Borderlands 2: Interview With Gearbox Software

Ryan King


We sat down with 2K Games and Gearbox to discuss the Borderlands sequel.

Published on Aug 26, 2011

Was Borderlands a surprise success for you guys?

Yeah, we were very happy with it. We weren’t sure how it was going to be taken of course because of the mix of role-playing, shooting and art style. We loved the game. We really thought people would enjoy it. We just weren’t sure how it would sell.

What were your initial expectations for Borderlands?

Just as a whole? My expectations on how it would sell or how it would be accepted?

Well, both.

We knew we had something that was a little different. So we always knew, internally, it was a very solid game. It’s such a… you’re not totally sure how people are going to take to it or how it’s going to sell. We really believed in it. Once we started hearing the feedback, reviews were pretty solid and word of mouth was really good, we were very happy that people started taking to it.

You mentioned in the presentation that you’re focusing on visual feedback such as guns looking different without needing to check stats and so on. Was visual feedback the main thing you wanted to address?

There are a lot of things we wanted to address in Borderlands 2. More environments, re-doing the entire weapons system, that was not a small task, the way that system works. We have a guy that’s dedicated to weaponry and he’s just non-stop [laughs] He’s a beast. We didn’t have him before.

Now we do and we feel that shows through in weapon design but from the characters to the environments, reinventing the quest systems. It’s kind of hard to pinpoint. From my standpoint, from a visual standpoint, we knew what we wanted to do when we finished the first game. When that was wrapped it was like, okay, we want more environments. We want more enemies, we want more diversity.

One of the things that we got pinged on was that the landscape was a little monotone in the first game, so we wanted to spark that up and give you more variation. We’re really trying to create characters, weaponry and gear that will hopefully really appeal to lots of individuals.

Even more so than the last game. So we really want to cater to as many individuals as possible. Oh, and that was one of the things too, with the guns being different, who doesn’t want to hold two guns? We have so many guns and when you think about those combinations, that was a promise that we felt was really strong.

Not tempted to create a character with four arms and introduce quadruple wielding?

I can’t comment on that [laughs]

When Borderlands was first revealed, it had a different look to what it ended up with, and its concept art artwork runs contrary to the realistic, military vibe of FPS games nowadays. Was that a big risk for you guys?

It was definitely a big gamble but we knew, looking at the game at that time, it wasn’t as special as we thought the game design was. It felt a little bland and as we were developing the game, it just didn’t fit. So for the art style, several of us came on and we really went at it.

We say, this isn’t working and we wanted to be distinct because our game was distinct. No offence familiar game-makers out there, we just really wanted a style of our own that we felt complimented how the game worked. It was definitely a gamble, it was kind of at the eleventh hour. It was a risk.

We weren’t sure how people would take to it. As we were doing the art style and redesigning the characters, I came in on that and a lot of the other artists there… we were definitely a little nervous. The response was pretty positive. It was positive more than it was negative.

You probably saw the infamous Michael Pachter quote suggesting Borderlands would flop just before it was released. How did you guys react to that?

I mean, we obviously didn’t feel the same way [laughs] And we’re happy that other people didn’t feel the same. Obviously we weren’t real happy to hear a statement like that but we’re happy with the success.
The FPS genre is currently framed by the Battlefield 3 vs Modern Warfare 3 showdown. Where do you see Borderlands 2 fitting into that?
We’re not directly competing with that, necessarily. We’re more about the co-operative side of things whereas, typically, a lot of those guys are more about the competitive side. And just with our role-playing aspect of it with all of the gear and all of the loot, we feel we’re taking some elements from traditional first-person shooters and melding it with that. Obviously, you want to compete with those guys but they’re doing their thing really well and we want to do ours.

What would you say the biggest strength that drew people to Borderlands was?

I think it was the co-operative nature of the game. The loot mechanic was really strong and we knew there were a lot of players who grew up playing Diablo or any game that’s about that loot. It was a really big sign when as we played the game so much during development, we still kept playing the game.

Or even when you went in and you were just testing something like a bug, you’d still go over to the treasure chest and you’d open it, even though you knew in a second you’d close down. You’d still pick it up! So it was like, okay, we have something here [laughs]. We incessantly kept doing that.

As more people kept playing it, they got the same addiction. I think the co-op nature of it drew a lot people, it had a lot of word of mouth. Split-screen was pretty well received. A lot of people don’t do that anymore and now, we’re really going over the UI so it works better in split-screen.

Now you can play two player on one screen and still get online and play with other people but I really think the co-operative nature was a big draw.

We often get people emailing the mag about split-screen, do you think it’s still an important part of gaming?

It’s one of those things that I think we all feel very confident that if we hadn’t put split-screen in, somebody might not have… I think more people were exposed to it. We heard story after story of ‘yeah, I wasn’t sure about it and then I went to my friend’s house and played split-screen and it was totally awesome’.

Then they run out and buy it and word of mouth spread. Our sales slowly went up instead of peaking and then slowly going down. I really feel that was a big mechanic, you know, ‘oh what gun has he got? I want that!’ and then you’d want to show it to your friends.

Now you’re working from a position of expectation rather than coming out of nowhere, has that changed the development process at all?

Well, one of the really great things about it is when you’re developing a game, you go through twists and turns. Like… changing art style, right before the game is finished [laughs] So we know we had proven the concept. We knew there was an audience for it. It’s something we really believed in all along and it was nice to see reassurance from the public.

We knew immediately what we wanted to do when we finished that first game. And we did some of that too with the DLC. We probed some areas, tried some new things, but it’s been a lot easier in development. Even though it’s so much work, a lot of those decisions have worked and they were accepted well, we really looked at what the problems were and addressing those as best we can.

Was the sequel on the cards before you started making the Borderlands DLC or something that only happened after the DLC was a success?

We wanted to support the game. We knew and we like to hope a lot of people liked the game, so we really committed to the DLC. We really tried to do a good job of it. Once development of the game was done, we started looking at that. And that was the first time our company had done downloadable content.

We always knew, well, we were hoping that we were going to do a sequel. But you never know what’s going to happen. So we wanted to support Borderlands as best we can. Show the customers we really care about them.

Did you think about including traditional deathmatch style multiplayer in Borderlands?

Yeah, we did. It’s something that we’re still thinking about and we’re not talking about any aspects of that yet. We already smashed two genres together to create one so let’s not get too ahead of ourselves [laughs] It really eats into our development time to make the main core game as solid as possible.

I’ve already asked you about what your expectations were for Borderlands, so same question for Borderlands 2 – what are your expectations?

Borderlands was received well so we hope this will be received as well! We’re doing everything we can to give the players who loved the first game more of what they loved and to create content so maybe someone who was sceptical of the first game, they’ll see something and say ‘yeah I’ve heard about this game’ and give it a try. We’re hoping it’s going to be received well. We’re doing everything we can to make it as good as possible.



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