RPS Interrogation: Randy Pitchford Vs The Fans

By Alec Meer on August 5th, 2009 at 12:01 am.

He did actually have one of these growing out of his ear when I met him.

Hyper-stylised FPS-RPG Borderlands is shaping up to be one of the best action games of the year. In case you missed it, I previewed it here. A couple of days back, I also sat down with Gearbox’s garrulous bossman Randy Pitchford; I was there on behalf of a magazine, but saved some time at the end for something a little different – a few questions from our goodly readers, conveyed to me via our Twitter. Read on for this absurdly loquacious and infectiously enthusiastic veteran PC developer’s thoughts on PC vs Xbox Borderlands, what might be in store for DLC, the reasons for and problems with all those grey’n'brown shooters, and a ton of insight into the thinking behind Borderlands. Also: his verdict on who would win in a fight between CliffyB and Gabe Newell. IMPORTANT JOURNALISM.

JoaoEira: Is Borderlands getting delayed?

Nope, we’re here. You can believe it. The date is real, and it’s exciting. We are crunching hard, we are in a certification loop. We passed the pre-cert, we got a really clean bill of health in terms of our certification compliance, so we’re really confident.

Pasmith: Should we buy the Xbox or PC version of Borderlands? What, if anything, is different between them.

It’s tough. It’s very tough, I’ll tell ya. On one level I do like sitting on my couch with the surround sound and the wireless controller, on the other level I mean you will not get a better-looking image than in the PC version of the game. And when you’re playing a first-person shooter, the mouse and keyboard interface is still the best way to go. It’s a tough thing. At work I play the PC version, because I’m in an office setting, my computer’s in front of me, I’ve got a nice monitor and when I play at home I do play on the couch with my 360. But the PC version destroys all the console versions in terms of the image fidelity – assuming you have the hardware for it.

Jazmcdougall: Ooh, ask them if the prospect of DLC might be simpler for a game like Borderlands (what with just adding more bits).

It makes it more exciting for sure, and there are so many different facets to Borderlands that it’ll be interesting to see where customers want more. But I’m liking the Fallout DLC, I think that’s pretty cool. And there’s some things about Borderlands which actually make it even more convenient for it. The drawback about Fallout is sometimes I’m not quite sure how to access the content after I’ve purchased it, whereas Borderlands has this network throughout the world, we’ve got these registration stations which are all connected via this fast-travel technology, and with that we can instantly create a portal where you can zip to new content and whether we want a create new area, a different part of the planet or a different planet, we can have a very simple interface for getting to it, whether it’s storytelling content or what. So I’m really eager to explore that.

We’ve got some ideas and some things that we’ve set in motion, but we’re really looking forward to taking some cues from our audience. Cos the game’s so big, right? We’ve got the vehicle combat, and maybe that’s really exciting, or you want more story missions, or how about a new character class? Or PVP – turns out everyone wants to do deathmatch, or more gamemodes for competitive play. I dunno yet – it’s going to be difficult to do all of it, so we’re going to have to prioritise, but we’ll prioritise based on what we learn from the audience.

Wrestlevania: Have you ever considered changing the last letter of your surname to a K?

[Randy’s face goes blank.]
[Alec embarrassedly explains that half the internet ritually typos his name as Randy Pitchfork].
[Laughs]. I’ve never heard that before! I’m very surprised. [Laughs again. Alec continues to blush.]

John_Arr: Does he think grimy, brown, ‘realistic’ style visuals still hold value, or should everyone be experimenting?

Yeah, everything holds value, but one of the things I hope is that if Borderlands is a success it makes it easier for more of us to take risks. The reason why we’re afraid to is because it makes it more difficult to predict the results and we have to be able to make more than we spend or we stop getting the chance to do so. But the success of Borderlands will hopefully inspire more people to think “yeah you can do that and be rewarded.”

And we’re really confident too because we have 2K as the publisher, and 2k did Bioshock. That was a bit risk, both the art style – I mean, art deco. Art deco? Is that gonna sell? And then blending genres, but wow – they were really repaid for that risk, so that worked out. I loved buying Bioshock, I then when I was repaid in my experience of it I’m happy to buy more. I think it would be nice to have some of our best creatives in this industry be able to be free, but at the same time, we all have varied tastes. There are certain things that are supposed to be realistic. When we do Brothers in Arms we feel like we have an obligation to treat that subject with respect, y’know? The less you have to root your game in history, the easier it is to get away with that. We’re okay with Team Fortress 2, for example, but part of the reason we like Brothers in Arms is because it puts you in the boots of a soldier and makes you feel like you’re one of the band of brothers. If you take the realism out of that, then what are you doin’?

