Gearbox On: Maracas, Gun Porn and Caring Too Much

DSCF9636.JPG By Brian Ashcraft

"Thing I love about Kotaku is that you just don't care," says Gearbox Software boss Randy Pitchford. (Not sure if we don't care per se, but rather, that we care a little too much.) It's a few days before Christmas, and he is showing me around Gearbox's Texas HQ that occupies the top four floors of a suburban Dallas high-rise. Pitchford is open and upfront. Want to take a picture of a wall with concept art? Sure. The dev opened up its doors and showed us pretty much everything it could. Gearbox, best known for the Brothers in Arms series and the Halo: Combat Evolved PC port, is poised for a breakout year in 2008 when the company brings Dreamcast title Samba de Amigo to the Wi, puts out original FPS Borderlands and a new entry into the Brothers in Arms tactical shooter series. With its pedigree Borderlands makes perfect sense. But Samba?

"We're huge Samba fans. Huge Dreamcast fans," Pitchford tells me. "We totally told SEGA they had to let us do it. People want a Samba Wii game." SEGA consented, and Gearbox dove in trying to squeeze the max potential out of the Wii-mote. Sure, Nintendo is making tons of money with the Wii. Third party devs haven't been as rewarded for Wii innovation. Case in point: Capcom's Zack and Wiki, which posted embarrassingly poor sales figures. Pitchford does point out that SEGA has hit with Mario and Sonic at the Olympics — though, that game *does* feature Mario. Still, Pitchford is optimistic.

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"Third parties are doing alright with the Wii if they spend the right amount of money and time," he says. "People bought the Wii for the promise of the Wii Remote."

While, the Dreamcast version of Samba de Amigo has specially designed maraca peripherals, Gearbox has the challenge of turning the Wii-mote into, well, maraca peripherals. Here's the challenge: The Wii-mote itself is high tech, while the Nunchuk Wii peripheral is not. Sure, it does have a three-axis accelerometer, but still isn't the same level of technology that's in the Wii Remote. What's more, the Wii-mote doesn't always know where it is in space. It knows it's been moved, but positioning it can be tricky. So getting the Wii-mote and the Nunchuk to input the same? Or what about making it so players can use two Wii-motes instead of a Wii Remote and a Nunchuk? Not easy! "It's possible," Pitchford explains. "You just need a lot of smart people who can do a lot of math." Attitudes like that (and only attitudes like that) will keep the Wii out of the third party hobo gutter.

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Not exactly what you'd expect from a company that cut its teeth on WWII tactical shooters. "Steven Spielberg told me he really thought the Brothers in Arms series had beautiful graphics," Pitchford says. The upcoming Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway is more accessible than previous its titles and better looking. "If I had to guess, it's 15-20 percent more high def than Gears of War," he says. Don't expect a Portal type add-on game bundled with Hell's Highway, but the concept of that added content is appealing to Gearbox. "It's added value," Pitchford says. "Like at the beginning of Pixar movies. They have those little shorts, which give them an opportunity to experiment and try out different things. I don't know if we'll have time to do something like that before Brother in Arms: Hell's Highway ships, but definitely before the generation is over."

Gearbox points to historical and military accuracy as to what separates Brothers in Arms from other shooters. The market is clogged, choked with WII shooters — so much so that dev Infinity Ward took the World War II out of World War II shooter Call of Duty in the latest installment in the series. "The Call of Duty guys makes great shooters, but they're just Quake dressed up in World War II. There are no characters in it I remember. There isn't deep historical accuracy. It's just a really fun shooter." Going as far as to employee a military officer for consulting and use WWII aerial surveillance maps for creating in-game maps, Gearbox isn't pussyfooting around.

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While Gearbox ponders ways to keep WWII real for gamers, it's taking a major step with original IP Borderlands. The FPS took inspiration from movies like Mad Max and Raiders of the Lost Ark and even TV shows like Firefly and Deadwood. It's set in the future on a large plant that rotates so slowly that it takes something like one hundred hours to turn once. The season is spring and things are coming out of hibernation. Characters are class based with a solider, a hunter and a magician. Players can level up their characters and go on side quests. Sound like a RPG? "In the beginning of Halo, Master Chief is the same as he is at the end," says Pitchford. "Sure, the story has changed, but the character hasn't." Leveling up the characters in Borderlands does change them. "The coolest thing about games like World of Warcraft is leveling up your character and then going to up to band of weaker players and totally destroying them," he says. The game allows for up to four player co-op that allows new players to enter and leave on the fly. Also, it's possible to play with characters of different levels in co-op and even level-up your own characters in co-op. Not only will this sort of leveling up change the playing field in Borderlands, but guns. Lots and lots of guns.

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Borderlands features an in-house Gearbox created weapons sequencer that can produce up to a half a million different weapons — all with different names, appearance, properties. "Imagine any cool weapon you've ever wanted in a game," Pitchford says. "Borderlands has it." The sequencing means that players will most likely never see the same weapon twice. Ever. Gearbox doesn't seem concerned about the possibility of there being one single weapon that is more powerful than anything else in the game. "If there's a gun that can break the game, why would we limit that?" he says. Do you think there is a gun that can break the game? "I don't know," he says. "I guess we'll find out." Gearbox doesn't care either way. Or maybe, it just cares too much.

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