We know that Borderlands is part shooter and part RPG. But how much RPG is it really? We asked Gearbox president Randy Pitchford just what's the story with Borderlands?
Well, actually, we asked him: what's in Borderlands for the gamer who likes a good story?
Pitchford, as we've now come to expect, had an interesting take on the question:
"Depends on what you mean by story. If you mean the type of person who likes to read a lot of text or likes to watch a lot of cut-scenes, then frankly, I think that person is probably reading books and watching movies.
The people that are writing the best novels in the world are much better than the people writing videogames. I'm sorry! I love our craft - and I love our videogame writers - but you know what? There is no videogame writer right now who can hold a candle to a Shakespeare or Jane Austen... or even fucking JK Rowling. So that's where we're going to get our passive entertainment in literature - we're going to get it from the best in the world.
And if we're talking about film, then... hey, we've won awards for our story-telling here at Gearbox with the Brothers In Arms series, but still... we're going to get our movies from Spielberg or Bruckheimer or whoever, and those guys are much better at it than any game maker ever will be."
This shouldn't be interpreted as Pitchford arguing that story has no place in a videogame. Instead, at least in Borderlands, the story is pitched as something secondary to the moment-to-moment gameplay. In a sense it's optional.
"Borderlands has a really interesting story," he says, "and a compelling back-story that makes the world plausible even in its insanity - you know, it makes sense and we've thought it through. But having said that, we do not shove things down your throat. You will not find a single dialogue tree!"
Similar to World of Warcraft, the NPCs you meet who give you quests are essentially kiosks. You "talk" to them and a screen pops up with a brief blurb to give a bit of colour, the mission objective, its difficulty level and your reward. You either accept it or decline, and that's it. This isn't Fallout 3.
I mentioned the WoW comparison to Pitchford, recalling a quote from Blizzard earlier this year wondering why they bother to write entire novels in their games when no one actually reads all that text.
"Exactly!" says Pitchford. "Some people do though, so we've decided to make our quest descriptions really short, but entertaining. If you do bother to read them, they're actually really fun to read. It all ties together. Like in World of Warcraft, those guys are just totally goofing off; on the one level they're got this really serious story, but on the other hand it's like, "Holy crap, I just did the Back to the Future questline!"
Yeah, Borderlands is kinda like that. I haven't found the Back to the Future questline yet, although I may well have looted a flux capacitor from a toilet.