At a Borderlands 3 preview event that took place at a disused power plant in London, Den Of Geek was lucky enough to spend a few hours with the game and chat to one of its developers from Gearbox.
We were battling our way through a boss fight against a dubstep-inspired villain called Mouthpiece (who we previously spoke about in our hands-on gameplay preview) when we were pulled away to sit down with Chris Brock, a senior project producer at Gearbox, who was super friendly and had loads of interesting things to say.
We’ve selected some highlights from our 25-minute conversation with Brock to give you a summary of all the cool things he said…
Why now is the right time for Borderlands 3
“As a studio, you need to kind of be careful about becoming the studio does just the one thing, right? Like even if it’s a really cool thing, you need to try to kind of flex muscle creatively elsewhere, just so you can kind of just kind of refresh yourself. So after we did that typical interlude, we did Battleborn, then we came back. Now everyone’s like really fired up to make Borderlands. And so it’s just kind of taking some time to step away, and now it’s time to come back.”
When they decided to add other planets
“It was really early, honestly, because at the end of 2 we teased that like, hey, there’s a bunch of vaults elsewhere, right? And so we knew we wanted to do that. But one of the reasons we wanted to do that was because of visual variety, like, we’ve kind of established that Pandora looks a certain way and like, there’s even a bunch of lore, like it’s tidally locked, so over here it’s all hot, and over here it’s all cold. And so we can’t do a ton of different stuff there. And so if we wanted to really branch out, then it felt like the best way to do that narratively and creatively was to just go elsewhere.”
What Brock can say about the new planet Eden-6
“It’s funny, because, like with Borderlands one, it was always a very brown game. So the idea that we could do like a swampy kind of jungle was never really a real thing to us until we could, like, narratively make up a reason to go do that, right? And we also really liked the idea that it’s Eden-6, it’s because it’s the sixth moon of the gas giant Eden. So that’s always been really appealing to us to get, like, some of the planets have planets. They’re actually in a like another little system all to themselves.”
The idea of putting a billion guns in the game
“Our weapons team is really, really good. They play everything. They look at everything. And they have all these like wild creative ideas. And the hardest part I think, was giving each of the manufacturers their own kind of space to plan without overlapping too much. We didn’t want any one manufacturer to just be like a worse [version of] another manufacturer. They really needed to have something that stood on their own. So it is difficult to come up with new weapon types. But it’s not maybe it’s difficult as might think.”
The challenge of balancing the game for both new players and core fans
“With Borderlands 2 specifically, we still have over a million unique players playing that every month. And it’s got a huge fan base: people have got tattoos, and people done proposals in our games, and we’ve like eulogized people in the game before. It means a lot to a lot of people. So you don’t want to move too far away from what those people like. But at the same time, if you don’t do anything new, everyone says, ‘Well, where’s all your new stuff?’ So it’s a really, it’s a really tricky balancing act to do that. I think we I think we did a good job. But yeah, you want more and more people to play the game obviously. And it has been long enough now that there’s like a whole bunch of people who were not old enough to play Borderlands last time. So hopefully we get some of them.”
Why they added new DLC to Borderlands 2 before releasing Borderlands 3
“I remember being in that meeting. And Randy [Pitchford, Gearbox CEO] said, ‘Hey, it would be really cool if we made a DLC for Borderlands 2‘. And I was like, ‘What? No one makes DLC for seven-year-old games,’ right? And I was like, ‘Why don’t we give it away for free, just to kind of re-energize the franchise?’ And it was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s amazing’. And one of the nice things about it was… our Quebec studio is relatively new, not compared to the industry, like they’re all veterans, but they’re new to being a Gearbox studio. And it was a good thing to say, ‘Hey, why don’t you guys go make some Borderlands 2? Because we’re all going to make this Borderlands 3 thing together, and it would be great if you guys could kind of get into the groove, in the spirit, and kind of learn how to Borderlands. It was great as a way to like, re-energize community, train ourselves, kind of get that spark back. And also, I’m really proud that we supported that game that well, you know, that long after launch. That’s really cool.”
