Borderlands 2: Interview with Gearbox VP Steve Gibson
Unless you’ve been living under a skag-pile, you’ll undoubtedly have heard by now that Borderlands is getting a sequel and, unless said skag-pile didn’t come with a net connection, or you’ve never read the site before, you’d also be aware that a few of us here at GamingLives are just a tad excited by this news and, personally speaking, this is the only game that has ever had me more excited than Duncan Norvelle on “Chase Night” down at his local bar. Borderlands itself came across my radar when our very own Editor-in-Chief raved about it after being given it as a Christmas present by a fellow writer, and so much so that I felt compelled to pick myself up a copy and, from that day to this, we were both hooked, with Borderlands quickly becoming my most-played game of all time.
After a short half-hour co-op mission at E3, I was overjoyed at what I’d seen… but I wanted more, so very little arm-twisting was required when I was offered the chance to join those lovely people at 2K Games and Gearbox Software for another session in London’s Carbon Bar with the promise of some more hands-on time and a chance to speak with the dev team. For the purposes of this particular session, we were placed in the town of Sanctuary – a hub area, much like Tartarus Station or T-Bone Junction – and were told to follow the mission that would ultimately lead us to Tiny Tina.
Sanctuary itself could be described as a cross between New Haven and Tartarus Station; a large town with lots going on, peppered with people going about their day to day. Vending machines are dotted around, as are news vendors and interactable characters, and the bounty board makes a comeback as a place to pick up town-specific missions. Given that we only had a little over an hour to play the game (which was ultimately stretched to around ninety minutes) we were encouraged to follow the mission brief closely rather than explore too much. Playing as Zer0, my first port of call was to find Roland – the soldier from the first game – and receive our instructions from him.
After a very quick wander around, I stumbled upon a new feature in the Borderlands universe – a Quick Change machine; somewhere you can go to change the appearance of your character, much like the New-U station except that Gearbox have expanded the options available for character customisation and now offer up various colour skins and clothing for your delectation, alternative head-styles, as well as the previous options of resetting skill points and changing the character name. After picking a nice brown and sandy desert colour-scheme (a change from the default black and purple) I carried on my merry way and met with my first Claptrap. Following a brief chat with the overly-excitable robot, I was asked to find his “secret stash”, cunningly disguised as a storage cabinet. Here was a place to store excess weapons and items, another new-ish feature (a natural progression to the bank in Moxxi’s Underdome… ah Moxxi), and one which I know a certain Editor-in-Chief will be happy about, especially as a little later on I came across an equipment safe that could be used for that same purpose.
I carried on following the objective marker to seek out my mission and eventually came across Roland and the lovely Lilith where a conversation gave some indication of my having saved Roland’s life which, presumably, happened earlier in the game as by this point my character was level twenty-five. I was given my instructions and headed off to find Mordecai who, we soon discovered, had holed himself up in the wilderness and only made his presence known after we’d taken out several twisted-looking insects that were being grown in the nearby farm. It was at this point that Mordecai recommended seeking out Tiny Tina, a manic recluse living further out in the Tundra who is hell-bent on making those who killed her family pay… in the most vile ways possible. The tea party which followed would make anything thrown by the Mad Hatter seem as bizarre as a cardboard box.
I’m kind of torn at this point though, as there is so much I could say about this section of the game, but I don’t want to spoil the fun for when you get to meet this character for the first time. I know that half the point of us attending such a session is to put the word out about the characters and heighten expectations, but I honestly feel that by doing so here it would detract from the experience. What I will say, however, is that Tiny Tina has the potential to become a fan favourite in much the same way as Moxxi has, albeit without the overt sexiness. There’s a darkness within Tina that can only have come from a host of terrible experiences that have left her vulnerable and scared, but there is also a strength in her that must have been forged during those same trials and tribulations. A frighteningly-endearing character; I am very much looking forward to meeting her again when the game is released and uncovering more of her story as she is one of those unforgettable characters who will engage you, give you series of quests and missions, and the twisted humour behind her will stay with you long after you’ve finished your gaming session.
So far everything about Borderlands 2 is just as I had hoped it would be. The colours are more vibrant, the graphic style a more polished version of the original, the landscapes as beautiful as they are desolate, and the new characters are absolutely brilliant! To find out more about what we could expect, and how everything has been going so far, I spoke with Steve Gibson, Vice President of Gearbox Software:
My co-op partner and I are both loot whores, and spend entire weekends doing nothing but killing Crawmerax over and over, so are there are any big loot-droppers to look out for in Borderlands 2 that we should know about?
If you liked Crawmerax, we’ll probably have a nice surprise or two for you in this one… I won’t officially confirm it, but I think you’ll be happy. Just for your friend and yourself, you will be happy.
Part of what made Borderlands such a success is the amazing art style and that beautiful cel-shaded look. Was there ever a time after you made the decision to drop the photo-realistic style that you wondered whether you were doing the right thing?
At the time, sure. I was having a conversation with a couple of friends two or three days ago, and we were wondering, “man what would have happened if we’d put out the game with that original art style. How different would things be?” We feel like the changes that happened after that art style were really for the better, the attitude and style really transformed as well along with that art style.
