Gearbox talks Borderlands 2, Aliens: Colonial Marines

PAX Prime 2011: Pitchford promises return to realistic Brothers in Arms, more Duke Nukem; Aliens Infestation due Oct. 11; Borderlands B Test hits Sept. 9.

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Who was there: On hand at Gearbox Software's PAX Prime 2011 panel were president and CEO Randy Pitchford, creative director Mikey Neumann, business development head David Eddings, Aliens: Colonial Marines producer Brian Burleson, art director Jeremy Cook, content designer Scott Kester, and writer Anthony Burch.

Gearbox is promising hundreds of millions of gun permutations in Borderlands 2.

What they talked about: Gearbox Software stole last year's Penny Arcade Expo, as it used the venue to announce its acquisition of Duke Nukem Forever and the rest of 3D Realms' iconic guns-and-girls intellectual property. And though the developer had decidedly less to talk about at this year's show, the Gearbox panel closing out PAX remained one of the most popular.

Pitchford began the session by announcing a release date for Aliens Infestation, which is in development for the Nintendo DS at WayForward. The game will arrive in Europe on September 30, with the North American rollout following on October 11.

Then, as has become Pitchford's wont at PAX, the Gearbox CEO briefly addressed a number of other projects in development at the studio. Beginning with Aliens: Colonial Marines, Pitchford said that the goal of the game is to make the sequel to Aliens that everyone wanted to see, with bigger battles between the Colonials and the Aliens.

Next up was Brothers in Arms. Having announced the comical, Inglorious Basterds-esque Brothers in Arms: Furious 4 at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, Pitchford said that the team remains committed to the more realistic travails of Sgt. Baker and his company. Stopping short of announcing a new game, Pitchford said, "We're going to do more of that. Absolutely, that's happening."

He went on to note that, in working with publisher Ubisoft, Gearbox has begun to approach the Brothers in Arms franchise as a brand that can have more than one thread. As such, it can accommodate both Furious 4 and games that resemble more traditional Brothers in Arms games, like Hell's Highway or Road to Hill 30.

After a number of self-deprecating remarks concerning recent flaps with the press as well as the somewhat-south-of-tepid critical response for Duke Nukem Forever, Pitchford reaffirmed that downloadable content is en route for that game. He also said that "soon we'll talk about" a Gearbox-developed installment in the Duke Nukem franchise.

He then moved on to Borderlands, announcing that Borderlands B Test will be available through Steam on September 9. Described as a developer version of the original Borderlands, B Test is an update to all copies of the game, and it will be used as a testing ground for the studio's work on Borderlands 2.

Pitchford said that B Test will let the team closely monitor how gamers are playing the original Borderlands, as it gathers information on, for example, where people are getting stuck or which guns aren't getting much use. It will also introduce Steam Cloud functionality into the game, allowing all characters to be saved to Valve's servers.

The conversation then shifted to Borderlands 2, with the first topic being, naturally, guns. Borderlands 2 will have an even greater amount of itemization than the first game. New to the franchise will be scopes, which will apparently offer more than just a close-up look at the battlefield. One example of these scopes was a beer bottle tied to a rifle. Players will also be able to dual-wield any weapon in the game.

Gearbox went on to note that the original game's cast of characters won't be playable in Borderlands 2. Though the studio hasn't announced the complete playable-character lineup, it has announced Salvatore the gunzerker, which is a variant of the first game's berserker class. The team also teased Maya, who is described as a siren with powers different than those of the siren in the original game.

Borderlands 2's story remains largely under wraps, but Gearbox did provide a brief overview. The primary antagonist will be Handsome Jack, who believes that he is the hero and that the player characters are the villains.

In a surprise, Oprah-like gesture, Pitchford and company then handed out vouchers for a free copy of Borderlands 2, which is expected to arrive between April 1, 2012, and March 31, 2013. In the process, he asked the some 1,000 panel attendees to purchase "the inevitable Borderlands 2 downloadable content" as recompense for 2K Games' generosity.

The Gearbox team offered a handful of other tidbits on Borderlands 2 during the Q&A portion of the panel. The team confirmed that Borderlands 2 will have new types of equipment. As one example, elemental artifacts will provide a variety of different character-enhancing bonuses, such as improved vehicle speed.

Gearbox also confirmed that Borderlands 2 will have online and local multiplayer split-screen functionality. Pitchford also noted that Borderlands 2 will not require a persistent online connection, though he did say that being online will offer advantages such as Steam Cloud saves. The team also said that players will be able to transfer items between characters.

Quote: "…inevitable Borderlands 2 downloadable content."--Randy Pitchford, who was promptly mocked by the team for his inability to keep a secret.

Takeaway: Gearbox clearly has a great deal of respect and affection for its fans. The studio remains at work on all of its core franchises, including Brothers in Arms, Duke Nukem, and, of course, Borderlands.

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