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Pitchford On Borderlands

Tamer Asfahani talks to Gearbox Software president Randy Pitchford about Borderlands, the forthcoming open-world RPG shooter, and gets all the details on exactly why it’s worth picking up. The video is below, with a full text transcript directly below that. So Borderlands, it’s just the game. You can start the game and you can play the game, and when you play the game by yourself, at any time you can invite a friend to join in the game with you – or you can join somebody else’s game. When this happens, your character’s persistent, so everything that you’ve done stays with you whether you’re joining somebody else’s game or somebody’s joining your game. Everything you’ve earned, how you’ve levelled up, all your skills, all the gear you’ve gotten, and if you join somebody else’s game and get a bunch of new stuff and level up even more, you can go back and continue the game you were playing and you’ll have all that stuff with you because your character is persistent, it belongs to you, it’s your character, you own it.
You can also take that character from single-player to multiplayer and back again, and co-op or whatever, and it’s fine. This is a really important decision we made early on. It’s part of the inspiration we had from Diablo, from loot and that kind of stuff, in that when I played Diablo the game just totally hooked me. But I played a lot of single-player, because that’s what you do. You start the game up and you try it, you’re playing it, and it’s like “Dude this is really cool,” and I built my guy up and I completed the campaign and I’m like, “Alright, I’m gonna go online now.” But when I went to go online, they said “You know what, you’re gonna have to start a new character because we’re not gonna let you take your single-player character online,” and I’m like, “What is that? I’m invested in that! Really? You’re not gonna let me do that? You’re gonna make me start over?” It was kind of a let down, you know.The whole game is drop-in drop-out. You’re just in the world of Borderlands taking missions, and let’s say you and I are in a game together and we want to fight against each other. Well, at any time you can walk up to me and you can do a melee attack. Slap me in the face, and it’ll say “You demand satisfaction.” If I decide to melee you back, I’m saying I accept your challenge. No matter where we are in the world, a dome will cover us and we’ll begin a duel – a dogfight if you will – and we’ll see who’s the best. Anywhere you are in the world, you can start to throw down and beat on your friends and see if you’re better than them. Also, in this world, there are arenas kinda like the Thunderdome in Mad Max. Near each settlement there’s an arena, and you can go into the arena with your friends and you can actually set up more of an organised game, like a deathmatch game or a team deathmatch game, and the arena inside is designed for competitive combat. There’s a few of those scattered around the world, usually near the settlements, and there’s always a fast-travel location so once you’ve kind of unravelled the world you can instantly get there and set up those kinds of games with your friends. But it’s all in the context of the game. You’re just in the game, and there’s not like a separate mode or anything – it’s just all in the context of the game, you just go and do it.There’s a couple of different ways to play it. If you play it like a shooter guy and you just go through only the story missions, we wanted to make sure that’s contained in the context of what you’re used to for a first-person shooter game, so you can burn through the story-based missions in about fifteen hours or so – but that’s about 30 mission chains, and then there’s about another 120 missions that are optional. There are dozens and dozens of hours of content if you wanted to consume it. You can do all of those missions, even the repeatable ones, and still not be at the level cap, and then you wanna go back and do a kind of New Game + kind of mode which is an even harder version so when you start again you can go through all the missions to reach the level cap. So there’s a lot of value there, and that’s just for one character. There’s four character classes and you can build them out in different ways, with different specs, so there’s a lot of value there for folks that want it. But it’s also consumable for folks that don’t have that kind of time to spend and they just wanna have the fun, and know that they’re able to complete something, so you can do it that way too and get through it more quickly.{PAGE TITLE=Pitchford On Borderlands Page 2} Why did you choose to go with that art style?You know, it’s a good question, why we were doing a more realistic look and then we went kind of over-the-top with the art style and developed this art style that looks like our concept art, and a lot of people wonder why we did that. And it’s hard for me to put a finger on it because it was my decision to let it happen, but it was actually mutiny. We made the decision last year to spend more time on the game – we added a character class; we made the world bigger; we actually expanded a lot of the designs that we had internally, things we hadn’t even talked about yet. We invested more in the gear builder system which, I remember when I first talked about the game I said, “Hey, there’s a half a million weapons,” and there’s actually now millions of weapons. So we made the game a lot bigger and we decided to do that in the middle of last year, which means we pushed it into late 2009. The artists were kind of done, and they were like, “Well what’re we going to do?” So some of them went back and they looked at their original concept art, and they thought they could do something really interesting and unique. What they wanted to do was to take the concepts they’d done and try to bring those to life in the game.But then real people get involved, and things get distilled down, and you don’t wanna take too many risks, and all the coolness kinda gets boiled down to something just plausible and safe. Our artists were like “Dude, this is our thing, this is our game. We could just make the concept car, you know!” And so what happened, they were gonna do it. A couple of guys were working on it – I didn’t even know what they were doing, I got wind that they were doing something – and I said, “Look, we’re making a game. Come on, you guys, we’ve got a production schedule, we’re doing our thing.” And they’re