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Played Lately: “Magicka’s Mutually Assured Destruction” or “Borderlands Badass Co-Op”

July 15, 2011 4 comments

I am playing no MMO these days, which is odd because I started this blog as an MMO player. There are a number of reasons for why I am not playing any existing MMOs, but suffice it to say, I am just tired of the endless cycle. I am tired of never being able to “properly” impact the world for the better. I am tired of killing the same old ten rats, albeit with a new look and mechanic. I am tired of grinding. I am tired of farming. I am tired of competing for gear because having gained 85 goddamn levels means absolutely nothing in this day and age of the perpetual endgame gear grind. I am tired of all this.

I am not saying MMO’s haven’t evolved, the latest cross-realm raid pugging and Real ID grouping features from Blizzard are ground-breaking features. Eve Online set the bar for player-defined market economies and territory control very high, but suffers from its inherent complexity and that the oldest players are over 100 million skill points ahead of the competition, which, to say the least, is ridiculous. This is but two of many example.

I am looking for the second wave of MMO ingenuity. I am looking for the world-impacting mechanics of Guild Wars 2. I am looking for the level-less scope of the Secret World. I am waiting for light-sabers. And in the meantime, I am, keeping myself busy with a host of other quality multiplayer games, that are just not as massive.

Magicka’s Mutually Assured Destruction

I am playing Magicka these days with three of my friends, and it is a treat to play. There are no levels, no skill points, no game-breaking gear (there is gear), no additional spells or abilities to learn. Everyone starts off on the same foot and finds their preferred way to play. There are eight spells in the game, and five spell slots. You can mix and match the skills in Magicka in those five slots (or less, if you are pressed for time) to create unique spell-combinations. You can cast Fire with Healing to simultaneously heal and dry yourself. You can cast frost to freeze a water surface to walk across. You can sling earthen boulders, or add a dash of Fire to hurl fireballs. You are only held back by your imagination for how you decide to take on an obstacle.

Then you add three more players, and it gets a lot more fun.

There is friendly fire in Magicka. This means that if you are casting a death ray of Arcane energy, an ally who walks across that beam will also be instantly zapped. Given that all spells are both area effect, conical directional, and focused, the possibility of getting hit by an ally’s firepower gets multiplied astronomically. Battles are careful strategic endeavors, because your enemies will come at you from all directions and shooting any combinations of magical energies at them imply you have to ensure your allies are not caught in the spells’ wake. This adds incredible depth and scale to an already exciting game, and results in some of the funniest, and at times frustrating moments in my recent gaming history.

Borderlands Badass Co-Op

I played Borderlands a while back with a friend on the Xbox, but we got bored after about 15 levels. Partially because the vertically split-screen was headache inducing, and partly because I am not used to playing shooters on an Xbox controller. Two years later, Steam decides to have a massive sale on a Borderlands 4-pack. Two of my friends purchase it, and off we go, into the world of Pandora, in search of the 17+ million weapons the game has to offer.

It occurred to me very shortly after playing it with two other players that Borderlands’ Pandora is a cruel, gruesome and tough world. Enemies got tougher, tougher enemies got impossible and we learned what it was like to play a cooperative shooter where your combined abilities can result in the difference between life and death. It is not as intense, nor as teamwork dependent as Left 4 Dead but it does require skill, and planning and watching each others’ backs through the tougher moments.

The bottomline is that Borderlands, even two years after release, has turned out to be one hell of a game, especially when played with several players cooperatively.

Next post: The single-player games that are keeping me busy till a better MMO comes out.

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Categories: Borderlands

“Se7en Favorite Games of 2010” or “Sheppard Plants Assassins Northrend Explosions Protoss Bada-Bing-Bada-Boom!”

January 3, 2011 3 comments

Note: Sorry this is a day late, I got caught up in some work stuff / my cat swallowed a hairball / my dog ate my blog post.

2010, much like everything else in life, had it’s ups and downs. The gaming industry continues to grow, and with growth comes more variety and better quality games. On the flip-side terrible games also stick out like sore thumbs when juxtaposed against lauded AAA titles. All in all, I had a blast in 2010 playing video games, and despite some fairly horrid titles, botched reboot attempts, and sub-par production values in some otherwise solid titles, I was quite pleased with what the industry had to offer.

I didn’t play as many MMOs in 2010 as I did in the years prior. I quit Eve Online. I finally said goodbye to World of Warcrft, despite a stellar new expansion (I was in the beta). I started dabbling into LOTRO and realized it was a completionist’s wet-dream, and I have been having a blast on my novice Elf Hunter (yes, I know that race/class combo is real original). I tried out Perpetuum and was turned off by how similar it was to Eve Online in terms of systems, UI and looks, and how much it paled in comparison in actual execution. I also tried my hands at World of Tanks, a game that really took a lot to get used to, and so far it hasn’t been entirely disappointing. SynCaine’s ramblings finally made me cave in to Darkfall and I have been getting my ass kicked ever since. But all things considered, I spent the least amount of time with MMOs in 2010, especially when you contrast that against 2-6 hour daily sessions with World of Warcraft and EvE Online in prior years.

