Borderlands is looking very different from the ultra-realistic, Mad Max affair we saw two years ago. It's now colourful and charming but oddly no less gritty. And there's some seriously deep RPG mechanics to get to grips with. Here's how.
By opting to layer RPG icing on top of an FPS cake (and not the other way around) developer Gearbox hopes to deliver a shooter that's a bit different from the norm. So far the tons of customisation options and generous four-player co-op has us perked, even if it is a big proprietor of World of Warcraft questing.
We recently caught up with Gearbox boss Randy Pitchford to find out what the bloody hell's been going on with Boarderlands.
Natural first question - where on earth did this new 'toon' art style come from?
Pitchford: Well after we decided to add another character class and make the game larger, we decided to push Borderlands in to late 2009.
The artists were done so they were like, 'what are we gonna do?!' So a couple of them went back and looked at their original concept art and they thought that was cool.
They didn't even tell me what they were doing but a few of them hid away and started working on getting that concept art 'look' into the engine. They didn't tell me what they were doing but I got wind they were doing something about two weeks in to it. I said 'OK, you've got another three weeks, build a prototype and that's it, you're done.' I ended up thinking 'I don't know what they're going to show me, but I'm shutting it down.'
It just floored me. I'd never seen anything like it. It was really, really cool. You know when you see a concept car and it's got all these cool curves and it's totally stylish? You never actually get to drive them. The same thing happened to us; we came up with all these cool concepts and then people got involved and distilled things down.
Do you think, with the original style, the game started to look a bit like Fallout 3?
Pitchford: A lot of games start to look the same when you do the 'realism' style. That's a risk.
Has the change allowed you to do anything crazier than you could before?
Pitchford: One thing that it did is, back when we originally conceived the game we wanted it to have a lot of attitude, style and personality and I think that was actually missing for the most part when we were in a realistic style.
Once we brought the concept art through in to the game we were able to cut loose throughout the style.
We had 'elites' because we copied World of Warcraft, and then our elites became 'badasses' - you actually fight a badass! There's that kind of stuff throughout the game now. It's like the polar opposite of Brothers in Arms. It kind of reminds me of back when I worked on Duke Nukem; just fuck it - let's have fun.
There are thousands of variations of enemies and weapons in the game. Why did you decide to go for the random approach rather than your own scripted bad guys and guns?
Pitchford: Our original design intent - my goal - was to take that shooter loop and then generate on top of it that kind of things that generate the compulsion I had when I played Diablo; loot, levelling up, skills... I don't think that had really been done before.
There are several folks who have tried to start from the RPG vector and layer a shooter on top, but no one's started with a shooter and layered an RPG on top. And when they do mix these genres they tend to get mixed up in other things, like dialogue trees and other parts of RPGS that distract from what a shooter's all about - fast action.