Games For 2008: Borderlands

When I was a kid any film that featured a large disc of rock, embedded with mystic symbols, that would suddenly release dazzling white light, was perfect. That’s all it took. I’m older now, but importantly, no different. So the Borderlands trailer from December makes me go all stupid.

Moooooottiooooooon bllllllluuurrrrrrrrrrr!

Gearbox seem to have a habit of being brilliant without making a big fuss. After dabbling with the Half-Life franchise, they then became the supply teachers of the gaming world, filling in when developers were off sick, pregnant, or too busy to make their own sequel or add-on pack. But then came Brothers In Arms – their first, eurgh, unique brand, and it was really rather splendid. That’s kept them busy for a while, but oh golly gee whizz look what’s next! Borderlands really does look like it might be spectacular.

Set on Pandora, an outlying planet in the realms of space Humans have explored and attempted to colonise, times are troubling. See – here’s a really love sci-fi idea. Pandora has a very slow orbit of its sun, so each season lasts years. Humans arrived in Winter, and had no idea what was going to happen once Spring came around. Which would be lots of creatures coming out to say hello. Or eat you.

To be clear, it’s no an MMO, or a persistent world, but a co-op game, where up to three other players can join you in your game at any time. Or you in theirs, if they’re nice enough.

Shhhhhhhh! I'm hunting buggies.

The phrase that’s been heavily associated with the game is, “A hell of a lot of guns.” They don’t mean twenty. They mean half a million. I said half a million. By creating some sort of computerised witchcraft, they’ve generated this many unique weapon types by making ludicrously detailed micro-changes to hundreds of weapon features. It’s clearly a huge focus of the design.

Guns aren’t the only variable. Vehicles are also set to drive how you would prefer. You will customise the features, from the speed to the weaponry, designed for the sort of play you’re after. Intended to be a freeform co-op world (a phrase that PC gaming has not used nearly enough yet), you and chums will leap on board to make perillous journeys to distant destinations, fighting whatever creatures, bandits and so on you might meet along the way.

One aspect that doesn’t seem clear just yet is the RPG ingredient. Characters will gain experience, and level, etc, which will allow them to use better grades of weapons and armour. All familiar, but how will this work with the drop-in-drop-out co-op? Will your friends need to be a similar level for a decent game? And is this completely necessary in a game that’s about charging around in buggies armed with rocket launchers? There’s a nagging worry that it could dampen the hectic mayhem that everything else about the game seems to promise.

Just look at that.

The witchcraft I mentioned earlier? You think that’s a cop-out way of describing it? Ok then, you can flipping well try and make sense of this from project lead Randy Pitchfork (still the best name ever), in an interview with 1UP (that’s well worth reading):

“So in this science fiction world, the fabrication of matter is not a problem. You can jam particles together and make something; the trick is knowing what order to jam those particles in. You have this thing called a storage deck, which defines how much stuff you can carry. Really, it’s about how much memory — it’s like a little laptop that…imagine your weapons are like MP3s or something. How big is your iPod? That’s how many…and then the object itself can fabricate that object by assembling the particles. You can do that for ammunition — if you know what you want to assemble, a small amount of data can generate lots of ammunition. You can actually generate ammunition for your weapon, and sometimes the weapons themselves can generate ammunition. But a lot of times they have to…you still have a magazine, you just need to create the matter somewhere and it goes into the magazine, which loads into the gun.”

Check out more screenshots here.


  1. Jockie says:

    This game has real promise by the sounds of it, probably one of my most eagerly anticipated.

    I think the RPG system could work if it’s focused more on character specialization and perhaps unique abilities that come with pursuing a path (say for instance a driving specialist or mechanic, whose able to get more out of a vehicle) than a heavily stat based damage output rpg (like Hellgate London).

    And with half a million guns, whatever the outcome it’ll still be worth a look.

  2. LSNDuck says:

    Mmm, big fun co-op gaming. With lots of customisation options. And cute fluffy things. What more could you want?

  3. Man Raised By Puffins says:

    Randy Pitchfork

    I thought that was actually his name until a month or two back when I finally ran into his wikipedia page.

    As for the witchcraft:

    Before becoming a full-time game developer, Randy was a professional magician in Hollywood occasionally performing at the famous Magic Castle between classes at UCLA.

  4. ɹǝʌo llǝɟ ı poƃ ʎɯ ɥo says:

    Cor. What a big machine. It makes me wince just looking at it.

  5. Man Raised By Puffins says:

    Indeed, bucket-wheel excavators are enormous bastards.

  6. The Fanciest Of Pants says:

    “Intended to be a freeform co-op world (a phrase that PC gaming has not used nearly enough yet)”

    Too bloody true John. This is shaping up to be a LAN party staple.

    If there’s one thing I love it’s nonlinear co-op games.. oh and a postapocalyptic setting with 500000 guns, aliens and Gasmasked chaps(lootable hopefully?) doesnt hurt either!

  7. chesh says:

    I don’t call that witchcraft, I call that Drexlerian nanotech. Hah!

  8. Flint says:

    Wait, this is co-op only?

    If so, my expectations are gonna go bye bye.

  9. elias says:

    Sounds like Diablo-style randomization of weapon stats. Meh, it remains to be seen whether that is good for this game.

    Still, sounds kind of interesting with the open-ended co-op and all. I’ll be interested to see how it turns out.

  10. Stick says:

    Is it just me, or does the concept sound a lot like Stalker? With co-op, cars and extra bells and whistles? I’m definitely intrigued.

  11. espy says:

    One of the few games I’m genuinely excited about for 2008. Sounds a lot like the game I would have made if I’d become a game designer really.

