GamingBolt sits down with Senior Producer Anthony Nicholson of Gearbox Software to talk about the upcoming looter shooter.
Borderlands 3 has been a highly anticipated game by the fans for many years now. With its zany gunplay, intense co-op modes, exciting loot boxes, and lovable characters who could blame them? With Borderlands 3’s release just a few months out, it was finally time to get down and dirty and find out everything we could about the game. From its new mechanics to refreshed gameplay elements, and how these all handle compared to previous versions. We had a chance to sit down with Gearbox’s Senior Producer Anthony Nicholson to ask him everything that was on our minds.
Note: This was a group interview.
"We have a great writing team. Our writing department has just been stellar with trying to weave all the different lore and the canon that’s is— the game is deep now"
How did Borderlands 3 become such a social game? Are there any new social interactions that we can look forward to?
Borderlands at its core has always been a co-op experience. We really wanted people to engage with their friends or play with people online. We have couch co-op. We still have that in Borderlands 3 because it’s been important since day one in the franchise. There’s a multitude of ways in the new entry we are allowing people to send items through the mail system. So if you find something really cool or you find something that you know a friend of yours might enjoy, you can send it to them. There’s also dynamic missions that we called the Rare Spawns at the bounty board that you can go to in Sanctuary 3, our hub.
Now our friend may have seen [a specific] type of enemy in the game, and out will pop it into our game with dynamic missions. So now we can go on the hunt. These are some of the ways that we’re nudging, showing them that there’s a larger community out there. I personally enjoy playing solo, and I know players that do. But we want to show that there’s other people out there. We got to look at the vending machine. In the past those have always been just populated by the system. Now I can go in my own solo game and see one of my friend’s items from my friends list because they sold it in there. We wanted to make this the best co-op experience possible, even when you’re playing alone.
Narrative hasn’t been big in loot-based games. Borderlands seems to take that initiative, take that step. This narrative going to continue being a big part of Borderlands 3?
Yeah. I think so. We have a great writing team. Our writing department has just been stellar with trying to weave all the different lore and the canon that’s is— the game is deep now. Borderlands 1 came out back in 2009, and there’s a lot of pieces that we’re putting together. There’s always lots of characters the fans and community love.
We want to make sure we build on those things. In this latest entry we have the Calypso Twins. We’re chasing them down across the galaxy, keeping them from opening all of these vaults and getting this ultimate power. So we can stop them from overrunning with all of their evil deeds. Narrative in this one is definitely important and we want to make sure that that coincides in a very good way, with our new gameplay and the things that fans have grown to love about the series.
Let’s talk about guns. In the Borderlands franchise guns have went from normal to super crazy. Moving into Borderlands 3, there’s going to be an exponentially larger number of guns coming out this time. The designs are ridiculous: we have a walking, talking gun, a gun that shoots swords, and so on. How important was the design process in terms of coming up with the different types of guns?
That’s always a thing that we think about, right? A lot of that stuff comes from the team interacting with each other. A lot of our guns start with getting in a room together and bouncing things around with each other, and coming up with crazy things like that. There are certainly things we wanted to do in the past, or we are thinking about doing in the future. So a lot of that comes together whenever we are in their building the game. The challenge with making all of the different guns is finding the right touch to mix with that gameplay, and mix with those barriers.
Like you said. there are different guns that do different things. We have guns that shoot hamburgers. We have guns with legs, or ones that bounces. But all of these go into the game with the way that you’re playing, too. You can set up those different combat pockets in the game knowing how those guns interact. We have the Atlas guns for the first time in this game, where you can actually place a tracker dart and now you’re smart bullets— you can go hide around the corner and shoot and it will tackle them.
If you saw the newest trailer, we have a gun that shoots guns. I think that’s the most meta thing that we could’ve done. The team is really great. Jimmy Barnett and those guys who work with guns have a passion and dedication to building on top of the foundation that we’ve already laid down throughout the series. We’re always trying to top ourselves. One of the things I like to say is that we get better or we get worse, you never stay the same. So you have to constantly be trying to get better with each thing you do each day. That embodies the team at Gearbox. We try to build on what we’ve done before and work together and expand on different types of gameplay and the guns themselves.
"It’s much bigger than Borderlands 2. There’s all different types of side missions, there’s the main mission, of course. Then there’s other things like all of the different challenges that we have: like the rare spawns, and the enemy hunts, the crew challenges. There’s so much to do in the game that I can’t express enough."
Does the think tank on these ideas ever run dry?
No. There’s all kinds of whiteboards all over the place. It’s funny because we’ll walk into a meeting and see something just randomly written on the dry board. We just know somebody was in here thinking of ideas for something— It’s really random but it’s got to mean something.
We’re always thinking of things. We have different channels where we come together and, “Hey, what if we try and do this thing?“ We have so many people at the studio and great ideas come from everywhere. We take them from the front desk support up to Randy himself. Everyone has different ideas and different opinions, and they all matter.
Speaking about players being able to send gifts or items to friends they like. Is there any chance of sending something to a buddy they’d like to mess with that they may not appreciate?
There’s nothing in the game that people don’t like, right? You can send whatever. That goes with grenades, different shields and things like that, too. So if there is one with some type of debuff on it, or some type of dynamic change that can happen if you do a thing, stick it in there and maybe it will get past them like, “Oh, hey! There’s a lot of health on this.“ Then it explodes on them.
Talking about playing solo. For someone who wants to go about this game solo, how many hours of gameplay would they be looking at?
