Borderlands 2 and the Healing Power of Nerd Stuff

Anthony Burch and Paul Hellquist talk about crafting the humor and the seriousness of Borderlands 2's final campaign add-on.

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If you've ever played a pen-and-paper role-playing game before, then Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep, the next piece of downloadable content for Borderlands 2, will immediately make sense to you. When you sit down with friends, character sheets and dice and snacks spread around you, there are two stories happening. There's the story taking place in your imaginations, where your heroes go on epic quests and perform valorous deeds. Then there's the story of you and your friends, and what each of you brings to the table. Though the stories are separate, who you and your friends are in the real world will shape, to some degree, the interactions of your alter egos in that realm of fantasy.

It's clear that Anthony Burch, lead writer on Borderlands 2, knows all about how this works. In the upcoming story DLC, Tiny Tina, Lilith, Brick, and Mordecai come together to play the tabletop RPG Bunkers & Badasses. During a recent interview, Paul Hellquist, the game's lead designer, shed some light on how Burch approached writing the characters in this new context. "Anthony put each one of those three vault hunters into a different role that anyone who has played tabletop games [will recognize]. One person's super gung ho, one person's never played before but is really excited to check out this thing, and that's kind of where Brick is. Lilith is like, 'Yeah, I know how this works, and I'm into this stuff.' And Mordecai is the guy who's, like, 'Hey, you're in our friend group, and you've never played before? You gotta come over and play!' but they're not really bought in yet. And people who play tabletop games have had those interactions around their tabletop, and so we hope that those fans that are also playing Borderlands will appreciate and sort of see those, like, 'Oh yeah, I remember when my buddy wasn't into it but now he's Lilith; he used to be Mordecai, and now he's Lilith.'"

"There was always this attempt," Burch said, "of like, 'OK, don't be Big Bang Theory.' Don't be the guys who are just being condescending."
Of course, the Borderlands games always aim to be funny, and the tabletop game scenario is ripe for comedic riffing, but for Burch, it was important to handle the humor around the role-playing game the right way. "There was always this attempt," Burch said, "of like, 'OK, don't be Big Bang Theory.' Don't be the guys who are just being condescending, like, making nerds the punch line of the joke rather than the people who are making the jokes. We wanted to be a love letter to nerd culture that can still poke fun at itself. Not like, 'Ha ha, you play video games, what a nerd!' That wouldn't have even made sense because we are the biggest nerds. Borderlands is a really hardcore, really in-depth game with a whole crazy amount of mechanics because we like those kinds of games, and this story is about nerdy sh** because we really like that--there's Game of Thrones references because everybody on the team likes Game of Thrones and all that kind of stuff."

There's no shortage of zaniness in Assault on Dragon Keep, as mishaps in the real world where the characters are sitting around the table playing the game regularly intrude on your experience within the fantasy world of Bunkers & Badasses. But it wasn't enough for this DLC to be just a vehicle for a series of jokes. "It was also really important when we were conceptualizing this that there was growth," said Hellquist, "that the tabletop part of the story went somewhere just as much as the fantasy adventure story. And Tina was the driving core of that."

As Assault on Dragon Keep begins, Tina hasn't come to terms with Roland's death, and this gave Burch an opportunity to delve into some more serious issues over the course of the DLC. Though he didn't intentionally conceive of the story in this way, he said that one early player reacted by saying, "You kind of inadvertently ended up making a story that's about the healing power of nerd stuff." And Burch definitely wanted to send a different message about the value of gaming than the ones he thinks are most prevalent today.

"It always bums me out when people are like, 'Oh, it's just games; it doesn't matter,'" Burch said. "But no, it kind of all does matter a lot."
"If you ever play a game about games or you ever watch any sort of fiction about games," he said, "the theme is almost always, 'Aren't you a bad person for killing a bunch of people? Doesn't that make you a bad person that you like that in your entertainment?' There hasn't really been a voice that's sort of saying the other, and again, none of this is intentional, but looking back, I can see why we made the decisions that led us here. That we kind of wanted to be that other voice being like, 'No, I mean, we're all adults, and we know that when you're killing orcs, that doesn't make you want to kill human beings.' And also, it can really bring you closer together with people you care about and help you through difficult times. Or create awesome connections. I met my wife because of video games."

