Borderlands and the Dawn of the Loot n’ Shoot
We are now all well aware of a loot n’ shoot is. There are plenty of them out there. Between games like Destiny and Tom Clancy’s The Division, the torch for these games carries on fairly strong. They bring numerous players together in a constant journey to kill the biggest enemies and collect the best gun. However, this genre is not one of the age old classics like your platformers or your regular first-person shooters. It came along relatively far in the history of the gaming industry and it didn’t truly take off until Gearbox Software took a chance on a strange hybrid of shooter and role-playing mayhem that would soon become iconic in the industry. It was on this day in 2009 that we gathered together to storm the planet of Pandora and take all of the riches in the original Borderlands.
The original concept of Borderlands was conceived in April of 2005 and it started as a simple idea: Halo meets Diablo. That is to say Gearbox knew from the beginning that they wanted to find a way to combine the loot, co-op camaraderie and character development of Diablo with the fast-paced, explosive and science-fiction centered themes of Halo. The development wasn’t easy. Nothing like this had really been done before and the team found themselves wondering whether it was best to make the game more role-playing game or first-person shooter. Eventually, it was determined that the game would be designed as a shooter at its core and the RPG elements would be laid on top in time.
That wasn’t the only issue however. We now know Borderlands by its cartoonishly over-the-top design of action and humor, but it wasn’t always that way. In fact, for three years the studio worked on a visual style that was much darker and grittier, more similar to other contemporary sci-fi offerings. However, Gearbox found that when this style was playtested, players compared it too similarly to a simplistic Fallout 3. Alarmed, the studio turned on its head late in the development cycle and decided to rework Borderlands’ visual style entirely.
The decision to change Borderlands over to the style we know it for came from observation of the gameplay. As the team put the game together, they realized that elements such vehicle control had a much more boisterous tone about them. Creative Director Mikey Neumann noted that there was a ridiculous quality in the way enemies exploded and vehicles caught air on ramps, making the whole thing far too over-the-top for the serious tone they had taken. It was at that point they realized they needed a more comical tone to fit what they created, and so the shift over to a cell-shaded cartoon style occurred.
Borderlands has the kind of story that serves as little more than background noise to the experience. There lies a Vault somewhere on Pandora that supposedly contains amazing alien technology worth a vast fortune. It attracts mega corporations and mercenaries to the planet who brave its harsh environment of bandits and killer flora and fauna in search of the mysterious vault. Players take on one of four Vault Hunters who can team up with others in two-player split screen or online co-op to track down the Vault of Pandora and take it for their own personal gain.
Of course, the concept the game was sold on was its procedural generation system. With this system, Borderlands could alter what kind of enemies would appear, making for random chance of encounters augmented in difficulty by how many players were present in the game. That said, the real meat of this system lay in the loot. The system could alter what kind of equipment the players would find as well as numerous statistics like fire rate on a gun or ability boost on a class upgrade device. In firearms alone this made for millions of variations of weaponry ranging from the mundane to the absurd. Each game warranted the possibility of amazing equipment and players could play over and over and still never see them all.
At the end of the day, Borderlands was mindless fun. It established a journey best taken with friends that would be somewhat different every time. Moreover, it established a new style of game that not only would Gearbox return to in numerous successful sequels, but one that many other publishers and studios would attempt to follow suit on. It certainly went through an odd journey to find its way to release day, but in the end, Borderlands became the origin of something rather splendid for the co-op community.