At any rate, the following are my favorite games of 2010, in no particular order:

Mass Effect 2

What a stellar experience this game was. I found myself thinking of the game weeks after I finished it, always intrigued by what could have happened if I had played a particular fight with another set of allies using different tactics. Mass Effect 2, of all the games I have played in 2010, had the most powerful ending I have experienced in a video game, despite a terrible “final boss” fight and holes in the story regarding the final set pieces. Mass Effect 2 gave me goosebumps, and I am ever thankful to BioWare for making such a fantastic title. It speaks volume for a title that has quite a few flaws, but those flaws completely pale in comparison to the rest of the package.

Related posts:

Starcraft II

This game is the primary reason my MMO habits suffered so greatly in 2010. (The other reason being a lack of interesting MMOs to play in 2010 – just my opinion, disagree all you want). Twelve years in the making, this title had the kind of hype that eventually leads to inflated expectations, which, inevitably deflate with rancid disappointment because no title can live up to such high hopes. Starcraft 2, however, shocked fans and critics alike when it launched, not only meeting, but in some cases exceeding expectations. Couple this with the fact that the title shipped with no LAN support despite resounding disagreement from the core fan base, and that this is only a third of a trilogy that will be released over several years, and still the title did so well both commercially and critically. The single player campaign was phenomenal, and there was a hardly a mission where I felt like I was playing an RTS. It was immersive, innovative, the missions were varied and featured a plethora of objectives for you to accomplish and the production values were incredible. It took me nearly 40 hours to get through the single-player portion of the game. But the multiplayer is where I find myself losing hours on a daily basis: 386 hours to be exact (that’s over 16 days in real-time – sheesh!). I love the 1v1 match-ups and a friend and I have been tearing through the 2v2 rankings for several weeks now. This is a game I will be surely playing well into 2010.

Related posts:

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood

Talking about completionists’ wet-dreams, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood hit the (digital) shelves in November. I have already shared my thoughts on the title, so I will spare you the re-iteration, but suffice it to say AC:B was hours upon hours of fun, featuring huge improvements over the previous titles, and kept me happily occupied for days.

Related posts:

Split/Second

A racing game? Yes, I was surprised as well. A colleague at work first recommended this title and then demanded that I play it. I have never been a big racing sim fan, so I was a little skeptic. But then I lost a bet the following week to the same colleague and my “punishment” was playing this title. God I wish all punishments could be like this. Expecting a racing sim with questionable production values and a botched, convoluted “career mode”, I was completely blown away (pun-intended) by what I saw. One of the most satisfying games I have ever played, Split/Second is a fictional reality TV show in the ‘near future’, where drivers compete on tracks laden with explosives and traps. These obstacles can be triggered by any of the drivers as long as they have power, which is earned through air time, drafting and drifting. There was no major car customization, no excessively ‘real-time’ mode, just the directional pad, an accelerator, a brake and two buttons for small and large explosions respectively. It is deceptively simple and shockingly involved and deep. You can win/lose in the final few moments, and the music is so well done, it actually gets your adrenaline pumping for those final precious few seconds of a hard-fought race. Check it out if you haven’t yet, and look on YouTube for some of the soundtrack.

World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King

My love-hate relationship with WoW continued to grow/dwindle in 2010, but finally fizzled out towards the end. Despite the fact that I am no longer playing it, I had a lot of fun playing WoW casually in 2010. I learned what it was like not to raid for 4 hours a night, 4-5 days a week. I learned the fun in creating and pursuing your own little goals, such as going after a particularly elusive reputation, or earning the Chef’s Hat. I ran heroics with strangers and 10-mans with old friends and guildies, and I had a blast. I was also in the Cataclysm Beta from quite early on and played it for nearly three months. I experienced most of the new content and enough of the revamped world to know what Cataclysm had to offer. Eventually I realized it wasn’t enough to keep me around, but I had a great time nonetheless. And who knows, maybe I will find a reason to go back at some point in the future.

Related Posts:

Plants vs. Zombies

PopCap hit gold with this title. This game seems so simple on the surface, but as the levels progress and the various types of zombies and plants unlock, it turns into one of the most complex, strategic and exhilirating titles I have had the pleasure of playing in recent memory. I was initially skeptic of the title, Bejeweled and Peggle (the other smash hits from the developer) aren’t exactly what you would call my cup of tea. So imagine my surprise when I played the game and realized what an incredible experience it was. Not that the title needed any additional critical acclaim, but it has now been immortalized in WoW as a series of quests in the Hillsbrad Foothils starting with Brazie the Botanist.