[I ask if realistic graphics necessarily involve the degree of desaturation we see so much of lately, or if it's purely a technical issue].

There’s some other things you can do there, but I think the language works, you know? When you played Modern Warfare 1 and you did the mission with the spectra gunship, if it wasn’t rendered like that, and wasn’t like the Youtube video we saw from the gunsight view with the infrared vision with the terrorist getting gibbed, and Infinity Ward let us play that. If it wasn’t rendered like that, it wouldn’t have worked. Sometimes the way we render a scene, it’s actually okay to follow the convention that you’re trying to evoke. If you deviate from that, you do yourself a disservice. However, within the spectrum of war as a presentation, there’s a lot of treatments, and I do think the pallete’s gotten a little narrower than it should be allowed to get. It’ll be interesting to see what we do in the future there when it’s time for us to talk about it…

[There follows a brief tangent wherein we discuss how gloomy the palette of the Harry Potter movies has also become. Randy lets slip THE SPOILER. So let’s leave that out.]

Lukestillman: Does he consider all random weapon types balanced? i.e. would anybody want to use a pistol? Is there armour too?

Oh, there’s some amazing pistols. And some of the imbalances actually helps that. There’s millions of guns, and they’re randomly generated by the artificial intelligent of the Gearbuilder system, so I haven’t even seen them all. And I can’t. I couldn’t see them all in a lifetime. But if you think about, here’s the range of possible pistols – the stuff on the awesome end, that’s totally unbalanced, but when you get it, you’re happy. And when this stuff on the other end drops, you just sell it, and use the cash to buy something else.

Balance is good for choice – the very first pistols you’re introduced to in the game appear in the first chest, when you’re doing the training mission. There’s two pistols, and in that one instance we’ve actually planned what’s going to be in there, with a bit of variance. In general, the one on the right will tend to do more damage but will be a little less accurate and won’t have a great rate of fire. The one on the left will have more accuracy and a better rate of fire, but will do less damage per shot. It’s also got a scope on it. So that’s a choice, because there’s a trade-off: they’re balanced against each other. This is an intesting choice.

Now, though, there’s also growth and discovery. So growth is, here’s the one that does the damage, but oh my god all the stats are increased, so I’m going to take that. And then there’s discovery, which is all about surprise – like, are you serious, that gun shoots acid bullets? That pistol fires rockets? And he [gestures at lurking 2K bod] found a shotgun that fired grenades…

Danhall: In Borderlands, are there any RPG elements aside from different guns and skill points? Clothing/armor changes?

Well, it’s a first-person game, so we don’t see our character. Everything in the game uses up memory and performance, so we had to do some trade-offs in the game development, so we decided to invest in the gear that is visible and relevant for the core gameplay loop. So that means we’ve added things like artifacts which augment your skill, we’ve added class modifications so for example you can get a gunslinger mod as a hunter, which gives you particular bonuses. And we’ve added all these interesting augments to your character.

Then there’s the shields and the grenades – and the grenades can be programmed, there’s all these interesting grenades you can discover. In addition, there’s the tons of weapons in the games. So we’ve invested in more variety for more useful items in terms of offensive purpose. There is some defensive stuff in the shields, but in terms of paper-doll, dressing-up your character stuff, we’ve backed off from that because you’re playing the game from the first-person. In WoW, I’m seeing my character all the time so it seems really relevant to affect your avatar on a constant basis. In Borderlands, it’s not that relevant.

We do let you customise the colour and the name, so there’ll be four Bricks in one game and you’ll be able to tell them apart. It’s a smart trade-off – it allows the investment of that stuff to be towards the visible action. I think when you play it you’ll see the values there.

HermitUK: Who’d win in a fight: Brick (Borderlands) or Heavy Weapons Guy (TF2)?

Oh, Brick would just kick his ass. If you’re talking a fist fight, it wouldn’t be any contest. Brick would just destroy the guy. He’d be screaming “blooooooooood!” the whole time and it wouldn’t even be fair. Now, if there’s some range, then Heavy gets his Minigun… Of course, Brick gets a rocketlauncher as well… And frankly that Heavy’s worthless without a medic. It wouldn’t even be close. Brick is like twice as tall, twice as wide…

Moggy: Ask him who would win in a fight between CliffyB and Gabe Newell?

