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So 2011's Brink turned out to be a bit of a dud. With such a huge focus on multiplayer and not enough players present to support the game after patches and more fixes finally arrived, it felt more like the title was still born than it was launched as a new shooter phenomenon.
Nevermind that though. Splash Damage have reemerged in the competitive multiplayer scene with Extraction, a free-to-play "and free-to-win" (as Creative Director Alastair Cornish notes) objective-based shooter. At PAX Prime, Extraction gave attendees a handful of characters to choose from and two key tasks: defend/hack a transit terminal and defend/bomb a train car. After going hands-on with the title and finding tight controls married with fast action, I wanted to know how Splash Damage had improved their processes since Brink.
Cornish detailed an entirely new branch at the developer called Fireteam. "They handle online services to ensure low latency online play and smart matchmaking, as well as gathering data so every footstep and every cricket bat to a player's head can be tracked," Cornish explained. Did I mention that one of the characters in the demo had a cricket bat to deal massive melee damage?
Fireteam sifts through the data from every match played and aids Splash Damage in balancing everything based on that data mining. Extraction's free-to-play nature also allows for less time between updates, but more importantly players won't be restricted by their class choice as they were in Brink.
"Now we have characters and roles so any character you choose can tackle objectives, but an engineer leaning character might be the better hacker," Cornish said. "Everyone can hack and defuse and that way you won't get into a situation where you've gotten to the bomb with no enemies in sight, but you don't have the right class so you can't perform for your team."
Cornish made this switch sound more liberating than working exclusively on PC (the developer's native platform) or even moving into the free-to-play space where a game can change dynamically and react to its player base. "It's given us a lot of freedom and it makes you think of characters as individuals and less as a set of rules. Not every medic-type character will come with team-reviving shock paddles," Cornish said.
"You can pick characters no matter their strengths and weaknesses and use them together as a team." When I asked about a medic character who could only revive himself, team-play be damned, Cornish implied that such a character was running around in-game back at the office.
"That's a really good example of someone who breaks the mold. We can experiment with all kinds of things," Cornish said, "but we still want to avoid characters who can be problems. There's fun to be had playing with traditional battlefield roles, if it works and it's fun for people or it gives a team an interesting new dynamic to work with."
When I brought up Splash Damage's new free-to-play model, Cornish stressed that Extraction was also free-to-win. "We're still working on monetization, but right now we're just focused on making a great game." Cornish says that gamers themselves have been integral to that process and that their feedback has been invaluable in making Extraction a great game.
"This game has been shaped by gamers," Cornish explained. "We have an inner circle of VIP gamers who have been playing with us since the end of 2012. They've been very patient with bugs and the like, but they've been playing every night and the reason the game is playing smoothly here at PAX is that we've had real gamers get their hands on from the earliest possible point."
We'll have more on Extraction in the coming months and further beta access will be available for anyone interested in joining the ongoing effort to keep Extraction polished and balanced.
Splash Damage is also working with WB Games to create Batman: Arkham Origins multiplayer.