like, “Hey, just let us try.” I agreed with one of my partners – one of the other owners of Gearbox, a guy named Brian Martel who’s an art director at Gearbox – to give them a few weeks, and he was gonna work with those guys to make a prototype of this idea. They took me into the conference room, and I still had no idea what they were doing. I just knew that if it was gonna happen it was gonna radically change the art. That’s all I knew, but I didn’t know what. They brought me into the conference room, they sat me down, and they were gonna fire this thing up, and in my mind I’m like “Dude, I don’t know why I let this thing go on, I’m just gonna have to shut this down, this is crazy, I don’t know what it is, I don’t even want to know, it’s terrible, it’s a bad idea, we shouldn’t be doing this.” And then it came up on screen, and it’s like… holy shit! That is awesome! That’s so cool!What do you say to anybody that says “Well look, I’ve got Fallout 3, why the hell should I buy Borderlands?”That’s like saying “Hey, I saw Star Wars, why should I ever see science fiction ever again?” I think if you’ve got Fallout 3, you should absolutely check out Borderlands. If you liked that… I mean, they came from the role-playing vector, and they started to add shooting on top, and we’re clearly coming from the shooting vector and we’re starting to add role-playing. What that means is that the shooting is really good, the guns feel good, and then you’ll also notice the role-playing parts we did include are things like lots of loot. Tons of loot. And levelling up, and getting more powerful, and developing skills, but there’s also some role-playing things we don’t have. You’re not going to go to an NPC and get in a dialogue tree, you’re not going to get the three paragraphs of text. We don’t have any of that because it’s about action, it’s about fast-paced fun.{PAGE TITLE=Pitchford On Borderlands Page 3} You said there’s over a million weapons in there?Yeah, there are multiple millions of weapons.So how in God’s earth do you go about… Presumably you create…?We didn’t create them, and it doesn’t really matter how many guns there are, what matters is why there’s that choice. We decided that we wanted a game, a shooter game, and that not only could you grow – we wanted the character to be different at the end, more powerful at the end than he was at the beginning. When you play most shooters, like when you play Halo, for example, or Half-Life, Gordon and the Master Chief are exactly the same at the end of the game as they are at the beginning of the game. Maybe they pick up a couple of new weapons but their actual health and capabilities don’t change, right? And so we wanted growth, but we also wanted choice and we wanted discovery. Choice is kinda like when you play a role-playing game like Diablo, and it’s like, “Cool, there’s a sword. Ooh, there’s a sword that’s got flames on it. Ooh, there’s a flaming sword that’s longer and does more damage. Oh wait, this one’s a really big sword and it does even more damage, but it doesn’t have the flames anymore. Huh. What do I want to do there? There’s a frost sword, does less damage but it has frost. That’s cool.” And now there’s choice, right? And then “Oh. An axe.” [Laughs] After you’ve been thinking about swords, now you’re looking at an axe! That’s what we want to do.We have the same debate when we talk about first-person shooters. First of all, once we start talking about this, it expands to the point where we can’t actually build all the guns ourselves. It takes big, triple-A teams spending the full project length just to put the 15 to 20 guns that we usually get into a first-person shooter. So once we started, we were just thinking about shotguns and we came up with hundreds – it’s like, “That’s just a shotgun! We can’t build all this stuff.” So we had to develop software – artificial intelligence, actually – to build the guns for us. What we did was, we fed it all these different manufacturers that we came up with that had different styles and different attitudes, and the ways they approached weapon manufacturing, and we gave it all these different materials from alloys, and metals, to plastics, to wood, to alien materials. We fed in all these materials, and then all these different weapon classes which have the different ways that the weapon’s put together, and how it’s held, and how you operate it, and how it cycles, and how it’s loaded, and all the different ways you can imagine that guns do that. And all the different components that bolt onto it, from how big is the stock, to how long is the barrel, to the sight picture and the scope, and all the different kinds of scopes. We just fed all of this into the machine and into the software, and built all these tools for it to use, and let it go nuts. It was able to generate all these weapons.So you could effectively go through the game and shoot every shot in your game with a different weapon?[Laughs] Yeah, you could! There are millions of possibilities. Most players will probably only see a couple of thousand different guns.Unlucky for them!I know, I know! It’s funny, because we’re used to seeing just 20 guns in a shooter. The number of guns doesn’t matter, but the possibilities are interesting. If you get into it and you want to grind an area over an over again, you get into a dogleg [an instanced area that can be farmed again and again] and you want to go in there and take down that boss and see what loot he drops. Maybe you found something cool, but maybe somebody else got something that you didn’t get that time? Maybe you’ll want to go in there and grind it again and see if you can get the better loot. That’s fun too, you know.Can we expect to see DLC?We have some plans, we’ve got some thoughts. I don’t have anything to announce yet. I think we have a lot of different ways we can go. It’s a huge game with a lot of different interests – heck, people might want more vehicles. Who knows? They want to do more vehicle combat, I don’t know. Maybe they’ll want more doglegs to go into. Maybe they want more character classes and more skills. We’ve thought about all the different ways we can expand the game, and I think as it launches, and we feel where the gravity is, that’s going to drive a lot of our decisions. But certainly we’ve thought about some things and we’ve got some early stuff planned too, but I’m not really ready to talk about it yet.You sure?

We need to focus on shipping the game, man!


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