Wow. Uh. I’m gonna go with Cliffy on that. Cliffy would chainsaw him in half. Gabe’s gibs would be awesome, though.

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52 Comments »

  1. Heavy Weapons Guy says:

    I’m outraged.

  2. Novotny says:

    gabesgibs.com im going to register that right now

  3. Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

    Stickybombs > Everybody.

  4. Jetsetlemming says:

    “Gabe’s gibs would be awesome, though.”
    Possibly the least PC comment Iv’e ever heard a game developer say in regards to another game developer. Awesome.

    So is THE SPOILER a Harry Potter spoiler or a Borderlands spoiler? If the latter, a plot spoiler (if so who cares) or a super awesome secret gameplay feature, if so cool?

    Also damn, it’s refreshing to hear a dev talk so confidently and boisterous about the PC version. Most of the time these days it’s reassurances all platforms are equal while at the same time announcing months long PC release delays. Good for ole Pitchfork.

  5. Markoff Chaney says:

    Excellent Video Footage here – http://www.gamekings.tv/index/videos/perstrip-borderlands/ I may not speak the language spoken in the first couple minutes, but the video speaks to all with eyes and the interview with Mr. Pitchford is in English for idiots like me who aren’t multilingual.

    Thank you for even more interview bits about this highly anticipated game by me. Come on October 20th!

  6. rocketman71 says:

    CliffyB is a wuss. Pitchford loses.

  7. Danzeru says:

    Cool interview! Rocket pistols and grenade shotguns sound right up my street… Thanks for that Mr Meer.

    What character do you think you guys will go with? Alec?

  8. autogunner says:

    Alec, you cant write SPOILER in CAPS and leave it at that…

  9. Maykael says:

    @autogunner
    +1. Alex you’re not fair. You could just hide it. There are some of us out there who’ve read all those 7 goddamn wizard soap opera novels.:)

  10. Jazmeister says:

    Gabe would use a robot decoy.

  11. reaper47 says:

    “That was a bit risk, both the art style – I mean, art deco. Art deco? Is that gonna sell?”

    Oh my. A horrible reminder of the train of thought ruling over funding at major game publishers. Imagine: “Hmm, that Bioshock thing sounds OK… but Art Deco? We will fund it if you set it in a gray, Saving-Private-Ryan style WWII setting, though.”

    *shivers*

  12. jarvoll says:

    Ironically, the art-deco turned out to be the ONLY good thing about Bioshock.

  13. Psychopomp says:

    MEANWHILE AT VALVE

  14. Alex says:

    I want to find a gun that shoots the other junky-sell-for-scrap weapons you pick up on your way.

    Basically, a one-way gravity gun with an inventory.

  15. Günter says:

    It’s a Harry Potter spoiler. There is a major event in the book that became a meme among douche bags who like ruining things for people, especially children.

    Personally, I think borderlands looks like good fun. I get why it would be unappealing to some, but the hate this game has received is entirely undeserved.

  16. Wedge says:

    Y’know, I can sit back in my comfy bucket chair with a mouse and keyboard and play my PC games. If you’ve got a fancy flat screen TV, it’s a great PC monitor. The sentiment he gives about PC vs. 360 is the same one you hear from EVERY developer, but I don’t really understand why PC’s can’t be livingroom gaming systems too =X.

  17. reginald says:

    wouldn’t gabe just give the stanley kubrick STARE at cliffyB, shattering his little soul ?

  18. Arca says:

    Am I just imagining things, or did one guy once find a gun apparently that did nothing when fired at enemies… except a couple of seconds later they spontaneously exploded?

  19. Ybfelix says:

    @Wedge But then you will also need some special keyboard and mouse support to be able to lay back, which I am considering make one myself

  20. Azhrarn says:

    Glad the style allows for more colour, less deferred lighting = good. Yay for borderlands.
    (Which is the cause of many of the grey-brown palettes these days, GPU load issues due to deferred lighting)

  21. tapanister says:

    Great interview Alec.

  22. VelvetFistIronGlove says:

    Gabe would win. All he’d have to do is sit on CliffyB.

  23. Andy says:

    Whey this sounds good!
    This is definitely my most awaited game of the year.

    Not sure about the DLC stuff. I mean, the Fallout 3 DLC always looks good and everything but I can never bring myself to buy it!

    I too am glad to see the PC version getting some recognition and praise for once. Wonder if this will be on steam/impulse…or has that been answered somewhere?

    Good stuff as usual guys!

  24. Aftershock says:

    GABE USED EARTHQUAKE

    CLIFFYB FAINTED!

