Exclusive: Robots, revamping, and rearming; a Q&A with the developers of Borderlands 2

For those familiar with the original Borderlands, arguably the one character that has the most iconic and lasting appeal is that of Claptrap, the robot—or robots—that populate the landscape of Pandora (Search your feelings Lilith fans, you know it to be true). They were there to offer quests, lead you to hidden items, and offer a bit of comic relief–before they decide to eliminate all of us puny human meat sacks in the DLC “Claptrap’s New Robot Revolution,” of course, but even then they tended to entertain while they ate organic justice and exploded with a satisfying “boom.”

When the original Borderlands was released in 2009, many had high hopes for it, but few expected it to explode the way it did. Within the first two months of its release, the game had sold 2 million copies–a number that would classify it as a success. Two months later, it had sold another million, cementing it as a true hit. At last count, the game had recorded 4.5 million in sales, making it somewhat elite. So a sequel was not only welcome, but expected.

And while the original game snuck up and surprised almost everyone (except maybe the developers Gearbox Software and publisher 2K Games), the sequel has some high expectations when it does NOT come out on July 20 (more on that later). When it does hit shelves, the game will feature several new upgrades, improvements, and a much bigger role for the sole remaining Claptrap.

We talked with Gearbox President & CEO Randy Pitchford, Executive VP & Chief Creative Officer Brian Martel, Borderlands 2 Writer Anthony Burch, and Producer Matt Charles about what to expect from Claptrap, how the development between the original and sequel has changed, and how the industry as a whole is looking from Gearbox’s side of the fence.

What can we expect from the Claptraps in Borderlands 2?

[Anthony Birch, writer] You can expect all but one of them to be dead, for starters. The game opens with Claptrap – the very first one you met in BL1 – in the unenviable position of being the last of his kind. The Hyperion Corporation ordered the extermination of the entire CL4P-TP product line, and our Claptrap is hungry for revenge against his creators. He’s kind of like Rutger Hauer’s in Blade Runner, only minus the bleached blonde hair, moral ambiguity, and sex appeal.

How will the events of the “Robot Revolution” DLC shade the story of Borderlands 2?

[AB] You won’t need to have played the Robot Revolution DLC to understand Claptrap’s place in Borderlands 2, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Hyperion ordered the extermination of the CL4P-TP line as an answer to the events of the robot revolution.

That, and because Handsome Jack, the head of Hyperion, thinks dancing robots are a waste of money.

What was the inspiration for the design of the Claptrap units?

[Brian Martel] Claptrap actually originated from one of our tasks in another title we were developing. One of our concept artists, Lorin Wood, posted a quick sketch of him in the task as a joke. We thought it would be awesome to have a one wheel talking robot in Borderlands and he riffed on the concept some more and out came our funny talking robot! 

Growing up, what were some of your favorite robots in fiction, and why?

[AB] I loved the robot from Lost in Space.

The, uh, movie.

The one with Matt LeBlanc as a badass space pilot.

May I one day be forgiven.

Do you follow real world robotics? How do you see the health of that industry?

[BM] We occasionally do. We always make an effort to stay up to date on technology of all varieties. Sometimes we use that technology as inspiration for art within our own titles. We do hope the robotic industry takes off. Who doesn’t want to have their breakfast made by a personal robot every morning?!?! 

Can we expect to see Claptrap as an ally in combat?

[AB] I’m going to reinterpret your question slightly and assume that by “friendly AI who helps you out in combat,” you meant, “amusing but ultimately powerless sidekick who praises your combat performance with his characteristically endearing and/or annoying cadence.”

In which case: yes. We totally have that.

How has the AI design changed from the original game to the sequel?

[AB] Like pretty much everything else in the game, the AI has undergone a massive improvement since the first game. Enemies now have much more complex interactions with one another. Our robotic enemies will heal one another, players can trick our bandit enemies into fighting amongst themselves, and our elemental creatures are off the chizzo, for rizzo.

Like, say you’re fighting a Fire Skag. He’s immune to fire damage, shoots fire at you, the whole deal. But midway during your fight, some non-elemental Skag Pups come in to help him. Suddenly, the Fire Skag roars, sending out a fiery AoE blast that transforms all of the Skag Pups into Fire Skag Pups, with the same elemental strengths he had.

Any news on a firm release date? Is the tentative date of July 30 looking good?

[Matt Charles] We haven’t announced a ‘tentative’ date. Nice try, though. :)

[Worth a try…]

What are the things you are most excited for people to see and experience when they play Borderlands 2?

[AB] In short: the guns. With the entire gun system rebuilt from the ground up, I’m really interested to see which guns the fans respond to — will they prefer the bullet hose Vladofs? The precise, sci-fi Hyperion weapons? The Tediore guns, which you throw like grenades instead of reloading? Personally, I can’t wait to see someone kill the endboss just by throwing Tediore reloads at it.

What games are and have influenced your style as a developer? What about as a fan of playing games?

[AB] Personally, as a writer? Everything by Valve Software or Irrational Games. Those guys know exactly how to successfully tell linear stories that respect the player’s agency and immersion.

How do you see the health of the gaming industry in general?

[Randy Pitchford] In sum, the game industry is stronger than ever. The best of the premium game makers are reaching more people than ever before and entirely new markets have opened up with casual games, digital distribution and mobile gaming over the last few years and all of this adds up to a very exciting climate for creators.

Where do you see the industry going in the next few years/decades?

[RP] It’s really exciting how technology is not only enabling us to deliver better looking and more immersive experiences, but more connected and convenient experiences as well. I expect we’ll continue to see growth in premium games for the major consoles especially as new console platforms appear.

Do you think the industry is starting to get the mainstream respect it deserves, or is it still a bit niche?

[RP] Games are definitely mainstream at this point. There are still one or two generations of non-gamers behind us, but everyone coming in – the people that are in front of future culture – are all gamers. To us, gaming isn’t niche or main-stream, it’s an entertainment option as relevant as or even more relevant than music, film, television or print.

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