Borderlands 2 was one of the more exciting (and newest) games that was shown at PAX Prime this year. Being huge fans of the first title, we knew we had to hit up the 2K booth to check out what will undoubtedly be one of our favorite games in 2012. We got to meet one of the developers at Gearbox, Concept Designer Scott Kester, to find out what's new and improved in Borderlands 2.
What can you tell me about what is new from Borderlands 1 to Borderlands 2?

Scott: There’s a lot of stuff that’s new. The first thing we wanted to do was look at the game and what it was to make sure that we were staying true to those core values, but building on those on a much higher level.

So: new environments. The last time around they were a little…monotone. A lot of the same desert-style. We still have that in the game – it’s still Borderlands – but we want to make sure that every couple of hours, you’re going into some other area. Be it tundra or more of a Scottish Highlands, grass area. We’re not going into all the environments that you’re going to see in the game, but I will tell you that we’re making sure that the creatures and enemies that inhabit those environments stay fresh. So as you’re playing, there’s something new around the corner.

We’re not only focused on that but – in keeping with what environments you’re in and what you’re shooting – we’re making sure that what you’re using to do al of that is cool. We took the gun systems – cause that’s what sets us apart – and basically started again re-concepting all of them to make sure the manufacturers have a lot more identity. We built everything again.

That’s probably the largest amount of new that we’ve done, because the way the procedural system works is not exactly the easiest thing to do. But, being a gun game and having the promise of that, we really wanted to make sure that that was first and foremost the features we had to make awesome.

Can you tell me anything about the context of the story line? Who are these characters? What are they here for? What are they doing?

After the events of the first game, you had basically gone and opened the vault. Now a new guy has come in, by the name of Handsome Jack. He’s usurped control of Hyperion. He comes in and says, “I opened the vault. I did everything you did in the last game.” He takes credit for all of that. In a way, he defaces you as a character. Leaves you to die in the tundra, and basically says you’re trash.

A “revenge story” isn’t necessarily exactly the way it’s worded, but it’s more of, “there’s a guy who’s exploiting the world and he’s mining it and sucking it dry of everything” and you’re going through and trying to put a stop to him.

The old characters are now supporting cast. So the characters that you played in the last game are now there to help you through your quests. By doing so, we can put a little more effort into fleshing out their backgrounds, which is nice. That was one of the reasons that we wanted to, as in a true sequel, try to give you new characters to play as. Some new classes with new abilities. We wanted to make sure that that felt new. But we knew that the fans really liked some of the old characters, so we have a lot of them coming back to keep propelling the story.

Are you still mercenaries?

More or less, yeah. It’s kind of a hard way to word it, because you’re not necessarily a good guy, but you’re not necessarily a bad guy. But these other guys are worse than you. It’s kind of a hard way to word it, but mercenary is essentially what you are.

Can you tell me about one of the more enticing characteristics of the new classes?

Unfortunately, I can’t go into all the classes right now. And we’ve only announced the Gunzerker, Salvador, and Maya the Siren. We can’t even really talk about her actions skill right now. She is different than Lilith.

Not every siren has a unique thing to them, but I can talk about Salvador and that being a gun game, we wanted to make sure that we had a promise that really coincided with this class. We wanted to make sure that you could dual-wield any two weapons in the entire game: twin rocket launchers, twin shot guns, twin mini guns, etc.

Doing that, the way the skill trees are set up, and the diversity that you can build inside of the class is a lot more in-depth than the last time around. We’re really trying to get decorum of what Borderlands is all about.

One of the things I loved about Borderlands was the co-op. It’s one of the more fun games to play with friends. Is there anything you’ve done to facilitate that? Or maybe even switch it up with competitive play?

Well, one of the main pillars of the last game was definitely the co-op side of it. We wanted to make sure to reinforce that as much as we can and make that experience as good as we could.

Sometimes there are eligibility issues with quests, and we're working really hard to ensure that that's as seamless as possible, still making sure that split screen co-op is there. Now you can take that experience online so two people can sit and play with people online. That's something we're pretty proud of.