Mafia II

And finally, we have the crime drama. The game didn’t get very high reviews from most gaming authorities, getting an average rating around the mid-70s. I am not disagreeing, I don’t think it was as good as it could have been. But the original Mafia, a game I played start to end three times, holds a special place in my heart. And even though the characters didn’t have much cross-over between the two games, I loved every minute of Mafia II, even the abysmal driving controls and the long rides between mission points. Mafia II didn’t live up to its predecessor, but it was a hell of a ride, and I am glad for it.

Honorable Mentions

  • Metro 2033: Great game, supremely atmospheric. Horrendous AI that breaks the game in my opinion.
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops: Excellent single-player campaign, especially when juxtaposed against MoH. Awful PC multiplayer ruined my experience.
  • Borderlands: Released in 2009, I kn0w, played it well into 2010, lots of good DLC content, had a blast.
  • Darkfall: SynCaine was right, it is difficult to go back to WoW after experiencing Darkfall in all it’s brutal, unforgiving glory, still learning, still trying to wrap my head around it.
  • Machinarium: Actually can I have eight favorites of 2010? Yes, it’s that good.

“Claptrappin’ to the Oscars!” or “Heyooooo!”

March 25, 2010 2 comments

Prior to the release of Borderlands, 2K Games released a series of videos (and I use the term ‘series’ liberally, since it entailed only two videos) of a tongue-in-cheek spoof videos about the making of Borderlands. If you haven’t seen them, here are the first and second videos.

They released a third video today, mocking the Oscars for not including Claptrap’s allegedly stellar performance in the year’s nominations. As Yahtzee of Zero punctuation points out, maybe that is because making something intentionally annoying is still annoying! At any rate, here is the third video, and worth a watch because it’s a decent laugh, if you can bear through all the way to the end! (Direct link here).

Categories: Borderlands

Borderlands Interview, Part II: “I’m Excited That You’re Excited!” or “MAINSTREAM’D!”

November 23, 2009 4 comments

A few weeks ago I contacted Randy Pitchford, co-founder and CEO of Gearbox Software, for an interview regarding Borderlands, the upcoming DLC and the possibility of a sequel. Randy was nice enough to make time in his busy schedule (i.e. playing and making video games for a living – lucky bastard!), to answer some of the questions.

This is part two of that interview and covers the possibility of a sequel, some technical questions, and other random tidbits.

You can find Part I here.

[Sidenote: Read my on-going review/in-character/commentary series on the game, ‘The Borderlands Chronicles’:

Enjoy!]


:: ON BORDERLANDS 2 ::

Bronte (B): Mike Neumann has all but directly confirmed a sequel to Borderlands. Can you comment further?

Randy Pitchford (RP): I think Mikey just said that he can confirm that there’s a “chance” for a Borderlands 2.  I think he was playing around with the journalist there… He also said, “Obviously, nothing so far is planned. We’re working on DLC.”

B: Come on! You know you want to!

RP: I don’t have anything to announce at this time, but I’m really excited that you’re excited. 🙂

:: ON TECHNICAL ISSUES ::

Thank you for not allowing PC to be a bastard-child, secondary-citizen to the console generation. Do you feel a game designed from the ground up on the PC has better cross-platform development? Or vice versa?

RP: I think PC development has become more complicated and tricky over the years. But I also think we can do even more there. We’re looking at sales and looking at forums and we’re prioritizing things in our support of the game and are going to take influence from the data and the experience to affect our future decisions.

B: Halflife, Brothers in Arms, and now Borderlands. Do you feel getting hit IP’s that demand expansions and sequels stagnate a studio’s creativity or enhance it?

RP: We just try to make video games that we think are fun, cool and those we want to play ourselves.  I think that it’s important for us to spend time on things we want to spend time on. Sometimes, that’s new things and sometimes, that’s caring more for things with which we’ve already spent time. I think if we had a magic wand, we could magically create more time for ourselves because there are so many things we want to make and so many things we can spend our time doing.

B: Borderlands, for a lot of people, was a painful experience because of the troubles with online play and LAN issues. What steps is Gearbox taking to ensure these issues are sorted out for the upcoming content?

RP: I think that is the thing I wished was most different… And we’re investing more support in those areas. There are some awesome people here that really care, even after the launch, in correcting the troubles.  We’ve already deployed some updates, for platforms, that have addressed some of these issues and we have more deploying as soon as we’re clear to do so.  I think the connectivity issues that some customers are having will be soon cleared up and I think the experience has taught us and our publishing partner a lot which in turn will make the connectivity experience in our future games much better.

:: MISCELLANEOUS ::

B: Are you aware that your name’s initials also stand for “Role Playing” or “Randomized Pew-pew?”

RP: I am now.  Thank you for pointing that out.

B: Was it really you that killed those play testers?

RP: That was some funny thing that IGN did.  I had no idea that they had even done that, but after the surprise, I was highly amused by it.  I even dressed up like the fake me for our costume party at the studio during Halloween because what else could I be?