"It always bums me out when people are like, 'Oh, it's just games; it doesn't matter,'" Burch said. "But no, it kind of all does matter a lot. Even if the message you're sending isn't anything big and wide-reaching about human nature and the nature of violence, which is totally not what we're dealing in, the message that games are cool and you can play games to be close to people is, I think, still a message worth telling."

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Discussion

57 comments
maytassatyam
maytassatyam

i hate this game 1992 wolfenstein 3d is better than this crap.ok i agree the characters are are good but the fucking silly jokes and crap single player storyline F U F C F K .F U F C F K.F U F C F K

Kazuma_Kiryu
Kazuma_Kiryu

Tiny Tina is on my ironic top ten videogame characters of all time. She's da bomb.

thorn3000
thorn3000

I just keep on laughing, the first few minutes are hilarious, seems to be an awesome DLC

LessThanMike
LessThanMike

Was this ne included with the season pass or no?

blackleather223
blackleather223

For me I can't wait until I get my hands on Borderlands 2 cause I haven't played it yet. I have the first one but not the second one. I do like the first one and I got all of the borderland add ons on my pc but not the  Xbox.

For me I had finished the game but my 360 decided to crap out on me and so I whent and bought the 250 gig one and now I have to start all over again but oh well. Now my old one serves me in scrap pices now. That was fun to take a part.

catsimboy
catsimboy

I didn't really have any desire to finish the Torque or Hammerlock DLC but that may be different for Dragon Keep, I especially like how they mentioned they're trying NOT to be like Big Bang Theory. I see clips of that show on the TVs at Gamestop and if I rolled my eyes any harder at the stupid 'ha ha nerdiness' jokes they'd pop out of my head.

SUNDRAGONJ
SUNDRAGONJ

Awesome I hope they introduce new, better guns too, I mean isn't that why we all play BL2? haha!

johnwck90
johnwck90

The thing that annoys me in Borderlands games is that you are always having to loot continuously.  If you play a healer and play toward the rear of the other players to give you arcs to shoot to heal, then when you get there, everything has gone and you are getting left-overs and run out of bullets.  I actually get sick of opening boxes while everyone has run off.  Also, I run out of ammo continuously and when you have to shoot-to-heal it just means you permanently run out of bullets.  This, in itself, makes me lose interest in the game.  

MightyEzekiel
MightyEzekiel

I have the original but im waiting for GOTY :)

buccomatic
buccomatic

too much dlc, just like mass effect 2.


great game w/ terrible rape the consumer policy on content.

AtheistPreacher
AtheistPreacher

The other DLCs were kinda meh, but this one looks great.  Finally a bunch of all-new enemies that aren't just re-skins.  The whole thing looks like it just has a completely different feel from the rest of the game.  And the whole concept of being a character in a D&D game run by an insane dungeon master -- it's kinda brilliant, really.

I've gotten five different characters to lvl 50 but haven't played in a couple of months.  But I will definitely be busting out B2 again to give this DLC a spin when it gets released.

ShadowstormXIII
ShadowstormXIII

Everyone take notes.  These guys actually know how the DLC concept works.

Fembot_Eulogy
Fembot_Eulogy

This article makes me miss play Borderlands. I may just go back to it soon enough. Thanks 

saoe
saoe

they are cashing on that game pretty damn well...  I wish there would be one game in which content wasn't removed and sold later. Imagine game with all those dlc's from day one. But no.. they need to cut the missions and sell it for few $

Tylendal
Tylendal

Just discovered that Ashly Burch is the voice of Tiny Tina.  And it's written by Anthony Burch.  I'm seeing this DLC as an episode of Hey Ash What'cha Playin' in Video Game form.  :D

tionmedon
tionmedon

average DLC.....................fap it...........

g1rldraco7
g1rldraco7

This article is excellent and this DLC will show why the Borderlands series is so awesome and popular.

sidewinder2617
sidewinder2617

this'll be a cool DLC..

most all of borderlands has been pretty spot on good...its built by gamers for gamers and sharing their love what theyve created

Doc_Fulk
Doc_Fulk

Do they have awards for Character Of The Year?


Tina gets my vote... she's badass!


Buying it just for her dialogue... LOL

devak108
devak108

Awesome article, really respect the points Anthony Burch made. So pumped for this DLC, looks like hands down the best of the bunch.

koospetoors
koospetoors

@SUNDRAGONJ There's supposedly going to be a gun that shoots flaming swords, haha, yeah I think they definitely included a few fun new toys to play with.

