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Borderlands 2: giant video, how aesthetics and play fuse

Wednesday, 4th April 2012 13:00 GMT By Stace Harman

Here you have seven minutes of new Borderlands 2 gameplay in HD, a hands-on with multiplayer and a chat with Gearbox about quirky visuals and RoboCop. Ever seen a siren in action? Here’s your chance.

Borderlands 2

Features online and split-screen drop-in co-op.

Mission structure has been overhauled to eliminate the original game’s mandatory “checking-in” of missions, reducing back-tracking.

The ineligibility problem of Borderlands multiplayer that meant players that had completed missions couldn’t play co-op with those that hadn’t, has been fixed. Now, players further along in the story can reset their mission status to enable them to hook up with friends that are lagging behind.

Gearbox describes Borderlands as one of the most successful new IPs of this console generation, having sold over 4m of the original game.

Gearbox Easter Egg: Whilst acknowledging the difficulty of taking on development of last year’s Duke Nukem Forever part way through its gestation, a Gearbox rep suggested that the team are now in a position to make any future games in the series “much more our own”. Watch this space.

It’s a curio of game design that, for much its development, Borderlands looked nothing like Borderlands. As the story goes, a handful artists and coders were at a loose end a couple of years into the development of Gearbox’s new IP and so took it upon themselves to prototype an entirely different visual style for the multi-million-pound project; one that moved away from the photo-real and toward the realm of comic-books.

The results speak for themselves and the fact that Borderlands is recognisable from almost any screenshot is a testament to this experimentation and creative vision. It’s also to the credit of both Gearbox and 2K that so fundamental a change, made so late in development, was embraced wholeheartedly.

But if there’s one disappointment that arose from this eleventh-hour change of visual identity it’s that there was little time for the new art style to do much to inform game design. Whilst a few incidental flourishes appear here and there, it’s very easy to imagine a Borderlands whose vaults, caverns and rocky outcrops look photo-real.

However, with the distinct art style already in place this time around, Gearbox has been able to pick and choose how it incorporates it into every facet of Borderlands 2. Game and level designers have been in sync with concept and environmental artists from the off, resulting in a marriage of the exaggerated art style with more outlandish environments and offbeat character design.

“We wanted to keep that original art style and examine it to find out why it was successful,” explains Kevin Duc, lead concept artist at Gearbox Software. “We found this neat connection between the photo-real and comic-book-style cel-shaded which comes from keeping the inks loose but maintaining the grit of photorealism underneath.

“With loose art comes a vitality that allows story to be more free and level design to become a little more extreme. There’s a nice back and forth that develops with [the art team] expressing the ideas that [the story writers] have created and realising the crazy and dark characters.

“This means we can be a bit wacky with proportions but at the same time we keep this idea that we refer to as the Verhoeven effect. It’s the RoboCop concept; that there’s this extreme violence going on but with a touch of comedy which is making your laugh even when you’re being ripped in half. The art style definitely plays to that.”

Certainly, it would difficult to imagine a mid-level boss with a midget strapped to his shield being portrayed as anything other than darkly comic and, therefore, in any way other than with Borderlands comic-style visuals.

The exaggerated visuals also play a major part in the design of the multitude of guns and loot; while Borderlands primary reward system was based on the collection of new weapons, it was often necessary to compare and contrast every weapon-drop with those in your inventory to ascertain whether it was worth collecting.

“We wanted to keep that original art style and examine it to find out why it was successful. We found this neat connection between the photo-real and comic-book-style cel-shaded which comes from keeping the inks loose but maintaining the grit of photorealism underneath.”

Now, each weapon manufacturer has more distinct gameplay properties, such as those that explode when thrown or that are less powerful but far more likely to inflict status effects. The more clearly defined visual personality of these weapons allows for at-a-glace identification of their manufacturer, which in-turn enables you to determine whether it’s a class of weapon that suits your play style.

“When we created the Bandit-class we wanted to make it look like it’d been assembled up in the hills, all sharp edges and quarter-inch steel,” illustrates Duc. “With Torgue, a big beefy American 1980’s style manufacturer, we looked not just at guns of that time period for inspiration, but at other sources too, like motorcycles and chunky engine blocks.

“When we passed that back to the game designers they interpreted the visual design as a gun that should be throwing out these huge explosions all the time, so they come up with an accelerating bullet that explodes. That then came back to us in the art team and it was up to us to figure out how that projectile would look, and so it goes back and forth.”

The result is a set of weapons that follow real-world brand identity principles with the exaggerated and entertaining attributes expected of Borderlands.

Highly skilled

Personal preference of weapons combined with varied skill trees allows for some flexible class-customisation, as illustrated by our multiplayer session. A foray into a very wild, wildlife reserve begins me and my co-op partner allocating 20 skill points to customise our characters and despite both choosing to play as the Siren class, it results in two very different character builds. One is more support-based, with a nifty ability that converts the typically negative effect of friendly fire into positive healing, while the other has a more a powerful phaselock – the Siren’s new, combat orientated class power – that inflicts status effects in addition to freezing the enemy in place.