I don’t know how many hours that we’ve talked about. It’s much bigger than Borderlands 2. There’s all different types of side missions, there’s the main mission, of course. Then there’s other things like all of the different challenges that we have: like the rare spawns, and the enemy hunts, the crew challenges. There’s so much to do in the game that I can’t express enough. And those are just different mission type things you can do. There’s also exploration, boss runs, things like that. So there’s a ton of content.
Coming from previous entries each with beloved antagonists, what was most intimidating about creating the next big antagonist of Borderlands 3?
To answer that question, it’s the same answer. We are in a streaming, YouTubing, live culture, right? So it’s the balance of hitting that and making that right. But also not being too over the top that the people that we love, the people that they’re based on are taken aback by that, right? We’re not making fun of all streamers, or all YouTubers. We are just saying there are some, and the influence these guys have are taking it too far to the left. They’re making it to where they’re trying to take over the galaxy now. They’re actually trying to recruit and broadcast and unite all the bandit clans for evil streaming deeds.
We know that all of the vault hunters each have their own unique play style and strengths. Does that mean some vault hunters will work better in single player mode and others for co-op play?
No, I don’t think so. Because now we have the multiple action skills, there’s not really a way to say that one works much better in co-op. We want to make sure that people can play literally anyway that they want. They can make their vault hunters anyway that they want, style them, customize them the way that they want. You can play solo or cooperatively and it still works just as good.
What can we expect from Borderland 3’s endgame and the types of post-content stuff?
So there’s a lot of things that we’re doing with endgame content. If you played Borderlands 2 than you kind of have an idea where we’re going with that. That’s not something we’re going to talk about today, endgame, post launch DLC or anything like that. We’re really focused on making sure we have the most polished experience that we possibly can when we launch on September 13.
"I don’t know too much about the accessibility. I know that we have several different options and several different modes that the guys on the game field team— we actually have our own department within the department that works on accessibility, because it’s really important to us."
Accessibility is a big topic in gaming today. What have you done to make the game more accessible to everybody for people who are just diving into Borderlands for the first time? How newcomer friendly is it?
I don’t know too much about the accessibility. I know that we have several different options and several different modes that the guys on the game field team— we actually have our own department within the department that works on accessibility, because it’s really important to us. But as far as newcomers coming into the series, it’s a first person shooter. If you’ve ever played a first person shooter game than you’ll feel right at home.
The recruitment walk-through that we did with Claptrap in the beginning of the game, we want to make sure that is stepping people through and showing them how to play the game. We want to make sure that even if you’ve been here since 2009 or you’re playing for the first time in 2019, that you can pick the game up and understand that we’re giving it everything that you need to be successful and really enjoy the experience.
Will iridium still be a highly sought after currency?
There are a lot of different uses for iridium in this game.
Is this in terms of gameplay or is it just in terms of story or is it both?
It’s a little bit of both. There’s a few different things.
Can you talk about the character progression system and how that’ll work?
We really wanted tight gameplay and gun feel. The team has worked really hard where the game feels really good whenever you’re shooting from the hip and when you’re aiming. Going back to your earlier question, we wanted to make sure people who are playing this game for the first time feels really good to them as well. Things like progressing on the characters: we’ve added things like slide and now butt-stomping is back in this.
There are different ways for you to attack different combat pockets. You don’t have to just take enemies head on. We have destructible cover, and different destructible barrels that kind of interact. So there are so many different ways for you to tackle things. You can run and slide behind cover, or you can jump on top and kick a barrel over it. And those things interact with other things. Like spark barrels interact with water, fire barrels interact with oil. There is a lot of cover that’s destructible.
Enemies are a lot smarter, and our AI is a lot tighter in this game as well. Even if those guys want to go and hide behind wood, we can shoot through it and still take them out.
In new game plus, enemies used to develop resistance against elemental damage. Will that be replaced?
We wanted to replace that. This was one of the things our creative director Paul really wanted to make sure, that you didn’t have to have “this thing“ to play “this way.” It makes it to where your gameplay is directed with one choice. That’s not what we want to do in Borderlands 3. We want you to be able to play however you want, whenever you want.
The way that it was before was challenging. Whenever we tackle Borderlands 3 we want to be sure that wasn’t an issue. With the addition of radiation, that’s a really cool element that we added to kind of amplify the gameplay. So now you can hit enemies and apply damage over time, but also if they’re next to their buddies— now that it explodes they can pass it on to someone else.
How important is it to make Borderlands transparent to the gaming community and to yourselves?
It’s extremely important. That’s kind of what we’ve been talking about ever since we announced and showed things at the reveal event presentation. There are so many different options because not everyone has this one archetype, or this one thing that they want to do. Even with our vault hunters, my Maura will feel different from your Maura. Even with look and feel and play style. That’s because that opens up the accessibility to that volume of people. There’s more people that will play and enjoy it because they feel things resonate with them. There are so many different things for you to be able to make it the way you want to play. It will be your personal experience.
"I like to call her Not-So-Tiny Tina. She’s in the game. She’s always been a fan favorite. We love her. We’re really excited that she’s in Borderlands 3."
How many different environments will there be in the game?
There’s a few. So far we’ve shown three. But there’s more than that.
So Tiny Tina is all grown up. Do they still call her Tiny Tina and does she still play D&D?
I would assume that she does. I like to call her Not-So-Tiny Tina. She’s in the game. She’s always been a fan favorite. We love her. We’re really excited that she’s in Borderlands 3.
Will Borderlands 3 release on Nintendo Switch, and if not why?
We don’t have any plans for it to be on Switch. As far as why, I don’t know.