B: Are there any plans to bring that madman to justice?!?

RP: MAINSTREAM’D!

Categories: Borderlands

“Coincidence?” or “Marcus = Roman”

November 22, 2009 2 comments

Marcus Kincaid in Borderlands, and Roman Bellic in Grand Theft Auto IV.

I can’t be the only one who sees the resemblance…

Categories: Borderlands

Borderlands Interview, Part I: “Oh Lord, There Ain’t no Heaven” or “Zombies, Wereskags, Tankensteins, oh my!”

November 21, 2009 5 comments

Gearbox sign with some dude

If you have never heard of Gearbox Software, insert a witty variation of the crawl back under the rock pun. Halflife: Opposing Force, some obscure title, Counterstrike, I think it my have been, Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3, a little game called Halo, and more recently Brothers in Arms and Borderlands are just some of the titles Gearbox Software has produced over the years.

If you don’t know of Randy Pitchford, lift that rock you have been living under above your head… higher… a little higher… little higher still. Now let it drop. One of the four co-founders of the company, and the current President and CEO, his vision and leadership has made Gearbox Software a force to be reckoned with. With so many titles under his belt, one might say Randy is a magician. You’d be right, because prior to becoming a developer, he actually was a full-time magician in Hollywood!

I contacted Randy a few weeks ago for an interview regarding Borderlands, the upcoming DLC and the possibility of a sequel. Randy was nice enough to make time in his busy schedule (i.e. playing and making video games for a living – lucky bastard!), to answer some of the questions.

This is part one of that interview and covers Borderlands and the Zombie Island of Dr. Ned DLC. Part II will focus on Borderlands 2, technical issues, as well as some miscellaneous comments.

Enjoy!

:: ON BORDERLANDS ::

Bronte (B): Borderlands is a lonely place. Aside from a few plot advancers and quest givers, even the main ‘towns’ feel devoid of human life. The bandit towns, on the other hand, seem brimming to the rafters with goons. Given the post-apocalyptic feel of the game, and the setting of Pandora, was this an intentional design choice?

Randy Pitchford (RP):  From a story point of view, we did want the place to feel that the lawful side of things had completely degenerated. We wanted the towns to feel as if they once were much more relevant and populated, but when you finally arrive, few are left and their future is bleak.  From a design point of view, we wanted the game to focus on the action and not on reading text or following character plots around. The most fun to be had in Borderlands is through adventuring, taking down bad guys and taking their loot. This is where we wanted much of the focus to be. As far as we felt, we could safely push  that part of the experience so; we downplayed the NPC and dialogue which is often associated with role-playing games.

B: Gearbox has made shooters for a long time. In a prior interview with Xbox Magazine, you said that Diablo’s near-obsessive loot-collection mechanic was a heavy influence for the game. Yet it feels that even the loot that drops from bosses is scarce compared to the loot flood we experienced in Diablo. What was the rationale behind this decision?

RP: I don’t think scarce is the right word for describing the amount of loot that drops from bosses in Borderlands. A typical boss will spew a bunch of things and you will also typically find other valuables locked away in chests nearby. In Borderlands, however, we tried to be careful about finding that right balance; too much loot and you’re spending more time sifting through it and making decisions than you’d like; too little loot and you get bored and lose interest because you’re not having enough opportunities to find new and exciting things.   I’m really confident we achieved the balance between those end points, especially considering how much we iterated the design and how much we tested it with test subjects. Still – there’s always room for improvement 🙂

B: Aside from Diablo, Borderlands is compared to MMO’s on occasion. Creatures re-spawn (in a logical manner, not materializing out of thin air, kudos on that BTW). There are dungeon crawls. You can grind the same boss for the perfect loot. It is almost as if Borderlands was an experimental foray into the treacherous waters of the MMO genre. Hint, hint?

RP: Yes, there are some MMO influences in Borderlands.  While we’ve definitely done something in creating the first great shooter-looter, there are certainly things we can do even better through iteration. Expect some developments in the future updates and in add-ons in which we’re heavily invested.

B: ‘Shooter-looter’, I like that term. I also noticed you didn’t really answer the question! 🙂 Moving on! Borderlands had a very harsh, unwelcoming feel to it. The music especially added to the idea of isolation and the overall mystique. How elaborate was the sound design behind the game and how will you improve on it in the upcoming DLC?

RP: I’m really proud of what Raison and Mark accomplished with the audio design; those guys are incredible. Raison took tremendous responsibility for the music and most of the audio effects in the game. He did a great job capturing the feel of both desolation and wonder, and wrapping it all together which is a difficult task to accomplish.

B: One personal pet peeve: why does my vehicle (at least on the Xbox 360) have two steering wheels? You accelerate with one, and turn with the other. Was there a reason behind this counter-intuitive implementation?

