gdc 2013

Borderlands 2 Writer Talks Humor - Including Claptrap’s Birthday Party

by Kimberley Wallace on Mar 28, 2013 at 04:18 PM

Anthony Burch, the writer of Borderlands 2 shared some insight into its humor in a panel at the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco.  The topics ranged from the energizing bane to bonerfarts.  

Burch had the auditorium in laughter as he drove home his biggest advice for comedic writers: never reference internet memes. But the main message from his talk was how Gearbox implemented humor into gameplay systems. For instance, the team didn’t like the name of the enemy Bullymong and thought to make a gag out of it by having a quest entitled, “The Name Game.” This quest revolves around changing the enemy’s name by helping an archaeologist, Sir Hammerlock, complete an almanac. You battle with the bullymongs as their name shifts from primal beasts to ferovores and eventually to bonerfarts. But the publisher doesn’t like any of these names, so they revert to bullymongs. This works not because it’s said in lines of dialogue, but because it’s enmeshed with the gameplay systems.

Similarly, the energizing bane gun was a very dangerous gun, one of the most powerful in the game. But, it comes with drawbacks... the gun makes an absolutely obnoxious noise and reduces your movement speed to a crawl. Providing power to players, but only at a cost that would likely get you kicked from your party, was entertaining for everyone involved.

Burch also suggested that developers set patterns, then break them. For example, take Claptrap’s birthday bash, where Claptrap is blissfully unaware he is disliked by everyone when they don’t appear at the party.  “He’s basically Charlie Brown,” said Burch. This quest completely changes, as you’re instead forced to watch Claptrap dance around and give himself presents for several minutes. “The idea was to make it a sad, really awkward party,” said Burch, who compares it to an episode of The Office. Instead of working at your own pace, you’re forced into Claptrap’s bidding and the entire scene is simply hilarious because of that.

Burch also talked about some bugs that were introduced unintentionally. Take Tiny Tina’s lazy eye - this wasn’t initially intended to be in the game, but the developers kept it in because it matched her kooky personality so well.  Additionally bugged was, the Chosen One quest, where Marcus duped a young boy named Kai into thinking he was the chosen one, sells him a useless weapon, and sends him off to die. However, the gun, which you retrieve from his corpse, has awful statistics... but the joke was that 99% of the time it was useless, but very rarely it would do 20 times its normal damage. However, this bugged out and occasionally did 100,000 times the normal damage and this ability could even be transferred to other guns. “Yeah, our little joke lets you kill any boss in 3 seconds,” quipped Burch.

Burch noted that while quests mostly followed a pattern with lengthy objectives and complex systems, this was completely broken with Face McShooty and his quest, “Shoot This Guy In The Face.” Why this quest is important is that it came halfway through the game and players had already gotten into the groove of the game’s standard quest setup. Then comes a quest where a raving mad lunatic requests that you put a bullet in his face and... that’s it. There’s nothing more to it, and that’s what makes it work.

Burch’s panel was one of the most entertaining I attended at this year’s GDC. What were some of your favorite jokes in Borderlands 2?