The lights are on
The Borderlands we've all come to know and love is a drastically different beast than the one that debuted in our magazine. In a recent panel hosted by Gearbox Software, key team members clued us into why they opted for a complete visual overhaul so late in the development process.
To give some context to the decision, they first provided an outline of the project pipeline.
The TimelineConcept: April 05 - October 05Prototype: November 05 - October 06 Development One: November 06 - August 07Development Two: September 07 - October 08Final Push: October 08 - October 09
Three-fourths of the way through production, Gearbox head Randy Pitchford approached publisher 2K with a proposal - a complete visual redesign of the game. Expecting the worst, Pitchford was surprised that 2K agreed that the change was needed, excited by the direction Gearbox proposed. Why did the developer and publisher agree that such drastic measures were needed?
(original Borderlands screenshot)
The Purple CowHow did the team justify the change? In a sea of "brown games," Gearbox worried that their title wouldn't stand out. Thinking about its reception, they began to wonder if it would simply look like "a poor man's Rage." They needed something to grab the attention of potential customers - a purple cow. Seth Goodin's book Purple Cow instilled the mantra "be remarkable, or be invisible," in the team.
The decision wasn't only influenced by aesthetics, however. Gearbox worried that the art style and gameplay contradicted itself in a way that couldn't be reconciled. Borderlands hosts player characters that can jump well beyond human limitations, and bad guys explode when shot. They decided that a more exaggerated art style would allow them to move forward without divorcing these entertaining gameplay elements. Lastly, Gearbox reasoned that the decision would improve the overall quality of the final product because when teams have varying levels of talent, it's hard to maintain a standard of quality in a photo-realism approach.
A New DirectionThe change wasn't an easy one. Gearbox confessed that the massive redesign
demoralized the original art director to the point that she left Gearbox and now works in a different field entirely. Still, the
move felt correct to the bulk of the team. The new design style was decided by committee, giving those invested in the project a chance to voice their opinion. Goals included a fresh approach that would be standout, fun, break plausibility, kick realism out the window, and, of course, be beautiful. A retro influence was chosen and color was noted as being of high importance early on. Words like "attractive, fun, colorful, stylish, animated, and unconventional," helped to funnel ideas into Borderland's final form.
The ProcessIn order to maximize efficiency, the all-encompassing "Art Director" position diversified into several more specific jobs - Art Director, Art Producer, Out-sourcing
Art Director, Art Lead and Lead Environment
Artist. Also, they implemented a "Merry-go-round" approach - making sure that all team members were pushing in the same direction.
The ResultsBorderlands has been a critical and commercial success and the team believes the redesign was imperative in this regard. Ultimately, changing the style afforded Gearbox more freedom. As a result they were able to exaggerate character design, flesh out weapon customization in fantastical ways and keep the game humorously visceral. While the effort was a major gamble, it paid off.
What do you think? Was the change well worth it? Or did you prefer the original style?
I would love to see some more original screens.
Hard to say, I like the way the original style looked. I don't think it would of made a difference either way.
when i looked at my issue that first shown borderlands and saw the drastic change in the game i was like ***, this game has gone above what most games have and made it that *** good
It DEFINITELY paid off! I just started this game recently and I love it. The style was the first thing that grabbed my attention. I feel kinda bad for the original artist, but I agree that the change was a necessary one. I do think that this game being an RPS is unique, (is it the first? I have no idea) but the graphical style put it over-the-top and helped it stand out (like a purple cow - HAHA!)
I like the change. It does have that fresh, more interesting look to it, instead of a generic but highly detailed art style.
One lighting algorithm that they pretty much toggled on with the Unreal engine, nothing impressive here
they both look awesome.
While I do love the current art style, I have to say that I would've much preferred the original.
i think the decision was for the best. but i feel bad for that original art director.
To be honset....I cant really tell the difference
I'm actually not a huge fan of the cell shading art direction. I was going to buy this game to begin with, I'm a sucker for post-apocalyptic backdrops. I bought the game based on the premise.
I'd really have liked the game better without the cell shading.
Yeah, I definitely prefer the new art style. A unique look can usually keep me playing a game longer than I might otherwise (see the latest prince of persia game), and this game's great to begin with. I love the exaggerated, ridiculous art style and think it fits perfectly with the exaggerated, ridiculous tone of the game. I mean, I can't really imagine a super-realistic looking game where you fight enemies like Skagzilla and Badass Midget Psycho.
Ah, I was just playing this last night at my friends house...
I think the change was a great idea, and obviously it worked well. Good job Gearbox.
I like the comic style art design it feels like it adds something special to the game.
I really liked the last minute change, it was sudden and drastic, and sort of made me uneasy at first, but after playing it I thought it was really cool looking and definitely makes the game unique. A lot of my friends (gamers and non-gamers alike) also preferred the change, and it caught their eyes because of it.
The new art design is way better. The original looked so bland and generic, essentially like every other dull Gears of War rip-off (which wasn't even good in the first place). Borderlands is definitely anything but generic, so the art change definitely helped it in the long run.
i think the zombie art and combine with original would look cool and spooky giving new feel with more urban like areas with more stuff to do and creatuers and new wepons like with vthe alien one put like lazor ones and mines and motercycles with the cars
woah long time to make this game lol
I actually was *way* pumped for the original game, however, I saw an earlier 'behind closed doors' gameplay footage clip that was passable at best. However, the game was still a long distance from being released at that point. I was severely disappointed it lost it's gritty atmosphere and a high focus on story - both apparent design hinges from the early cover story in GI years ago. While the game took on a completely different element infusing humor instead of the aforementioned 'grittiness' it was still enjoyable. I DO have a gripe, however, with how the gameplay turned out. It was fun at the beginning when enemies didn't take twenty rockets or 150 shots to kill. Once you started getting towards the end of the game, when you've seen iterations of the same gun over and over with nothing truly unique, it got pretty repetitious. Only recently have I put it back in my tray to check out the first and only DLC I purchased for it, the Secret Armory. This expansion, while diversionary, only exemplifies the problems with the scaling of damage I mentioned earlier, in my opinion.
This all being said, I DO enjoy the artstyle, but overall I still miss the story they first broke and the darker, less whimsical feel of what was originally shown.