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The Illusions We Make: Gearbox's Randy Pitchford
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The Illusions We Make: Gearbox's Randy Pitchford

October 12, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 5 Next

BS: How do you manage the pacing and the player dynamic and the emotional wave, when you've got something much more open than a typical shooter? Obviously with Call of Duty 4, you've got these great, specific, scripted events. They're so compelling that you don't feel like you're being forced.

RP: Yeah. I think with Borderlands, the trick is: what do you want? There's always a mainline mission path, and you can follow it. When you follow it, we take care of you. But if you want to get off that, you can. Usually, that's rewarded with something, something unique that you might have found that you discovered somewhere, some new mission path, some optional mission path for example, or some new pocket of bad guys or creatures that have something of some value, or just some interesting part of the world or a shortcut to a different part of the world.

The key is about taking care of the guy that needs to be told what to do next while also creating an opportunity for rewards if you were to go off your path. Call of Duty is a great example where the path is there, and when you follow the path, the moments are presented. But if you do stop and decide to try and go off the path, you realize very quickly that you're constrained. You're cordoned in, and you realize that very quickly.

And then you go, "Okay, the game doesn't want me to do that. There's no value for me to do that. There's a wall here preventing me from going over. I can't explore that. Alright." And then you just kind of keep going along with the ride. And it's a cool ride, and it's a fun ride, and it's a crafted ride... but I don't know. Would that game be better if my try to explore was rewarded with discovery? Would it be better? I don't know. I think it would be, and I think that's kind of the bet we make with Borderlands.

BS: Yeah, it definitely depends with an experience like that, where it's not necessarily spoken or text-narrative driven, but it's very scenario-driven. It might wind up conceptually ultimately being a bit silly if you were trying to fight these guys, and you just instead decided to go elsewhere.

RP: That's the trick. In that world, that kind of setting does not allow that kind of thing. In the Borderlands world, the character's motives and the way the world exists and is crafted and the population of that world, it makes perfect sense. So, maybe that's a factor, too.

BS: I was discussing Fallout 3 with someone, and they said that, realistically, if I'm getting out of this vault and I'm dead set on looking for my dad, am I going to like fuck around the rest of the map and be like, "Yes, I will go kill 10 enemies for you." It's like, "No, maybe I should go find my dad."

RP: Yeah, that's interesting.

BS: Do people actually even care if their characters are really doing what makes sense for the universe?

RP: And that's where games and narrative sometimes support each other, and sometimes actually fight against each other. We made a very clear decision at one point that the motives of our character should be supported by the optional things. So, we made our heroes fortune hunters, and there's a lot of ways to earn a fortune. They're motivated by profit -- and they're not like evil fortune hunters. They're not like mercenaries. They're like Indiana Jones.

We could've made some kind of emotional pull as the core plot, but that would be inconsistent with all of our decisions in the game. We made sure to pick a core plot and motivation where all the decisions you make in the game are still consistent.

BS: You mentioned earlier that you could go back and defeat enemies from before and be more powerful.

RP: Yeah. I hate when an RPG says, "Here's a game where you can level up. By the way, we're going to level up the world, too", so your leveling means nothing." Like, "Dude, I want to get to level 50, and I want to go back to the Level 5 area, and I just want to own the shit out of everything. I want to look at them and have them explode. I want to be super badass. I want to one-shot everything."

BS: Is that how you're controlling gating?

RP: One way. That's one way. Like you can get right out of Firestone, the first settlement in the game, and you can go to a place. You'll be like level 2 or level 3 when you first leave Firestone. And right around the corner, there are some dudes that are level 10 and this bandit boss named Bonehead that's got this little compound, and you can go in and get your ass kicked all day long if you want, and you'll discover, "I'm not ready for this." Fortunately, the game doesn't ask you to go there, but it's there and you're welcome to try.

So, that's one way. But the other way is actual gates. Like at first, this settlement of Firestone is locked down, and all the citizens inside -- the very few citizens that are remaining -- are all locked inside their houses. They're afraid because the bandits have taken over. So, until you clear those bandits out and accomplish a few missions there, you then get the ability to save these guys. That means you can interact with the NPCs, and they give you the tools you need to open up Firestone to the rest of the world that's beyond. And so there are other gates that are more mission driven.

There are instances that you can't get into without access. There are certain places that, "Oh, there's a cool area over there, but there's this huge ravine that I can't get across. But that looks like if I had a car, I could jump it." And then like a few hours into the game, there's a mission chamber where you can start to unlock vehicles in the game, and now you get a car and you can jump it and get a little aerial over there. So, we can layer it in lots of different ways, not just by the difficulty of the enemies.

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