Borderlands: Beyond Underdome


(The following is a full transcript of The Escapist‘s interview with Borderlands designer Jonathan Hemingway. For the juiciest bits, head on over to our sister site!)

The Escapist: Who are you, and what do you do on Borderlands?

Jonathan: I’m Jonathan Hemingway, a game designer.

Does the DLC have a level requirement?

Jon: You can go there at level 10, but it will scale with your level whether you’re level 10 or level 20 or level 50.

So you already had Mad Mel in the game, did you decide “Hey, we just haven’t done enough with Mel Gibson yet”?

Jon: Our whole approach to DLC is trying to respond to what our community wanted. With “Zombie Island,” after the game came out, the big cry on forums was, “It was a great game, but we want more narrative and more story – we want to know more!” So the zombie DLC was our big push to tell a story, give a stronger narrative and give the characters some more personality, I think we succeded.

What our communtiy was asking for now was… well, they’ve hit level 50, they’ve got all these great guns, and they wanted to know “Now what do we do? I want something to push me, something to reach for – a real challenge.” So that’s where Mad Moxxi came from: We will give you a challenge, a place to use all this gear and the skills you’ve learned.

So is this why it has a bank?

Jon: It’s exactly why it has a bank. You have to warp back to Mad Moxxi where the bank is, but it’s really close to the entrance. We know people wanted to keep TK’s Wave because it was cool, even if it wasn’t that useful after you got some better stuff.

Will it reflect the increased difficulty of the second playthrough mode?

Jon: It will! You can set it to either, actually.

We started talking about the challenge: We wanted to give players who wanted to be challenged an option. In Mad Moxxi, you’ve got the small tournament quest and the big tournament quest – we imagined that the average player will be able to complete the quest with small tournament. If you complete it, you earn a skill point, and we imagine most players will be able to do that. In the big tournament, you get to show how off much of a badass you actually are. It’s got all the crazy challenges.

So what, you’ll throw ten BadMutha Bruisers at us at once?

Jon: *laughs* Something like that – it’s pretty rough! The big tournament is 20 rounds, with five waves per round. Each wave has its own specific gameplay associated with it. The closest thing you can compare it to is Horde Mode in Gears of War 2 or Firefight mode in Halo ODST, but we Borderlandsed it up. The name of it is Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot, and it’s all about this character named Mad Moxxi – she’s crazy and running a secret underground coliseum. When you’re actually fighting, she’s up on this big pole, dancing around, and she responds to the game, she sees if you’re fighting and doing okay, and she’ll throw out a rule, like the Vampire Rule.

There are two different styles of rules. Some rules are desired to alter the gameplay, and alter the way that the players approach the game – you’ll need to use different tactics, strategy, or just different guns. Other rules are just because she thinks you’re doing too well, and she’ll throw it out to make it harder. With the Vampire Rule, you’re slowly losing health every second, but every time you get a kill, you get a huge chunk of health back. So it puts you in this mindset of “I’ve got to get a lot of kills, and be really aggressive, or I’m going to die.”

For snipers, there’s a rule called Headshot: Body shots do reduced damage – so everything that isn’t a crit is less damage – but critical hits do even more damage. If you’re playing as Mordecai, specced for sniping, you just go “Yes, this is the best thing ever!”

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What sort of environments will this be in? When you say ‘underground,’ is that literal?

Jon: It’s literally an underground hideout. But from there, there are entrances to three different coliseums: the Angelic Ruins, the Gully, and Hellburbia. If you’ve played the whole game through, the Angelic Ruins is kind of like the alien ruins near the end, and Hellburbia is kind of like New Haven or Old Haven. They would be very similar to those things – they’ve got the same sort of art style.

With these three different coliseums, we wanted to make sure they followed different types of gameplay. In Hellburbia, because everything there is city combat, you have a lot of close quarters combat. The Gully is wide-open with rolling hills, so you’ll be fighting at range, and the Angelic Ruins is somewhere in between.

Pandora’s very desolate, do you guys have any plans to show us the parts that aren’t so harsh? Does the planet have any forests at all?

Jon: I don’t know! Good question! We haven’t really answered that. Overall, though, Pandora is a harsh place – there’s nowhere on the planet that is not harsh.

Were you planning Mad Moxxi and Dr. Ned from the beginning, or did you just come up with the whole idea from scratch after the fact?

Jon: We pretty much came up with it from scratch. We figured, we have these tools and this game, and this is what the community wants – how can we fulfill what the community is asking for so we can give it to them?

Did you learn any lessons from Zombie Island of Dr Ned that you applied to Mad Moxxi?

Jon: The level thing. We picked levels for Zombie Island where we thought most players – if not all players – would be able to jump in and find it level appropriate. But some players were left out, and it was unfortunate because it was good content. We wanted to do something for DLC2 where you can enjoy it no matter where you are in the game, no matter how far you’ve been. We did put the minimal level 10 on it to make sure players were far enough in the game to have a handle on their character and the game mechanics so they’d enjoy it more and have a fighting chance.

Will I need to have four other players or will it be AI, kind of like Left 4 Dead? I’ve been playing the game on the PC, and it’s a bit more complicated to play multiplayer there.

Jon: It’s players only, no AI companions – so hopefully you have some good friends and bring them along! it does alter its difficulty based on the number of players, so you won’t be screwed if you’re going it alone, because yeah, there are certainly some more hoops to jump through on the PC. We’ll definitely be developing it for the PC, though – it’s just a bit trickier, since there are so many types of PCs and only one real type of Xbox 360 or PS3.

So you’ve done zombies, Mad Max twice, what other post-apocalyptic pop culture references are we going to see next? I mean you could totally riff on Waterworld.

Jon: That’s a really good question, I don’t know – I’m not really allowed to talk about future plans, so who knows? Maybe we’ll decide that the game does need to have a Waterworld.

More Kevin Costner never hurt anyone. So, the way you’ve been describing these, it seems like they’re pretty big areas. Will the players be staying put or will they be moving around? Is the Crimson Lance ever going to show up again? What about the aliens?

Jon: We’ve actually had a lot of people comparing it to the arenas that are already in-game, and it’s really nothing like the arenas – the gameplay is significantly different, and there’s plenty of space to move around.

For example, Hellburbia is very similar to Old Haven, if you liked that – actually, my favorite part of Hellburbia is that the Crimson Lance has a specific section of the map that they’ve decked out all in their colors, like a mini-fortress. So, when we were playing we’d go up and run to the building and use it for shelter and cover in order to regroup and refocus. But Crimson Lance only spawn in the building, so if the next wave was the Lance, they’d spawn right on top of us – it was really, really crazy.

Will we ever get to fight that evil Claptrap?

Jon: Only time will tell. Maybe you’ll get to fight him in Waterworld – who knows?

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