  25. torchedEARTH says:

    This will keep me going until Rage comes out.

    Oh yes, I forgot to say, cel-shading blah-BLAH blah blah. There, saved people the trouble.

    Happy to help.

  26. pignoli says:

    ‘To win the game you must kill me, Randy Pitchford’

    I love a developer with a good sense of humour. Looking forward to this.

  27. Dr. Nerfball says:

    Hmm… just wondering, is there going to be weapon degrading in it? ‘Cause there’s nothing more fun than having a weapon suddenly break in your hands halfway through a fight with a giant monster who could chew your face off in half a second. Maaaaan… SH: Origins was fun wasn’t it?

  28. Subject 706 says:

    DLC is still the devil, especially when it is used for blatant milking of customers, as in Fallout 3.

    Still unsure about this game. Art style looks great, but I’m very unsure about the “Diablo weapon drop system”.

  29. MrBejeebus says:

    Nice, I’m so buying this game :D

  30. Jetsetlemming says:

    You should’ve asked a followup question after that last one, if you can get a chainsaw gun in Borderlands.

  31. Andy says:

    Is that a chainsaw+gun, or a gun that fires chainsaws? Because that would be the best.

  32. Heliocentric says:

    @andy i take it you read the webcomic sam and fuzzy?

  33. Andy says:

    Heliocentric: Never heard of it – I’ll be checking it out now though, especially if there’s promise of a gun that pops out chainsaws!

  34. Heliocentric says:

    Its a few back pages from the newest. Just in a non continuity comic.

  35. animal says:

    I want a gun that shoots out packs of psychotic killer rabbits.

  36. Psychopomp says:

    @Subject

    I don’t see how DLC’s any different then expansion packs. Sure, you get some that’s a blatant cash grab, but most expansion packs aren’t much better.

  37. theanorak says:

    @psychopomp & subject

    I’m with psychopomp on DLC — take each bit on it’s merits. Personally, whilst some bits have been better than others, I have no problem with the fallout3 dlc.

  38. Morti says:

    SNAPE KILLS DUMBLEDORE.

  39. Lack_26 says:

    I wish he would wash his hair, I just find it a bit annoying. Oh yeah, and try shaving. But I like his attitude, better than the corporate suits.

    Oh yeah, and why do they do preview videos using a console. I never understood that, it just makes the fighting seem poorly done.

  40. enki says:

    Rocket pistols?? Acid bullets?? Grenade shotguns?? Plus local co-op?? AWESOME!!!!!

  41. derFeef says:

    Pwah! Gabe would just SIT on Cliffy! End of story!

  42. Geoff says:

    @Alex, re: gun that shoots inventory junk
    They actually have that gun in Fallout 3. Called the Rock-It Launcher, it uses the worthless crap you accumulate in your inventory as ammo. Tin cans, forks, teddy bears…
    http://fallout.wikia.com/wiki/Rock-it_Launcher

  43. Johnny Go-Time says:

    @JetSetLemming
    “Gabe’s gibs would be awesome, though.”
    Possibly the least PC comment Iv’e ever heard a game developer say in regards to another game developer. Awesome.

    Agreed!! I love how that’s supposed to be some sort of consolation prize to Gabe…to soften the blow…With a visionary like this at the helm, I will certainly buy the game!

  44. Hudson says:

    The answer to this question was pretty crappy:
    “Danhall: In Borderlands, are there any RPG elements aside from different guns and skill points? Clothing/armor changes?”

    What he describe is just more guns and grenades…

  45. tyler says:

    guys, CliffyB would just have to get RAAM to do gabe easy. he has the locust hordes on his side.

  46. hfm says:

    @Hudson
    Well he says there are perks and artifacts (I guess think STALKER). That’s good enough.
    He was just saying that their effort would be better spent not wasting time, resources, and CPU cycles on having the look of your character ever changing. In an FPS type environment speed is everything. The game looks great, I don’t see this changing that.

  47. Jim Rossignol says:

    Inventory or death! Or Stats.

  48. Klaus says:

    Harry Potter is over. What possible spoilers could there still be? I feel feeble minded.

  49. Doug F says:

    TRUE FACT: Gabe is actually the basis for Saxton Hale, and as such would destroy CliffyB with his bare hands.

    After throwing urine on him.

  50. Terillius says:

    They really screwed that game up with the “stylized” motif. I mean, you try and step out of the box with some shader crap but then still use those bogus human body proportions that are always under fire. Heaven forbid anyone see any blood that isn’t cartoonish.