Borderlands was a surprise hit, and no one was more surprised than Vice-President of Gearbox, Steve Gibson. At a recent hands-on event for Borderlands 2, we talked to him about both games and what they hope to achieve this time around…
Strategy Informer:Gearbox seemed to be a bit coy about Borderlands 2 before it was officially released. Was a second game always on the cards or were you surprised to be in a position to do a new game?
Steve Gibson: Well, if people love the game and buy it then yeah you hope to do more in that world. But it wasn’t always on the cards no – most games are made on a game-by-game basis… Borderlands was especially risky at the time. That whole genre-bending ‘role-playing shooter’, the art style which people thought was weird, the sense of humour… it was all like “are you sure it was going to work?” [Borderlands 2] was not on the cards until we saw how well received it was.
Strategy Informer:How did that impact development? Usually companies with a sequel in mind start testing and developing towards the end of the first game, but I guess you guys wouldn’t have done that until after release?
Steve Gibson: What you will have seen actually is that we started experimenting in the DLC’s. We started experimenting with story mechanics – with Knoxx for example, he’s a lot more involved as an antagonist. We experimented with different gameplay mechanics, with the different play styles in the arena and stuff. That’s where we really started to think about sequels right there, and you can see that in the DLC. But we were still confined to the Borderlands code base, so we couldn’t do a lot of things.
Strategy Informer:One of the most common criticisms about Borderlands was the fact that it wasn’t that fun to play by yourself. Have you done anything to improve the single-player experience?
Steve Gibson: Yeah, we need to give those guys a better sense of world and motivation. You do that through storytelling and environment and all those things, which combine to make that experience better. Like what we did with the missions system – in Borderlands, we had it so that you got a mission, you went and did it, and then you go check it in. But that’s not conducive to storytelling, why am I going back over and over? This doesn’t feel like a story.
In Borderlands 2, the mission system has been set up, and the story has been set up to all work together. You get a sense of reason for your missions, and then you get to where you need to go and find out that there’s other stuff you need to do before you get to the main objective.
Strategy Informer:Do you want to see Borderlands become a new franchise, like Brothers in Arms?
Steve Gibson: We hope people will imagine it as a universe that will keep going, we’ll hopefully keep taking risks and trying new thing with it, and we hope gamers will continue to reward us for that. This is an ambitious sequel, a ‘three-years-later’ sequel, and we’ve done a lot work with it. We hope to keep going, but that’s up to gamers every time.
Strategy Informer:You talk about risks… looking at the second game, do you not think it was a bit of a risk to replace the whole cast with new characters?
Steve Gibson: The safe bet would have been, hey, here are those classes you love with a couple new guns. But gamers really rewarded us last time around, and we think that trying new things, experimenting and taking risks is what people love about Borderlands. Let’s do that all over again.
Strategy Informer:What other ‘risks’ are you closely looking at to see the outcome?
Steve Gibson: I’m most interested in how the whole thing is tied into the mission and story and the experience. How single-players enjoy it, and how role-players enjoy it as well. We have the skill trees that really work and complement each other… there’s a deeper system there for the role-playing guys to dig into, they’ll be able to really see how these systems all work together with new elements like slag, so you have the de-buffing element there. But the story elements and the missions… having people connected to that universe and compelling them to go forth and save the world.
Strategy Informer:Talk to us about the PC version.
Steve Gibson: Yeah, did you see the love letter we put out to PC players? We felt like PC players should be reassured that at Gearbox we’re thinking really hard about the lessons we’ve learned, and we wanted to tell them early. “Hey, you wanted these things, we’re listening and we’re working on getting them to you” – but that’s not the entire list, we’re working on everything we can to make the PC experience the best it could possibly be. There’s going to be some things that will surprise PC players, and we hope it remains a surprise until the very end.
Strategy Informer:You’re releasing the PC version at the same time as the console versions – did you not consider delaying it as many other studios have done with PC SKU’s over the past year?
Steve Gibson: I think that’s a question of balance. I mean we’re developing on multiple platforms already… I guess we’ve balanced things differently than other studios. The difference between consoles and PC is that there’s a bunch of certification and pre-certification procedures that make you skew the timeline differently. There’s stuff that just doesn’t happen with the PC. With the advantage of Borderlands 2 on the PC, we’ve got a lot of it done already and we’re just refining on that. We’re doing a sequel based on a code base we already understand.
Strategy Informer:Not sure how much you can really comment on this, but I imagine it would be a big surprise if Borderlands 2 didn’t have DLC?
Steve Gibson: I couldn’t possibly tell you what we’re going to do there. We didn’t even know we were going to do DLC for the first game until it started happening.
So there you have it, straight from the mouth of God’s right hand man himself. Will Gearbox’s experimentation work a second time? Can they do ‘more of the same’ without it being stale? Read our hands on preview to find out…