Meet the Villain of PS4, Xbox One, PC Shooter Battleborn
Evil is relative.
As the creators of the Borderlands series, developer Gearbox Software has some history with creating compelling villains. For its next game--Battleborn--the developer is once again hoping to come up with an antagonist as memorable as Borderland's enigmatic Handsome Jack. Check out the video below to meet Rendain, the villain Battleborn's many heroes will be going up against.
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We recently got the chance to speak to Battleborn's creative director Randy Varnell to discuss Rendain, the game's main villain. In the discussion below, Varnell details the lore behind this infamous immortal, and his own views on the importance of writing a complex and entertaining villain that players can latch on to.
Okay, so we finally know who the main antagonist is in Battleborn. But is he actually the true source of all evil? How does Rendain fit into the grand evil plan of the Varelsi within the game?
Varnell: Good villains are really important to us here. Part of making a good villain is to be sure they have motivations for what they do. We like to avoid what we call “mustache-twirling" that is, evil for the sake of just being evil. That’s how you get cartoon villains. But I think the great villains are a bit more complex. Complex, though, is sometimes hard to get across in a fast-moving action game, so Rendain and the Varelsi are both important parts of our conflict.
The Varelsi--how we currently know them--are alien. They didn’t communicate. They invaded. They attacked. They started darkening stars. In the Battleborn timeline, they’ve been doing that for thousands of years. There are, after all, a lot of stars. They are as close as we come to “pure evil” villains, at least from the standpoint that they don’t negotiate. They just consume.
But that’s where Rendain adds an interesting layer. He’s a thoughtful tyrant. Oh, don’t get me wrong, he is absolutely dedicated to his cause, and is quite efficient at war. But he’s doing what he’s doing for a reason, and that reason isn’t entirely selfish. Rendain is working with the Varelsi. And that asks a lot of excellent questions. Why would the Varelsi break their pattern and communicate with someone in our universe? Why do the Varelsi need support for their goals of darkening stars? What did they offer Rendain that made turning on his universe the correct choice? All of those questions have answers.
Q: What type of villain is Rendain? What's his background, and how does he fit into the whole story? And why on earth would he want all of the stars destroyed?
First off--to understand the Jennerit you need to understand that about 20,000 years back they unlocked the secret to aging. They know how to fundamentally alter a being so that being will not naturally die. They call this process “Sustainment.” The “Sustained” can be killed, but they don’t age and don’t die of natural causes.
Rendain has been Sustained for most of that 20,000 years. He’s old. And he’s had a LOT of time to get good at the art of war. For a good portion of that time, he was the right-hand of the main ruler of the Jennerit Emipre – Empress Lenore. But in his betrayal, he pushed her to the side and took over the reigns himself. The Empire became an “Imperium,” and Rendain joined with the Varlesi in darkening the stars. As our story opens in the game, Rendain is in the process of helping the Varelsi crush all opposition to this goal.
Why does he want to destroy all the stars? Destroy? Interesting. This is a good question. It’s a central part of what’s going on in the universe, and something that I think will be fun to uncover as we dig into the story together when Battleborn is released.
Rendain sounds like he's coming from that grand villain tradition of believing he's actually the good guy. Has he had previous dealings with any of the other factions in the game? Was he actually on the side of right at some stage?
Absolutely. The long-time motto of the Jennerit Empire is “Any Deed. Any Price.” As a broad people group, they are very practical when it comes to terms of the survival of their people. There is a fierce loyalty there, and at times, it leads them to conflict with other civilizations that don’t get on board with their plans.
For a long time, Rendain worked with the other factions and fought against the Varelsi incursion into our universe. There were certainly squabbles and battles with other factions based on beliefs and such. The Eldrid, in particular, have never been happy with the idea of Sustainment, for example. Meddling with the nature of the universe is bad.
It’s only in recent history--within the last 20 years--that Rendain has changed his allegiance and now becomes the face of the current threat for the “good guys.”
Tell us more about the Jennerit Empire. What sort of people are they? More importantly, how do they like to do battle?
As mentioned earlier, they are pragmatic expansionists. “Any Deed. Any Price.” The call that “The Precept” and apply it to all of their lives, and have for nearly 20,000 years. They are capable with high technology, but share neither Eldrid’s careful observer and preserve goals nor the LLCs “do it all for profit” motivations. The Jennerit are all about the Jennerit, first and foremost, and their dealings with others over the years have been ruled largely by the idea of what that other group or species could do to advance the cause of the Jennerit Empire.