What follows is an entertaining co-op experience, but one that is not without niggles; the most fundamental of which is check-pointing, which is a concept that developers should have well and truly licked by this point.

Being granted a second wind for killing any enemy while bleeding-out is useful, as is the ability to revive a teammate, but when swarmed by assailants in an arena-style environment or facing a mid-level boss, these options become less viable – especially if playing with fewer than three teammates. Unfortunately, the checkpoint spacing then necessitates a long jog back to rejoin the fight – during which time your partner may also have been killed – which becomes tiresome.

A greater emphasis on co-op objectives would also be welcome; certainly the section that we played featured little that needed to be achieved as a team and so it became two, single players inhabiting the same space, rather than genuinely co-operating.

However, there’s over five months until the game’s launch which is plenty of time for minor check-pointing niggles to be addressed and for Gearbox to ensure that Borderlands 2 is as arresting to play as it is to ogle.

Borderlands 2 launches on PC, 360 and PS3 on September 18 in the US and September 21 in PAL territories.

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39 Comments

  1. LOLshock94

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3j4t185wl-0
    ^more gameplay

    game looks shit

    #1 3 years ago
  2. Patrick Garratt

    How does that look “shit”? Day one for me. Cannot wait.

    #2 3 years ago
  3. Sam Clay

    I’m glad that there are more guns…I found there weren’t enough in the original Borderlands ;)

    #3 3 years ago
  4. DSB

    Sooooold.

    It’s gonna be another good year.

    #4 3 years ago
  5. fightclubdoll

    NEED A COLD SHOWER NOW… OR A LONGER LESS COLD ONE.

    OMG … CANNOT WAIT!! =-D

    #5 3 years ago
  6. Mark Limburg

    I’m quite liking the look of it. Very much the original, plus more. Think this is a game to organise a serious lan party to, indeed. As we know, coop is the best way to play this game.

    Some of the mob dynamics look damn interesting, where you’ll *need* coop to get a real handle on things. Sure, it’ll scale down for single player, but with the comments about split screen and *real* drop-in multiplayer, it just seems they’re really focusing in on getting that shift away from single player.

    Still need to see more on the RP elements to get into that. It’s always hard to nail down and get right. Of all games out there, it has the be the hardest dynamic to get right, and to appeal to a larger audience.

    I think they’re onto something cool here .. just want to see more at the moment. But this vid is a damn good start.

    Thanks Stace.

    #6 3 years ago
  7. Stace Harman

    I foresee the creation of a VG247 co-op party for this one. Had a lot of fun with the first game and am looking forward to the sequel.

    @6 You’re most welcome, though only the words are mine; the video is courtesy of Mr Sam Clay – VG247′s shiny new video editor

    #7 3 years ago
  8. Colin Gallacher

    Lovely to see a nice chunk of Borderlands 2 gameplay. It’s really shaping up to be one of the most exciting cooperative games of 2012.

    #8 3 years ago
  9. endgame

    Wicked! More streamlined than the first game. Weapons look different awesome! Can’t wait to get my hands on it so I can play some coop with my friends. It’s going to be epic! :)

    #9 3 years ago
  10. Sam Clay

    @7 Oh Stace. You’re my favourite.

    #10 3 years ago
  11. Chockster

    Looking forward to this, although my experience of the first was tempered by my lack of co-operatives to co-op with.

    #11 3 years ago
  12. OrbitMonkey

    That looks so much nicer graphically. Some pretty little skybox going on there.

    #12 3 years ago
  13. HauntaVirus

    Looks great, loving all the new weapon styles and sounds!

    #13 3 years ago
  14. Erthazus

    So far i don’t see any improvements at all. First game was mediocre because if you never played with your buddies it’s a horrible shooter with Diablo loot system and without decent campaign.

    Just because game have that RPG and loot progression feel it does not make it automatically a good game.

    I hope that they improved the majority of problems from the first game. Just better guns does not make it a good game.

    #14 3 years ago
  15. datass

    @14 Agreed, i got first one on discount, which will probably be the case with seconds…

    I think it will be another console game, with a little better support on pc this time…still, not gonna give full price tag

    #15 3 years ago
  16. Edo

    All I can say is….getch you one! :) .

    #16 3 years ago
  17. OwnedWhenStoned

    @14

    Each to their own I suppose. I loved the first one and only ever played single player. It’s the first game I’ve bothered finishing in ages.

    #17 3 years ago
  18. Giskard

    @14 No improvements? Dude, did you even watch the video? The graphics themselves were such a huge step up from the first. Gameplay I can not comment about, but it looked similar, but then again, a shooter is a shooter is a shooter.

    #18 3 years ago
  19. Erthazus

    “No improvements? Dude, did you even watch the video?”

    “Gameplay I can not comment about, but it looked similar, but then again, a shooter is a shooter is a shooter.”

    So no improvements at all, right?

    A shooter or not, great shooter is not just about shooting shit.

    “graphics themselves were such a huge step up from the first. ”

    Graphics are the same. Better effects are not better graphics.