We’re further supporting co-op play by making sure the UI works better on split-screen. We've redesigned that all to be scalable and to be a much easier experience. We want to make that experience - whether you're on PC or console - as seamless as possible. As far as talking about anything on the competitive side, it's something we're interested in, but we're sticking true to the core of what Borderlands is and we'll see where things go from there.

Do you have any of the elements from DLC – like the Mad Moxxi arena or the bank that came with it – translated over to Borderlands 2?

Yeah, we used a lot of those things that we started trying out in the DLCs to keep expanding on what the game was. So a lot of those things that we tried (I don't know how specific we can go into all those things) are represented. We’re doing our best to take what we learned from the DLCs and the main game – a lot of those elements that people found they enjoyed – to put them into this game, but in a much more grandiose manner.

Why is split-screen important to Gearbox?

Split-screen is important to us for a number of reasons. We’ve gotten a lot of feedback from people who have sent fan-mail or people who have said, "I never really knew about this game until I was at my friend's house and he was like, ‘Hey, let's try this.’"

It's one of those things that a lot of developers don't want to support anymore, because it's kind of a pain. It's hard to develop for.

It's something that if you want to have in the game to allow people to try it out with others – we want to give them that. We had a lot of customers that really responded well to it. A lot more people ended up getting the game because they were at a friend’s house and they really had a good time with that experience. And also, not everybody has a bunch of a friends or extra copies of the game. It's just one of those things that we felt really strongly about, and we wish more people would do that in the industry.

The UI is hard to do in it - particularly in our style of game. So is the performance in making it run. That's why we are so happy that now we can do that and bring it online and you can still co-op on one screen. That's one thing that was really important to us.

Did you learn anything else that was really important from Borderlands 1 that you want to emphasize in the sequel?

The thing is: we were so happy about this, and people enjoyed the shooter-looter side of it. They loved the RPG; they loved the shooting. That's a hard balance to strike. But what we’ve really gotten out of it - and from all the time that we've played it and the feedback we've gotten from people - is that on those respective niches from the shooter side and the RPG side, we really want to try to dig in to those sides but not let either one of them dominate the other.

If you’re more of an FPS guy, there's more skill tests to reward you for your style of play. But on the role-playing side, if you’re all about your build and you’re really stat-driven, there's a lot more depth in building those characters. So we're trying to appeal to both sides, without dominating either one. So if you just want to get in and shoot things, play this guy. You can go in and do that. But even with him, there are a lot of deep strategies that are built into that.

Personally, I'm more of a Lilith type of person. I like her Phoenix abilities, and Phasewalk.

As we start to show and announce the other characters, we've really tried to design each of these guys to ensure that there's something for everybody. We’re hoping that shows as we start to unveil those. For different play styles and different archetypes and other characters that people like to play as. Lilith is a fan-favorite we want to continue to hopefully create a larger cast of characters that people will really enjoy.

One of the really cool things we saw in the demo was that you can toss your gun and it actually does damage. Who thought of that - how did that happen?

[Laughs] That was one of our game designers. We wanted to make sure Tediore stood apart and he was like, "What if you just threw it away and it was disposable and then you get a new one?" We were like, "That's awesome!" The amount of bullets left in the clip is the damage it's going to do, so it’s a gamble.

You're like, "Do I throw away 20 bullets and hope that I hit somebody with it?" And that's kind of fun. Once again, this goes back to giving the player options. How do you want to play? Do you want to take the risk to throw away a lot of ammo but maybe do more damage?

We’re developing more things like that around the guns - rather than just around the characters - to create personalities and personas around them.

Are there other “wacky” things you can do with the other weapons?

Everything kind of has it's own shtick. We look forward to showing more. We want to make sure as you're playing the game and you're experiencing a new area or enemy, that you experience the same thing with the guns.

So you're going to see a lot more unique effects that are happening with those, and we're pretty excited about a lot of that. We want to double down on that promise.
Be sure to hit us with your questions in the comments, and we'll do our best to dig up the answers.