We’ve noticed that with what we’ve seen today with Borderlands 2 that everything is also much crisper and clearer than in the previous game, was it a conscious decision to go down that route and make everything more… HD?
Yeah, the art style has been refined a bit, our art guys will be excited to hear you noticed that. It’s not just art that has been refined, there’s tech and rendering that has been refined a bit too. I mean, it’s clearly still identifiable as Borderlands, but everything just feels a little bit more, I don’t know, more HD as you called it.
The differences will be in the PhysX stuff, and you’ll play at 1080p instead of 720p if your PC can handle it. The PhysX stuff is right up there; it’s far more integrated than anything we’ve ever done. It’s on the weapon effects, the character interaction, liquids and smokes, and even that Tiny Tina thing where the guy is getting shocked, there’s like this electrical billowing smoke around him that billows when people walk through it, and that’s all PhysX. Nvidia have been working with us for more than a year on coding and checking things, and they’ve even had developers assigned specifically to Borderlands for a long time.
You were recently awarded the Guinness World Record for “Most Guns In A Video Game” for the original Borderlands… so how many more guns are there in Borderlands 2, and don’t you think Guinness should just rename the award “The Borderlands Award” and be done with it?
Well, the count’s not final. There’s still stuff happening, but we think it’s more fun to let the Guinness guys figure it out. We’re sure it’s more, heck, I mean you can tell just from playing it a couple of hours that the diversity is there. There was over 17 million last time. At the moment, no, we haven’t even tried to count it recently. Everything is randomly generated, so you have to figure out all the possible permutations, and that changes, and you have to wonder how the Guinness guys are going to count it if like hey, well, what if it’s a gun that’s almost exactly the same, but it’s got a slightly different texture or decal. Does that count? We’ll have to ask the Guinness guys what they think. So they have to figure out the rules of what they would count also as different enough.
Sticking with the weapons, are all the weapons types for Borderlands 2 new, or are we likely to see the likes of the Cold Thanatos and Pestilent Defilers cropping up?
Well, the whole system has been replaced but you will see, I guess, callbacks to some of the old favourites like Ladyfinger and the like. The weapons class types are still there, there is just more of each.
There’s talk of a 35-hour-long ninja playthrough, just sticking to the main storyline, compared to around 20 hours for the original. Is that because the game world is so much greater and there’s more involved in the main quest lines?
Yeah, it’s bigger, denser, and there’s more to do. The strategy guide guys, who try to do the side quests and stuff, their recorded time is 58 hours end to end with side quests. Plus there’s additional playthroughs and this time around, instead of just bumping all the numbers up, you’re going to see new attack styles and new names of different enemies as well.
Will there be level caps with that? Because that was one of my frustrations with the original and the DLC – you got so far and then just stopped.
We agreed with that, and that’s why we added the Badass Ranking system. We knew that other guys were going to want to keep going, and being able to do that without breaking all the systems was key, so we built this new system that allows for all that. So yep, there’s no cap on levels at all so potentially you could have millions of levels if you wanted to play that far.
Is there anything you can tell us about Handsome Jack, such as what’s beneath his mask or why he has to wear the mask at all? Will there be a Scooby Doo moment where he lifts the mask off and we’re all like “Oh no way!” when we realise it’s been Marcus all along and he’s just lost a lot of weight and combed his hair differently?
Well, hopefully you got a good primer on what the heck is going on when talking with Roland in your playthrough today. I think that gives you a good idea of what the core of the story is going to be – that whole ‘trying to awaken The Warrior’ and what that is all about. At the very beginning of the game, the entire planet is going to shake and you’re going to get a better sense about what the hell that is. I’m not going spoil the whole ‘man behind a mask’ thing for you, [laughs] you meddling kids? No, you’ll have to see for yourself.
The sarcastic and tortured lamenting of General Knoxx, and the twisted sexiness of Moxxi, made Secret Armoury the best DLC ever. Will we have the same in-depth DLC for Borderlands 2 and how many do you have in the pipeline?
You’ll see that how General Knoxx interacted with you is a lot of how Handsome Jack will interact with you. We haven’t got that far with Borderlands 2 yet though, so right now the only DLC we have on deck is The Mechromancer, and we’re about to really start into that. That’s free to all the pre-order people too, whenever we do finish it.
Speaking of pre-orders, the Ultimate Loot Chest is by far the best video game special edition to date, and it’ll make a lot of loot whores very happy – do you have any future plans to do what Valve have done with the Portal gun and turrets and work towards releasing licensed red crate replicas?
We’re getting a lot of questions about that, and we’re starting having to think about it you know. That crate sold out way quicker than we thought, it was in a day or two here, and they were like “we can do a little bit more before launch” and that sold out in less than a day also. And there’s no more to be made before launch either. That’s it! And we tried, I mean it’s not like we don’t want to sell games, right? Gearbox were allotted a few hundred of the red crates for our internal stuff, and because of how quickly it over sold, we actually had to change our allotment internally because there wasn’t enough. That’s how crazy it has been.
Loot. Loot never changes. Borderlands 2 hits UK stores on September 21st.
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