At PAX I got to chat briefly with Jeramy Cooke, Gearbox Software Art Director for Borderlands 2.
Cat: Can you start off by talking about what’s changed about the world of Borderlands for the sequel?
JC: As the Art Director, I think you can see on this wall what we really care about, and that was getting out of the desert and seeing the rest of Pandora. When we did the original Borderlands we had built this world map, and it was this huge top-down view and we had forests down in the south and we had mountains, frozen tundra up in the north and we really only went to the desert - except for the very end of the game, there was like a little bit, but...we really wanted to expand it, so you can see we’re going to go out to the tundra into the icy mountains and we’ve kinda got like a Scottish Highlands type area in the middle of the game.
Cat: Did you get to do any travel to, say, the Scottish Highlands for research then?
JC: I did actually just do a trip to Iceland myself and took a lot of photo ref for the game, so when you’re in Act 1 you’ll see a lot of inspiration from that.
Cat: On the topic of inspiration, what else inspires the level design?
JC: We want to create a world that feels rough and dangerous, but we still wanted to bring color in, so it’s about finding those places that have splashes of color but still look like they’re gonna kill you. Even the grass if you look at it, even the grass has like little sharp teeth in it. We really try and make it look like a foreboding place because Pandora’s really supposed to be like on the edge of space.
It’s kind of like, before we discovered America, Wild West style. Even though there’s spaceship travel it’s still way out on the edge so there’s not a lot of, like, ‘This is where the prisoners go, this where the trash is dumped”, and, you know, there’s a lot of opportunity as well, but you’re gonna have to fight for it, so we always want to keep that feel.
Cat: Looking back, what did you want to ditch or revamp from Borderlands?
JC: Well, I don’t think we really ditched a whole heck of a lot, but we did revamp almost everything. I mean, the gun system was rebuilt from scratch, the UI was rebuilt from scratch, we were really disappointed with how the UI turned out on PC, and consoles for split screen and low-def. So we’re doing custom UI for every platform and you’ll see the main UI is all vertical format so that when do side split screen you can still see everything on your screen and still use it properly. On PC you’re going to have drag-and-drop, like a full mouse-driven interface. We had a ton of PC users and we feel like we didn’t take care of them very well, so this time we want to make sure that they get an awesome experience.
Cat: How did it happen that the PC gamers got the short end last time...
JC: Well, you know, it was an unfortunate thing. We really wanted to give them that UI, it just came down to time, you know, it was one of those things.
Cat: What do you say to gamers that skipped the first game?
JC: I think what I’d say is we really know who we are at this time. We switched visual styles in the middle of development of Borderlands 1, and a lot of stuff had to be really quickly retrofitted to the new style, and we kind of hadn’t found our voice yet. Little bits of it here and there that we thought were cool, but this time it’s all right there, we know who we are, we know what it’s all about, the game’s gonna be badass, it’s gonna be like dual-wield 87 bazillion guns or whatever, it’s a huge, huge experience.”
Cat: Yes, tell me more about the weapons!
JC: We revamped the gun system, as you can see looking at some of these guys there’s a lot more personality, they’re a lot more identifiable, we’re really working to show the manufacturers. Like you can see, this is a Vladof here, Vladof is kind of like our AK manufacturer. The Bandits now make their own guns. We never had a Bandit manufacturer in the old game, so now the Bandits are using like beer bottles to make scopes and all sorts of crazy stuff. Not only that, we’ve extended the scope so that when you’re looking through the scope in the old game you might have only seen like two or three different images, or actually maybe like six or eight, now that is fully parameterized so you can have 87 bazillion scopes as well.
Each gun is going to have so much more personality. Like, you might find a boss named “Eight Ball” and kill him and get a gun that actually has an eight ball in the charging handle, or something like that, so a lot more personality in these things so I think people are going to get really attached to them.
Cat: Bosses like Eight Ball?
JC: We’re working really hard on bosses - there’s going to be more bosses in this game than there were in the last game, and segueing again to the ending of the game, I know a lot of people were disappointed with the ending in Borderlands 1 and we were, too, but the new ending to the game is going to be awesome. We’re definitely not going to disappoint this time when you get to the end of the game.
Thanks, Jeramy, and the rest of the Gearbox Software team!
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Photo credit: Adam Sentz
Why so mad, Salvador? Photo credit: Adam Sentz