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.