Getting To Know The S.M.A.R.T System in Brink
The Brink Blog has its fourth developer diary under its belt, where Aubrey Hesselgren details the conception and implementation of its parkour system, “S.M.A.R.T.” Luckily you don’t have to venture all the way over there–we can tell you all about it!
First, some background. As you may or may not know, the setting of Brink takes place on a man-made ecological haven called ‘Ark.’ Ark was meant to house only tens of thousands, but as the world went to hell, Ark started becoming overcrowded. These new inhabitants did not want to conform to the usual routes designed for them–and in any case, “In real life, spaces designed to arbitrarily constrain crowd-flow very often make for the most unintentionally fantastic Parkour playgrounds.”
You see, Brink has parkour enthusiasts at its helm–Aubrey is one of them. And so when designing the system, Aubrey took to the streets with a recorder and parkoured that shit up. Taking the footage back to Splash, Aubrey found that “the view jerked around, making it hard to tell what I was doing. Any gamer trying to take control of such a shaky camera via mouse or controller would be instantly disoriented and disconnected from the experience.” And so it was decided that in order to implement their idea of smooth, flowing movement, the footage was a testament to what they did not want to do: disorient the player. In order to do this, the player must feel the ‘creative pathfinding’ that is such a big part of the sport of Parkour. This means that pathways must not be too obvious or even intentionally programmed to be approached in only on specific way, and as such “Our challenge, therefore, was to create a system of movement which dealt elegantly with our detailed environments, whilst maintaining the player’s sense of control and creativity.” To give you an idea of what this means, take a look at the visual they provided for possible ways to approach an obstacle:
Read on past the jump to learn more about Brink’s SMART system!
Obviously, the way you can approach any situation is numerous and exciting. After playing Uncharted 2 for a bit, and having Nate jump and climb to and fro, it became immediately obvious to me that a game with a well-implemented platforming/parkour element in an FPS would be amazing–why just have a cover system when you can go ‘anywhere’ fluidly? Speaking to that, Aubrey mentions that “We wanted to make players feel fluid and uninterrupted in their movement, while giving a sense of how real Parkour techniques are applied. We wanted moves to be useful, and not just flashy.”
So how does it work? All the possibilities for the SMART system are being calculated as you move, “As a player runs around levels, we check for these invisible reachabilities ahead of them. We then filter down the list of reachabilities based on their position and orientation. Because of the wealth of routes a player could take at any point, we may still be left with more than one choice even after all this culling.” The obvious problem here would be assuming that a player wants to do X when in reality they want to do Y. And that’s where your SMART button comes in, which actually sounds a lot like the cover system implemented in Gears. That is to say, you press a button and give a direction and the game responds with a contextual movement–if you press A-Left, then Marcus will take cover against the wall on the left. This system allows the player “to sprint, the SMART button lets the movement system know you want vaults, slides, wall hops and mantles to automatically engage as soon as you move into the context for one. When there’s more than one choice, we use your aim to choose the final decision. Given a railing you could slide under or vault over, looking low will result in the slide, and looking high will result in the vault.” Moreover, “Vaults are quick, registering your incoming velocity, scaling speed to maintain fluidity. Slides have slight after-touch to retain a sense of control. View kicks are kept to a minimum so that you can always aim consistently, regardless of the move you’re in.”
The beauty comes in the simplicity of the controls which allow you to perform complicated, intuitive and rewarding movements on-screen. Gears finds its success in its organic movement when it comes to taking cover. Brink wants to bring something more to the table, and introduce us to organic movement when it comes to movement. Worried about what this means about the other big aspect of the game, shooting, or that it takes control away from you? Don’t be. “As far as possible, your ability to aim and shoot guns is uninterrupted. If you vault while reloading your weapon, the reload process continues from where it left off, rather than being “cancelled.” Moves are short, or interruptible, minimizing the time spent waiting around for an animation to relinquish full control of your avatar.”
If not having a cover system makes your FPS outdated thanks to the innovations that Gears brought to the table, if Brink manages to nail this, pretty soon we may see an influx of games that incorporate a Parkour system.