09 November, 2010

Brink: Splash Damage - BAF 2010 Part 1

Bradford Animation Festival is here once again. Day one of the biggest annual event at the Museum, indeed the biggest animation festival in the UK, and the crowds alreading gathering in the foyer and Pictureville show signs of this being yet another successful year.

BAF's audience is always a joy to see - a devoted bunch of enthusiasts, industry professionals, industry hopefuls and students just starting out on the road to a hopefully brilliant career. Enough of the scene setting... on with the show.

The first session of the day was an exclusive with Tim Appleby and Lauren Austin from Splash Damage who talked about the concept art and character design behind one of the 'most queued-for' games at this year's Eurogamer Expo: Brink.

A round of applause followed the cinematic trailer - there is a definite buzz surrounding this game. The pair took us through the story, the style of the two main factions, how they developed those styles, and then on body types, character customisation, overlays and tints. Everything from initial concepts to facial hair.

One thing which does stand out about Brink is that there is not one recognisable character - but about twenty of them, each with their own name and identity - a useful tip for game character designers.

"Customisation doesn't lend itself to quality", but Splash Damage wanted to focus on the quality, and in doing so discovered that "limitation spurs invention". Now, I couldn't go into too much technical detail* - partly because you might not understand it, mostly because I certainly don't, but it does make a lot of sense.

For example - all heads need to be the same width to ensure the head gear can be used for all characters, so instead they played about with length.

Lauren clearly had a lot of fun developing these characters, sometimes taking her inspiration from celebrity mashups (Danny Trejo vs Jason Statham, anyone? Sounds post-apocalyptic to me!)

And in a sea of post-apocalyptic first person shooters, this game stands out. Not only is it colourful, but it has a whole range of characters and customisation options which helps with player investment and gives Brink an instantly recognisable look.

So, here's Splash Damage's three golden nuggets:

1. Start simple and protoype early.
2. Make sure there is close collaboration as you develop your characters.
3. Designs need to reflect technical limitations.

*If you want to hear the finer technical detail, look out for all the podcasts from BAF 2010 which will appear on the new National Media Museum website in the very near future.


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