Borderlands 2: An Interview with Art Director, Jeramy Cooke

by on June 29, 2012

E3 is but a fading memory now, but while GodisaGeek were playing games, Alex Wozniak also got to chat to the Art Director on the hugely anticipated Borderlands 2, Jeramy Cooke.

Enthusiastic and charming, he tells us about some of the madness that you’ll find in Borderlands 2, such as magazines that when thrown away, act as grenades. As well as that incredible information, we even get an insight into the original Borderlands characters, vehicles, the co-op improvements and more.

Borderlands 2 will have more environments than the original, what else can we expect to see when the game releases?

You’re also going to find some really cool caverns of different types, as well as some cool volcanic areas. Of course, there’s classics like desert areas too. There’s a ton of new environments and just about every one has its own style and flavour, which I think people will really appreciate; it’s not just grinding through the same brown rocks all the time.

Did you find it difficult to come up with new enemies to fight?

Honestly? No. The cool thing about Borderlands is that the world is so interesting and wild that we kinda just went nuts and came up with Threshers, the land-Kraken guys, and Stalkers, with bio-shields, that can turn invisible. We added these new bandits called nomads, that are these big tough guys with shields, and they strap midgets to their shields to use them as defence.  Borderlands is such a wild and crazy universe that it’s pretty fun to just dive in and see what crazy things come out.

You’ve mentioned that you’re trying to differentiate the different gun manufacturers, can you go into how we’ll see this in action?

Jakobs is the high damage manufacturer, fire as fast as you want and it has pretty good damage but you trade-off a little bit of accuracy there. Maliwan is our elemental manufacturer, who are super high-tech and every single one has an elemental effect attached, they have the highest elemental damage attached to them.

Tediore is all about the reload and disposable use; as soon as you reload it you throw the magazine away like a grenade and the more ammo it has in it, the more damage it does, so it’s a neat trade-off mechanic, it’s kind of our cheap WalMart brand, very disposable but very effective. If you’re accurate with them, you can do a ton of damage.

Then you’ve got the bandit manufacturer which is all about ammo capacity, that one is all about just laying down tons and tons of fire. Not a lot of accuracy but since you can just keep on firing for just about forever, it’s a lot of fun.

Jeremy Cooke

All these brands are really unique and it’s about finding the one that suits your personality. We want people to fall in love with a particular one and just say “this is the one that I like and everything else sucks.

Are there visual differences between the manufacturers, too?

Absolutely, a perfect example is that a weapon with camo on is always a Dahl, but another may be a shock-sniper from Maliwan is noticeable by the blue glow on it. Maliwan always has a sort of sporty orange stripes, Bandit always has graffiti and red, when you see a Hyperion it’s always going to be yellow; that’s the main bad guy, Jack. So every brand has its own particular look, Jakobs has the wooden old-timey, wild-west feel to it. Each one has a very distinct visual style, and that was an important part of the design this time around.

How are you connecting players more with the story in Borderlands this time?

The main thing is missions, they are the vehicle for the story. So for instance, in Opportunity it’s all about breaking in and stealing one of Jack’s robots and using it to cut down his statues; take him down a peg basically. I think this is a good example of a rich, interesting mission that combines offence with defence, also some sort of trickery as well as the visuals of cutting down these statues as Jack constantly harasses you through echo all the time. I think that’s a really good example of a Borderlands mission, it’s all about plot, it’s all about the story and there’s a lot of richness, it’s not just about “go do this”, not a shopping list of things to collect.

Are vehicles going to feature more heavily this time around?

I wouldn’t say more heavily. They’re still a big part of the game, they’re in what we call our big interludes, the maps that exist between all these “dungeon-maps” – or what we call dog-legs – and they’re sort of the glue that connects our whole world together. They are really fun spaces because they are huge and you can drive all over the place to find cool little secrets in the corner, but they also connect together our world.

So the vehicles are primarily used for navigation, of course you’ll get attacked sometimes as well and you’ll have to defend yourself, but I wouldn’t say they were bigger.

One cool thing is that four player vehicles exist now, so in a four player co-op game you can all get inside the same vehicle, with two players sitting in the back, shooting out of the back, which is pretty fun.

What can we expect from the new playable characters and their skill trees?

There’s a lot of really cool stuff, for example with Zer0, using the melee attack is only one way of attacking, he can also use deception and be a sniper with it, because any attack you do gets boosted, the closer you get to zero on that timer, the more damage that attack will do. So you can stand way back and go 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, zero and pull the trigger and you’ll get these huge critical hits. So that’s a really neat aspect of him, that you can play him in two different ways. If you take the melee route and attack right away, your cool-down resets much faster, so you can take down smaller enemies.

I think it’s really cool to see how much variety we put into the actual skills once you dig in and see what they’re all about. Of course, later in the game there’s some really cool stuff. With Zer0, one of his skills will allow you to see all the critical hit regions when you’re in deception mode, so you’ll see all of these little red highlight criticals on monsters, and all of the classes have cool in-game abilities like that, which allow them to be more effective.

Will we see the original characters return in some capacity?

Yeah, they’re NPCs and sometimes they even fight alongside you on certain missions. Each one has an interesting bit of back story that you figure out. It’s been 5 years since the vault was opened in the first game and a lot has happened to the old vault hunters in that time, so you actually get to learn a lot about them, which I think fans of the first game will really enjoy; getting to know the characters a little bit better.

What improvements have been made to the co-op?

The primary improvements there are in getting you into the game. In the past you might have been different levels to your friends and it would try and connect before saying “sorry, you’re ineligible”. We’ve fixed all that on the server side so it balances everybody out and fixes you up so that you can go in and play that mission. Even if you haven’t gotten that far in your game, when you finally catch up you now have the option to play it again if you want, or just skip it since you already did it with your friend in your co-op game. So we did a lot of streamlining in the back-end there.

Borderlands 2

There’s some really nice stuff too where your friends list just appears in the main menu, so if you open up Borderlands you’ll see your friends playing live and you can just go over to their name and one-click gets you in the game with them. So there’s a lot of improvements on just getting you in the game.

Another little nicety is that we’ve built a proper trade system, so you can just walk up to a friend and open a trade window and safely trade things. So you don’t have to throw your favourite gear on the ground and hope that someone doesn’t just steal it from you or something. You can even duel for your trade window, which is a lot of fun. We had duelling in the first game, but now you can set up and trade and instead of saying trade you can fight to the death, whoever wins gets the contents of the trade.

How would you best describe the experience of Borderlands to someone new to the game?

I think what’s really great about it, is that it’s a shooter first, it’s fun and energetic, it’s got a lot of exciting energy and then the more you play, the more you unpeel the layers and find all the depth that’s in there. Then it suddenly becomes all about the loot, levelling up and gearing up, then finding cool builds.

New players will appreciate how much fun it is, it’s really over the top with lots of energy and I think that’s what attracts people to Borderlands. It doesn’t take itself so seriously, sometimes RPGs can push you away a little bit because they take themselves too seriously. For us, you can punch midgets, dual-wield rocket launchers and just have a lot of fun.

Borderlands 2 is set for release on September 21 for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.

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