Borderlands 2 Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep Interview – Discussing Pandora's Swansong With Steve Gibson
Written Friday, May 31, 2013 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep marks the closure of Borderlands 2's Season Pass DLC, and for the end of the game's content for the foreseeable future. That means Gearbox Software is going big for the grand finale, setting the entire story-driven add on inside the imagination of one of the series' most unpredictable and unhinged characters.
And so Gearbox is closing out Borderlands 2 with a fantasy parody involving orcs, dragons, living trees, skeletons, wizards and other fantastical cliches, all set in the world of board game 'Bunkers & Badasses', where anything can happen in the blink of an eye.
With the final Borderlands 2 DLC almost upon us, we caught up with Gearbox Vice President Steve Gibson to talk about the end, the future and what we can look forward to before the next Borderlands. That includes Brothers in Arms: Furious Four and possibly even a bit of Duke Nukem. Read on to find out more!
How does it feel to finally put Borderlands 2 to bed with the final DLC?
It feels pretty good. I think the guys are really proud of it. This is the biggest thing we've ever done for a DLC, so everyone's proud to finish really strong and it's gratifying. It's hard to quantify beyond saying that we're really really proud of it and we feel like we've done a good job.
Was the idea of setting Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep all in Tina's head a device to set the team free and allow them to do what they wanted to do?
Yeah... It didn't start like that though. It was a long path to get there, and it started off as Handsome Jack having a niece or nephew who has a little side thing, because he [Jack] does his family a solid, so it's like, 'ok, the nephew needs a job'. So he gets this little side area, and the designers started imagining what if the nephew treated it like a plaything, started treating it like a board game and moved pieces around on you. That evolved more and more into the idea of 'wow, what if you were actually in a game?!'
Then it was like, 'well, who would be the most unpredictable dungeon master in our universe?' And that was Tiny Tina. So it was actually multiple steps to get there, but the reason we chose Tiny Tina was because yes, she was actually a freeing character. You don't know that the hell she's going to do, right? She's got all these different personality quirks.
Was it also partly a response to Tiny Tina's popularity as a character?
Sure, that plays into it too. The characters people reacted really well to we tend to focus more on, but we have to be careful not to overdo it though, because sometimes the charm of them works only in certain quantities. You'll notice with Tiny Tina, because there's more of her in this one, some of her quirks have been pulled back a little bit.
Krieg came out earlier this month. Do you plan to support Borderlands 2 with further DLC characters like the Psycho and the Mechromancer in the future?
It all comes down to whether people like it and want more of it. We built Borderlands with that idea in mind, of being able to do multiple characters, but then it took us a little while to get the second one out. That was actually just the realities of production, like Paul's time. Paul (Hellquist) was Creative Director on Borderlands 2 and he needed a break after we'd shipped all that stuff.
Where do you see the future of Borderlands, specifically from a next-gen perspective?
We have contracts with the first-parties about us talking about that stuff, so it's hard for me to really say anything on the record.
It's kind of a no-brainer to say that you're keen to continue Borderlands.
It would be fair to say that we're happy with the success of Borderlands and we hope there's a future. But we can't go saying we're doing one for sure, because there's publishers and all that fiscal nonsense. I have to worry about shareholders, contracts and stuff! I can't say anything!
We haven't heard anything about Furious Four in a while. What's going on with that?
I can tell you that Furious Four is no longer with Ubisoft, and that the game itself is going to resurface and there's a team right now working on stuff. When it does come round again, it'll be difficult to recognise. We feel really good about some of the aspects of that, but it's going through a lot of changes.
Is Furious Four still a big gamble and a major departure for Brothers in Arms?
We've talked a little bit about that before, and the guys at Gearbox all understood that we're not terribly surprised by how polarising the response was and how confusing it was to see the Brothers in Arms name attached to something like that. But things have changed and we're happy with where it's at now, although we're still in the process of exploring the gameplay and what it is.
Gearbox swooped in to finish Duke Nukem Forever and release it. Would you like to go back to the franchise and make another one?
We didn't really make the last one, so it wouldn't really be us going back to it. We love the brand and we love the idea of a future Duke Nukem, which is why we helped Triptych and 3D Realms finish it.
But the Duke Nukem franchise belongs to Gearbox now?
Yes. We own the brand.
What are your hopes and plans for the franchise in Gearbox's hands then?
Really, a re-imagining or a reboot kind of thing. And you can see that from a lot of the fan reaction. People would like to see a freshening up of that.
Duke Nukem's a popular character, but a lot of people were disappointed by Duke Nukem Forever. How did you feel about the game and having the Gearbox name attached to it?
