting concept. Nice try. But they just destroyed any chance of me buying this game.

At least until it goes on sale.

Zhukov:
Interesting concept. Nice try. But they just destroyed any chance of me buying this game.

What in particular didn't you like?

Hungry Donner:

Zhukov:
Interesting concept. Nice try. But they just destroyed any chance of me buying this game.

What in particular didn't you like?

The idea of single player being reduced to "the MP maps with bots". I realise that isn't quite what he said, but that's what I'm reading.

Also, "It's really hard to do convincing characters so we aren't even going to try." A story is only ever as good as the characters that inhabit it.

Interesting, looks like he stumbled on something that Half Life, Bioshock and Fallout were doing on their own by himself. I like his explanation on it. Characters are hard to create, even more so on videogames. Environments aren't. Why not let the environments tell the story?

The problem with this approach is that if no one is playing the game a year from now it'll die. It happens. But it got me interested.

Also 'brink' is Portuguese internet slang for 'joke' (it's short for 'brincadeira', which literally means 'play' but in this context is closer to j/k. THE MORE YOU KNOW)

Zhukov:

Hungry Donner:

Zhukov:
Interesting concept. Nice try. But they just destroyed any chance of me buying this game.

What in particular didn't you like?

The idea of single player being reduced to "the MP maps with bots". I realise that isn't quite what he said, but that's what I'm reading.

It looks more like single player is 'the MP maps', period. The crossplayer thing appears to mean that the multiplayer maps are also the single player maps.

Also Onslaught Mode on Battlefield Bad Company 2 is essentially what you described and people seem to like it.

Captcha: economy. ulartr - the last words of the alien Obama clone.

Zhukov:

Hungry Donner:

Zhukov:
Interesting concept. Nice try. But they just destroyed any chance of me buying this game.

What in particular didn't you like?

The idea of single player being reduced to "the MP maps with bots". I realise that isn't quite what he said, but that's what I'm reading.

Also, "It's really hard to do convincing characters so we aren't even going to try." A story is only ever as good as the characters that inhabit it.

It's a multiplayer game, like Shadowrun (FPS) with a story. If you're not into online multiplayer, you aren't the target audience for it.

Personally, this is one of my most anticipated games of this year.

The Random One:
Interesting, looks like he stumbled on something that Half Life, Bioshock and Fallout were doing on their own by himself. I like his explanation on it. Characters are hard to create, even more so on videogames. Environments aren't. Why not let the environments tell the story?

Kind of like Left 4 Dead as well.

I'm glad I preordered it almost a year ago (I swore to myself that I won't be preordering a game a year before it gets released) and I simply can't wait =D

Let's see this thing actually working first.

Also, um...
"'We wanted it to be real,' Stern said."
This rather annoys me, considering the "art" style they've chosen is something downright, almost unplayable ugly to me.

Zhukov:
The idea of single player being reduced to "the MP maps with bots". I realise that isn't quite what he said, but that's what I'm reading.

Also, "It's really hard to do convincing characters so we aren't even going to try." A story is only ever as good as the characters that inhabit it.

I can understand that, however at least the game will have a story rather than the typical MP game that just throws you in to a map without much thought on the matter.

GLo Jones:
Personally, this is one of my most anticipated games of this year.

*looks at avatar*

I probably could have guessed that :D

damn
8 maps
my hype levels have kind of dropped now.

From my understanding each map is split in to several different locations.

Realistically, the PC would have to look through dozens of blog posts, TPS reports, and memos before they could get to the relevant audio logs.

Bleh. I really hoped there'd be a single player to this. Oh well.

Ehhh....... a story-based multi-player game sounds kind of intriguing to me, would be awesome to see it in action if the devs can work out what they want along with some good gameplay, is not, I will look forward to the inevitable crash and burn, but I am intrigued, and this game has squeezed it's way onto my games radar for now.

Fantastic concept, despite I see the main flaw in his thinking.
Human Element.
If a designer thinks that the player will gladly go and help another person in the game... I don't think he plays online multiplayer games.

Summing up the game as '8 different maps' has put me off somewhat. Maybe it's because my definition of 8 maps is just that - 8 maps you playthrough.

Having said that, perhaps they will be extremely large or be broken up into different areas. I must admit I'm a little cautious approaching this game now, and am suspect as to it's longevity.

It's the 8 scenarios that worry me the most so far. You'll essentially be playing the same 8 maps over and over again, with some slight differences based on what faction you're playing as. This could mean a few things, like the game is very short playing alone and it is meant to be played primarily for multiplayer, or the map objectives never change, meaning that Map 3 will always play out as an "attack/defend" mode depending on the faction you're playing as.

As some have said earlier, it's possible that the 8 different maps are divided into individual regions. Like Map 5 has 3 different regions that you play in differently. Or it could just be 3 different regions that you play in simultaneously, like after you go through region 1, you barge in through region 2.

Color me cautiously optimistic about this. It's an interesting take on storytelling in games, and it's at least trying to bring something new to the table.

Art Axiv:
Fantastic concept, despite I see the main flaw in his thinking.
Human Element.
If a designer thinks that the player will gladly go and help another person in the game... I don't think he plays online multiplayer games.

Ah but here is where you are mistaken. The way they made the game, sure you can get exp by killing. But that exp is FAR less than say defending an objective or giving a teammate a class oriented buff. (soldier: ammo, medic: Medpack or revival syringe, engineer: gun buff, and i think operative can give you radar)

So yeah, i think people will "gladly" go help out the objective, as they kinda have to to get the most out of the game. The game is so team oriented it doesnt even track youe kill/death ratio.

Archeus Cross:

Art Axiv:
Fantastic concept, despite I see the main flaw in his thinking.
Human Element.
If a designer thinks that the player will gladly go and help another person in the game... I don't think he plays online multiplayer games.

Ah but here is where you are mistaken. The way they made the game, sure you can get exp by killing. But that exp is FAR less than say defending an objective or giving a teammate a class oriented buff. (soldier: ammo, medic: Medpack or revival syringe, engineer: gun buff, and i think operative can give you radar)

So yeah, i think people will "gladly" go help out the objective, as they kinda have to to get the most out of the game. The game is so team oriented it doesnt even track youe kill/death ratio.

That I need to see, to believe.

 

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