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Previews

Borderlands 2: Double the budget but devoted to its roots

Hands-on Preview of Gearbox's next blockbuster. Plus, an interview with studio boss Randy Pitchford

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I imagine your team loved the chance to work on a new IP with the first Borderlands.
Well it needed to be a new IP for the unique type of game that it was. We realised that, to merge RPG elements within a shooter, we couldn't do that with an IP already in existence. We needed to create a universe that allowed the gameplay to fit naturally, and it probably wouldn't have with other IPs.

Is new IP something Gearbox will return to in the near future?
Well we own the Brothers in Arms, which we created, we acquired Duke Nukem, and that's a really powerful brand. I didn't just buy the IP to finish 3D Realms' game. I acquired that so we could build our own Duke Nukem games. So that's something we care about.

So we have lots of ideas, and some of those ideas will be best manifested in new things. There's also a lot of awesome stuff in the world that we don't own! I loved it when we worked with Valve on the Half-Life expansions [Blue Shift, Decay, Opposing Force].

Zoom

So to summarise, it sounds like your main intention is to work on those three established franchises whilst perhaps signing contracts for IP owned by other companies.
Yeah, we have three great brands that are awesome and we want to do things with, and there's also new ideas that we have that the only way to manifest them will be to create new things - so that will lead to other original properties - and there's a lot of awesome stuff in the world that we like working on. Aliens Colonial Marines, for example, in our partnership with 20th Century Fox.

I want to always work on things we care about as long as our customers care about them. I want our studio to create new things, and I want us to have the credibility to be trusted with other properties.

Let's discuss Borderlands 2. What stood out the most in the play-test was all the great work that's gone into the AI. It was very impressive.
Thank you, yes we invested a tremendous amount in upgrading the navigation system. And also the behaviours have been given an overhaul. In the first game, there were only a few behaviours, whereas we have dozens now. It lends to a much more believable and dynamic gameplay system.

Most modern shooters appear to focus on 'instant gratification' gameplay concepts, where play is streamlined and rewards come fast.
And there's a lot of that in Borderlands 2, where if you kill someone there's loot that pops out, so there is that instant gratification that we're going for.

Zoom

I got the impression that, generally, Borderlands 2 is going against the instant gratification model. It feels like the player gets out what they put in. It's more a slow-burner where time investment is more gradually rewarded, in a model similar to RPGs.
No I would honestly say that, if you start Borderlands 2 from the beginning, you will very quickly enjoy fast moment-to-moment gameplay. The difference is, with this game there is both a reason and reward to continue playing because things become more fun as time goes on.

My hope is that people who play Borderlands 2 will still be playing it many months after they bought it.

Yes and clearly there are indications that Borderlands 2 has player-retention features that you hope will build an online community.
That emerged from when we were playing the game at Gearbox. After we had finished pretty much everything with one character, there was this temptation to try things out with a different character, but the thing is you would have to abandon all the stats you built up with one character if you wanted to move onto the next.

Essentially you were asking players to make a sacrifice.
Yeah and now we have introduced a 'Badass Rank' system, which attaches a permanent score to how much you have played, so if you do move onto other characters you will be able to increase this score.

Mission objectives were generally displayed in text form in the first Borderlands. Now it is fully animated scenes. How much of a challenge has this been?
Oh, it's been a joy. We have this amazing animation team and we have a motion capture room within our studio, so we can use it whenever we want. NPCs were a little stiff in the first game so we really wanted to improve that. Also, because we have so much dialogue now, we have got so much more involved in the writing and we had a lot of fun writing loads of gags in there!

I was engaged in the game, though I did find that one element that wasn't so engaging was the facial animations. I found them quite jarring in the play test.
Yeah there's still some things we've got to do with that, it's not yet the final build and we're going to work on that, especially the lip-synching. Even without that, it's so many leaps and bounds above the first Borderlands.

There's also the sense that the Gearbox team has tried to retain the nucleus of the game.
Oh yeah. We found this formula that works, and I feel that if we try to change the core loop we'd be making a mistake. It annoys me when some studios completely change what's right about a game with sequels.

Zoom

That's actually the reason why I asked you about sales projections earlier. Because clearly Gearbox is building Borderlands 2 to satisfy the fan base of the first game, so I wondered if you can expand an audience by focusing so much on the original customers.
Sure. So what we realised in the first game is that the best way to get more people to discover it is to make a game that people love so much they would tell others about it.

There's two ways you can buy in to Borderlands: The first is that you were exposed to the pitch - you saw an advertisement, you read a story, you watched a trailer, you read a review. The second way is that someone you trust tells you that you have to play this game. Those are the two vectors.

The best thing we can do is make a great game. So we hope that the positivity surrounding the game will therefore be extended through word of mouth.

I think we're going to hit a lot of people with our pitch too. The marketing behind this is going to be crazy compared to the first game.

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