Borderlands 2 Dev Talks New Art, Improved AI, And Why PC Gamers Won't Get A Port This Time Around

By now, you've probably seen the leaked footage of the most recent Borderlands 2 demo, and read our own Michael McWhertor's impressions of the game from Gamescom. Last weekend at PAX, I caught up with Gearbox's art director Jeremy Cooke to chat with him about the new characters, guns and art tech in Borderlands 2, as well as why PC players will be getting a much more customised version this time around.

For starters, there will be an entirely new cast of characters in Borderlands 2, but Roland, Lilith, Mordecai, and the rest of the gang from Borderlands will still make the occasional appearance. "We decided to bring back all the original playable characters as NPCs in the new game," Cooke told me, "because everyone is so connected to them. I keep doing interviews where people tell me, 'Oh, I played the game for 300 hours.' These people spend so much time with these characters, but then, they don't really know who they are. This game is five years after the vault was opened, and we wanted to show what's happened since then."

The new demo has the player raiding an enemy compound to free Roland, the soldier from the first game; one would imagine this means that afterwards, Roland will be around for players to interact with, theoretically getting to know him beyond "This is the guy with the healing bullets."

"We're also trying to put a lot more variety into the actual zones themselves," Cooke continued. "There was a lot of repetition of the same brown rocks last time, and we said, 'We're not doing this again.' We want people to see the whole rest of Pandora. We had made a map a long time ago for Borderlands one, and it had grasslands, it had volcanic areas, it had icy areas, and we just never really got to build them all. So for Borderlands 2 I said, 'We are going to go see the rest of Pandora.'"

One of Borderlands's most distinctive aspects was its huge and varied arsenal. It's not a huge surprise that there will be even more weapons in the sequel. "There are a lot more guns this time," Cooke told me, "like, several orders of magnitude more. Our core gun system that we had last time we revamped the base code system for that to make it more efficient so that we could add more parts. So, in the past game we might've only had like five or six parts for a gun, now there can be more like 12, 14 parts in a gun. We paramaterised the scope views as well — before, it was all static art, so you might've only seen one of six scopes, but now you're going to see 87 bazillion scopes, because they're all paramaterised. Guns dropped by bosses are going to have much more personality."

Cooke said that the various gun manufacturers would be much more distinctive, as well. Bandits' guns would be all about ammo, while other manufacturers would focus on rate-of-fire, ammunition type and more. (And of course, the hilarious exploding disposable Tediore gun from the demo.)

The team has also been hard at work updating the game's art style. "I think I've helped evolve the art style for Borderlands 2", Cooke said. "We've added a lot more shader work. We've always seen ourselves as concept-art style instead of cartoony or anime or any of those things, because we do a lot more rendering. If you look at some of the ice, it's not just a 2D texture with lots of lines in it, it has pretty complex shader stuff, depending on how something catches the light." He went on to describe how when light catches various objects in the world, they each react differently — in essence, he and his team at Gearbox are building a world of living concept art.

I mentioned to Cooke how often, I find that I prefer a game's promotional concept-art to the way the game eventually looks. "That was how we made the switch. We were like, 'We're doing this high-realism thing, but the game has this crazy zany fun aspect to it, and it doesn't make any sense.' And we had all this awesome concept-art and we looked at it and said, 'Why don't we make it look like this? This is so cool.'"

"[Changing the art style for Borderlands]helped us find our voice, it helped us realise what kind of game we were making. There was a connection between the art and the game design, and suddenly they started riffing off of each other, and we ended up with crazy midgets strapped to shields… we realised that yeah, we're badass, but we like to have fun, too.'"

One of the chief criticisms of Borderlands was the repetitive enemies and somewhat simplistic AI — most enemies would simply charge at the character headlong, and combat frequently became an exercise in back-pedalling and blasting. The AI was fairly easy to exploit in the first game, and Cooke says the team has addressed that, as well. "We saw people in the first game exploiting the AI," he said, "hiding around a building, getting the AI stuck and stuff like that, so now AI can completely navigate where players can navigate. They can jump from rooftop to rooftop, climb ladders, they can kick barrels down stairs... they have a much better sense of what's going on in the world. There's a whole new layer of communication, there's a whole new layer of states—we have wounded states, all these awesome buff states where guys hulk out. The AI is totally new from the original game."

"The other big area is user interface," Cooke continued. "We had a ton of fans who played the game on PC, but they honestly got a port of the console game. We heard a lot of fans say, 'Hey, you didn't really take care of us here.' So, we completely ripped out the UI — there's a completely new UI for PC, it's mouse-driven, supports drag and drop, all of the things that you would expect in a PC title. It'll be a lot more fun for people."

The first Borderlands managed to go from "oddity" to "obsession" to "dark horse GOTY candidate" — it was a flawed title that still managed to create an enjoyable experience simply by way of its strong mechanics and unique look. Listening to Cooke talk about the sequel gave me the impression that the dev team has listened hard to player feedback and is methodically addressing their concerns one by one. Very promising, to be sure.