RP: The vehicle control was modeled after Halo’s vehicle controls.  We made the assumption, for the Xbox 360 version, that most of our customers would’ve played Halo and would already be familiar with that method for driving cars. For those customers, who did NOT play Halo but are playing Borderlands, we figured they would be able to figure it out.  Maybe, in a future iteration we will support different methods for controlling the vehicles, however, control is so closely linked to camera and physics which is really difficult and risky to do when doing more than one thing.

B: I understand the game was built using UT3 technology. Some of the levels in the world felt cramped and small, especially given claims of Pandora being a massive planet. There are speculations that the aging technology may have forced the wraparound designs and dictated the size of locations. Your thoughts?

RP: Reading this question, I’m not sure if we’re playing the same game. 🙂    First, the version of Unreal Engine used for Borderlands is not aging.  In fact, the engine development team has been supporting the technology with amazing improvements well into the generation to ensure that it is the best engine in the world for this kind of game.  Furthermore, Gearbox built upon the technology with additional new features and lighting techniques that are as cutting edge as you can get; including, support for ambient occlusion on Xbox 360!   Secondly, the huge variety of spaces found on Pandora, from the most open and wide, to the most linear and cramped, are more about variety in the layout than they are about a technology limit.   The maximum size of the game spaces and the number of things within each game space are limited by the memory and performance of the platform.   We decided to break the world into chunks in order to support the cooperative game play so that we can be sure that cooperative players are likely to be playing in close enough proximity of one another.

B: Why can’t we shoot the shit out of Claptrap? He is annoying!

RP: Claptrap is a character, to be sure. Although, a ClapTrap shooting gallery could be fun. 🙂

:: ON THE ISLAND OF DR. NED DLC ::

B: Zombie filled DLC a week after Left 4 Dead 2. Ballsy!

RP: Hmm…  I didn’t really think about it like that. I think the DLC is for people who like Borderlands and want to see that experience improve and grow such as killing Zombies, Wereskags, Tankensteins and all kinds of crazy undead critters which have all been rendered like we’ve never seen before. Plus, you can play these 50+ new quests alone or with friends, all the while, collecting a ton of loot, leveling up and having a blast.

B: Dragon Age introduced launch day DLC’s that is only downloaded if you had a unique legitimate key. Would you experiment with something similar, at least for the PC, to ensure the rampant piracy on the platform is somewhat curbed?

RP: I don’t know. I’m not going to comment on what other people are doing, but I am happy to talk about what we’re doing. We released Borderlands worldwide in late October, but had to finish more than two months earlier than that in order to get through the certification, manufacturing and distribution process.  As we finished the game and started going towards certification, the developers at Gearbox had so many cool ideas that we just went all in and started working on DLC in order to add new experiences that could be launched as soon as we get them done.  Because of the passion, the motivation and the intense amount of effort the team has put in – between when the game was practically finished to now- we’re going to be able to launch the first DLC for Borderlands just a little more than a month after the first retail copy hit store shelves.  We think that’s really awesome and we hope that customers who love Borderlands support us and our motivation to make even more DLC.  The value is there! It’s an incredibly cool new campaign and is pretty large for what it costs.  I think people are going to love it. There are some concerns that despite being a great game, at times it felt like more of the same. What are some of the environmental and gameplay elements unique to the DLC?

B: There are some concerns that despite being a great game, at times it felt like more of the same. What are some of the environmental and gameplay elements unique to the DLC?

RP: Check out the screenshots – it’s like an entirely new game with new places that are totally different than the environments in the original game.  There are also new creatures and enemies that are really creepy, cool and just fun to fight and take down.   I love the Tankensteins, especially, the ones that carry loot chests on their backs.  Killing them and then looting the chest is really gratifying. 🙂

B: What about structure and storyline?

RP: You’re going to visit Dr. Ned’s Zombie Island, as the title suggests, but you’ll head out there and into the Jakob’s gun manufacturer’s facilities on the planet and get caught up in a cool and interesting adventure. There’s a nice set up for it that’ll kick off when you first fast travel to the area, so I’m not going to spoil anything for anyone. By the way, even if you haven’t unlocked the fast-travel network yet, we let you fast travel to the new area that comes with the DLC, right off the bat.  And, we’ve done some scaling of the content so that when you enter the area you  pretty much have a challenge, no matter what level you are in when you buy it.

B: Is Dr. Ned related to Dr. Zed? Neumann says no. I think he’s lying. That sneaky bastard.

RP: Nope, totally unrelated. They have nothing to do with each other.  It’s all just a big coincidence that their names sound alike. 🙂

B: We’ll make that two sneaky bastards then.

(Continued in Part II… coming soon)

 

Borderlands

1. Bronte: Borderlands is a lonely place. Aside from a few plot advancers and quest givers, even the main ‘towns’ feel devoid of human life. The bandit towns, on the other hand, seems brimming to the rafters with goons. Given the post-apocalyptic feel of the game, and the setting of Pandora, was this an intentional design choice?

