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How ‘Borderlands 2’s’ newest character came to be, and the birth of “nipple salad”

Borderlands 2 Krieg the Psycho

The cast of playable Vault Hunters in Borderlands 2 is about to grow by one, with the insane antics of psycho bandit Krieg bringing a whole new flavor to your loot-gathering ways. The thuggish newcomer is meant to appease fans of the first game’s playable protagonist Brick, with both characters boasting a hefty focus on tank-based melee moves and close quarters combat.

The quality is absolutely there. Krieg is more than just fun to play; he brings something fresh to Borderlands 2, an approach to skill development that stands apart from any of the game’s other five Vault Hunters. He’s similarly entertaining to listen to, with writer Anthony Burch delivering a script that carves a fleshed out character from the archetype of the game’s psycho enemies.

That said, Krieg doesn’t arrive in a vacuum. Eight months have passed since the release of Borderlands 2, and most of the players who will be interested in trying the new character are likely the same ones who have pushed through the story multiple times with other characters. It’s a challenge that Gearbox is cognizant of as Krieg arrives, but not to the point of hand-wringing. It’s simply an awareness; DLC characters are new to Borderlands 2, so it’s all uncharted territory, as creative director Paul Hellquist tells us. 

Paul Hellquist, Borderlands 2 creative director
Paul Hellquist, Borderlands 2 creative director

“What I try to do is make sure that when you are playing through that content that you’ve played before, your experiences and strategies and combat loops feel different in exciting and new ways compared to the characters that you’ve already played,” he says. “That’s the angle that I have to tackle that challenge from.”

“That was a goal with Krieg in terms of making his skill trees have some different mechanics going on and some different connections and pros and cons and things that hopefully make you think differently about the gear you’re using, about the relationships between skills. Things of that nature to keep you engaged throughout.”

Hellquist isn’t wrong. Krieg is unique, as you’ve seen in our review. The skill trees put a strong focus on stat management, whether that means you’re watching your health bar, tracking your Bloodlust stack, or making sure that Krieg is on fire. The character’s biggest combat advantages hinge entirely on tracking one or more of these factors – depending entirely on your level – and it lends a fresh feeling to the flow of the play.

“He’s crazy! What’s a thing that doesn’t make a great deal of sense? Nipple salad. Done! Next thing!”

“My only mission was to make a kickass character who has got a lot of cool new things and is pushing the boundaries of what a… Borderlands character can do,” Hellquist says. “In other words, how much effort and thought are players willing to put into their class to maximize them. We believe, based on our playtests, that he’s probably the trickiest to get the hang of but he is probably the most powerful character we’ve made by a lot once he clicks.”

As satisfying as Borderlands 2 is to play, the game also rewards those who tune in on its less feedback-driven features. The writing, for instance, springs from the sharp, comedic mind of Anthony Burch, and it lends an extra layer of madness to the already-loony antics of Krieg’s combat capabilities. Burch explains that writing for each character is relatively straightforward, since the words are often informed by the visual style. It was a little different in Krieg’s case, however.

Anthony Burch, Borderlands 2 lead writer
Anthony Burch, Borderlands 2 lead writer

“Krieg was an interesting challenge because he’s not just some new character that you’ve never seen before,” Burch explains. “He kind of embodied a promise… to play as a psycho, play as a villain you’ve already seen before. So we need to hit a couple of different points. One was he needs to deliver the goods in terms of the fantasy of playing as a psycho. He needs to say things like ‘Strip the flesh, salt the wound.'”

“At the same time, he also needs to still feel like his own character. That was always the impetus for all of the characters, that they feel like people and not just ciphers. So the first pass I did on the script was full of pretty much nothing but references to or slight rephrasings of the more beloved psycho lines. It was okay, but it kind of felt like a weird greatest hits thing.”

Creating a character is a process, and more drafts followed that first one. Over time, the Krieg script fleshed out with qualities that helped to make the character stand out. Elements like the fact that behind the babbling psycho, there’s a sane inner voice trying to figure out what it all means. Or just random ravings. Like the immediately memorable, frequently repeated “nipple salad.”

“‘Nipple Salad’ was born from me typing a thing out and refusing to hit delete,” Burch says, chuckling. The most memorable appearance of the phrase comes when you leave the controller idle for too long. If you’re lucky, Krieg will start chanting after a few minutes. Just “nipple salad” over and over again, in varying tones, with a light, strangely upsetting chuckle following each one.

“The line was originally him saying ‘Nipple salad,’ [followed by a] big pause, and then he just chuckled to himself,” Burch explains. “[Krieg] is a really taxing voice to do and Jason Douglas, the actor, really tore up his voice [during the recording]. But this was the first day, so he didn’t know.”

Borderlands 2 Krieg 3

“He was just going to do five takes of every line. But when we heard them all together, he had put such a small pause between them that… we just made that the thing. Have him say it five times in a row, in slightly different inflections every time. That’s funnier than just having him say it once.”

Burch’s writing process for Krieg eventually evolved past its beginnings as the “psycho’s greatest hits” that he described and into something more freeform. Almost stream of consciousness at times. Burch points to the top-tier skill in the Hellborn tree, “Raving Retribution,” and the lengthy monologue that Krieg rants off with every time it activates.

“Every single one of those [monologues] was just complete word salad. I never paused, I never deleted and re-wrote them,” Burch says. “I just did five of them in one go without thinking or editing them. So it was actually kind of easy in some ways. ‘He’s crazy! What’s a thing that doesn’t make a great deal of sense? Nipple salad. Done! Next thing!'”

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