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'Borderlands 2' interview: Gearbox Software on "gianter" sequel

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'Borderlands 2' screenshot

© 2K Games

A few years ago, Gearbox Software launched Borderlands, an immersive and fun shooter/role-playing game hybrid that oozed plenty of personality and near-infinite loot. Now, the developer is working on Borderlands 2, and Digital Spy met with VP of marketing Steve Gibson as he discussed their plans for the sequel, which characters will be returning and the all-new 'gamechangers'.

> Read Digital Spy's Borderlands 2 preview

The first Borderlands was a commercial and critical success. How are you attempting to better it with Borderlands 2?
"You can probably feel a lot of the more nuanced things when you're playing, but one of the big goals was to keep that core experience of the loot and the guns and the character classes. It's a great formula that works.

"But what you can do is change how that experience is delivered and how it feels when you travel through the world. What you do is change the mission system, which is essentially what it's all tied back to. That's how you go through the world and how stories are delivered to you.

'Borderlands 2' screenshot

© 2K Games



"In the first Borderlands, [an NPC] gives you a destination, you go to it, you do your thing. Then you come back and check it in and that's it. But now, the mission constantly changes and you keep getting new destinations. You have a sense of adventure where you never know your final destination. You just know you're going to keep going instead of keep checking back.

"It feels like you're constantly moving forward and the delivery of this story is happening better now with NPCs who actually move."

In the demo, there was an objective where you had a choice between delivering a quest item to Marcus or Moxxi. Are there any more like that?
"Yes, I'm glad you noticed that. We wanted people to feel like they are making decisions that affect the world and affect their progress - things like that where you get to choose between different NPCs and get different rewards.

"Even when you complete missions, it's not like, 'Hey, you get this one item'. You get a couple of things to choose from. We want to make people feel like they have more choices, and you'll run into situations where you affect the world when you do a particular mission. There's a city, for example, that you can actually flood it if you do a particular thing. Significant world events will happen based on the decisions you make."

'Borderlands 2' screenshot

© 2K Games



What was the idea behind introducing new player characters rather than using returning ones?
"The way we felt was that three years ago, when we did Borderlands, we stuck our neck out pretty far. We did what was seen as a bizarre blending of genres, a bizarre art style and a bizarre sense of humour.

"We thought we could either churn out a sequel in a year or two, or we could be crazy all over again - stick out our necks again. That was the decision at Gearbox. People loved the game and rewarded us by purchasing the game. We didn't just want to do a wimpy sequel. We wanted to do a full, ambitious, giant sequel, and part of that is the new feeling of experience, and that happens with new character classes.

"If we did the exact same guy but just a new environment, how new does that feel? Even the one class that is similar - the Commando - you could point that to the Soldier but the way that works and his entire treatment is nearly entirely different. The only similarity is that he has a turret. But this turret now is upgradable and this turret can now be deployed as multiple turrets. This turret can be mounted on walls and ceilings. It's a much different experience.

"His skill tree is far different. He's not even the healer so much as the Siren is the healer this time. We wanted everything to feel new as much as it can."

'Borderlands 2' screenshot

© 2K Games



And it seems that once again, you're keen to make each character feel unique, no matter if two people are playing the same class.
"Yeah, we added these things called gamechangers to each skill tree as well. For the Commando, for example, when you're first playing as him, you can deploy the turret ten feet in front of you, and that's just the way it works. Then, midway through the skill tree you have the longbow option and now you can deploy this thing across the entire area and you can deploy it to the walls and ceiling. That completely changes the way you play the class.

"So we wanted that feeling in every class, and each tree has multiple gamechangers."

In regards to the original characters, are they going to be popping up in various quests?
"They'll be part of the story. Roland's been captured by Hyperion, so you have to try and rescue him. Mordecai, you run into and he's got his own set of things going on. You're trying to rescue Bloodwing for him at that time. We want people to run into an experience and see what's happened to these guys in the past five years."

"Patricia Tannis, Scooter, Marcus - a lot of the favourites [are also back]. There's plenty of goofiness and plenty of dumb s**t."

I assume there are plenty of new characters, too. Handsome Jack, who appeared in the demo, wasn't in the first game, was he?
"No, he's the main antagonist throughout the game of this one. What you'll discover early on in the game is, he runs Hyperion but he's also making this effort to 'awaken the warrior'. We don't know what the hell it is, but it's shaking the planet and you probably want him to not do that."

'Borderlands 2' screenshot

© 2K Games



Do players need to go through and play the original Borderlands and all of its downloadable content to get the most out of the sequel?
"When you guys play the full Borderlands 2, we worked really hard to reintroduce all of the characters. It's a standalone game. But if you did play the first one, you will certainly see a lot of things that would be even funnier to you.

"Like, Moxxi and her husbands. There are just a couple of lines in there where she references her husbands, so if you'd played [Mad Moxxi's Underdome Riot], you'd understand. If you just play Borderlands 2, you'd probably be like, 'Man, this lady's just a hussy'."

The demo showed an area that was extremely green and grassy - contrasting the first Borderlands which was dominated by deserts. Does that mean we should expect to see more variety in the surroundings in Borderlands 2?
"That was a major goal. There are some desert areas as well in the sequel, but there is a ridiculous variety of environments. There's going to be snowy areas, there's going to be hot springs, there's going to be grasslands, there's going to be cityscapes, there's going to be volcanic rim areas - desert areas, of course. You name the colour. We kept the art team very busy.

"[We also wanted] the weapons to feel much more diverse. So when you go through the weapons, the visual communication of these weapons is greatly enhanced and you'll be able to identify all the manufacturers just by a quick glance."


And there's a trading system in place now. Was that implemented as a result of player feedback?
"Everybody wanted that. In addition to that, we set it up where you can put items on the line and duel for them as well, so the winner of the duel gets whatever you put out. It's like pink slips and racing cars."

Will there be multiple playthroughs like the first Borderlands, and if so, how will each playthrough be different?
"Yeah, there are multiple playthroughs. There's some ambition in the second playthrough to change some of the enemy behaviour and visual varieties as well. The last time around, it was a lot of fun but a lot of things just levelled up. This time, we're hoping to change the experience of the second playthrough much more."

You've shown a lot of new enemies that haven't been seen before. It seems like you've worked really hard to make sure the combat doesn't stay the same.
"We wanted it to feel like even when you're travelling through one particular zone that the style of combat you engage constantly changes. It's not just a constant, 'Here's this one enemy, here's how I defeat him, I'm just going to do this for two hours'.

"The hope is that when people do combat, they make tactical decisions, whether it's through the surveyors (Hyperion bots) healing [enemies] or skags lighting up guys in the fire and they get crazy. All of the enemies have their own reactions and their own attack styles. It's much more diverse now - it seems like you noticed."

'Borderlands 2' screenshot

© 2K Games



How much bigger is the second one compared to the first one?
"The last one was giant. This one is more gianter. If you do core missions, ignoring side missions, you could probably plough through it in 20 to 30 hours in one playthrough. If you do side missions, you're looking to get close to doubling that.

"Also, the writers like to mention that our amount of story and dialogue is six to seven times as much. So there's plenty more to do, plenty more to learn and plenty more to experience."

So there's more narrative. The first one is 'find the vault' and it's vaguely pointing you in that direction, but for Borderlands 2, you're putting more effort into making it a compelling storytelling experience.
"That's our hope, but you can't walk up to a guy and say that the story is better. We can't really do that. All we can say is that we've set up everything to better experience that story. We hope you guys enjoy everything we've put together."

Borderlands 2 will be available for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC in September 2012.

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