Randy Pitchford: From a story point of view, we did want the place to feel that the lawful side of things had completely degenerated. We wanted the towns to feel as if they once were much more relevant and populated, but when you finally arrive, few are left and their future is bleak.   From a design point of view, we wanted the game to focus on the action and not on reading text or following character plots around.   The most fun to be had in Borderlands is through adventuring, taking down bad guys and taking their loot. This is where we wanted much of the focus to be. As far as we felt, we could safely push  that part of the experience so; we downplayed the NPC and dialogue which is often associated with role-playing games.

  1. Bronte: Gearbox has made shooters for a long time. In a prior interview with Xbox Magazine, you said that Diablo’s near-obsessive loot-collection mechanic was a heavy influence for the game. Yet it feels that even the loot that drops from bosses is scarce compared to the loot flood we experienced in Diablo. What was the rationale behind this decision?

Randy Pitchford: I don’t think scarce is the right word for describing the amount of loot that drops from bosses in Borderlands.  A typical boss will spew a bunch of things and you will also typically find other valuables locked away in chests nearby.   In Borderlands, however, we tried to be careful about finding that right balance; too much loot and you’re spending more time sifting through it and making decisions than you’d like; too little loot and you get bored and lose interest because you’re not having enough opportunities to find new and exciting things.   I’m really confident we achieved the balance between those end points, especially considering how much we iterated the design and how much we tested it with test subjects. Still – there’s always room for improvement 🙂

3. Bronte: Aside from Diablo, Borderlands is compared to MMO’s on occasion. Creatures re-spawn (in a logical manner, not materializing out of thin air, kudos on that BTW). There are dungeon crawls. You can grind the same boss for the perfect loot. It is almost as if Borderlands was an experimental foray into the treacherous waters of the MMO genre. Hint, hint?

Randy Pitchford: Yes, there are some MMO influences in Borderlands.  While we’ve definitely done something in creating the first great shooter-looter, there are certainly things we can do even better through iteration. Expect some developments in the future updates and in add-ons in which we’re heavily invested.

  1. Bronte: Borderlands had a very harsh, unwelcoming feel to it. The music especially added to the idea of isolation and the overall mystique. How elaborate was the sound design behind the game and how will you improve on it in the upcoming DLC?

Randy Pitchford: I’m really proud of what Raison and Mark accomplished with the audio design; those guys are incredible.  Raison took tremendous responsibility for the music and most of the audio effects in the game. He did a great job capturing the feel of both desolation and wonder wrapping it all together which is a difficult task to accomplish.

  1. Bronte: One personal pet peeve: why does my vehicle (at least on the Xbox 360) have two steering wheels? You accelerate with one, and turn with the other. Was there a reason behind this counter-intuitive implementation?

Randy Pitchford: The vehicle control was modeled after Halo’s vehicle controls.  We made the assumption, for the Xbox 360 version, that most of our customers would’ve played Halo and would already be familiar with that method for driving cars. For those customers, who did NOT play Halo but are playing Borderlands, we figured they would be able to figure it out.  Maybe, in a future iteration we will support different methods for controlling the vehicles, however, control is so closely linked to camera and physics which is really difficult and risky to do when doing more than one thing.

  1. Bronte: I understand the game was built using UT3 technology. Some of the levels in the world felt cramped and small, especially given claims of Pandora being a massive planet. There are speculations that the aging technology may have forced the wraparound designs and dictated the size of locations. Your thoughts?

Randy Pitchford: Reading this question, I’m not sure if we’re playing the same game. 🙂    First, the version of Unreal Engine used for Borderlands is not aging.  In fact, the engine development team has been supporting the technology with amazing improvements well into the generation to ensure that it is the best engine in the world for this kind of game.  Furthermore, Gearbox built upon the technology with additional new features and lighting techniques that are as cutting edge as you can get; including, support for ambient occlusion on Xbox 360!   Secondly, the huge variety of spaces found on Pandora, from the most open and wide, to the most linear and cramped, are more about variety in the layout than they are about a technology limit.   The maximum size of the game spaces and the number of things within each game space are limited by the memory and performance of the platform.   We decided to break the world into chunks in order to support the cooperative game play so that we can be sure that cooperative players are likely to be playing in close enough proximity of one another.

  1. Bronte: Why can’t we shoot the shit out of Claptrap? He is annoying!

Randy Pitchford: Claptrap is a character, to be sure. Although, a ClapTrap shooting gallery could be fun. 🙂

Borderlands DLC:

8. Bronte: Zombie filled DLC a week after Left 4 Dead 2. Ballsy!

Randy Pitchford: Hmm…  I didn’t really think about it like that. I think the DLC is for people who like Borderlands and want to see that experience improve and grow such as killing Zombies, Wereskags, Tankensteins and all kinds of crazy undead critters which have all been rendered like we’ve never seen before. Plus, you can play these 50+ new quests alone or with friends, all the while, collecting a ton of loot, leveling up and having a blast.

