Borderlands 2: Gearbox Software Interview

Published 2 years, 4 months ago by Dan Page

We caught up with the guys over at Gearbox Software to find out a little info on Borderlands 2, the much-hyped first person shooter due out September 18th.

BA = Bjarni Arnason – Programmer

PH = Paul Hellquist – Creative Director

AB = Anthony Burch - Writer

Prima: Borderlands 2 is looking beautiful; it’s maintained that great distinctive art style while immensely improving on the look of its predecessor. Can you tell us a bit about the graphics tech involved?

[BA] Borderlands 2 uses a newer version of Unreal Engine 3 with a whole host of in-house modifications and optimizations. We have a brand new time of day system complemented by high quality global illumination lightmaps, crepuscular rays, improved high dynamic range rendering and an overhauled dynamic shadow system. The post process chain has also been taken to a new level with new additions such as screen space ambient occlusion, anti-aliasing with Nvidia's FXAA and finely tuned level-specific tonemapping which is sure to give each area a unique feel. The character and vehicle customization tech has also been greatly improved which ties closely in with an unprecedented variation of enemies and weapons which is sure to hold your attention for much longer.

Prima: Fan reaction to the original game’s DLC was pretty impressive. What did you learn while making it (and post-release) that you’ve applied to the development of Borderlands 2?

[PH] The Zombie Island and General Knoxx DLCs were opportunities for us to explore some new mission ideas and work on integrating the plot lines and stories of the missions more closely to the gameplay that players experience while doing those missions. We took those lessons about how that works and feels in the Borderlands design and really have pushed it to new heights in Borderlands 2.

Prima: Can you let us know a bit about the kind of locations we’ll be coming across?

[AB] You’re going to be seeing all different kinds of locations on Pandora. Icy wastelands, lush grasslands, shining cities of the future, and all kinds of other areas. You’ll be visiting all kinds of not-brown locales in Borderlands 2.

Prima: How has your approach to storytelling differed to the first title?

[AB] For starters, Borderlands 2’s script is at least five times bigger than the script for the first game. The story isn’t just conveyed through blocks of log text at the beginning and end of every mission – you’re going to constantly hear dialog from the other characters in the game, you’ll fight alongside them during big plot moments, and you’ll generally experience a greater level of spectacle and epicness than anything you’ve seen before in Borderlands. We did a tremendous amount of work to make sure that the plot and the gameplay are in sync with one another – that your missions will be directly connected to what’s going on in the story, and vice versa. At no point in the main plot will you be forced to collect fifty bladeflowers “just because”, for example.

Prima: Comedy seems to have taken a front seat in Borderlands 2, was this a deliberate move or did it evolve over time?

[AB] This was actually a subject of intense discussion early on in the project. Borderlands’s DLC was really funny, but the main game was comparatively more serious – we had to decide what our audience was expecting, and exactly how silly or serious we could be in the sequel. I come from a comedy background, so I was always in favour of adding More Laffz&™. In the end, all of us – art, design, writing – tried to keep one another in tonal check. If something was too goofy (like, say, my original idea for Ellie where she was a disproportionately muscled, eight-foot tall badass who could lift a car with one hand) we pulled back, and if anything got too dry or serious, I always tried to add some levity. In the end, I think BL2 is definitely a comedic game, but there are still some moments of more straightfaced badassitude.

Prima: We’ve heard talk of debuffs and elemental nerfing, can you tell us a bit about what’s going on there?

[PH] We have a brand new element in Borderlands 2 called “Slag”. It is an industrial waste byproduct that Hyperion has weaponized. It coats enemies (or players!) with an alien slime that amplifies all damage done to the covered target. This results in high damage for players against enemies when they are using slag weapons, skills, or grenades, but if you get covered in slag look out because any damage done to you will be multiplied.

Prima: Will level scaling be limited to a second playthrough?

[PH] In Borderlands 2 our “Second Playthrough” is called “True Vault Hunter mode”. In it the difficulty of the game is increased forcing players to really use their gear and abilities to their maximum effectiveness. The game always scales the challenge of enemies based on the number of players in the game resulting in a quality challenge regardless of players. More players in your game also gives you better chances for the best loot when fighting bosses. After completing True Vault Hunter mode all areas of the game get set to Max level so that players can loot hunt with a fun combat challenge throughout the entire game.

Prima: How much impact will the choices players make have on the story?

[AB] We have a bunch of sidequests with branches at the very end, that all result in different narrative and gameplay rewards. For instance, we’ve shown off a quest called “Safe and Sound” where you have to pick up a bunch of lewd pictures of Moxxi. After you’ve got them, you can give the pictures to either Moxxi (who rewards you with some saucy innuendo and a unique gun) or Marcus (who rewards you by saying “gazongas” and gives you something else). It isn’t huge levels of main plot branching or anything, but there are many sidequests in the game where you get to make significant (if self-contained) narrative decisions.

Prima: Can you tell us how long a playthrough, side-quests and all, will take on average?

[AB] This can all vary depending on the player but it will be a beefy experience. Some of our strategy guide writers were very meticulous and got through in about 58 hours on one playthrough.. And note – that’s not including True Vault Hunter Mode (formerly known as “Playthrough 2,”), which is, in my opinion, where the true game begins.

Prima: What sort of size is the map and how many large destinations are there?

[PH] Borderlands 2 is big! We have numerous large hub style maps that you will be exploring during the course of play as well as many “doglegs” where players will be exploring more intense combat areas. Our goal starting out was to make a game about the same size as the first. We ending up overshooting that goal by quite a bit resulting in a much bigger game in nearly every measurable way.

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