What Do Borderlands, Project Natal and Citizen Kane Have In Common?

What Do Borderlands, Project Natal and Citizen Kane Have In Common?

No idea? They’re what Gearbox Software’s Randy Pitchford starts talking about when you ask him why he likes games.

That’s how I opened my interview with Randy at a recent Borderlands press event in Sydney. Sitting next to Randy I hit record and told him I’d start with an easy one: why do you like games?

Here’s how he answered.

Dude, there’s no better form of entertainment. You know, movies, books, music are cool. I love all that stuff, but it’s passive. Videogames are the only medium where you interact; you act and the feedback comes back. You’re participating in the entertainment, not just passively consuming it. It engages us on a much deeper level.

Here’s the other thing: we still suck, man. We’re still in the black and white era. We haven’t even had our Citizen Kane yet. We’re still figuring it out, but already games are awesome!

I pressed to see if he had any ideas about what “our Citizen Kane” might be like.

I don’t know, but we’re working on it. Maybe it’s Borderlands. When Orson Welles did that, he didn’t know; he was just doing the best he can, you know, tearing down the fourth wall and trying things.

So what challenges do we still have to overcome?

Man, on every front: story-telling, immersion, interface… It’s kinda funny right now, there are some people talking about Natal, the hardcore FPS guys with controllers, and it cracks me up. I’ve been playing shooters since before the mouse where we were using the keyboard. And it’s funny to hear these guys say that Natal will never replace a joystick or mouse for me.

Sure there might even be a sacrifice in fidelity, but if things go with new inputs that are about detecting our motion or our intent – and maybe there are some precision changes there – then that might be the future. And if it is, guess what? We better get on board otherwise we’ll be like the old farts who say “Bah! I don’t need your VCR, I don’t need your compact discs, I’m happy with my vinyl records!” The old farts can’t adapt, you know.

How would a game like Borderlands play using an interface like Natal?

I think every new interface has a new paradigm that has to be developed with it. If you break down Borderlands to its core, from a game design point of view, is blending a game that’s fun in the moment-to-moment visceral interaction. Shooters are fun in the moment-to-moment; the aiming, the dodging, the shooting, the knocking the guy down… it’s fun to kill, you know!

It’s taking that fun that’s in a shooter and blending it with the compulsion, the meta-fun of “I wanna a better sword or a better gun or I wanna go up a level, I want the next skill.” That’s fun even in a game devoid of skill like Diablo where you’re just putting a cursor on an icon and you’re clicking it; you know, the same skill you need to play the game is the same skill to open the application. Yet it’s fun on a meta level because of the compulsion.

Borderlands is fun on a moment-to-moment level of interaction, but it’s also fun on a meta level of growth and choice and discovery. In fact it really doesn’t matter what the interface is, so if you take it from that holistic view and say “Hmm, what would this be like with different interfaces?” then, yeah, you could find a way to do that.

I hadn’t expected such a long, convoluted answer to what was surely a simple question. But Randy does like to talk. Listening back to the recording of my interview, it’s kinda startling to hear the passion in his voice and the way his mind just wanders freely from one topic to the next, while somehow managing to segue without you even realising.

Of course, he’s also direct and to the point when he needs to be. Later, I wrapped up our chat by asking Randy to sum up Borderlands in just one word.

“One word?” he exclaimed.

Yeah, one word.


Fun’s a lame word, I told him.

“OK then,” he paused for effect.



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