Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel interview — Randy Pitchford on why this isn't Borderlands 3, and how he "loves to play on PC"

Tim Clark

As part of our first look at Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, alongside some other members of the press we got to fire some questions at assorted Gearbox and 2K Australia developers. These are those…

Q: Do you consider Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel as the next platform for ongoing DLC?

Randy Pitchford, President of Gearbox Software: Right now all of the energy is being focused on the game. I think it's a reasonable expectation [to think that there will be more DLC], but I don't know what that is yet. We're still making the game, but I think that'd be awesome. That'd be really cool. There's a lot of places we could explore. There's four characters we're doing—we imagined more than that. It'd be awesome to build more characters too. It'd be awesome to build more content. We'll see. I don't want to make any promises yet, but as a content creator it'd be awesome to do more.

Q: Can you talk at all about what Claptrap's skill tree looks like?

RP: [To 2K person] Are we talking about Claptrap? [Answer comes back no] Oh man. It's just a tease, I'm sorry. I can't wait to. It won't be long.

Q: Is playing as Claptrap like playing as Oddjob in GoldenEye, in the sense your point of view is closer to the ground?

RP: [Laughs] Yes, your camera is very low! He makes up for it in other ways.

Q: If you're bringing in four new character classes [Athena – Gladiator, Wilhem – Enforcer, Claptrap – Fragtrap, Nisha – Lawbring] then the characters from Borderlands 2 will not be carrying over?

RP: Right. This is a whole new standalone experience. So, I've been careful to make sure that no-one should expect what they might imagine in their brains to be Borderlands 3. First of all, it's on the existing platforms—the PlayStation 3, the Xbox 360, the PC—and it takes place between the two games, so it's not Borderlands 3. That said, it is a full standalone game. We're calling it the Pre-Sequel for a reason, right? It's not DLC or anything like that. So, just like from Borderlands 1 to Borderlands 2, we became new characters and experienced a whole new narrative from beginning to end. This will do that same kind of start afresh. So, if you're a Borderlands fan, yeah, you'll get that experience of coming in to something from the beginning again. If you've heard about Borderlands but you haven't played yet, and you're curious, this is a great refresh opportunity to jump in as well.

Q: Is there any chance we might see the beginnings of any of the characters we met in Borderlands 2?

RP: Yes, there's a great chance!

Anthony Burch, Writer, Gearbox Software: Yes. You're going to see the beginnings of the relationships between the vault hunters from the first Borderlands before we got to the second one, see how they befriended each other and hooked up in some ways. Handsome Jack starts off as a relatively sympathetic-ish sort of guy, because in Borderlands 2 his whole gimmick is “I want to be the hero, I want to destroy the bandits”, and he just happens to think the good guys are bandits, and that's why he was the antagonist of the game. This time around you see how he started as a person who basically just wanted to be a good guy and do the right thing, and then slowly over the course of the game he turns into the shitheel that you know from Borderlands 2.

Q: From a PC perspective, you're demoing it on a powerful PC here, does the game scale up well in terms of performance?

RP: I think if you've played Borderlands 2 on the PC, y'know, it's the same engine. You see what's possible there. It's a beautiful game, very high fidelity, supports very high resolutions. If you happen to have a very powerful Nvidia card from within the last two or three generations of Nvidia hardware you can get the PhysX simulation, which is awesome. I love playing the game on the PC. Not everyone owns PCs, and we want to entertain as many people as possible, so that's why we're also on consoles.

Q: If Claptrap is a playable character, then who's going to act as your companion?

RP: Right! That's interesting. Well you know there are many Claptraps—it's a model, like there's a lot of R2 units in the Star Wars universe.

AB: We killed off all the Claptraps in Borderlands 2 just to specifically say that there is one Claptrap and this guy has a personality, so you don't have, like, 50 C-3POs running around creating a mess narratively. This time around, since you're playing as the Claptrap, we felt like “okay, cool, well you know who that guy is, you know that that guy is going to survive in Borderlands 2”, so we can be a bit more wild in terms of which Claptraps you meet and what they do. In addition to that you're also going to get a lot more guidance from characters like Handsome Jack who are going to be around you a fair amount.

RP: I think we even decided, and correct me if I'm wrong, that the Pre-Sequel takes place before the Robot Revolution.

AB: No, it takes place after the Robot Revolution. Before Jack ordered Hyperion to destroy all the Claptraps in existence. He destroyed them all because he built the Loaders and those are way better.

RP: We also use other excuses. Or you can invent other excuses in your own mind, if you like. On the moon there are people living up there, like Australia. Everything's upside down there. Some things are wild and ahead, some things are a little behind. A couple of Claptraps slipped through the cracks up there on the moonbase. It's the frontier!

Q: Can you talk about what percentage of the game is going to be set on the moon?

RP: You spend time on the moon, you spend time in the moon base, there are some other places—I think we're being coy on the locations. I haven't measured the percentage yet.

Tony Lawrence, General Manager, 2K Australia: The moon's huge, there are lots of different parts.

