We've long stopped trying to hide our excitement for Borderlands 2. Every time we preview it or interview key personnel, Gearbox's upcoming FPSRPG reveals new features, bigger guns and more insane characters. However, after getting to grips with a brand new build last week, we yearned to know more: how will the new persistent Badass Ranking system work? Will Borderlands 2 launch on Wii U? As much as anything, will we get a decent ending this time?!
So who better to ask than the co-founder of Gearbox, Chief Creative Officer and Borderlands 2 executive producer Brian Martel? Tracking him down in a pub close to the hands-on preview event, I proceeded to quiz him over a swift half.
Jonathan Lester (Dealspwn): When the original Borderlands was in development, a number of pundits and analysts reckoned that you were entirely mad - that you were "sending it to die." As it turned out, you kicked their asses: critics and players loved Borderlands. So, how does it feel to be working on the sequel?
Brian Martel (Gearbox): It feels amazing. Look, this is something that we're extremely passionate about. We love this franchise: it's a great world to play around in. We're shooter people at our core and we really love Role-Playing games, so mixing the two has been really fun.
But I think, for us, this has been a lot of the dreams and wishes of things that we wanted to put into the first game. We're now able to apply here and do them to the level we always wanted to: to NPCs, to the way the world has real diversity, the amount of creatures we have in the game, a really compelling story, all those kind of things. So I think we've done a much better job with that, and people who loved the first game will absolutely adore Borderlands 2. Even if they've never played it, hopefully they'll come along because their friends are telling them, "hey, you've gotta try this out," that kind of thing.
Dealspwn: Oh, for those players who did complete the original Borderlands: will we get a decent ending this time?
Brian Martel: Heh, yeah. You know, that's one of the funny things we've been talking about in the [Borderlands 2] intro, a funny line that Anthony [Burch] wrote. It talks about how the first vault was filled with nothing but "tentacles and disappointment," which is pretty accurate. We've approached that problem, and what we've learned from that mistake was that when you're going to have a big boss like that, you can't let it be really easy to defeat. You have to make sure it's scalable based on the difficulty or where the player is, what their rank is, what weapons they have, that sort of thing. But you also have to reward the player with something that is a compelling reward. So we've done a much better job at having loot tables that are much more deterministic based on what's going on and where you're at in the game.
The other thing we needed to do was have a conclusion to the story that feels proper and correct. I think we've really done a decent job with that, so I think that by the time people get to the end of the game, they're going to be satisfied with a compelling experience and a decent ending.
Dealspwn: Speaking of "compelling experience," one of the most exciting things we heard about today was the Badass Ranking System [details here]. How will this new system appeal to veteran players?
Brian Martel: Say you've been playing the game and you want to convert over to a new character, work on a new skill tree, all that kind of stuff. This is really compelling to you because, if you've put the hours in, what we really wanted to do was do something that rewarded that effort, right? So instead of you ranking up your characters, you're ranking up you. So you're basically a new character class in a way. With the Badass Rankings, you're a badass! You've seen all the creatures in the game called 'badass,' right? You'll be doing what they've been doing all this time.
The other thing is that you'll pretty much be a really really old man before you can ever get to any of the very high ranks.
Dealspwn: Great stuff, I hear that there won't be a Badass Rank level cap?
Brian Martel: That's exactly right. That's what I'm saying: I think you could be dead before you get anywhere near close to the end!
Dealspwn: Well, we'll give it a good go! Right, while we've played a fair bit of Borderlands 2 over the last few months, we haven't been able to try out any of the vehicles yet. Could you talk us through some of the rides?
Brian Martel: We're bringing back the Runner from the first game, but what we've done for all the vehicles is we've overhauled the driving experience. I think you'll find that it's a much more controllable, better experience than the first time: whether it's the physics or just in general, it just feels better, everyone's been really happy with that.
