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Borderlands Randy Pitchford Interview
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 02:23pm 11/09/09 | Comments
AusGamers had a chance to chat to Gearbox Software President, Randy Pitchford, to talk about all things Borderlands. read on for the full interview...

As many of you know, AusGamers was invited to a 2K-hosted Borderlands event which featured Gearbox Software President, Randy Pitchford who we had a chance to sit down and talk with. We also asked you for a host of questions you wanted answered about Borderlands, most of which were actually answered in the presentation prior to our interview. So in the interest of giving you the goods, we've compiled your questions below with our own answers based on what we were shown at the event.

Greazy: The game has the standard Tank, Mage, Rogue and Healer classes, does that mean similar to WoW you need at least three of the four classes to be able to quest or can a group be dominated by say healers or mages and still get the job done?

And will there be aggro? Can you use terrain to your advantage (ie: choke point forcing the enemies to come through in fewer numbers at a time, distance etc)?

Is this simply a RPG with guns or FPS with RPG elements?

AusGamers: You can pretty much solo the game, and you're not forced to ensure you have any one specific class. Class abilities are more of a bonus and just help get the job done quicker and better - but any number of classes can play through the game in any set-up.

We didn't see any examples of aggro and didn't get a chance to ask Randy that one, however, as this is a shooter with RPG elements (not the other way around), shooter staples such as choke points and terrain are definitely part of the experience. It's also not a roll of the dice affair - it's all skill-based, so FPS aficionados will have no problem owning the mechanic.

Khel: Oh, and another thing, are people with the PC version going to be able to play with people who have the 360 version?

AusGamers: Nope. It's a platform-specific affair. Though Randy mentioned each platform would have something unique over the other platforms to take specific advantage of each of their various strengths, though no specifics were given.

(Khel your other question was answered in the comment below yours).

TheFlyingEgg: Clap Trap, shortly before being interrupted by a rather cranky skag, mentioned that enemies are generated in the same way as guns. What are some of the variables we can expect to see in the baddies of Borderlands?

AusGamers: Again, we didn't get a lot of info about this as they didn't want to reveal too much. The only thing we saw in the way of enemies were variations on a theme (ie Pup Skag, Disgruntled Skag, Adult Skag, and so on...). There are also Elites called "Badasses" - you'll also be able to look at any enemy from a distance through ironsights or cross-hairs - if a red skull appears next to their details, the game is recommending you don't try and engage that monster as you're likely going to wind up dead.

d0mino: So there is LOTS of co-op (which is awesome) but no deathmatch? Planning some DLC game modes (like dm, tdm, capture the flag etc)?

AusGamers: This pretty much gets answered in my interview, but yeah, Randy was fairly open to DLC MP coming if demand is high enough, which I guess just means joining the official forums and screaming for it.

Most of everyone else's questions were answered by other users, but I played the game extensively for a while and chatted to Randy on the side, so feel free to ask any other questions and I'll see if I can answer them based on what I was privy to at the event. But know this - the time I spent with this has me salivating for it - it is essentially World of WarCraft meets Diablo, Left 4 Dead, Call of Duty and Fallout 3, 'nuff said.

Randy Pitchford Interview

AusGamers: We're sitting with Randy Pitchford, president of Gearbox Software after having just run through a local demo of the impressive looking Borderlands. Randy, let's start at the beginning: You guys have previously worked with Ubisoft on the Brothers in Arms series, can you tell us how you found your way to 2K Games and just how Borderlands came about? It's a pretty distinct departure from the aforementioned series...

Randy Pitchford: Yeah, well we're gamers, so we play a lot of different types of games and as game-makers, we also make a lot of different types of games. For example, last year we put out Samba Di Amigo for the Wii - shaking maracas to Latin music which was a lot of fun. And several years ago we made one of the Tony Hawk games for Activision and Neversoft, which was fun too. And so we've had some great things, and we actually starting working on this one [Borderlands] in 2005 after we shipped the very first Brothers in Arms, so yeah, this game has been in development for about four years.

You know, we loved working with Ubisoft on our Brothers in Arms brand and you can expect we'll continue to care for that, but this [Borderlands] has really been a lot of fun for us, because not only have we been able to push it in a new direction in terms of game design; blending shooting and role-playing, but we've also been able to cut loose with the humour. You know, when we make our Brothers in Arms games we really treat that subject with a huge amount of respect - we really care for that subject-matter, but with Borderlands we're making it all up, so we can just cut loose and have fun.

