Independent game developer Gearbox recently released its latest title, Borderlands, published by 2K Games. The offering is a blend of RPG and FPS. What does this mean? Action wrapped up in a nice story, and guns, plenty of guns. What is different about this title, and what attracted me to it, is the aesthetic. It is actually beautiful. Artistic.
I have to congratulate the crew at Gearbox for coming up with the new look. I also have to congratulate the management there, and at publisher 2K Games, for being brave enough to change the look of the game after nearly three years of development. Obviously that was not an easy decision to make, but a good one, in my opinion. Can you imagine, spending three years creating imagery with a photoreal look, only to wake up one day and take the imagery in a totally different direction, one that is more artistic, handcrafted?
The game assets, created basically in Autodesk’s 3ds Max, Luxology’s Modo, Pixologic’s ZBrush, and Adobe CS4, look like concept art, and that was the intention. The characters and objects have a thick black outline, and inside the lines, a rich, detailed, handpainted texture. According to Brian Martel, art director, this new look matches more closely with the exaggerated, over-the-top action in the game. And indeed, the action is very much over the top. But then again, that reflects the game’s first-person shooter action.
According to Randy Pitchford, executive producer and president of Gearbox, the concept for Borderlands started from a game design angle. The Gearbox folks, he says, had discussed doing blended game genres. The FPS genre the studio was familiar with: Brothers in Arms, CounterStrike, 007 Nightfire, Half-Life, and more. RPGs, on the other hand, are different. Whereas shooters are more moment-to-moment, with input and feedback, moving, dogging, and shooting, role-playing titles are more experience-oriented, with goals, options, and character development.
“Borderlands started from a game design angle to take the FPS game fun in the moment to moment and layer it into these RPGs that are compelling in the absence of skill,” says Pitchford.
The realistic game was well under way, and the world even got a peek at it. Then, Martel had an idea that literally changed the game. He and a group of artists worked secretly in that they had Pitchford’s blessing but would not show their progress or work until they had something to show. At the end, he was pleased, as was 2K Games.
The rest is history.
(See the full story about the content creation of the game in the November issue of CGW.)