RP: It's not like, “Hey, there's the blue crater. Oh hey, there's another blue crater”. In the same way that when you're on Pandora there's a lot of diverse environments, there's some diversity up there as well.

Q: There was a Ned Kelly reference in the demo—are there a lot of Australian jokes in the game?

TL: You probably heard the voices of the scavengers. That's a lot of Australian there.

RP: I don't want to give away a spoiler but there's a new gyrocopter up there, and they actually cast the guy—his name is [Bruce] Spence —he played the gyro guy in Mad Max. They cast him to do the voice of the gyro guy in this!

Joel Eschler, Producer, 2K Australia: There might even be a cricket reference in there.

Q: Nick Cave as a boss maybe?

JE: I'd like that!

AB: It's also important to remember that a lot of the writing is done by two brits living in Australia. There's a lot of American humour, from the Gearbox side with myself and Kirsten Kahler, and then there's a lot of Australian and British type of humour. So hopefully it'll be an even more comedically diverse game than Borderlands 2, because it's not the same fart jokes with the same three Americans.

RP: What's wrong with fart jokes?

TL: We think Texans are a little bit like Australians.

JE: It's surprising how quickly we got along. We had a pretty large group out [in Australia] in January, and they even came to try out in the cricket nets with us. We had a barbecue and they ate kangaroo.

[A discussion of how Pitchford is now an enthusiastic convert to Nando's spicy chicken then follows]

Q: How does the creative process work on a game like this? Does Gearbox deliver a big brief in terms of what they want?

RP: It's more twisty than that. It's more organic. At some point we said let's set it between the two games. I think early on we were like: “We've got to go to the moon”. I think that was one of the first tentpoles. Everybody was going to expect the whole sequel thing, but we really wanted to dig into the whole Jack character. And we killed him. So that sucks to come afterwards if we want to spend more time with Jack. So okay, how did Jack get into power? I think it evolved from people sitting around the table, brainstorming, iterating, throwing treatments into the hat.

AB: The way it is to get something done at Gearbox: You pitch a thing, then it comes back with what's possible, and then you riff on that, and end up with something that's hopefully pleasing to everybody but still has this quirky personality. The fun thing about working on Borderlands is that a lot games have complete 100% consistency and all the rough edges are completely sanded off, and there's nothing sharp and nothing dangerous. Whereas Borderlands, overall as a franchise and this game included, is all about “Fuck it! Go for it! That thing you're really passionate about? Put it in! We'll have an entire mission about Top Gun. We'll have an entire mission about whatever the fuck.” This certainly has a couple of missions that might not be written for anybody other than me to laugh at, but they're in the game. And I'm sure the Aussies feel the same way about some of their stuff, and I think that's what gives it the flavor it has as a franchise.

JE: Speaking to the gameplay of it, the flexibility of the modified engine allows us to think something up and a couple of hours later we can be playing it. It's awesome to prototype, and chuck in these crazy insane things. They haven't said no yet.

Q: I'm curious about the business case of doing another sequel. Why not a totally different game?

RP: We're making other games, too. I don't think I would have to stretch far to suggest that there's a lot of demand for more Borderlands. If you imagine where that demand lives, it's on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Windows PC. We don't know to what extent it will live on the next-gen. I imagine that, over time—probably by the third or fourth Christmas—there'll be enough of an install base.

Because Borderlands 2 did so well there's obvious demand there, and we have not been able to serve it sufficiently well with just DLC. Frankly, as creators, we love the space. We're still arguing inside of Gearbox about how much time we should spend in the Borderlands space versus on future things, because a lot of us really like making Borderlands. But yeah, we are inventive, and if we take the posture that we should only make sequels because they're safe, and it's a sure thing, Borderlands wouldn't even exist. When we launched Brothers in Arms, that was a huge hit, and we got great scores, sold millions of units, and by some business thinking we would only be making Brothers In Arms for the rest of our existence. Gratefully, we can't help ourselves. We like to invent, and so we did create new things. And of course, although we haven't announced anything, I haven't been quiet about the fact we're building new IP at Gearbox.

Q: Would you say Gearbox has learned anything about working with external studios from the Aliens: Colonial Marines project?

RP: We're always learning. In fact, I feel like we're still just infants, we don't know shit. We've been around for 15 years now, and learned some things. Just what we learned in the last generation was amazing compared to what we learned in all prior years. Huge amounts of levelling up. Not only learning the craft of game making, but how to collaborate with talent. We could spend four hours talking about it…

Q: But it was perceived as slightly fraught…

[A 2K rep steps in to say we're wrapping up and that “we're here to talk about Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel]

Q: Do you have an idea of size and breadth of content compared to Borderlands 2? Is this more mid-sized?

RP: That's a great question. It comes in the fall, at the time of year that games like to come out, and we're still getting a grasp on scope. It's pretty big. I don't think it's going to be as big as Borderlands 2. It might be as big, or a little bigger, than Borderlands 1. It might be kind of in between the two. As far as price point goes, I don't think that's set in stone yet. It should be priced correctly, so we'll have to see what happens in the market and understand the actual total value proposition that's being offered. But I'm the developer. The guys at 2K will figure that out.

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