SUNDRAGONJ
SUNDRAGONJ

@johnwck90 yea that just means you're playing with the wrong ppl then... in BL2 if you're a  healer then use the infinity pistol (unlimited ammo)or if you're in a group and one of them is a gunzerker ask them to put on a class mod for ammo regen...

Black_Pander
Black_Pander

@johnwck90 surely thats poor teamwork? those other guys should be waiting for you and sharing the loot with you, not grabbing it and running off with it...

oneEnigma
oneEnigma

@MightyEzekiel me too i liked borderlands 1 but im starting to get bored of it, im currently at my 2nd DLC (not counting moxxi) Borderlands 1 is a good game but not good enough for a 2nd playthrough imo though. Im a bit tired of the games visuals and overworld theme. Also the overworld music and Zombie Island DLC music i really annoying after a while. I give Borderlands 1   8.0/10 :P

NARUtotheFISH
NARUtotheFISH

@buccomatic you should rather nerd rage against COD and all their little dlc’s and micro transactions

koospetoors
koospetoors

@buccomatic None of the DLC is cut content from the original game (which can already last you over a hundred hours on it own) and is basically just there to give fans even more things to do, I fail to see whats the problem here.

NARUtotheFISH
NARUtotheFISH

@buccomatic dude how is there too much dlc. every game release 4 expansion packs these days over the games lifespan which is usually 1 or 1 year and a half.

Andrew1073
Andrew1073

@saoeWhen the game ships with 100+ hrs of fun, THAN adds DLC for MORE content...that is not rape.  I agree with a 10 hr game releasing DLC is ridiculous.  BL2 DLC is NOT ridiculous.

Tuckpoint
Tuckpoint

@saoe Normally I'd agree with anti DLC policies, but sometimes they get it right.  BL2 was the first FPS I've played in years that wasn't a 6~ hour campaign, it's quite a bit closer to 50 hours for a single play through.  I did buy the season pass, months down the road when there were 3 new campaigns to try and they have all been quite large, fun additions.  Day one DLC and on disc DLC are your enemies, try to be a bit more reasonable with companies that get you value for your dollar.

koospetoors
koospetoors

@saoe This is literally just extra content they created for people who enjoyed the original game to indulge in, where in the world did you get the idea that has been removed from the original game?!?

NARUtotheFISH
NARUtotheFISH

@saoe bro they were working on the dlc…………. how could they release it on the disk if they haven’t even produced it………….

SteveM21
SteveM21

@saoe This dlc wasn't locked onto the disk from day one they're making it now, months after the game was released.  There are plenty of developers who do withhold content and try and nickel and dime u for it but Gearbox isn't one of them.

Deadly_Nemesis
Deadly_Nemesis

Oooooh how I would have agreed with you before ACM came out.

halo-freak
halo-freak

@koospetoors@SUNDRAGONJThat would not surprise me.

1: this dlc is not outsourced

2: it's going to be big so the appropriate amount of content will go with it.

3:given the fantasy theme there must be some guns that emulate it.


Here is me hoping for a gun that looks like a giant sword and has a huge melee bonus.(let's call it the Excalibur :P)

There could be a whole series of guns that look like staffs, sword, axe's, bows and wands. Who knows.

I am excited to say the least.

johnwck90
johnwck90

@SUNDRAGONJ @johnwck90 Oh, How do I get an infinity pistol?  And I suppose how do I get a good group?  I am level 51 and gave up playing.

Deadly_Nemesis
Deadly_Nemesis

@SteveM21

which is surprising seeing how this is Gearbox.

halo-freak
halo-freak

I may add that the possible new skins we get probaly emulate the fantasy scene. all classes we now have are similar to the most common classic fantasy rpg classes.

For example: maya gets a witch/wizard costume, Salvador gets a barbarian outfit, zero is a hooded archer and axton a paladin/knight!

Would be fun to have a team looking like classic rpg characters but with guns instead.

halo-freak
halo-freak

@johnwck90 @SUNDRAGONJ Gearbox has a forum. There is a section where you can make a thread and introduce yourself.

State by what rules you want to play and some people will answer you! I got like 15 people added to my steam friends list by doing so ;)

sideshowboots
sideshowboots

YOU MAY NOTICE THAT EVERYONE IS TRYING TO KILL YOU, TORGUE PERSONEL INCLUDED.

YOUR WELCOME!