In battle, the Jennerit believe in aggression and overwhelming numbers. The Sustained among them are very capable and trained warriors, but very precious. Don’t spend your immortals if you don’t have to. This leads them to depend on other races--like the thralls--for their ground troops. The Jennerit see most non-Jennerit as inferior, and have long engineered and enslaved the thralls to be the manual labor and grunt army of their war machine.
There’s also a middle-caste to the empire, and you can see them in battle. Those who prove their loyalty or excellence--they are at least elevated to more than grunts, and occasionally, when they perform exceptional service, can even be considered for Sustainment. Caldarius is one of those troopers and is a playable Battleborn hero. He’s not part of the Jennerit race, but he earned a place in their fighting pits, served as a shock trooper in their military, and gained favor across their Empire.
Rendain has a sleek, angular look. Can you tell us more about what the inspirations were behind his design? Also, what weapons is he packing?
All of the pure-blooded Jennerit share some common traits: angular features, long necks and limbs, four fingers. Very angular and sinster. We wanted to be sure the Jennerit conveyed the tone of “dark empire.” There’s a little bit of vampire in them--deadly immortals who see themselves as superior. Everything about them visually works to communicate that, from the angles and sharp features to the colors of red, black, and grey that dominate their look.
Rendain’s most potent weapon is the entirety of the Jennerit war machine. He is a tactician and commander above all. As for his personal gear. Well, you’ll have to wait and see.
What sort of presence will he play within the game? Is he an active and constant taunter from afar? Is he more of a malevolent presence? How much of him will there be in the game?
Rendain is frequently in the face of the Battleborn. He has a mission he must accomplish--the Darkening of the Last Star, Solus. The Battleborn are a significant obstacle to him, so he tracks their appearances with great frequency and often communicates directly to them. He definitely likes to make his speeches, and you’ll get to hear a number of those as you play the game.
From the trailer, Rendain seems to be a funny, charismatic baddie, which is something the team at Gearbox has some experience with. I'm talking of course about Handsome Jack from the Borderlands series. Did Handsome Jack serve as a template for Rendain? In what ways is he the same, or different?
Well, apart from the charisma and humor, I think Rendain and Handsome Jack are quite different in their villainy. They’re both “layered” as you mentioned. They have reasons, motivations, and desires. They both have flaws. All of those are characteristics of good villains. When you explore what those motivations are, though--that’s where they differ.
Handsome Jack is a greedy, selfish bastard. He wants the money and the treasure. Sure, he has some other reasons and layers for that, but in his interactions with the players, he relishes waving his power in their face and is quick to do despicable things to their loved ones to get what he wants.
Rendain, at the core, isn’t selfish. Racist, maybe, and definitely ruthless, but not selfish. For Rendain, preservation of the Jennerit empire (at least the pure-blooded Sustained) is critical. He’ll do anything to make that happen. He willing uses his charisma, power, and threat to accomplish his means. But, he doesn’t cherish being sinister, certainly not to his own people.
I mean look at the guy, he was just born with a face that casts him as the villain in the school play. He uses that, but he doesn’t want it. In fact, he has a horrible problem interacting with his sub-commanders and underlings. They are frightened into obeisance at him; cowering and always afraid that he will kill them if they fail. That’s not his intention, though. Rendain is practical and wouldn’t waste a good resource. It’s a constant pain to him to have to try and make his underlings not cower in abject terror.
Why try and replicate the success you had with Handsome Jack?
Strong villains are critical. Why are we fighting? Who are we fighting? Mindless armies of robots and zombies are safe, but they’re not really interesting for story. It’s important for us that the villain is capable of showing strong motives, but at the same point, that they’re entertaining. What a villain wants and how they go about that--those are critical points for building their personality for interaction with the characters. And that personality is what we remember. That helmet and breathing sound. The Butt Stallion. Memorable and entertaining is the thing we desire with all of our creations, and most certainly with the villain.
Can you confirm who you're working with as a voice actor?
Yes! For Rendain, we’re excited to be working again with Chris Rager, who is the voice of Mr. Torgue in the Borderlands series. Yeah, I know, right? Chris is immensely talented with a wide vocal range and was an instant pick when we heard his audition for Rendain.
And lastly, "butt theatrics"? What's he got against butts?
Well, you’ve seen him right? I mean, Rendain doesn’t really have a derriere, just more of a place where his back forks into legs. So, it’s probably just jealousy.
Referring to the Bolder kilt-less taunt you can see in the latest trailer, though, Rendain is serious. He exudes sinister focus. He doesn’t have time for “antics.” So, I’m not sure he has a problem with butts in general, it’s just overseeing the end of the universe is a full-time job, and he is fully focused on that.
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