  1. Bronte: Dragon Age introduced launch day DLC’s that is only downloaded if you had a unique legitimate key. Would you experiment with something similar, at least for the PC, to ensure the rampant piracy on the platform is somewhat curbed?

Randy Pitchford: I don’t know.  I’m not going to comment on what other people are doing, but I am happy to talk about what we’re doing.  We released Borderlands worldwide in late October, but had to finish more than two months earlier than that in order to get through the certification, manufacturing and distribution process.  As we finished the game and started going towards certification, the developers at Gearbox had so many cool ideas that we just went all in and started working on DLC in order to add new experiences that could be launched as soon as we get them done.  Because of the passion, the motivation and the intense amount of effort the team has put in – between when the game was practically finished to now- we’re going to be able to launch the first DLC for Borderlands just a little more than a month after the first retail copy hit store shelves.  We think that’s really awesome and we hope that customers who love Borderlands support us and our motivation to make even more DLC.  The value is there! It’s an incredibly cool new campaign and is pretty large for what it costs.  I think people are going to love it. There are some concerns that despite being a great game, at times it felt like more of the same. What are some of the environmental and gameplay elements unique to the DLC?

  1. Bronte: There are some concerns that despite being a great game, at times it felt like more of the same. What are some of the environmental and gameplay elements unique to the DLC?

Randy Pitchford: Check out the screenshots – it’s like an entirely new game with new places that are totally different than the environments in the original game.  There are also new creatures and enemies that are really creepy, cool and just fun to fight and take down.   I love the Tankensteins, especially, the ones that carry loot chests on their backs.  Killing them and then looting the chest is really gratifying. 🙂

  1. Bronte: What about structure and storyline?

Randy Pitchford: You’re going to visit Dr. Ned’s Zombie Island, as the title suggests, but you’ll head out there and into the Jakob’s gun manufacturer’s facilities on the planet and get caught up in a cool and interesting adventure. There’s a nice set up for it that’ll kick off when you first fast travel to the area, so I’m not going to spoil anything for anyone. By the way, even if you haven’t unlocked the fast-travel network yet, we let you fast travel to the new area that comes with the DLC, right off the bat.  And, we’ve done some scaling of the content so that when you enter the area you  pretty much have a challenge, no matter what level you are in when you buy it.

  1. Bronte: Is Dr. Ned related to Dr. Zed? Neumann says no. I think he’s lying. That sneaky bastard.

Randy Pitchford: Nope, totally unrelated. They have nothing to do with each other.  It’s all just a big coincidence that their names sound alike. 🙂

Categories: Borderlands

The Borderlands Chronicles, Part III: “Vending Machine Tycoons” or “Give ’em Hell Bloodwing!”

November 20, 2009 4 comments

Note: This is an ongoing series depicting the path of Bronte, a Hunter in the dark and cell-shaded world of Borderlands. It will attempt to paint a picture of what the game is like as well as provide commentary of some of the most spectacular moments from the game. Narrative is in black. Bugs and design flaws are in red. Memorable or ‘whoa!’ moments, and positive points are in blue. Enjoy!

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Sid Meier’s Vending Machine Tycoon

I am in the Arid Hills. It doesn’t look much different from the previous areas, just looks like more of the same: drab, dry, dead. But there is a certain comfort in familiarity, so I trudge on, boomstick in hand, looking for pieces of some legendary sniper rifle and a mine gate key.

There are vending machines to my left where I can get rid of any unwanted items in my impossibly large backpack. I don’t understand how Dr. Zed and Marcus can be such successful vending machine entrepreneurs on Pandora. They seem to have vending machines in literally every corner of this world. How do they get them there? Who keeps them maintained? Don’t they get attacked when they come to restock, pluck out sold items and collect cash? And how is it that no one ever breaks into these machines?

Skag Scars

A skag roars in the distance. Sounds big. I go through a drain pipe to the first cross-section. There are several caves about 50 paces ahead of me, and quite a few of the skags are already on patrol. They are all either my level or a level above. But unlike my first few encounters with the bastards, I am much better prepared this time around. My sniper rifle does a whopping 145 damage per shot, and Bloodwing is maxed out to do the most damage per flight.

I spot an Alpha Skag in the group. They are well-armored, and take the most amount of shots to kill. Using a sniper is out of the question if it starts charging. But I have my trusty sub-machine gun with me, and despite a sheer lack of skill with the weapon, I know it can dispatch foes if they get up close and personal. Aim and accuracy matter little if most of your vision is filled with a skag’s teeth. But patience is a virtue, and instead of firing at the first skag I can track through my scope, I wait patiently, and inch forward one tiny step at a time. In time the Alpha spots me. He roars, opening its mouth in all directions, letting out a terrifying howl. I smile. Big mistake.

A single shot down its pie-hole dispatches my first foe without much trouble. I hear multiple howls, without wasting a second, I turn around and sprint to the drainage pipe I just came from.