    Can't wait for this game. Hope there is an epic collector's edition as well.

      Seconded! Words cannot explain how excited I am for this game! An epic collector's edition would be awesome.

        I admit, the game could have had a little extra polish for the PC. But I never felt like I was playing a console port.

        Hell, I freaking loved the whole game. Though I did get the fun of playing it through in 4 player coop for a weekend of LANing goodness

          The game was good, no arguments there, but some of the interface was definitely not designed for PC. The inventory system was at best average and at worst headsmashingly frustrating. The FOV was probably the worst of it, and if you did change it, you'd have to bind a key to change it so every time you sprinted you could turn it back to what you wanted. I also vaguely recall having issues with mouse accel, but I can't be 100% on that.

          By the sounds of it, they'll have fixed that for this release.

      Collectors edition...with plushie Midget??? Anyone?

        i'll take some kind of rolling, talking Claptrap :D

        (or should that be CL4P-TP?)

    Roland, Lilith, Mordecai, and the rest of the gang

    Really? It was easier to put Roland, Lilith, Mordecai, and the rest of the gang than Roland, Lilith, Mordecai, and Brick?

      Reminds me of Gilligan's Island intro. Brick should get together with the professor and Mary Ann and star in their own game/tv show.

        "The millionaaaire and his wiiife..."

    Is there mouse smoothing, or can I use hardware input? Freakin' console games...

      Hey maybe they'll take a leaf from Deus Ex: HR's book! That even had FOV in the options! o.O

    WOW! I was expecting some stuff that would detail what was differnt in the PC editon. NOT info WE ALREADY KNOW ABOUT! nice work.


    I can't wait, it's looking good so far. I admit I was the naive fan when it was revealed they changed to the concept art look and almost didn't buy the game, purely cause I had been looking forward to the game for years when it had the different art style.

    Not like the story is really important, for me anyway in Borderlands - but I just hope it's better than the first ones ending. PURELY for the fact that even if you weren't paying attention to the story, you couldn't escape the hype of 'Opening the Vault' and in the end that's what you get. Then after killing the beast you hardly get a better weapon than what you're carrying.

    Personally, I wanna see less load screens when moving from area to area. I wanna see larger environments. I don't imagine them getting rid of that whole issue considering the amount of areas in the first game alone - but when doing some quests, you may only spend 2 minutes in one area before moving to the next and the constant loading from one area to the next can be draining on your attention.

    No pc port? Its their choice but they just lost my sale

      you need to read the article

        Maybe he really likes console menus and structure when he plays PC games.

          or maybe he read the title and commented before reading thinking that borderlands 2 wont be available on PC.. a few other people here made the same mistake

    All I want for Christmas is 101 FOV for 16:9 monitors.

    Also if you could stick whatever gun you have onto Roland's turrent that'd be sweet too.

      Yup, Fov fix is priority 1 for me.
      101 seems pretty high though!
      I hated that even if you mangled the config files in the original for a better FOV everytime you sprinted it would change, and the change again when you got in a vehicle. I spent hours changing text files to get it right!

      No more console backwash please.

        I keep reading that 101 is normal for a 16:9 while 90 is normal for 16:10. 101 looks pretty normal on mine.

    Came in here to rage about no PC Port. Read Article - :"oh, cool."

    Why do journos always mention Borderlands 1 as being great but flawed?
    I think it excelled in exactly what it set out to achieve, a loot-driven co-op romp - what are these flaws that I overlooked in 200+ hours of playtime?

      As a person who also has about 200+ clocked on Borderlands, it was a flawed game. Repetitive scenery, bad AI, rather flat story, massive issues with invisible walls and so on.

    I seem to remember Gearbox saying that #1 wouldn't be a port either. I think i'll save any cheering for when the game actually comes out.

    This dude deserves points for admitting they did a shoddy port to PC. Many a company would dismiss it and say it's all fine and good to port....*ahem* Activision *ahem*.

    I'm hoping for more character customisation. Your avatar looks exactly the same at level 1 as level 50. At least let us create-a-face a la Fallout 3.

      Well that's because there's no armour in the game. You look the same because you're wearing the same clothes. As for the face, it's an FPS so create-a-face is kinda pointless.

    This is more or less exactly what they said for the first one:

    Eleventy billion guns.
    Advanced AI.
    Many and varied areas.
    Fully customised and optimised PC version.

    Not one of those was even remotely true. The guns thing gets a begrudging pass because there were a lot of small differences, but most meant nothing.

    The multiplayer was broken as hell, too. Long load times, constant drop outs, port forwarding bullshit straight out of 1995, lag straight out of 1995, Gamespy straight out of 1995... When a predominantly multiplayer game has broken multiplayer on PC, you know you bought a bad port.

    I'll wait until the game is out this time.

    I nearly raged when I read the title.

    Then I read the article.

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