    #19 3 years ago
  20. YoungZer0

    @19: Good thing this is more than a shooter then, right?

    Graphics aren’t the same. They are definitely better, the style is better implemented and since effects are part of the graphics, that means that the graphics got better.

    #20 3 years ago
  21. mickey2002

    Give Me Now.

    #21 3 years ago
  22. Maximum Payne

    I agree that they didn’t add to much new.
    To be specific: they didn’t add any new mechanics.
    They add new weapons,enemies,coop fix and new level/upgrade system for character.
    I will still enjoy game for sure but then don’t bitch about Cod :”again set pieces,cheap story,tweaked mp…

    #22 3 years ago
  23. Johnny Cullen

    Looking hawt.

    #23 3 years ago
  24. ManuOtaku

    Oh man i loved the first game, but seeing the graphics now looks more a comic than anything else, which in my eyes is great, iam a sucker for this type of graphics, as for the gameplay even if the manage to not improve the gameplay at all, iam ok i love the first one, i just want more of the same, but if the gameplay is been improve already, well thats a big plus, cannot wait really.

    #24 3 years ago
  25. The_Red

    Wow, AWESOME. Really nice read. Really nice video and REALLY nice screens. FPS loot-fest FTW!

    #25 3 years ago
  26. Telepathic.Geometry

    FUCK YEAH! XD Count me in on any VG Borderlands MP action! :D

    #26 3 years ago
  27. Giskard

    @19 If the graphics are the same, you sir, must be bad at spotting the difference.

    The first game had very few hues, and the interesting elements (Read: enemies, buildings, vehicles, etc.) blended into the environment too much. Here, they seem to not be a part of the backdrop, but actually moving, interesting objects. It’s more visually striking and the color pallet is greatly improved.

    How you can deem it to be “the same” is beyond my comprehension.

    #27 3 years ago
  28. CityCobra

    More weapons and WUB WUB! What do you want more? :)
    Borderlands 2 interview and preview!

    http://www.gamingxp.com/report-1167-kategorie-interview-borderlands_2_interview_mit_kevin_duc_von_gearbox_software.htm

    #28 3 years ago
  29. Erthazus

    @20, every game improve visuals at some point, but this one didn’t do much for me. Some effects and comic style is not enough.

    But for me, visuals were good in the first game so i don’t complain here. I complain about making it more of the same, because first game was not a good game to begin with.

    Yeah, Diablo loot system is cool. Co-op magic works too… But that’s it. Everything else was a repetitive shootfest at best with generic quests.

    @27, the difference between visuals is that now B2 looks more a comic than anything else but that is not an improvement and to be honest i don’t care about visuals because first game had good visuals to begin with.

    My complain is about the variety. Sure, Diablo system is cool, co-op magic works, but beyond that i see zero improvements.
    I want to see how quests are in the game, because quests and it’s storyline was horrible.

    Shooting was easy and fun, but that’s not enough. Yeah, they improved enemies, but that’s not enough.

    #29 3 years ago
  30. Giskard

    @29 If you watched the video, or read the article, they clearly stated quest structure had been improved, as had the shooting responsiveness, and the variety of guns. All your concerns were addressed, and yet you still complain about them not improving the game?

    What else is there to improve? Giant messages saying “We like you, Erthazus, please keep playing!”?

    #30 3 years ago
  31. M. K.

    @30: Don’t pay attention to that, he’s just fooling around like everyday. We all know, that he’s going to play the crap out of this, like he did with some Call of Duty game, although he was hating against it the whole time before release ;D

    In my opinion this is going the rock, I wish this would release instead of diablo 3 this summer :P

    #31 3 years ago
  32. Erthazus

    @31, shut your pie hole. I didn’t even finished Borderlands 1 for the reasons i mentioned here and i have no reason to buy this one.

    @30, “hey clearly stated quest structure had been improved”

    All developers talk that their game is improved.
    I don’t see that. I expect them to have some sort of fetch quests that will be random. That is not improvement.

    “All your concerns were addressed”

    I don’t see that. I need a demo at least. Devs talk a lot always, but if they can’t show it then i won’t believe them.

    #32 3 years ago
  33. ManuOtaku

    I have always liked pies with holes, like cheese, i dont know why

    #33 3 years ago
  34. OrbitMonkey

    @33 sexual food fetish?

    #34 3 years ago
  35. Giskard

    @32 So you want a demo, know, when they’re 6 months away from release?

    Yeah, you’re not entitled at all, bro.

    #35 3 years ago
  36. Telepathic.Geometry

    I like pi. Nnngghh… /nerd pervert

    #36 3 years ago
  37. back_up

    looking good
    can’t wait

    #37 3 years ago
  38. Croach93

    @32

    If you aren’t interested in buying the game, then just go away. Nobody wants to hear your negativity. This game is going to be amazing. If you think otherwise, then keep it to yourself.

    #38 2 years ago
  39. Evil Skull

    OMG!! The game looks amazing i can’t wait to play it i love Borderlands i play it every day that’s my game rite there can’t wait!!!

    #39 2 years ago

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