The other new vehicle that you will see is something called the Technical. The Technical is based on the bandits'... they use this vehicle, they kind of created it. It's four-wheel, offroad pickup truck with a really cool launcher on the back that launches different things. You'll see a little bit of it in the trailer where it jumps off one of the bridges, it's a really fun vehicle to drive. There's been debate internally of which is more fun, you know, so it depends on your tastes which you like to drive better.
Dealspwn: How much bigger is Borderlands 2 compared to the original?
Brian Martel: It's hard to tell how long does a game take for somebody, because how many side missions do they do? We've been using different metrics to do that. We have some of our really elite ninja testers, and for them to do every single thing - every side mission, every main quest, everything - just to get through it all, about 58 hours. So to put that in perspective, that's at least more than double than what we did the first time. It was in the twenty hour range for the first game, this is in the fifty to sixty hour range. With all the other side missions, the Badass Ranks, everything, that makes the game so much bigger.
Dealspwn: At E3, I happened to be hanging out in the 2K Sports Bar booth when the Guinness Book Of World Records turned up to present you with a certificate for "the videogame that features the most usable firearms." Congratulations, by the way.
Brian Martel: Thanks, appreciate it!
Dealspwn: What sort of technical challenges did you face getting these seventeen million guns into Borderlands 2, and what are some of the more outlandish combinations we can expect?
Brian Martel: Yeah, for us it was like, you know, we wanted to make sure that they were more clear and better quality than they were, that each manufacturer was more diverse, that sort of thing. We've done a lot of work in that regard. Scopes, side pictures, they've all been super-enhanced. They're much better than before. I really love... there's one legendary shotgun that can lock onto enemies, and as it flies through the air, it tries to shoot at the enemy. So it's sort of like a launcher that shoots shotgun rounds as it's flying through the air, like continuously. So that one's pretty crazy. The system itself is much more robust and so much more crazy.
Tediore is a great example. It started as disposable weapons, so someone had the great idea of turning them into grenades when you reload. They're the Wal-Mart of guns, so now you can throw them out and they explode - did you try the rocket launcher? Whoosh! It actually shoots out and explodes. These kind of things are really natural progress in this regard, and Kevin [Duc] did such a fantastic job of doing the concept work and designing the weapons, it's just phenomenal.
Dealspwn: Yeah, we had a chat with Kevin earlier this year.
Brian Martel: Good, he's a good guy.
Dealspwn: Lately, many gamers, pundits and even developers have been suggesting that the games market is stagnating, especially on the shooter side. What's your take on the situation?
Brian Martel: Only the customers can really decide that. If that's true, if that's how the customers are feeling, if they're finding that there's repetition in what's happening in gaming, I think that [Borderlands 2] is a fun way of changing that up a bit. That's the thing that's so different about this game: it's fresh, you get more to it from the RPG side, and it's just pure fun. When you get a few friends together, it's like a party game, it's just pure fun.
Dealspwn: Finally, over the last few months, you've been an outspoken exponent of the Wii U. Will Borderlands 2 release on Nintendo's new console, and what's your Wii U strategy going forward?
Brian Martel: We really like the Wii U, I think it's a really cool platform. I like what they're doing - obviously with the touchscreen - and it will be interesting to see what Microsoft do with their approach to that idea. It's one of those problems of the Wii: the only people who have ever made a lot of money on the Wii is Nintendo.
So we're really excited to bring Aliens: Colonial Marines to it. And we're going to do a wait and see approach, our publisher 2K is going to see whether they're going to go with that. But if Borderlands 2 was on the Wii U, the thing I would be most excited about is inventory management: it would be amazing on that, it would just be fantastic. And I think the artwork would look really good, with the way they can deal with the resolutions and textures, I think it's a really good console.
Dealspwn: Thanks for talking to us, Brian.
Borderlands 2 is slated for a September 21st launch on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360. Why not check out our two-part Borderlands 2 hands-on preview, interview with art director Kevin Duc, 2012 Assassin/Commando preview and Crumpocalypse preview for more details?