Choke point.

I dispatch them one at a time. Single-shot precision kills. At least two of them go down mid-air, as they leap at me, mouth wide open, in an attempt to bite off a piece. I laugh as one skag literally explodes into chunks of smoldering flesh. “What”,  I say, “you didn’t like that?” And I start laughing. It’s a triumphant moment. I feel superior to the creatures that died by my hands in every conceivable way. But this is just the beginning, and I had the advantage of the choke point. That is more of an exception than the rule. This world isn’t all that forgiving.

More skags at the next ridge. Not too much trouble. The previous area had several barrels that I lure them to. The blue ones explode with a large amount of electrical damage, green ones are corrosive, whereas red ones simply explode. Quite handy.

My momentary high is short-lived as I spot a poor soul impaled on a large pike. Subtle.

Separation Anxiety

There is a bandit camp around the ridge. Two of them patrol a sniper’s nest up top. A quick succession of head shots alleviates that problem. But the camp is another story. In the blink of an eye, my shield is gone, as well as half my health bar. I missed the grenades that had been lobbed at me by the one of the raiders because my field of vision was severely limited through the scope of my sniper. Cursing under my breath I fire back at the rifleman. He has already taken cover, and with all the bullets slamming into me, I cannot seem to get off a clean shot. A midget shot gunner, however, is not so lucky.

Bloodwing stirs, and I set him lose. “Give ’em hell, Bloodwing!” I yell. I tuck in to the right, out of the line of fire, my health nearly depleted. Bloodwing circles overhead once, then twice, and then continues the pattern. I am confused. Why isn’t he attacking? It isn’t clear to me then, but it appears Bloodwing is afraid of being too far apart from me, which limits him to a certain range. I am mildly irritated. Gonna have to train that damn bird better. He finally makes one last sweep overhead, and returns to me.

Keeping the rock outcropping between me and the barrage of endless bullets, I inch closer to my enemies, and then let Bloodwing loose a second time. This time he beelines to the crouching raider behind the barricade, ripping the poor bastard to shreds. Since I have focused on making Bloodwing a true agent of death, not only does he solve my problem with the raider, upon returning to me, he also restores a big portion of my health.

Revitalized, I switch to the SMG and come out of hiding guns blazing, lobbing two grenades at the remaining foes. It does not take too long, and within minutes they lie at my feet, fresh bullet-holes gaping like the unending depths of a dark, dreary abyss.

I hear something shriek overhead. Rokks. These guys have very little health, but in large groups they can swarm you, and rip your insides out in seconds. There is trouble ahead. I can feel it in the air. I better be careful.

Hugging Chemical Barrels is a Bad Idea

After clearing out another small camp, and inching close to the edges to keep my distance from the rokks overhead, I spot another sniper perch in the distance. I crouch, debating if I should send in my personal agent of death on wings, or dispatch him with a single bullet? Bloodwing would not be able to get him at that range. He has already established that any considerable length of distance between us causes him severe separation anxiety. And that is when I notice the corrosive acid barrel next to the lookout. A single shot explodes the barrel, showering him in acid. I watch his surprised expression through the scope, as the acid eats away at his body, literally devouring him whole. Good riddance.

The Fourth Piece of the Puzzle

My map tells me the four pieces of the legendary sniper rifle are in the next camp. I start shooting. Psychotic midgets, shotgunners, badass bruisers, they all succumb to the overwhelming firepower I pack, backed by the ferocious talons of my trusty companion. It’s a little odd they some of them come out of hiding only after the very last combatant on the field has been eliminated. I have a feeling if they all came at once, I would be swarmed, overwhelmed and killed. This all seems a little too… easy.

The sniper rifle has four parts I need to secure. I have found only three so far. I make several circuits of the camp, and my map indicator offers little help. I am a little frustrated, three other three pieces were essentially just lying about, why isn’t this one? It is then that I notice that only one of the buildings in the camp has an upward pointing arrow. And if that is not enough of a hint, there are three storage cabinets on the roof of the structure as added incentive. I jump above, and grab the last piece. But what truly annoys me is that this last piece was a good distance away from where my map marker suggested.

Sledge is a Cocky Bastard!

My map tells me the mine key is in Sledge’s Safehouse, which seems to be just up the hill from my present location. I take out my sniper rifle to scope out the area. The criminal hideout sits atop a small hill about 100 paces ahead of me. So ballsy are the inhabitants, that they have made no attempts to hide the entrance. In fact, upon closer inspection, the entry point prominently displays the words: “Sledge’s Safehouse.”

Cocky bastards! (See what I did there?)

Bloodwing stirs restlessly. He can sense the blood of the upcoming battle. I pet his head. I check my weapons, making one last round of the camp to pick up any additional ammunition. Satisfied that all my ordinance is in order, I start my short trek to the safe house.

Time to hunt!

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