How the Calypso Twins will step into the villainous gap left by Handsome Jack
“So when you have a villain that’s as good as Handsome Jack, it can be a tough act to follow, right? And we knew we wanted to move away. We leaned on Jack pretty hard for 2 and even a little bit of Pre-Sequel. And so we wanted to go in a different direction with it. And at the time, several years ago at this point, streaming was starting to really take off and you know, like, 90% of streamers are awesome, right? Probably higher than that. But there is this idea of a really egotistical streamer, who’s just like ‘me, me, look at me’. And what if they had one and a half million followers, like a cult, and they were militarized, and that could potentially be kind of scary.”
“Tyreen in particular is pretty tough, because she has to have a lot of charisma. So you have to give her a likeable personality. So that you can understand why people would follow her. Also, she has to be equal. So that is a tricky balance, but I think we’ve done a pretty good job with it.”
How technology has evolved behind the scenes
“Specifically with the art side, one of the big questions at the beginning of the project was like, ‘How are we going to take our art style and keep it our art style, but push it forward?’ You need to take advantage of all this new hardware. We tried a lot of stuff actually. We experimented with cross-hatching a little bit on the on the inking style. But I think we’re where we’ve really done a good job there is with the lighting. That’s something we just could not have possibly done before in this generation of hardware. It’s called PBR, physics based rendering. And typically, the way lighting works in games is that you do, at least the way you used to, is you get this kind of weird facsimile of light. And it’s kind of like an impression of what it might be like, right? Whereas now you just cast a light, and it just behaves like light. So you have to get used to lighting scenes, like you might if you were like a movie director or a photographer or something like that. There’s a real art to it.”
The tiny details that will please returning players
“Some of the little things [that we’ve changed], they’re not that little to long-time fans of the series. Just really significant quality-of-life things. This is a weird example, but we engaged with the streaming community just to kind of see what kind of stuff they really wanted to see. And one of the things we got was, when they go to a vending machine, they would wait to see the item of the day – when it loads – if it’s green or blue or purple. And if it wasn’t purple, they would leave. They didn’t even look at what it was, because they didn’t want it. They didn’t want to mess around the green. So what we’ve done now is, if you look at a vending machine, the item of the day displays from outside the vending machine. You don’t have to go in and look at it at all. Or you can walk up and just hit Y [on an Xbox One] or triangle [on PS4] and just refill all your ammo, all at once. Little stuff like that, which long-time fans have been asking for, it’s really made a pretty big difference.”
Has it been surreal seeing ‘looter-shooter’ become a genre?
“Yes, absolutely. Because I remember when I first started at Gearbox, about 13 years ago, and Borderlands one had just kicked off development. ‘What is that? It’s our game. It’s like a shooter. It’s gonna have this Diablo kind of influence where you’re going to have all this loot.’ And I was like, ‘That sounds amazing! But you know, who knows?’ Like, to us, Brothers In Arms was the thing that was like going to carry us, and this [Borderlands] was like a side project. And so, to see it go from that to a whole genre is pretty crazy. Surreal is a good word for it.
Was Gearbox ever going to make this a game-as-a-service title?
“No. It is a big thing at the moment, but no. I mean, when we’ve been away for so long, what we wanted to do was come back and make a Borderlands game like people remember. A game as a service, if it’s done well, can be really cool. And if it’s not done well, then you’re really not cool. And so, we were just going to say, ‘Look, it’s been a while since we’ve made one of these things, so rather than give ourselves this crazy other challenge and possibly alienate a lot of our fan base, let’s just go make Borderlands.’”
“It was funny, because I remember I was on my way to Boston for PAX East because we were going to announce the game. And it came out that we were going to announce something, because we had been teasing, and we had the Mask Of Mayhem teaser go out – I loved that thing. And people were like, ‘Oh, I wonder what it is. I bet it’s gonna be a battle royale game. I bet it’s gonna be a mobile game.’ And it was just really vindicating to read through Reddit in the airport terminal and be like, ‘Nope, it’s exactly what you want.’ [As a developer on the eve of an announcement,] that’s exactly the thing you’re wanting: this thing you want us to make is the thing we’re making.”
Borderlands 3 will launch on 13 September for PC, PS4 and Xbox One. The game will also be available on Google Stadia. And if you’d like some more info, click here for Chris Brock’s breakdown of all the new Vault Hunters.