"What do you mean, they're building it?" That was my first reaction when Richard Jolly, our Media Director, told me about the Brink stand at Gamescom 2009. Even though he pulled out the plans, I still couldn't believe him: "They're building a life size Container City?! Surrounded by water? And an 8-metre replica Founder's Tower sitting in the middle of it all??"
We jumped in my car and drove to the workshops in Woolwich where the stand components were being prepared for the show. Just like in the game, the outside walls of the stand were made up of rusty shipping containers that had been hastily converted into makeshift homes.
Actually seeing our art team's in-game designs come to life was an amazing experience. Everything from scavenged ship parts and makeshift wind turbines, to small details like Resistance graffiti art was right there in front of us.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's rewind a few months.
"Style is the answer to everything"
We first unveiled Brink at E3 in June 2009 and at the time, we weren't sure what to expect. Fortunately, the response was overwhelmingly positive. Yet, reading previews and comments on the web, people seem to have a hard time describing Brink's visual style.
From the moment I first learned about Brink during my initial job interview at Splash Damage, I knew we should go for a stylised look. I didn't really need to think too long about it; the back-story and setting were so inspiring that the environments, characters, and general atmosphere were already in my head and I just had to refine their style.
I originally defined Brink's visual style as being an exaggerated reality, but it's not too dissimilar from what Hyperrealism artists started pursuing at the beginning of the 1970's. It resembles Photorealism in terms of quality and attention to detail, but in addition, Hyperrealism plays around with the scale of certain features (gigantic scale) and enhances particular details (sharp focus) in order to create the illusion of a reality that doesn't actually exist.
"I can see you"
When I first sat down with our lead character artist, Tim Appleby, we went through some of my research and settled on an initial style for our character. Keeping with the overall theme of exaggerating human body proportions, we drew upon the influences of artists like Ron Mueck, Jon Foster, Phil Hale, Sebastian Krüger and a few others.
Tim and his team then started working on a prototype character based on the following guidelines:
- Exaggerate body proportions
- Simplify the shape of the character while emphasizing key creases in his clothing
- Exaggerate clothing details like zippers, buckles, pockets, and stitching
- Achieve a recognisable, dynamic overall silhouette
The resulting style would allow the player to recognize any of our characters, even at a distance. We would also be able to visually communicate essential information like character class, body type, and equipment, without everything becoming too busy - a considerable advantage in a fast-paced shooter game.
With our first character model, we fulfilled all of those requirements, but we had another challenge ahead - maintaining our unique style within the extensive character customisation system. We would need to be able to mix and match any and all pieces of clothing and headgear without the result looking odd or out of place. After several iterations and thanks to a very clever system created by Tim and technical artist, Paul Greveson, we finally reached a balance that allows for really unique outfits no matter which combinations are selected.
We also wanted to have very different visual styles for Security and Resistance, the two factions in the game. The Security is a private police force now desperately trying to maintain law and order while the Resistance are civilians that have been pushed over the edge by intolerable living conditions. We wanted their 'story' to come across in the way they're dressed. While the Security forces are equipped with more traditional combat gear, the Resistance fighters scavenge makeshift armour from things like tyres, number plates, and protective safety gear. If they can get a hold of it, they're probably using it.
A Contrasting Reality
As the game takes place in the near future, we went through an extensive conceptual phase. We wanted to stay away from pure science fiction and instead, ground everything in reality. We drew a lot of inspiration from contemporary architects with an organic approach to architecture, most notably Santiago Calatrava and Zaha Hadid. Additionally, we spent a lot of time researching contemporary design, eco-design, and self-sustaining engineering principles. Other elements in the world of Brink are based on actual science and engineering projects, such as Seasteading, algae biomass reactors, and hydroponic agriculture.
The players' experience on the Ark begins 20 years after its founding, so we had to ask ourselves what would be left from this engineering and architecture utopia... Where do we put rust? Has the paint started flaking? How does the inside of a building look if it has been disused for decades? What would be used to build shelters if space and resources are at a premium? We progressively answer all those questions as we build the different maps of the game and we try to include as much information as possible in the environment itself to tell the story of the Ark. Internally we refer to this as Instant Deep Context. In other words, show, don't tell.
Environment art in Brink is all about contrast. The Ark is a place where worlds collide - the disdainful wealth of the Founders is opposed to the ever-growing refugee population's extreme poverty, and the clean architectural lines of Founder's Island contrasts with the inextricable chaos of the slums. Due to decades of massive overpopulation and the resulting resource shortages, even the nicer parts of the Ark have begun falling into disrepair. We've really tried to communicate a lot of background information purely through the player's surroundings.
Life in colour
There has been a big trend in recent games to push for an overly desaturated look, for Brink we wanted ‘colour' back. I really like using colour, and the work of painters like Edward Hopper (with his fantastic way of using light), David Hockney (his work on the 'swimming pool' series in the '60s and '70s especially), and impressionist painters inspire me every day.
Brink's environments are similarly colourful and the reason for this is really quite simple: we're out at sea, and all the open water acts like a giant mirror. As a result, there's a lot of light bouncing everywhere, which yields more vivid colours. The rusty reds of Container City provide a great contrast to the bright blue sky above.
We also "paint" the story of the Ark as you progress through Brink. Each time you discover a new environment, its atmosphere, colour palette, and lighting conditions will underscore what's happening in the game and help to trigger different types of emotions.
Colour also plays a large role in helping to separate the two factions of Brink. So for the Security we've gone for largely greyscale tones that are clean and readable, accented with small hints of saturated colour. While for the Resistance there are much larger areas of colour, often quite loud and without any coordination, a distinction we hope to refine to truly separate the look of the two teams.
I hope I managed to shed some light on Brink's unique visual style and the thinking behind it. If you have any questions or comments about Brink's art style, feel free to share them with us. We look forward to bringing you additional developer diaries from other members of the team in the future.