Borderlands 2 Interview: Art Style, Customisation & Class System

David Lynch


We speak to Borderlands 2's lead artist Kevin Duc about the unique design of the game, its RPG elements and the new additions to the game.

Published on Apr 4, 2012

There was a big deal made about the art style of Borderlands and how it switched to this unique art style. How has that evolution continued over into Borderlands 2?

The process for Borderlands 2’s art style is a funny one. We came up with a pretty unique style for the first game. It wasn’t quite cell-shaded, but it’s not hyper-real either; it’s a bit of a mix. And we wanted to identify that and replicate it but also build on it. We didn’t want to get to tied to a comic book style. Working with the texture artists and just figuring out this unique look and retain the art’s vitality, it’s been a challenge but also a lot of fun and I think we’ve hit a really good spot.

What kind of inspirations did you use for the art design of all these new locations in Borderladnds 2?

With the first Borderlands we concentrated on presenting players with arid areas, like the deserts, so you have all these browns and a little bit of yellow. With the sequel we wanted to expand that out of a personal need to have new things to work on and to give players something new to explore. We’re introducing glacial areas, a lot of blues and purples and we’ve taken some Icelandic highlands influences to expand that spectrum of colours and the palette. It’s been exciting.

And how about the enemies, they provide a lot of interesting new gameplay ideas? How did their design come about?

The enemy designs has come about in a pretty organic way. Our designers have been looking for certain types of enemies and artists getting excited about them. We give design a whole bunch of tools to create enemies. We’ll build a base design of an enemy and give our technical guys certain specifications and we’re able to take all these pieces to create enemies that morph from lava to adults to the badass insect.

Just being able to build all of these crazy looks, it’s pretty fun. We’ll make something and then design will get hold of it and it might have one or two wings at first, but by the time we get it back it’ll have six. We wanted Borderlands 2 to be a richer experience across the board. The AI’s also changed. We've got AI that works together, others that fight each other.

The original Borderlands often relied a little too heavily on grinding - how will earning XP or levelling up change this base gameplay?

We addressed the grinding in a few different ways, we have lush and exciting enemies to fight and you’ll see a ton of unique behaviours. You shoot guys and they’ll crawl behind cover, but we also have our mission structure, which is new. In the middle of missions you’re going to get updates on how to proceed. You’ll get radio chatter on where the objectives within the objectives are. We’re also introducing different rewards for missions and branching missions.

The humour of the game was a major factor of it's success for the original? Will that be returning in some way?

The fun and the light-heartedness contrasts with the violence that’s going on. We call it the ‘Verhoeven’, from the RoboCop director Paul Verhoeven. Things can be funny, but they’re also horrendously violent at the same time. It gives it this dark feel, but you can still laugh at it. 

The HUD design has been changed quite a bit, how has this adapted the way you're feeding information to players? What was the reason for the change?

We have a lot of information flying at the player, what you’re seeing is very deep game design. You’re looking for new guns that cause a certain type of damage and you’re looking for guns that compliment your build trees. You might have a build tree going that increases you fire rate. So what kind of guns do you combine that with?

The Bandit manufacturer, they’re large capacity, but have slower fire rates. But, you combine that with your build tree and increased fire rate and reload speed and suddenly you have a super-effective gun.

With the HUD elements and all that information coming at you, we’ve got to pass that on to the player. We do it through colours, certain symbols; we try to get as much information to the player that is easy to understand.

The colours are telling you what kind of damage you’re doing, what ammo types you’re enemy is resisting, what elemental damage is your gun firing. If you look carefully you’ll see your gun glow whatever colour represents that element – Corrosive guns will have a green hue, fire will look orange.

You've got different classes now too, how are they being adapted and will fans of the original Borderlands four classes feel disappointed at all?

Between the classes we’re definitely appealing to certain types of gamers, but even within them you can direct your skills so that you can play a certain way. For example, the Siren Maya, you can either go full DPS (damage per second) and she’s going to be rocking the damage or she can be more of a support role and heal the other players.

Do you want to be dealing full damage with her, then you’ll pick one skill tree or you go down another that’s healing focused, instantly reviving people with her action skill. It’s all about giving the player choice, how do you want to build your character and how do you want to approach the game.

It seems like a strange omission that you're not able to customise the characters. Is there are reason why you're sticking to these specific characters and classes?

We wanted to introduce the characters in a certain way and give them a particular look so that players can identify them. But we can’t go too much into character customisation just yet (laughs).



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