Loot makes the world go round. It’s that quest for a gun with mighty numbers that can out-number the guns of anyone who stands against you, that can make a game so appealing. Borderlands 1 and 2 had this theme in common, as a bazillion guns awaited players on the planet of Pandora, provided that they could survive long enough to claim them. And the Pre-sequel is going to fill in plenty of gaps between those two games. Here’s what we learnt this week in an interview with two of the game’s development leads.
This is the tale of how a man called Jack became Handsome Jack
Borderlands 1 and Borderlands 2 had players assume the role of one of four vault hunters in each game, characters who may have been on Pandora for various reasons that resulted in them searching for a loot-filled vault. Each one had a different past, but by the end of the game, they were heroes to the people of Pandora. Jack and his crew? Not so much, although they still believe that they’re doing the right thing at the end of the day.
“Well, they’re not so much the bad guys, as they are bad guys being the good guys,” Creative director Matt Armstrong explained. “They’re doing the right thing for the right reasons, but over the course of the game Jack, the guy who is leading them starts making more and more radical decisions, sort of ends justify the means decisions, causes some splinters between the people following him. Are we going to keep following this guy, he’s doing the right thing for the right reasons but he’s making really hard choices.
And it’s also part of his story arc, how Jack become Handsome Jack, but it’s also how each one of the different characters who you choose to play as react to this and go along with this and feel that the ends do justify the means or ‘boy we really just like being bad guys’ or on the other end of it, feel themselves trapped in a situation where they’re following somebody who’s the best hope, but might be making decisions that they might not want to be part of.
It’s also the tale of how Handsome Jack and Claptrap came to hate one another
Claptrap is the unofficial mascot of the Borderlands franchise. The little steward bot has been around since the first game, with an entire product line of his mechanical kind helping (and sometimes hindering with a massive robot uprising) the player. But in the Pre-Sequel, Claptrap gets a chance to shine as a playable character, equipped with his own special ability that generates random chaos on the battlefield. Can the Pre-Sequel handle that much Claptrap, let alone the possibility of a four-player team of Claptrap units running amok on the moon?
“Uh…well…no. Nobody can handle that much madness, but we really look forward to seeing that much madness,” Armstrong replied light-heartedly. “We’ve tested and played with them, we’ve found that there are some really interesting combos of characters that can do some really radical things”
In some games you might say that it was almost game-breaking, but Borderlands is about having fun with your players and figuring out all the wild combinations and patterns that can do all sorts of things and feel over the top and overpowered and game-breaking, and sort of embrace that.
So there are going to be some servers where you are going to go on and people are going to say ‘oh god, no Claptraps allowed we don’t want Claptrap here. And others are going to be four Claptraps going all the way through the game. And those are going to be really radical experiences. Every time you play a Borderlands game, you really have a fresh experience. That’s one of the cool things about the characters, how diverse they can be and the items and gear that can further diversify your character. So yeah, that’s going to be a lot of fun to see, I’m looking forward to it.
Anyone who follows the story knows that Claptrap and Jack have this incredible rivalry where they actively dislike each other which is really strange because one of them is the head of the largest corporation in the world and the other one’s a steward bot who is stranded on a planet. So how did they have a relationship, how did they grow to be so antagonistic to one another. It’s kind of an unusual thing that people didn’t question in Borderlands 2, but we’ve always been aware of. These guys had a falling out, and we’d kind of like to explore that.
Expect even more pop culture references this time around
Besides a main campaign, Borderlands 2 featured plenty of side-missions that riffed on popular culture. If you weren’t slaying a mutated quartet of ninjas in the bandit sewers after baiting them with pizza, you were taking on the mighty Rakk-Man and his Rakk-arangs in another level where he was hidden away. In a way, those side missions helped define the previous Borderlands game, so expect more this time around.
“This is Borderlands, and it continues to be a Borderlands game, so it’s going to have the same heart and soul that you expect from a Borderlands game and the same sort of humour.,” Armstrong said.
But with a pretty significant Australian spin added to it, because the 2K Australia guys have brought their own humour and attitude to the game, and their own writers as well. So when you go to Elpis, when you go to the moon, it’s very much like going to visit Australia. Very, very dangerous animals and very friendly people and lots of fun.
Ozzie Ozzie Ozzie, oy oy oy!
And that’s something else that’s making a debut in Borderlands: Australian humour. With the game being developed at 2K Australia, there’ll be merger of American and Australian comedic styles. Something which wasn’t that difficult to do at all.
“They’re not as different as you think, I mean there’s different cultural references of course, we put a cricket side mission in there,” 2K Australia Community Manager Tony Lawrence explained.
And there’s a lot of cultural side missions in there with references to Australia that I get and I laugh at that others wouldn’t get, but we’ve worked really well and we’ve collaborated with Gearbox and what we’ve found is that between us our sense of humour is extremely similar, and that’s because we’re game developers, it’s been really fun.
This so much more than a mere expansion
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel isn’t a quick cash-in attempt that reuses assets. It’s a full-fledged game in its own right, one that adds to the core experience set out in Borderlands 1 and 2, with a few ideas of its own. Expect to get your moneys worth when the game arrives. “It’s a big game, it’s a full-blown game,” Lawrence said. “It’s difficult to determine how big the game is. You can have a straight play-through of the main narrative, you have the side missions. It’s a really big game”.
Lasers. Lasers everywhere
Along with some new guns, there also happen to be two new types of bandit-killing weaponry. The cryo-guns have received the most attention so far, as these weapons can freeze and help you shatter enemies into small cubes of regret and freshly-widowed wives. But there are also lasers. Lasers of all shapes and size, that pack plenty of punch on their own.