  12. Zeh says:

    One of the games I’m looking forward in 2008. This, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. C.L.E.A.R. S.K.Y. and maybe Rage will surely fill my post-apocalyptic gameplaying needs.

    Oh, the excavator in the game seems to be modeled after this one:
    link to

  13. Zeh says:

    Also, I think the picture I’ve linked to is from the same excavator as linked above. Oops. Carry on.

  14. Mike says:

    Left 4 Dead, and now this. I heart co-op.

  15. John Walker says:

    It’s not just co-op Flint, you worry-wort. It will be built for solo play too, with the option to have chums join you at any time.

  16. Rich Powers says:

    Co-op = teh win.

    Now if I could just get some friends who actually like PC games, then I’d be all set :)

  17. Flint says:

    John Walker: awesomeness, that’s what the logical part of my mind was telling me but my fears took over (much thanks to the multiplayer love of today). I rarely get the desire to play with people over the net so singleplayer stuff is a must for me. And having a really awesome looking scifi FPS with no singleplayer love would be like a dagger through my heart :(.

  18. Pace says:

    This does indeed look quite nifty. The zillions o’ guns bit doesn’t appeal to me much, but it seems like an interesting setting. (and I totally agree, shining discs of rock = guaranteed awesomeness.)

  19. Geoff says:

    Am I the only one who gets suspicious when reading features like “half a million guns!” ? If I read that New FPS features 17 weapons, I think “wow, that’s rather a lot.” But if I read that it has 64, I just think “oh, it probably has eight unique weapons, each with four properties, each of which has two possible values.”
    Like if it was Bioshock, we call the shotgun weapon 1, shotgun-with-damage-upgrade weapon 2, shotgun-with-rate-of-fire-upgrade weapon 3, shotgun-with-rate-of-fire-and-damage-upgrade weapon 4, etc…

    Admittedly, even with such a crappy methodology, 500000 is still an awful lot. And man will I cheer for anything that’s co-op but not MMO. I just remain unimpressed by the half-a-million stat.

  20. Chris R says:

    Geoff, I too, got suspicious about that. I fear that what will happen is we’ll end up with only 10 or so weapons that are optimal, and the rest trash.

    In Hellgate London they have lots of randomly generated weapons, and you end up with silly things like a rocket pistol, or a shotgun rifle, or other such sillyness, and they’re all pretty much useless, since everyone goes for a Hu-Hu’s hypershot pistol or a Lee’s rifle. Pah!!

  21. Stick says:

    It’s the Spore of weaponry? … well, I’d guess there’s probably some – yes – Diablo-esque stat-fiddlery at the bottom of it. (Still, I’d prefer that to the “search gamefaq for location of Best Gun, use it forever” temptation.)

  22. Alex McLarty says:

    They’ve copied The Cavefish look from Full Throttle.

    Gonna take a tire iron to them.

  23. malkav11 says:

    From what I can tell they’re counting every possible randomization of gun as a separate gun. So you’ll have x number of base types, with x stats and options, which’ll show up in random generation. Not unlike Diablo. You could claim Diablo has a couple hundred/thousand swords because there’s all those different keywords that can get splaffed onto the swords, plus the sets and the artifacts and so on.

    I think it’s a tremendously silly selling point.

  24. DigitalSignalX says:

    Excitement lvl is *very* high, probably second most anticipated for the year (after GTA obviously). I’m with Flint though, hoping that the single player campaign is as robust with just as many goodies as the co-op mode. If ever a title would live up to it’s hype, I hope this one does. It also seems like this would be a superb platform for player based add-ons ala Oblivion.

  25. Atriedi says:

    Best name ever? How about Staff Sgt. Max Fightmaster?

  26. Andrew Doull says:

    The so-called ‘witchcraft’ is just your bog standard matter replicator technology that if you’d read any recent sci fi by e.g. Charles Stross, Bruce Stirling, Cory Doctorow, Neal Stephenson, you should have a passing familiarity with. Think a 3d printer with recyclable solid ‘ink’ and extrapolate from there to include chemical reactions, electrical circuitry and possible matter transmutation.

    Just a general application of Clarke’s Third Law ;)

  27. Jim Rossignol says:

    I am so excited about this game :I

  28. Nick says:

    So, are those all target renders or what?

  29. Usul says:

    Looks like it’s going to rule. Just one thing I’m not sure about. Is it going to be a sandbox game?

  30. BUBBAcHEWY says:

    This game looks awesome! I don’t know why people have to cut down the 500,000 weapon idea. Sounds great to me even if it is stock, barrel, scope/sight, bullet type. It’s sure is alot more than any other game.
    I know quantity isn’t as good as quality but from what gearbox has said is the guns they have seen generated are pretty amazing. I’m sure there has to be some sort of disassemble feature for the “trash” or weaker/non-useable (because of class) weapons you come across. In GI they stated that there are pistols that shoot shotgun shells, and rifles that shoot homing explosive darts. I can’t wait to see the other out there/awesome combos, and not to mention the alien weapons that they haven’t even gone into yet.
    There are also 500,000 pieces of armor to as quoted “prevent star-trooper effect” meaning people all wearing the same get up/armor. Hellgate london in my eyes was an utter failure. Gearbox, if this game is done correctly will have a major hit with, and prolly some sort of sequel or expansion.
    Also Usul yes it is supposed to be sandbox with missions and side missions also randomly generated encounters as you traverse the world. Every person you kill you can loot, if you see a bad guy or someone with a cool lookin gun you can kill them and take it. The game was made for co-op, but can be played solo with npc buddies to the same degree.
    Also the vehicles look fun and are fully customizable with an assortment of guns, tires and bodies. If i remember right they sort of transform to a narrower more streamline look (sort of dragster) for higher speeds. Gearbox please keep up the good work and i cant wait to try this game out.

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