"We're Expanding On All Fronts"
After playing Borderlands 2 at the recent first look hands-on preview event, I was lucky enough to corner Gearbox concept artist Kevin Duc for a chat about the anticipated 'FPSRPG' sequel. As well as discussing development, new features, drop-in multiplayer and badass shenanigans, Duc was also more than happy to talk about the inspirations behind Borderlands' art design - everything from iPods, airplanes and the Scottish Highlands.
Jonathan Lester (Dealspwn): Thanks for talking to us. First of all, could you introduce yourself to our readership?
Kevin Duc (Gearbox): Absolutely. I'm Kevin Duc, one of the artists on Borderlands 2.
Dealspwn: Excellent. Right, let's get cracking. The original Borderlands was the very definition of a 'sleeper hit.' It released without expectations, analysts looked properly stupid, gamers loved it and us critics were mad for it. Did you expect Borderlands to be such a huge success?
Kevin Duc: You know, we were really excited with how gamers responded to the game. We're very aware that people love this game and they have huge expectations for Borderlands 2, and for us to provide that kind of rich experience again.
Dealspwn: So how are you going to top a game like Borderlands?
Kevin Duc: [laughs] By improving everything, basically! Every system has been looked at and expanded upon. You know, we have this formula that's an 'FPSRPG,' so we need to improve the shooter side and improve the RPG side. We have expanded build trees, build trees that have much more influence on the guns, much more influence in co-op. You know, what items are you picking? How does that relate to what skills you've decided to go down?
Dealspwn: At Gamescom, Gearbox stated that Borderlands 2 would feel like a 'grand adventure' rather than a disconnected series of missions like a traditional MMO. How are you going to create that sense of always pushing forward?
Kevin Duc: We learned a lot of lessons from our DLC in Borderlands 1. General Knoxx had that rich story, and the response from that is that people really like a good strong storyline. So in Borderlands 2, we take those lessons and we apply it. We're introducing Handsome Jack, head of Hyperion, who's coming in five years later from Borderlands. He's coming down with his Hyperion corporation and taking over the planet, feeding his egomaniacal lust for power. He's had an effect on the original characters, and now he's having an effect on you, on the world.
Dealspwn: Speaking of Handsome Jack, is that a fake face stapled onto his... face? That's nasty...
Kevin Duc: Haha, yes, it might be a fake face!
Dealspwn: From what we played today and saw at Gamescom, Borderlands 2 is already looking better than the original thanks to the improved AI, environmental variety etc. But players don't just want sequels to be better, they want them to be bigger as well. Can you tell us, how much bigger is Borderlands 2 compared to Borderlands 1?
Kevin Duc: You know, we're expanding on all fronts, right. You have a singleplayer experience that, if you just went plot line only, you're looking at twenty to thirty hours. So you're not including side missions in there. We've still got billboards that you can go up to and get missions from, and we're introducing NPCs that you can gain side missions from. Within the missions, you can decide how to finish your objective and completely change the world. You can block off entire areas for yourselves if you don't complete a mission, or complete it a certain way. You can decide who to turn your missions into, which gives you different rewards and options.
Dealspwn: Are we going to see more in the way of cosmetic character customisation this time around?
Kevin Duc: One of the things we're introducing is showing the weapons, showing your items, on the characters. As you're running around with your buddies and go into the menus and see your player character, you're going to see all the guns that he's picked sitting on his back. You're going to see your shield mods. Your grenade mods.
Dealspwn: One of the problems with the original Borderlands was that two players could easily get out of sync with each other, and end up at different points in the storyline if they don't play together for a while. Apparently Borderlands 2 is going to fix that. How?
Kevin Duc: Absolutely, so, we're addressing a lot of the blockers to having a smooth cooperative experience.With missions specifically, if you've completed a mission and you want to play with your buddy who's not quite there, you can jump into his game, you're going to get the mission again, get the waypoints and be eligible for the rewards.
Dealspwn: Brilliant, that was really annoying...
Kevin Duc: Yeah, you're looking blind, right? [Laughs] Yeah. There's another thing: if you're playing singleplayer and a friend comes over and wants to play with you, he just plugs in his controller and it goes right to splitscreen. You guys just continue playing, there's no restart or anything. When he's done, he's out, and you continue.
Dealspwn: Sounds good. Right, we've got a stock question that we like to ask developers - usually because we're completely shocked by the answer. What (that you can tell us about) is the most awesome, badass thing that players can do in Borderlands 2?
Kevin Duc: Most awesomely badass thing you can do? Oh, man! There's just so many epic things you can do. Ah, with the Siren's ability to Phaselock, there's no upper limit on the size of the enemy. Yeah! If you Phaselock something huge, it looks awesome. You get this massive orb, your buddies are all firing in there, it's amazing.
Dealspwn: Ah yes, we tried the Siren out today - we were able to Phaselock one of the biggest bosses. It was amazing. Could you tell us a little more about the Siren? What's her deal?
Kevin Duc: Ah, erm, I can only really talk about her abilities at the moment. You have her base Phaselock ability, and depending on which skill tree you go down, you can modify it. You can make it so that when you Phaselock someone, you're healing or your party is healing. You can make it so that you can instantly revive someone, you know, you're buddy's down, you look over from accross the map and revive them instantly.
Dealspwn: Because we've got you here, it's a good chance to talk about the art of Borderlands. If you don't mind me asking, what influences did you have?
Kevin Duc: Sure. With art, with any design, you look around your world. So let's look at environments. We wanted to expand on the desert environments so we said, 'what are some interesting environments within our own planet?' We looked at some arctic areas, some tundra, we're pulling that glacial feel. You get that entire spectrum of blues that wasn't in Borderlands 1. So we looked at the Scottish highlands and Iceland and pulled that into the grasslands area, getting those greens and marshes.
You do the same for almost everything. Items! We're looking at guns. For Maliwan, we needed a really high tech, very manufactured Sci-Fi design, so we looked at Apple products, KTM cars and motorcycles.
Dealspwn: So Maliwan sell iGuns?
Kevin Duc: Yeah, absolutely, yeah!
Dealspwn: That's really cool. So out of interest, what designs are you most proud of, that you worked on personally?
Kevin Duc: That I personally designed? Erm, Torgue was a really fun one to design. We wanted to give this beefy Americana feel, and I ended up looking at some motorcycles and muscle car engine blocks. We looked at old World War Two airplanes, you know, like FA-86 Sabres. We had this specific 40's, 50's influence and brought that into the guns. You're going to see checkerboard patterning, you're going to see the big yellow warning stripes. So that's coming from the old airplanes and their colourings.
Dealspwn: Right, finally, we've got a few questions from our community. Stevenjameshyde asks: will there be four-player splitscreen on any platform?
Kevin Duc: I don't believe we are looking into that.
Dealspwn: Quietus asks: Is there any possibility of releasing mod tools or world editors down the line so that the community can create its own content?
Kevin Duc: I'm not exactly sure about that stuff. But one thing we do have that's kinda neat is playtesters coming in. We have a 'truth team' come in from off the street and we ask them "do you like the guns?" or "do you like how this is playing?" and pass the information to the developers who need it. We try to ground ourselves in how real people react to the game we're making.
Dealspwn: And udoh asks: will there be a demo?
Kevin Duc: I have no idea.
Dealspwn: Heh, okay, fair enough. Many thanks for talking to us, Kevin.