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A Peek Behind the Scenes with Borderlands 2 Developers Gearbox Software – Part II

Gearbox Software is home to a wide array of creative professionals including artists, storytellers, designers, coders, audio engineers and more.  With a quality pedigree that includes franchises such as Half-Life, Tony Hawk, Brothers in Arms and Borderlands, it’s no wonder why they are one of the best-loved development studios in the business.

For Borderlands 2, Gearbox Software released some special downloadable content (DLC) that creatively celebrates the holidays in the far off world of Pandora where the game takes place. So far, the Headhunter add-on packs focused on Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas with two more coming out this year.

If you’re not familiar with either Borderlands or Borderlands 2, here’s a quick synopsis:

Set in the world of Pandora, the Borderlands series is a shooter-looter. After you select and customize your character, you take on the role as a fortune seeker where you take on various missions for loot (weapons, money, etc.). If you’ve never played the games, you should. They are a BLAST – even more so given the heavy design elements around cooperative play.

We had a chance to sit down with Game Designers Josh Jeffcoat and Drew Mobley to talk about the creative inspiration behind the holiday themed Headhunter add-on packs.

We’d like to give a special thanks to Daylon Furlough from Unscripted Xbox to conduct the interview. Be sure to give him a shout out when you see him on the Internet.

SeagateCreative: What were some of the key creative elements that you felt needed including to make these add-ons compelling and engaging?

Josh Jeffcoat: Each of the Headhunter add-on packs needed some sort of visually iconic boss encounter. In fact, all of these packs began as nothing but a boss encounter and then we built a mission around it.

So figuring out what the final creature was going to be was the very first part of the process that all of these went through.

SeagateCreative: What was one creative challenge your team had to overcome as part of the development process and how did you overcome it?

Josh Jeffcoat: One of the hardest things we encountered, because we were running on such a condensed timeline, was that we wanted to create something that we felt offered a lot of value to our customers.

Because most missions happen in these large, open levels, and cross through multiple levels, everything that we did for the Headhunter add-ons had to be in a single level.

We wanted the game to be really dense as far as the actions that the player were making and the amount of humor we were cramming into a small space. But it was very difficult to do everything that we wanted to do and tell all the stories we wanted to tell within that small, finite amount of space – and have it all still load on a console.

Finding the balance of making the game fun and cool yet while keeping an eye on how much can we fit running in memory at any one moment has been the ongoing challenge for all of the Headhunter add-ons.

SeagateCreative: Characters for the game and the Headhunter add-ons have a very distinct look & feel – what was some of the thinking behind the design for characters for this and future packs.

Josh Jeffcoat: We knew The Horrible Hunger of the Ravenous Wattle Gobbler would have a Thanksgiving theme, but we had a lot of difficulty trying to figure out what that means and Thanksgiving is different in lots of countries around the world.

Eventually, we centered on a The Hunger Games parody that is very modern and also worldwide. Lots of people know what The Hunger Games is.

We wanted to keep everything focused on food so we had a lot of cooking and chef-based characters to create, but we also wanted to keep within The Hunger Games theme, so we added “tributes” that represent different places all across Pandora and climaxes around this one place for the bloodsport against the Wattle Gobbler.  The actual mission within the game is called “The Hunger Pangs.”

SeagateCreative: What were some of your creative influences in developing these characters for The Horrible Hunger of the Ravenous Wattle Gobbler?

Josh Jeffcoat: I initially started by poking fun at The Hunger Games, because I thought it wasa bitsilly, but the movie was entertaining. =)

I really like when we decided to do the “tributes” from across Pandora because it allowed us to look back at different areas of the game and create new enemies that really reflected the various parts of the world.

There is a lot of stuff in there for the hardcore players who take the time to look deeper to see who these people are and figure out where they came from. But you can make up stories in your mind about their lives and what brought them here. We like insinuating story along those lines.

SeagateCreative: When designing, is it important to have reference points from the real world?

Josh Jeffcoat: Totally! It’s important to have some sort of a real world reference point, even if it’s not included as part of the final release. People need to have an understanding of what they are seeing and if what they are seeing is based in the real world, it’s easier to relate to. This allows you to spend less time explaining what something is and allows more time to figure out what they are interacting with.

How the weapons are designed was a very important part of Borderlands. The reason a shotgun looks like a shotgun instead of some space cannon is to give players a sense of comfort and familiarity so they don’t have to figure out what they are holding. That’s probably the most important design aspects for the weapons.

SeagateCreative: Now that the How Marcus Saves Mercenary Day Headhunter add-on is available, looking back, is there anything you’d have done differently creatively?

Drew Mobley: The idea for a train was a cool concept, but ultimately led to some technical and layout challenges that made the level feel a bit linear.

SeagateCreative: What’s one aspect or mission in the game you’re especially proud of?

Drew Mobley: I’m proud that we got the bandit song into the game. It was a labor of love for our audio director to write and perform, and wasn’t originally going to make it in. But a few of us took it on, added some of our own love, and created a cool moment I really enjoy watching.

SeagateCreative: How much of the main game, Borderlands 2, and prior DLC packs do you take with you to create something new?

Josh Jeffcoat: We are constantly going back to the source for these things, as we sometimes run into a scenario that is similar to an experience in making one of the earlier games. It’s a very complicated game under the hood with thousands of things going on all the time. We constantly have to go back and use the main game as a reference for how things were accomplished not only from a technical standpoint, but also with regards to character relations. Does this person like this person or hate this person? What’s their history with a character and how does it play into the story we are trying to tell now? So we have to keep track of all the interpersonal relationships of the ever-expanding characters in Borderlands.

If you haven’t checked out the Headhunter add-ons for Borderlands 2, grab them at the links below. You won’t regret it. Also, be sure to keep up on Gearbox Software at their official channels – Official Site, Twitter, and Facebook.

How Marcus Saved Mercenary Day
Steam
Xbox® LIVE Marketplace
PlayStation®3 Network

The Horrible Hunger of the Ravenous Wattle Gobbler
Steam
Xbox® LIVE Marketplace
PlayStation®3 Network

TK Baha’s Bloody Harvest
Steam
Xbox® LIVE Marketplace
PlayStation®3 Network

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