Who Was There: Titled simply "Borderlands!" Gearbox Software's 2009 Penny Arcade Expo was hosted by president and CEO Randy Pitchford, as well as creative director and writer Mikey Neumann.
What They Talked About: Gearbox Software's Borderlands may have been in development for four years, but the studio has only just in the last few months given gamers any indication of what it's all about. And that ramp-up is probably a good thing, considering studio head Randy Pitchford learned just before the start of today's PAX panel that Borderlands has passed certification and is on track for its October 20 release on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC.
One of the most notable developments in Borderlands' recent public history has been its dramatic change in art style. Initially announced as having a more realistic aesthetic, the studio revealed in April that it had sidelined realism in favor of a highly stylized, illustrated look. Neumann addressed this decision at the top of the panel, saying that the change freed up the creative process, as it allowed the team to break away from the "plausibility shackles."
As one example, he spoke about the potential genius of healing bullets. Neumann said that one of the most rewarding moments he's experienced while playing the game was scoring a critical headshot on one of his ailing teammates from a lengthy distance using a sniper rifle loaded with the medicinal ordnance.
Pitchford also heavily emphasized how much of a risk it was to make such a dramatic change in the game's art direction, especially considering that $15 million had already been invested into the game and only $10 million was left to spend. However, he used an automotive analogy to explain the final decision, saying that everyone wants the concept car that auto companies show off but never deliver. With Borderlands, he said, the art team delivered the concept car.
Neumann then showed off a short vignette, or webisode, that Gearbox will be rolling out as a marketing effort in the lead-up to the game's launch. More than just a trailer, the webisode featured the goofily humorous robot seen in Borderlands' late-July trailer, who goes by the name Claptrap.
Indicative of the game's M-for-Mature rating, the webisode involved Claptrap attempting to conduct an infomercial for the game. However, instead he enters into an obscene diatribe on a sound technician a la Christian Bale's infamous blowup on the set of Terminator Salvation. There are apparently a number of these shorts in the making.
Quote: "Everything in this game needs to be fun."--Mikey Neumann.
Takeaway: Borderlands' sense of humor alone is worth getting excited about, as it harkens back to the highly mordant gallows humor of Black Isle Studios' Fallout series. Beyond that, though, the game's art looks highly original, the gameplay appears engaging, and with more than 16 million different weapons in the game, there's plenty of stuff to shoot.