It's always disappointing to see that everyone's not thrilled with it. There were a lot of people who did like it and the sales bore that out. It wasn't a critical success, but it was a commercial success, so honestly, if I'm going to choose from critical or commercial success, I'm going to choose commercial. That means gamers liked it.
Going back to Borderlands 2 and the Tiny Tina DLC, what were the main goals you were looking to achieve for this final expansion?
We wanted to finish Borderlands 2 in a big way, but also experiment with new gameplay mechanics. In the other DLCs we experimented with storytelling and gameplay mechanics to an extent, but now we're experimenting with design mechanics. You'll see stuff, like the simple idea of swapping characters in and out of the world in front of your eyes, but now also having things like when you first talk to Ellie and your character says something to her, and says it in character, in Borderlands 2 that doesn't happen.
You never speak to other people, but now we're starting to experiment with your character being less Gordon Freeman-esque, and actually saying things with dialogue based on the personalities of those characters. You'll see some of that happening, because people wanted to connect more with their characters. There's transformation that happens more often too, like enemies such as the immortal skeleton, where you have to do a finishing move and pull a sword out of his back. We're experimenting more with that kind of stuff, where you're not just shooting things and they die.
If you look back at Borderlands 1 DLC and see how some of the elements from those appeared in Borderlands 2, obviously we're always thinking about the future of Borderlands, and we always do that in our DLCs. We're always working within the constraints of the code base, but we're always thinking about what we do. That's about the best I can give you about the next-generation as well! DLCs are always our contemplation of the future and our chance to experiment.
Borderlands is a series that's renowned for its sense of humour as well as its gajillion guns. Is it difficult to maintain a level of humour and comedy in the games and across the DLCs?
Humour is not something you can put on a spreadsheet, so yeah, that's incredibly hard. We lean really heavily on a few key guys, and they do one of the hardest damn things there is. Gameplay mechanics can be refined over and over, but if a joke falls flat, sometimes we have no idea what to do with that. That's probably one of the biggest challenges.
What do you think the secret to that is in Borderlands is then?
I can tell you, some of the things we know for sure is that grounding things in a serious premise and having antics on top, works way better. That's a really big deal. You'll notice that the main storyline is actually a fairly serious one, with people dying and lots of really serious stuff. All the comedy is always around that, and that comedy works way better because it's grounded in something serious. That's one of the principles that we figured works well. Outside of that grounding principle, it's really hard.
There's always Claptrap, and he's a good comedy foil. How does it feel to have him as an iconic and recognisable character?
His office is two doors down from me, so I hear that guy a lot!
Does it ever get annoying?
No, not one bit!
It's awesome to have a breakout character like Claptrap. Our artist Scott Kessler who did the concepts for almost all of our characters, he gets thrilled to death when he sees cosplays, and you see Moxxi cosplay all the time. What's awesome is when he designed Moxxi, he designed her with the character being used for cosplay in mind. He said “I want people to cosplay as this character.” He actually said that as he was coming up with her. He wanted to build a character with really distinct features, like the top hat and the corset. All those things he made specifically to make it easy for a cosplayer to recreate, and so that stuff happening is awesome. There aren't many people who cosplay as Claptrap, because that's a pain in the ass.
We saw Claptrap crossing over into Poker Night 2 recently. Would you like to see other characters getting cameos in other games?
Oh yeah! That's one of the most flattering things, and we just love it. That's all the guys have been talking about internally. They're so excited to see that. Camaraderie between studios like that is so great and we wish we could see more of that, but it's so hard to make that happen, especially when you have so many different people interested in so many different things. Sometimes it'll be like “who's getting the better end of this deal” and all that kind of stuff once the bean counters get involved, so it can get really complicated.
Did Telltale Games approach you to include Claptrap in Poker Night 2 then?
Yeah. It felt great. Telltale and the nature of their studio, means everyone trusts them. And everyone knows that because they own what they own and they did all this stuff self-published, it's simpler for them to be the middle men for that. Imagine going through four layers of IP-owner, publisher, developer and others, it's really hard. Telltale is in a perfect seat for that, and they know it, and so do a great job with it.
Finally then, who's your favourite all-time Borderlands character?
Hmm... (long considered pause). I kinda lean towards Scooter. I like that he feels like a normal, down-home hillbilly, but then you'll hear him say the most terrible things. I really like that juxtaposition of things. You feel like he's just this fun, good ol' boy, then oh my God that thing he just said or just did! It's really great and I really enjoy that. He still surprises me sometimes.
He's another character that always gets a laugh.
Yes, but only in the right quantities!
Borderlands 2's Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep is coming on June 25th for 800 Microsoft Points or as part of the Season Pass. You can read our hands-on preview of the DLC here.