Borderlands 2 Krieg DLC Interview: How It Happened
Creative Director Paul Hellquist talks about Krieg and how Gearbox Software created the sixth character…
Published on May 10, 2013
When did you start planning Krieg?
I started thinking about Krieg… let’s see. I started thinking about him when the game was in cert and I had some of my other designers finishing Gaige and I was keeping track of how she was keeping together. I was thinking of other things we could be trying with character classes.
It wasn’t Krieg yet but I was started to think of other ideas that eventually came into him when we were in cert but we were so bogged down with all the campaign DLCs that we didn’t really have the horsepower in terms of animation, audio, we just didn’t have enough resources in terms of personnel to really start full development on him.
But over the holidays I was tinkering and figuring out the skill tree and working it out on paper. And then we really started full development on him in January.
Was the plan to always have him in?
No. No no. Four was always what our goal was for the main game and then when the coders came to us, probably about half or three-quarters through development, they said hey there’s an option in the future to add new classes to the game and we’ll be able to port that. That was really exciting. We started thinking about Gaige at that time. That was also when we started thinking about pre-order stuff and that kind of thing. So that was when we started thinking about more than four.
We didn’t start thinking past that officially until we got a sense of ‘does anyone even want more?’ We needed to see what the response to Gaige was before we decided to do something else. But everyone really enjoyed her and was excited about the new kinds of things that she brought to the table, So we knew okay, cool, people are into this and that’s when we decided it was a good time to start thinking about another one.
So was it just the reception to Gaige that make you push ahead with Krieg? I imagine it takes a bit more than you coming to work and saying ‘hey guys, let’s make Krieg!’
[laughs] Strangely, it didn’t take that much more. It was an idea that had been percolating around and when we were in cert, I started thinking about the pros and cons, skills and things like that. Then I was like you know, who would this person actually be? Players like that ‘be the villain’ promise as well. That was when I thought, what if he was a psycho? That would have a good feel, he’s the guy on the box and stuff like that. And that’s connected well with the kind of design things I wanted to do as well.
It wasn’t a very hard sell, once I had connected those two dots and started talking to the partners and some of the other designers as well. Hey, what if the next one was a psycho bandit? Everyone was pretty excited right off the bat. So it wasn’t a hard sell, thankfully.
Krieg plays quite differently to the other characters. When you have a game that was made without a character like him in mind, how hard is it to insert him into the game and keep it balanced?
I’ve done this question a couple of times and it’s not as hard as you would think. It’s not trivial but we just have to make sure his trees are working and provide him with a power level that’s roughly equivalent to the other players. If we hit that goal, then the rest of the game kind of takes care of itself.
If a dude was hard for the other classes, he should be similarly challenging for Krieg. What’s interesting is where his weaknesses are and where his strengths are. There are certain enemies that other classes might have trouble with that he has an easy time with and certain enemies and bosses that are really tough for Krieg just because of the way his character works that are way easier for another class.
For example, Krieg’s action skill isn’t super strong against the bunker. You have to throw your axe at the bunker where as Axton’s turret is going to be equally effective against the bunker, regardless. So it’s kind of cool during focus tests to learn what parts of the game are more or less challenging for this character than the other characters.
I always think that’s really strong in design. I don’t think you ever want a character to be great at everything. There needs to be something that provides players with ‘oh man, last time I played this was really easy, because the other class I used was well suited to it’ but now it’s a different experience.
That’s part of the fun of a new character.
When you were making Krieg and you looked back at Borderlands 2 and how players played the game, were there any surprising trends that informed Krieg’s design?
Watching people play, some players have no fear and no regard for maintaining their health. The Fight For Your Life mechanic can be used as a crutch by these players They’ll go oh whatever, and I’ll go down and probably get back up and keep going.
I noticed this play pattern that some people had so that did influence Krieg in that it could be a strategy. So people who play this way will love the character and people who don’t play like that, I wonder if through the way his skills are, if I could get people to play that way, because that suits Krieg really well.
I want to put players in the shoes of what it feels like to be a psycho, where they just come right at you. I want players to be in those shoes and see what it feels what it’s like to be one of those psychos.
That playstyle I noticed that some players had inspired some of his abilities. The Mania tree in particular is very much that kind of ‘oh well, I’m going for it and I went down, but so what I’ll blow you up and I’ll just keep doing it!’ Really keeping that high aggression play style.
Did you expect players to use the Fight For Your Life mechanic as a crutch?
Not in the way… they were using it strategically, on purpose, almost, which was unexpected. It was always supposed to be that you get one more chance so you don’t instant fail conditions, but these players were using it as a strategic element. They wanted to get in, do as much damage as they can, do as many things as they can and second wind will make sure they can survive. So that was unexpected and did inspire some of Krieg’s play mechanics.
Seeing as Krieg’s was born out of Gaige’s reception, are there further plans depending on how Krieg is received?
Yeah, probably, you know? I think if he has a great reception and people are really enjoying it and are interested in more characters, we certainly would be listening. We wouldn’t dismiss it.If the opportunity is there, I’d expect we’d try and take it.
It’s unusual to be talking about a game and fresh DLC at this point in a game’s life. Has Borderlands 2’s longevity surprised you?
No, not really, because the first game’s DLC… we had a sense of what to expect from people maintaining interest because of the success of the DLCs from the first game. What’s really cool this time around is we have a lot more information about how people are playing Borderlands 2 than we ever did on Borderlands 1.
Through the Shift system and things like that, we have a lot of polymetry about how long they’re playing, how long the average session is, these kinds of things. We have a sense of how many players are playing, how long they’re playing, how many are online, it all feeds into the data. We know Borderlands was a game that some people played for a long, long, long time.
Now we have a better sense of how many that is, so that informed us that we can do DLCs for much longer than some other titles can, because our fanbase works in that way. They’re still playing the game and so they’ll be excited for and looking for new content whenever we’re able to provide it.
I’ve seen it come up on Twitter a lot that when content is released that isn’t covered in Season Pass, there’s a lot of griping. Is there frustration from you guys that when build upon initial plans, that it isn’t recognised by those fans?
Yeah, it’s certainly a little frustrating. I think we made a pretty clear agreement with players when they bought the Season Pass about what that was. It was four campaign DLCs – there was no mention of character DLCs or anything like that. Krieg was something, like I said, that we hadn’t even thought about when that was offered.
So yeah, it gets a little frustrating. But on the other hand, we’ve added so much value to that Season Pass from the original agreement – the latest level cap increase, they just got it as part of the Season Pass – and those are all decisions that were made after the Season Pass. It wasn’t like we said ‘and later on, we’re going to add this to the Season Pass and that to the Season Pass!’
It’s just been opportunities of hey, we want to reward people who are on our team and in for the long haul with as much addition content as we could. The characters are a huge investment to build so those are their own thing.
Based on the information that’s out there, what do you expect from next-gen console gaming?
That’s a great question and I think everyone in the industry who isn’t currently making a next-gen game is asking the same question. We have some hardware in the office but we’re just starting to look at it because we’ve been finishing up all these DLCs and everything else, so we haven’t had a ton of time to really dive into that.
So I think we’re, Gearbox at least, is in a position at least where we’re starting to feel out the hardware and we’re excited to see what our other friends in the industry is going to be making so we can get some knowledge of okay, they’re focusing on these features, and not those features and get a little bit of the lay of the land.
But I’m really excited to see what everyone comes up with. We’ll be learning more from Microsoft soon, so it’s an exciting time, for sure.