An Interview with Olivier 'Nosebone' Leonardi, Art Director of Brink

Within the maelstrom and the fury of sound and the crush of bodies at PAX East, Gaming Update managed to sit down with Splash Damage's Olivier Leonardi -- Nosebone to his mates -- the Art Director who oversaw the development of the upcoming FPS Parkour-laced adventure video game Brink .

Olivier is proof that often you cannot tell by appearances alone when you are in the presence of someone special -- he looks a lot like actor Zach Galifianakis in The Hangover , and dressed as he was in clothing that is more suited to the ski slopes than a video game expo, we were surprised to learn he was the Art Director on the project because he looked so different than he does in the developer diary videos that were posted by Bethesda.

A Frenchman with a soft and only slightly accented voice, Leonardi has a long history in game development. From his official biography on the Splash Damage website, he is described as having been formed upon a "colossal Gallic talent-lathe of unique design" and, considering that he is an industry veteran with 15 years' experience, his natural authority within the development studio is easy to understand.

He started out at Marseille Art School using the "state-of-the-art bleeding-cutting-edge killer art app that was Deluxe Paint on the mighty rendering mainframe that was the Amiga," and then went to work for a small company in Paris, creating environment scale models made from foam board and plastic straws. Olivier worked at Ubisoft Montreal on Myst Revelations, Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones and Rainbow Six Vegas, in addition to other projects, and is presently the Art Director at Splash Damage.

Outside of work, he is a mad keen snowboard addict (his nickname deriving from a particularly stylish maneuver), and spends his off-time pretending to be a Playmobil pirate searching for treasure in a shipwreck, racing against Lightning McQueen, and occasionally reading stories about a pig having a thistle stuck on his bum -- all activities he enjoys with his children before tucking them into bed so that he can play video games.

We sat down near the demo stations at the Bethesda Exhibit at PAX East, and had a chat about Brink, what it is about, and why he feels it is an important game and not simply another post-apocalyptic first-person shooter.

GU: First, tell us what the most important difference is in Brink that sets it apart from other post-apocalyptic FPS games?

Leonardi: There are two very important features -- the drop-in drop-out feature of play, and the de-emphasis upon shooter play.

GU: Tell us about the drop-in, drop-out feature?

Leonardi: Once the game is started the players can come in and out as they like, on either side. The player can begin playing through the story alone, and then have friends join them, then leave and return, or even leave and return on the opposing side.

GU: So that is not simply a function that is restricted to the multi-player mode?

Leonardi: No, because the entire game is both single player and multi-player. In fact we have what we call the campaign, where you play the story together -- it's the same map but a different experience depending on how many play. The drop-in, drop-out feature blurs the line between the three game modes.

GU: So the game is meant to be played not in a specific mode, but as a mixture of modes?

Leonardi: Precisely. There is no lobby; friends can invite you, you can invite them. It is flexible, like having a DVD player -- you can jump into a chapter if you want, or skip to a different one.

GU: You said earlier that the other important difference is the de-emphasis of shooting?

Leonardi: Yes, we want everyone to be able to play Brink, not just gamers who are good at multi-player. So we put more into the game than simply shooting -- you can play the game and not fire your weapon one time and score more points than players who did nothing but shoot their weapon.

GU: So there are non-combatant classes and jobs?

Leonardi: It is not really an issue of the classes, but if you suck at shooting you can still do well. We have play where healing or hacking earns more points than fighting, and other activities so that any player who may not be good at fighting can still occupy a slot on the team and deliver benefits that may be more valuable than if they were a shooter.

GU: So non-combat actions in the game score points?

Leonardi: Yes, everything you do in the game scores points. You are always being rewarded for doing something in the game.

GU: And that is not a class-based function?

Leonardi: The classes are not based upon skills, but upon the body type for combat. There is really no difference in skills in that part, weapons are based on body type; a larger more muscular body type will be able to use a heavier weapon (like a SAW), where a smaller more lithe body type will be able to move better and faster.

GU: So shooters will gravitate towards certain body types based upon the weapons class, and non-shooters will go in the other direction?

Leonardi: Everyone can shoot if they want to -- the fact that every single class is enabled to do that is not necessarily hindered in shooting people, but some classes are better at it. Other classes provide a more supporting role in the team. Helping your friends earns you more points than shooting.

GU: The game is not strictly about shooting then?

Leonardi: Brink is an objective based game. We try to mix objectives -- operative, soldier, security. Tasks change throughout the mission, so one player may do several jobs. Soldiers may be medics, medics may be operatives, optional objectives include capturing control points, so you could be healing, then shooting, and then hacking in the same mission.

GU: What other aspects of the game really stands out in your mind?

Leonardi: The controls certainly. The emphasis, and the AI also contributes to the game immensely.

GU: That is three aspects then, so let's take the controls first.

Leonardi: The controls are intentionally simplified to reduce the amount of time that it takes to learn then and to be good at using them. The smart button allows you to change motion at the push of a button, to go from running to sliding, to jumping, without having to think about pushing a complex combination of buttons.

GU: And the emphasis?

Leonardi: The emphasis is upon play. In Brink we don't want you to be good at running, we want you to be good at shooting, so the emphasis is upon making the game easier to play.

GU: With respect to the AI, earlier you talked about the benefits of being able to drop in and out of the game at will, and the promo material states that team play is in two opposing teams of eight players -- what happens when you don't have seven other people to invite in?

Leonardi: When a slot is not occupied by a human player, a bot comes in to occupy it. The AI can help you achieve all of the objectives that a human can, which means you do not have to have en entirely human team on either side to play.

After the interview we spent some time playing the game -- and it is clear that this is a game that can easily be enjoyed by shooter gamers and gamers who prefer action-adventure. The Parkour elements will appeal to stagers, and the hacking, while not the drawn out process that can be found in other games, is nonetheless a challenging activity that adds to the fun.

Brink releases on May 17th in North America, and May 20th worldwide.

Additional Assets

GU Preview of Brink

Screen Shots


Posted: 14th Mar 2011 by CMBF
Brink, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, PAX East 2011,