AG: Speaking of making it all up, during the presentation you were talking vividly about backgrounds to all of the characters we came across - there seems to be a huge amount of lore involved in this game, which makes a lot of sense now that we know it's been in development for four years, but just how expansive is the game's lore and is there a chance you might explore it in other mediums?

Randy: Maybe. Umm, there's a lot of content in the game that's about the 'lore' as you call it, but we don't really force it down your throat, you know. We make everything really accessible because we want the game to be fun and we want the player to enjoy the action of the game - we don't want to slow the player down with having to read a bunch of stuff they really don't care about and so even when we do have information, we kind of just push it in the corner and you can just ignore that and keep shooting and doing what you're doing, or you can stop for a moment and focus on that and listen to what the game has to say. When you're taking missions, you can read all of the mission text and understand the back-story behind it all and what the intent is or you can just 'Accept' and follow the little carrot that tells me where to go.

But it's really variable based on our game styles because there's very little that frustrates me more than games that really slow me down unnecessarily because they feel so highly about their own content, and frankly if I wanted to read a bunch of stuff or watch a bunch of movies I'm gonna watch something from Steven Spielberg - you know, someone who's really good at making movies. If I wanna read, I'll read a book from a great novelist; I'll read J.K. Rowling, I'll read Harry Potter, you know... and I'm not going to get that from a game developer, what I want from a game developer is interactivity - I need a videogame.

And so that's what we're kind of focusing on there. Now, having said that there is a lot of lore, in fact this week we launched an episode starring the Clap Trap character - the little robot. And you can watch it on your site and it's just Clap Trap behind the scenes and we had a lot of fun doing it and you know, with Brothers in Arms we did a documentary with the History Channel we have a comic book series we launched in the United States, there're action figures - it's a big brand and there's lots of material and I think it would be great to do that stuff for Borderlands but there has to be demand for it; some people might spend money forcing that sort of stuff out there, trying to overly suggest it but it needs to be demanded - customers need to want it.

AG: It seems like that's the step you're taking with Borderlands, you know it came out of nowhere, then you had this massive, risky visual overhaul and it seems almost like you're testing the waters... well as much as launching a new IP can be described as that, but is it your hope this becomes an ongoing franchise?

Randy: Absolutely - that's always the hope. Especially when it's something you've been working on for so long. You know so many people at Gearbox have put so much of themselves into it; it's always your hope that you're building something relevant that's going to be important to your customers and they're going to want more of, so yeah... right now in fact, as we wrap the game up and ship it, we've already committed ourselves to a whole string of downladable content so we're already committing ourselves to supporting the game even after launch, and that's really exciting and we can already see strength based on pre-orders and that we're doing something right here.

The pre-orders are climbing every day and the buzz when we track it on Google shows an incredible spike as people discover the game and more and more people seem to be discovering it every day. And you know, at first we were nervous as hell because we know we're doing some silly, crazy stuff here and we didn't know if people would like it, but the more people hear about it the more we hear they like it and we feel pretty good because of that - what we think is cool, other people seem to think is cool which is... cool!

AG: There seems to be a lot mixed here that... I wouldn't say is derived, but sits in line with so many popular portions of other popular games. For example, I notice for the console iteration, you've immediately gone with Call of Duty controls, which is a great...

Randy: Yeah there're actually a lot of presets for the controls but the default is exactly that - you know, if you're familiar with Call of Duty you're going to be immediately familiar with this...

AG: ... and that's great, I picked it up and knew exactly what was going on immediately -

Randy: Two seconds right, you had it all sorted in two seconds...

AG: Yeah, and that's really important because so many other games tend to take the time to try and force you to play another way -

Randy: Everybody wants to reinvent everything, but we're doing soo much reinvention here and so much crazy new stuff, that we don't need to reinvent the fundamentals, in fact it benefits us because we're doing so much that's innovative and new and in some cases even a bit over-the-top and risky that it benefits us, the customer and the game if we stick to the familiar fundamentals - we're already asking you to consume a lot of stuff that's new we don't expect you to also learn to play an entirely new type of control set-up.

AG: One of the key things I've noticed is that - and this comes back to your shift in visual style - so many games on the market now try and minimise the HUD yet you guys have heaps of stuff going on; a huge amount of information displayed everywhere, which is great because there's so much to consume...

Randy: That's right, and we make sure that it's all relevant. I mean, you're playing a videogame - that's what this is and we don't want to try and trick players into thinking they're not. We want to make this fun and so the information we have isn't superfluous but the information we do present we're not afraid to present because it's relevant to the gameplay.

