It was just another day. Another perfectly regular step in development. This is how video games are made.
In an office in Canberra 2K Australia were hard at work. They had been given the task of working on a new Borderlands game. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. The game was at a difficult stage in development. It wasn’t quite ready for professional voice actors to come in and provide final voiceovers, but some sort of audio was required. No problem: the folks at 2k Australia did what all teams all over the world have been doing since the dawn of development: they used their own voices as placeholders.
Only one problem. Because the game was being developed in Canberra most of the team making The Pre-Sequel were — surprise surprise — Australian. That wouldn’t normally be a problem but Borderlands — it’s sort of distinctively American, right? Sci-fi apple pie, a post-modern parody in the western tradition.
The solution was relatively simple: the team made do. They went into the recording booth, did their very best American accents and sent the resulting build to Gearbox HQ in Texas for inspection. Basically they tried really hard to not be Australian.
A couple of days later a response from Gearbox:
“We love it. We love that you’ve decided that the moon is Australia.”
So officially, from that moment onwards, Pandora’s moon, where Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is set, basically became Australia. It was an accident. A terrible accident. The team at 2k Australia was trying really hard to not be Australian, but that didn’t work out. Australia was basically leaking out of the pores of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. It couldn’t be stopped.
Matt Armstrong is the Franchise Director of Borderlands. He basically guides the direction of the Borderlands 'brand'.
“The game had all this Australian slang, these australian accents,” he remembers. “2K Australia was like, we thought we got rid of that stuff. We were like, no: we have no idea what you’re talking about.”
He had no idea what the characters were talking about. And he loved it.
From the very start of development, Matt had encouraged the team at 2K Australia to make Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel their own, to not worry about expectations. When Gearbox asked the team to create a brand new game in within its universe, they wanted something fresh, something completely different.
And it wasn’t necessarily that 2K Australia was struggling, more that this was new territory. Games development is by its nature a collaborative exercise, but 2K was used to working on titles like BioShock, games driven by a singular vision.
“We told them right when we started: this is a game where we want you to bring yourself into it,” says Matt. “Make it yours, infect it with yourselves. At first they were reluctant, but we were like no no no! Do it! You’re gonna have fun.”
The moon is Australia. Australia is the moon. Something clicked.
From that point on, 2K Australia had no problems making Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel their own.
“We kinda pushed it a bit,” admits Tony Lawrence, 2K Australia’s General Manager. “It’s more the vernacular of a Crocodile Dundee, full on Australia.”
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel has a character called Red Belly, rhyming slang for Ned Kelly. That gives you an idea of what the team is shooting for here. Pandora’s moon is like an alternate, sci-fi space parody of your worst Australian nightmare.
“There were all these random words that no-one in the US department understood,” says Matt.
That was seen as a good thing.
How was the Australian version of Pandora’s moon defined during development?
“Dangerous inhabitants, friendly people,” says Matt.
In short, Pandora’s moon is almost like an American’s vision of Australia, made by Australians living in Australia.
“It feels like an adventure to some faraway, dangerous place,” explains Matt. “It needs to feel like you’re heading to a new culture or a new world, and it also sort of has to feel like you’re going on holiday.”
Is it the most Australian game ever made? Not quite, says Matt. He’s a fan of many games developed in Australia: “You guys make a lot of good games.”
“But it’s definitely the most Australian Borderlands game ever made!”