Interview with Anthony Burch and Jonathan Pelling of ‘Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel’
Released a mere two years after Gearbox’s loot driven first person shooter sequel conquered the charts, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel offers more of the same but tries to change things up a bit by having the game be set on Pandora’s moon. As an example, players get to play as characters that appeared in both games, but do this against a backdrop that includes a number of distinct tweaks to the Borderlands formula. These include new vehicles, new weapons, and new enemies. All played out in an environment that has low gravity gunfights and where players get to do high impact butt-slams.
Even though Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel isn’t actually being developed by Gearbox, the latest entry is still in safe hands however as 2K Australia is handling development duties. And so as to find out a little bit more about the game, I was able to sit down with Anthony Burch (Writer at Gearbox Software) and Jonathan Pelling (Creative Director at 2K Australia) at Gamescom this year, and get to ask them as to why the game is headed for the XBox 360 and PS3 consoles – as opposed to next-gen platforms.
What was the impetus for creating a “pre-sequel”? Why not just create a proper sequel?
Anthony: Basically, we have a lot of projects going on at Gearbox and we wanted to make a new Borderlands game that did some interesting new things. But when you say “proper sequel”, that implies something mind-blowingly unrecognisable, and something that is completely different. What we really wanted to do is tell a new story in this one particular area of the canon, and adjust some of the gameplay in interesting ways. Because of that, we went to 2K Australia and partnered up with them to do that.
So how much of an involvement does Gearbox Software have – even though you pretty much invented the IP?
Anthony: It’s a fair amount. It’s been really collaborative between the two studios.
Even though the project wasn’t necessarily “outsourced”, how consistent have 2K Australia been in being able to deliver your vision, and ensure that they were able to live up to your consistent levels of quality?
Anthony: Extremely. We’ve been saying this quasi-jokingly, but it is really hard to go back to Borderlands 2 after playing The Pre-Sequel, because of the innovations that 2K Australia made in terms of the low-gravity gun-play, the butt-stomps, the cryo-weapons, the laser weapons… It really changes the basic loop of what a Borderlands game is, and it feels so much better to me, now that I’ve played it. I don’t like taking cover, and now I don’t need to take cover in a Borderlands game, and I didn’t realise how satisfying it would be, and that’s all due to 2K Australia.
Does that not put pressure on you, knowing that 2K Australia have been able to deliver a better Borderlands game than Gearbox? Does that not mean that when it comes to Borderlands 3 that Gearbox might somehow feel as if it is not up to the challenge of living up to 2K Australia’s lofty work?
Anthony: It’s great to have to beat a standard that’s super-cool. I think I would much rather have us in a position where Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is so good that we’re going “Oh my God, we’re going to do better than that in the future. If we ever do another thing with Borderlands…” than going “Ah, I wish this was better”. It’s so clearly a really nice rejuvenation of the Borderlands core gameplay loop that it’s great.
Borderlands is also getting the graphical adventure game treatment from Telltale. Why the spin-off?
Anthony: Because it’s awesome.
Jonathan: Because we’ve always looked at Borderlands as a franchise that has more to do, and has more to say than just necessarily the first person shooter franchise. We’ve looked at it as a universe that has a lot of characters, and a lot of world-building stuff that’s interesting (that you can explore), and that doesn’t involve modes that involve shooting something in the face multiple times. And like all reasonable human beings, we all love the Telltale games. Especially The Walking Dead, stuff that they did recently – The Wolf Among Us – and all that awesome stuff. And so when our biz-dev guy hung out with their biz-dev guy at the Spike VGA Awards… when we won “Best Action Game”, and they won “Game of the Year”. It was a really awesome moment to just go “Oh well, it would be super cool to have a game in your universe” on their part. And it was really cool for us to have a game that took place with their kind of gameplay – to show people that Borderlands is really more than shooting people. It’s talking to people, and then shooting them. That joke killed (laughs)…
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is coming out on PC, XBox 360 and PS3. Most developers are now focusing their attention on next-gen platforms, or are at least focusing their efforts on cross-gen development. Having seen Borderlands 2 on XBox 360 and PS3, and having seen the difference in visuals between those and the game running on a state-of-the-art PC… Knowing the disparity in visual quality, why did you decide to release Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel on “last-gen” consoles when everyone else is focusing on next-gen?
Anthony: Well, because there is already a really good install-base on the XBox 360 and PS3. And because of the story we wanted to tell, and the features we wanted to add, it felt like a better fit to keep it on current gen consoles, than to bring it to next-gen… and to imply worlds of change and all that stuff.
There’s a pattern within the industry where previous gen games (like Metro and Tomb Raider) are getting the updated HD “next-gen” treatment. Do you think Borderlands will get a similar sort of treatment?
Anthony: I honestly don’t know. I’m a writer, and (motioning towards Jonathan) he’s the Creative Director, and that’s a business dude decision.
Jonathan: Honestly, right now… all the team is 100% focused on bringing this game out to PS3, PC and XBox 360, and making sure it’s the best experience it can be on those platforms.
The first two Borderlands games got a number of DLC add-on packs. Will The Pre-Sequel also be getting any DLC?
Anthony: We’re not talking about DLC just yet.
Jonathan: Again, we’re focused on making this the best game it can be. And up until the point when it’s off for certification, duplication, and the disks are being printed, we can still affect change. And when we cannot affect change anymore, that’s when we’ll start thinking about what DLC there is.
Even though Borderlands 2 came out two years ago, and received a number of DLC packs since its release, do you think The Pre-Sequel is a tad too soon?
Anthony: I don’t think so. I guess we’ll find out, right? But I don’t think so. Certainly, there are annual series, and Borderlands isn’t even an annual series. This is just us making a cool game that fits in between the existing stories. It certainly doesn’t feel soon to me, (motions towards Jonathan) what about you?
Jonathan: No. Borderlands has a lot of amazing fans, and I definitely think there is an appetite for more Borderlands. And this game – The Pre-Sequel – is definitely the biggest chunk of new Borderlands we’ve seen since Borderlands 2. I’m super excited about that, and don’t think it’s too soon at all.
2K Australia are obviously busy. What are Gearbox up to nowadays?
Anthony: We recently announced Battleborn, and that’s cool. We’re working on that. And we’re working on one other unannounced IP. And Homeworld.
Do you have any input on Homeworld?
Anthony: No, I’m a writer. And that game already got written.
So what are you working on then?
Anthony: I’m working on the unannounced game.