As well as being known for its tongue-in-cheek sense of humour, cartoonish graphics, and general disdain for the laws of physics, Borderlands 3 is really known for its guns. Whole mountains of them. Borderlands had a total of 17.75 million procedurally-generated guns. Borderlands 2 upped the game with a more refined system for creating a tidal wave of the rooty-tooty-point-and-shooty weapons, so when it comes to Borderlands 3 you can expect Gearbox to exceed any pitiful expectations you might have had with a grand total of one billion guns available for all your Vault Hunter needs. OXM spoke to Jimmy Barnett, lead 3D weapons artist, and Kevin Duv, lead visual designer for weapons, about the quest to bring that frankly ridiculous number of guns to the game.
You've tried to outdo yourselves this time with even more types of weapons, so how many do you think you've got?
Jimmy: "Because of the nature of the system, over a billion is kind of accurate, the way the parts play together, what we've taken from BL2 and the technology that we've moved forward, those numbers compound and get big really quick, so the iterations are out there."
Kevin: "But in the guns that you're going through, and as you're collecting the guns, we tried to get variety on a more human scale, and doing that by making very specific gameplay types from all the different manufacturers. And so finding the variety within has been a major focus, the number kind of came secondary, it was the result of us doing that."
Jimmy: "We definitely reached a threshold where it doesn't matter how big the number is, because from a player perspective it is unachievable. So you start to expand sideways and up and down and left and right and see what we could do to add depth and variety, more than just a top line number."
Are all those weapon variations pretty much potentially available from the start?
Kevin: "There's definitely a level ramp, as you're moving in. The more rare a weapon is, the more parts are available that the system is going to attach to it and that's where the variety happens, it's where the heart of a player's experience comes from. If you gave someone everything from the very start, then what are you aiming to get later? And you're not going to be surprised. And so we've got it so that the variety slowly exposes itself."
Jimmy: "So that the progression and that perception of value is good – something to hunt for and search for as you go through the game. There's a bit of an art to it, finding out when you should allow something to open up into the system so that, cool, there are some new things that I can hunt for now; but yeah there's a little bit of gating in that sense but by the time you've reached the full steam of the narrative in the game you're fully exposed to everything the system's got to offer."
Balancing must have been quite tricky. Is the damage balanced for the enemies or is it possible to be massively overpowered?
Kevin: "Overkill scenario is actually possible, one of the fun things about the game is that it is possible, but if it happens, it's only going to happen for a few levels, right? Eventually that gun is going to be overpowered by the enemies but you'll have a hell of time during that time where you can just god-like destroy!"
Jimmy: "A lot of our long-time player retention thrives in that finding the broken builds and finding that piece of gear somewhere that does this thing to that thing, that gives you this kind of 'god build' and you can run around and enjoy the fruits of your labour – the fact that you found this synergistic set of gear and skills and abilities that all work together. Thankfully, the way our game is set up, being PvE narrative focused, co-op or single player, we're not afraid of those overpowered builds. Just have fun, let it happen!"
What's the craziest thing you're proudest of creating, weapons-wise?
Jimmy: "Children Of The Vault weapons have unlimited magazine size, and so, what does unlimited magazine size mean? How do you visually represent that and what are the gameplay implications? And so we're like, well how about instead of some giant belt feed or huge magazine down to the ground we have what we call the Bullet Forge."
Kevin: "If you look at those COV guns you start them up like a motor and there's a little forge that's on the right hand side of the gun that's building bullets and then dumping them down the belt into your gun, so it's a fun little way that we explain the gameplay aspect of like, alright cool, you just get to shoot as many bullets as you have. And, er, we thought we were pretty clever!"
How did you go about balancing the loot when it comes to ammo? We were running out of ammo a lot in our playthrough…
Jimmy: "Ammo ended up being one of the trickiest currencies [for us] in Borderlands: getting enough of it, not getting too much of it, making sure it's still something that folds into the gameplay. It becomes a player choice – if you've got a high rate-of-fire weapon, one of the downsides of it is that you may be running out of that type of ammo quite a bit, and if you have a gun that you really like and it's chewing through ammo, the first mod you want to get is the ammo upgrade for that one. There are some ways it's balanced through gear, so even some of those higher level weapons don't consume ammo so fast, so there's something to hunt for and there's a way to balance it as you play through."
Do all the gun types have different tactile behaviour for the player?
Kevin: "We played with differences in ADS [aiming down sight] times, differences in recoil, differences in where that first shot is going to go. And, based on the manufacturer, their aesthetic. Like Dahl is more of a Call Of Duty guns type, it lends itself to that kind of play style – hopefully those players will come over and play our game too! Every manufacturer has its behaviour and its feel, hoping to lend itself to a type of player. Hopefully there's something for everybody that they can zero in on as they play through."
What's the silliest gun type in the game?
Jimmy: "We kind of got nuts on the engine stuff. Torgue we got crazy with, because we made the bodies actual engine blocks, and if you look at some of the Torgue rifles, I was looking at F1 cars so I put intake trumpets on the right, and then the pistol ended up having this giant curved exhaust on it."
Kevin: "Borderlands is fun, it allows us the freedom to do a lot of crazy stuff, but somehow it all works. We've spent time with the franchise and we're aware of what can and can't work, but it does provide a lot of freedom to do a lot of crazy things and get away with it!"