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Writer Ed Stern dissects Brink

What worked, what didn't.

There were things in Brink that lead writer Ed Stern accepts didn't work.

Take repeated spoken lines, for example - Stern thought he could leave variation open to actors' interpretation. But in hindsight, that was "an absolute mistake".

"Do not leave writing to the actors," Stern instructed, speaking at the Develop Conference last week.

"Write out all of the alternate lines no matter how stupid you feel. I made an absolute mistake on that.

"I felt really stupid writing a script that said, 'Medic. Mediiic. I need a medic here. I need a medic. I really do need a medic. Medic here now need.' I just felt really stupid doing it. So I thought we'll get some basic ones and get some variations."

That lack of variation, magnified by a "critical periodic shortage of coders", meant lines of dialogue playing "again and again".

"That's my fault," accepted Stern. "That's nothing on the coding. I should have [had] more varied lines to start off with."

The performances of the characters in Brink were "a bit big", Stern admitted. But he said "bad direction" was to blame rather here than bad acting.

"It's really hard to judge the tone of a performance in isolation," said Stern. "I don't think there's any bad vocal acting, it's just the wrong size.

"It's obvious to the viewer or the listener, but that perspective is denied not only the performer but the director, because we don't get to hear that stuff in real-time in the engine; it's only after when we put all the ambient acoustic in, the music and all that stuff.

"The actor we had for Brother Chen ... he's fantastic. We just gave him bad direction."

Ed Stern, lead writer, Brink

"This was particularly a problem with accents. The actor we had for Brother Chen... he's fantastic. We just gave him bad direction. It just ended up being a bit big, and that was only apparent at the end and we couldn't redo it. That was my fault."

Another performance-related gripe of Stern's concerned multiple actors recording a motion capture performance together.

"There can be a lot of pressure when doing performance capture with several characters at once to show that you are doing full performance capture with several actors at once and to demonstrate that yes they are in the same place at the same time," explained Stern.

"Why would characters touch each other? How often do you touch anyone you're not related to or sleeping with?

"Battlefield: Bad Company did this absolutely brilliantly by turning their supporting cast, Haggard and Sweetwater, into idiots constantly shoving, tickling and rock, paper, scissoring each other. And it's not just Brink - lots of games contain all manner or gratuitous back slapping and collar grabbing and weapon gesturing and so on.

"In Brink we kept on having spitting and fist bumps," said Stern, who accepted again that "that's totally my fault".

"The thing is," he added, "it actually looked really good when we recorded the sample - it worked really well with the actors. It was only when we got it in game that we said, 'Ah it's kind of cheesy, isn't it?'

"When I'm in the office, the number of people who would go, 'Brothers!' or 'Men!'; 'Brothers! Men!'; 'We're shooting bad guys!'; 'Brothers! Men!' - your bad lines will come back to haunt you."

Splash Damage used many of those lines as 'buttons' - "the pithy thing that ends the scene".

"The classic example is CSI [Miami]," explained Stern, when lead character Horatio puts on his glasses and delivers a dramatically cheesy observation-cum-quip. The audience cheers. In Brink the buttons were things like, "Showtime!", "Let's do this!", "Safety's off!" and "Are you with me, Brothers?!".

"It felt like we needed a line to finish the scene, and honestly that was a mistake."

Ed Stern

"It felt like we needed a line to finish the scene," recalled Stern, "and honestly that was a mistake. You do not need a line you need an action. It just needs to be clear."

Finally, Ed Stern questioned the absence of the Founders, the creators of Brink's floating city setting, The Ark.

"They built The Ark; one does the opening narration, another does an audio diary. They do not appear in the game," said Stern.

"That was deliberate. We did not want a third faction; I didn't want a wizard to rule this Oz, because I wanted to say it was more complex than one character - one person's choices. And also we don't want them as non-fighting NPCs because The Ark is past the point of talking, it was all about force.

"Did this work?" he asked, "Was it fruitfully ambigious?

"Or was it just a bit confusing?"

Conversely, there are things in Brink that Stern is particularly proud of. Using head-mics, for example, rather than microphones on a stand in a recording booth.

"You get perfectly good quality using a microphone on a headband, the whole point of it being you can have two actors in the booth at once," said Stern.

"Actors are very competitive. For a start they can do proper exertions. They can f***ing jog around the room and it's much more natural, it really frees them up. When you've got two actors they can ping lines between each other. Also it's about reaction, which is always better than just action."

"[Audio diaries are] cheap, effective - they're really fun. Everything else, other than an audio or text diary, involves way way more expense and time."

Ed Stern

Stern also found success when mixing up actors' physical postures. "You're trying to write with gesture," he said, "show how people feel."

"Like a dog's tail, in all of those cinematics the way they hold their weapon reflects how confident they are," Stern expanded. "If they're happy they're up, if they're not quite sure it comes down, and if they're dejected it comes right down. You're subliminally signalling change in the scene."

But the thing Stern was most proud of was audio diaries, and he said Splash Damage "got loads of nice feedback about that".

"[Audio diares are] cheap, effective - they're really fun. It got to the point when I was just writing stuff in the lunch hour for the actors, because one of the actors in particular just got it," recalled Stern.

"And there was nothing in the way: I had an idea, I could write it down, and he'd deliver it and it would go to the player. Everything else, other than an audio or text diary, involves way way more expense and time."

Brink, a stylised multiplayer shooter, was released in May. Eurogamer's Brink review awarded 8/10.

The first moments of Brink.
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Robert Purchese

Associate Editor

Bertie is a synonym for Eurogamer. Writes, podcasts, looks after the Supporter Programme. Talks a lot.

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