How to Build an Awesome World: “Brink” Devs on Narrative and Visuals, Part 2

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In the first part of the talk with Brink‘s lead writer Ed Stern, he talked about how the look of the game can inspire plot and gameplay ideas. In this interview, art director Olivier Leonardi–the man in charge of Brink’s aesthetic–discusses how the eco-pocalypse FPS’ distinctive approach to character and environmental design came about.

Brink hits Xbox 360, Ps3 and PC on May 17th for North America and on May 20th for Europe.

I think the look of Brink is the first thing people notice and has been a big conversation point. So talk about your role in that, Olivier.

So, I supervise the whole visual aspect of Brink from modeling the environment, to animation, special effects, presentation, the HUD as well. Before Brink, when I worked on previous games, there was kind of a legacy. I worked on Rainbow Six Vegas and it was already a franchise. So I had some guidelines. When I joined Splash Damage, it was pretty much a blank canvas and we could do anything.

Your colleague Richard Hamm talked a little bit about the inspiration of hyperrealism. Can you talk about the movement and why you thought it would be a good fit for this game?

One of my beliefs is a quote from Charles Bukowski, that says, “Style is the answer to everything.” Which is to say, when you do anything in life, do it in style. So, the first goal was not boringly reproducing reality in a game. You have to add like an element of style. So that was kind of the starting point. And then, there’s more practical aspects of it which is like seeing a character from a distance, you are going to be automatically losing a lot of detail. You can add a lot of detail or any kind of sculpting. But you are going to lose it.

It’s going to become noise very quickly. So, the kind of inspiration of talking about the hyperrealist painters, was more in the process of doing things, not mimicking what they’ve done. I think two main techniques which was the deep focus and gigantic scale. Basically you scale up things so that the details just kind of pop out in your face. Basically what we did with the characters we kind of scaled-up every detail on the outfits. So, they still appear strong from a distance.

Right. So you can tell if somebody is a Heavy from far away.

Yeah, exactly. There’s always the problem of identifying who’s the guy way out in front. Is it an enemy? Is it a friend? We tried to separate palettes and for the factions as well so there’s really a strong silhouette and a really different set of colors. Security is mostly wearing cold tones and kind of neutrals. And Resistance, we use more patchwork patterns, off-colors, and rougher fabrics as well.

(More on TIME.com: On the Brink, Part 2: Talking with Splash Damage)

The main thing about the character creation that smacks you over the head is that none of the characters are particularly handsome. They’re not built with matinee-idol looks and there’s a lot of idiosyncrasy to their appearances. What was behind that decision?

Once again, when you remember someone, you’re going to focus on really strong facial features. So we’re pushing for those mean-looking guys. We used reference from actors, too. Like, if you take a guy like Danny Trejo, this guy has got a face.

His life is on his face.

Exactly. So we kind of wanted to have those guys having a really strong personality through their faces. Yeah, we had the kind of limitation of 12 archetypes and three ethnicities. But yeah, we don’t allow the player to change the main proportions.

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