“There’s a whole heap of different laser guns, depending on the manufacturer,” Lawrence explained. “We’ve got single pew-pew kind of lasers, we’ve got continuous beam lasers, we’ve got rail-gun lasers and we’ve got shotgun lasers. And you can do a lot of different things with all those lasers”.
And it’s another Borderlands game, so it wouldn’t be just those lasers, they also have elemental damage as well so you’ll find that you can use laser guns which has quite a bit of damage. So there are more and more guns than you can even believe. And then some.
The cast has been designed to feel fresh
If you’ve been on Pandora for a while, you’ve no doubt experienced the game through the eyes and guns of ten different vault hunters so far. The Pre-Sequel throws in five new characters, that range from Claptrap to a soldier with a special ability that rhymes with Shmaptain Schmamerica. And they’re designed to feel completely different in terms of feel and look.
“One of the rules we have in order to keep things fresh, is ‘let’s pretend that you can play all of the previous characters as well’,” Armstrong explained.
We sort of think about it in those terms, how would they stand next to each other and what do they do that’s different. So we sort of go with that, but the main thing we did is that we flew some of our guys down to Australia for a week, and worked on together what these characters did who they were.
The other thing is, we’re following Jack and his rise to power and the canon makes it very clear who’s there during his rise to power. We know that Nisha was there, she’s his girlfriend, she’s the sheriff of Lynchwood and she’s part of his rise to power. We know that Wilhelm is there, there’s many stories about Wilhelm being this ultimate incredible badass half-man half-robot guy. He was there.
Athena might be the only redeemable character
We all know that Jack becomes a tyrant in Borderlands 2, Wilhelm becomes his sadistic enforcer, Nisha becomes a puppy-strangling law enforcer and Claptrap becomes…well, Claptrap. That’s a crew of characters who aren’t going to be knocking on the pearly gates anytime soon. Athena on the other hand, might be the only character following Jack who has an actual conscience. She popped up way back in the first Borderlands game. And she has her own motivation and reason to fight in the Pre-Sequel.
“We brought in Athena, who was part of the secret armoury of General Knoxx DLC and helped bring down the Atlas corporation,” Armstrong said.
She has a unique perspective on all this, she’s seen a corporation turn corrupt and she’s fighting with her own sense of good and evil. She was a really strong character to introduce to this kind of game, from a simple story-telling point of view here’s somebody with the capability to take down an entire corporation, she’s seen what happens when someone turns corrupt and she’s fighting against that nature in herself.
So it was really fun to add her to the fold of the familiar characters that you might expect.
You’re going to respawn. A lot
Borderlands can be fiendishly difficult at times. If you’re not running for your life from a badass Skag, then there’s most likely a hulking Bullymong that oozes lightning, waiting to turn your skull into a marital aid. Borderlands has had plenty of terrifying wildlife to deal with. And the Pre-Sequel will have you swearing at your TV plenty.
“We’ve got a whole new host of monsters and I guess some of the ones that you may have seen are the Kragons,” Lawrence gleefully explained.
The Kragons, they’re really fun, well kind of. You can choose a big one, you think you can kill it and what happens is that it splits into several. And when you’re taking on a herd of Kragons, you have to be really careful in how you attack them. If you attack them all at once, if you kill the big one, then you’re suddenly facing six, eight, ten different Kragons that you weren’t expecting before.
We’ve got Sugar-Wraiths, and Sugar-Wraiths can do lots of different things. One of the things that they do is spawn smaller enemies that keep on coming at you. So again, you’ve got to make the choice, do i leave this guy alone or do I kill this guy who won’t stop spawning things, so kill the big guy first. There’s quite a few different things out there.
At first, only Wilhelm could use the butt-slam attack
One of the new gameplay features in Borderlands, is a weapon of ass destruction. In order to get around low-gravity quicker, the butt-slam was created as a method of escaping a low orbit. It quickly evolved to become something else however. “We knew that one of the problems with low gravity gameplay is that you jump up in the air and you float down really slowly and feel really vulnerable,” Armstrong said.
So we said that we needed to find a way to get out of the air really quickly and we had the crouch button. You’d tap that and come out of the air really quickly. It makes going through the air feel more like you’re flying like a superhero than you’re jumping up really high in the air and floating down very slowly. But when we started coming down, we thought that we really needed a slam attack.
The gameplay mechanic was so popular however, that 2K Australia wanted to use it as a new form of attack. One that would be exclusive to Wilhelm at first. The idea was implemented, but the team changed their mind and decided to give everyone a shot at raining down an acid-powered ass on bandit scum. “It was going to be Wilhelm’s big slam attack,” Armstrong explained.
You were going to buy his legs and he’s going to come down and do the slam. But as soon as it got implemented and we started playing with it, we said ‘this is too good, you can’t just let one character have the butt-stomp ability, it’s too good and too much fun to stick with just one guy’.
So we said ok, we’ll give Wilhelm some upgrades that make him awesome so that he can do it better than anybody, but let’s make sure that everybody can do this because this is fun and we have way, way more ways to make each character individual. We don’t have to limit them to a particular thing.
You can also do a butt-slam in the new vehicle, the Stingray
“And beyond that, we had so much fun with it, we even implemented into one of the vehicles as well, so you’re able to do a slam attack using the Sting-Ray and pancake your enemies that way,” Lawrence explained. “That’s great, we have a vehicle that does butt-stomps. It doesn’t even have a bug, it’s just non-appropriate.”,” Armstrong added.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is out October 17 on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
Last Updated: September 25, 2014