You know, I can see right on-screen how much experience I have, that's how much I need to go up a level, this is the level of my character, this is how much ammo I have, here's how much health I have, how much shield I have, here's a compass that helps me find things I'm looking for - it all makes sense and it's all there to help. It's very clear.

AG: So is there a main story?

Randy: Yeah, actually there is (smiles). There is a plot, and even though we don't force it down your throat I think it's important to touch upon. It's relevant.

The story - fundamentally - is about you becoming one of these characters who is a treasure hunter; a vault hunter. And in this Universe there's a legend; an ancient myth about an alien vault. Now alien ruins and technology have been discovered long ago - centuries ago in this world and on all these distant planets, but they've all been broken ruins and people have translated, or started to translate some of the markings and those translations have almost become a religion; creating this legend that somewhere, the aliens have this vault and inside the vault they've all of their most valuable treasure and all of their most powerful technology and they keep it safe and secure inside this vault. And it's become this kind of romantic legend that parents would tell their children: Work hard and some day you might be the one to find it. And in fact, some people grow and become vault hunters and so they spend their lives looking for this thing no one's ever found that is just a rumour, just a myth.

So these characters, the main characters, are vault hunters and they're on Pandora, this planet that's been abandoned by corporations because they just went there to mine the thing and strip it of all the value it had and they've since abandoned it because it's too dangerous and too volatile making it too expensive for them to work there, but you're there because you believe the vault is there. And in fact, not to spoil anything but make the story interesting, the vault is there but there are lots of people who are after it and so the grand quest is about being the ones who discover and find the vault and it's believed whoever can claim this thing will the most powerful, wealthiest person in the whole Universe - so you want to be there first.

You're kind of like a mix between a Mad-Max character, where you're the only sane one in an insane world, and an Indiana Jones kind of character where you care about the hunt and the treasure, and so like Indiana Jones, this vault is like your Lost Ark.

AG: So there's plenty of vehicle action in the game and I've noticed there seem to be a lot of conveniently placed ramps or jumps - will there be races, or stunt side-quests or anything like that?

Randy: There's some side gameplay like that but we're not trying to blend a racing game with a shooter. Vehicles are a great way to get around the world faster; they're fun, they're armed...

AG:... can you upgrade them like you can your weapons?

Randy: Yeah, but the upgrades are free - we make that really easy. You can choose what weapons you wanna load your vehicle out with, you can choose your paint job but we don't really vary that stuff. The gameplay is more about exploring your character and about completing the missions and levelling up and finding loot. Cars are fun, they're in the world, they're great and there are plenty of Road Warrior style moments and areas but racing is a totally different genre - cars are in Borderlands like Warthogs are in Halo, you know what I mean.

AG: It's like your mount...

Randy: Exactly! Except unlike your mount in World of WarCraft where you go through things, your mount in Borderlands is armed and you can roadkill with it.

AG: One of the biggest questions our community had was about the lack of competitive multiplayer, and I know you mentioned there are actual arenas in the game-world where you can set your own rules for deathmatching and the like...

Randy: One of the things we discovered when playing the game (we're losing productivity now because we're having so much fun playing), sometimes you know, you're talking smack and someone is like "dude, you know I'm totally carrying this" and we realised we needed a way for people to settle who is the best playing the game and so we added the Duel which is a true PVP one-on-one battle (very much like WoW duels - Steve.) where you can throw down and see who's the best, and you can do this with anyone, anytime, anywhere in the game - even if you're in the middle of a boss fight you can totally duel.

AG: Is there are chance we might see dedicated multiplayer as DLC or in a sequel because it seems like you have all these great tools that would be perfect for it...

Randy: Maybe. We'll just have to see if there's a demand for it. Right now we're focusing on the co-operative side of it and of course, you can still duel each other and in the arenas you can have four-player deathmatching or whatever rules you want to create.

AG: Will we be seeing dedicated servers and will you be able to choose to drop in to local games? We have a serious issue with peer-to-peer latency here, especially on consoles, so the ability to choose a locally hosted game would be better...

Randy: There won't be dedicated servers, but you can play locally via LAN or split-screen and it's only single-disc for LAN set-ups. But you'll just drop into games instantly from the lobby if that's what you want to do - it's drop in drop out co-op, anytime...

AG: Damn, we're being wound up Randy, unfortunately we have to end it there. Thanks very much.

Randy: You're welcome, it was great talking to you today.

Latest Comments
Posted 03:52pm 11/9/09
So no filter by country? Why are so many developers oblivious to this essential component for an enjoyable online experience.
Posted 03:22pm 12/9/09
Because it's not an issue in Europe/US, AU is not a big enough market to be catered for specifically.
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