Gaming Today Q&A: Matthew Armstrong, Director of Borderlands
One of the hottest games of the fall was the shooter / RPG title from Gearbox, Borderlands. Recently, we were fortunate enough to get to sit down with Matthew Armstrong, the Director of Borderlands, to talk about the recently released Zombie Island of Dr. Ned DLC, as well as the upcoming Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot.
Gaming Today: Could you tell our readers a little bit more about yourself, your role in the development of Borderlands, and what you do at Gearbox?
Matthew Armstrong: Matthew Armstrong, I was director of Borderlands. Right now I’m just one of a group of extremely talented people working on DLC.
Q: You’ve recently announced the Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot DLC. Coming so close on the heels of The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned, it begs the question: How much DLC can fans of Borderlands expect to see beyond Mad Moxxi?
MA: If people buy them, we’ll try to make them. It’s really up to our customers. The DLC experience up until now has been driven by our customers and fans. People wanted new areas to explore and new enemies to fight. They wanted more of the humor and a tight story. All that drove us towards the Zombie Island of Dr. Ned.
Many more of our fans and customers have reached level 50 than we expected. They keep playing the game. They have gear and equipment and skills, and they want a challenge to test themselves against, so we bring you Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot. It’s an opportunity for the players to see how good they REALLY are.
GT: Borderlands has been a great critical success so far. At what point do you think it will merit a full expansion or sequel?
MA: 2K had already said they consider this to be a franchise with a strong potential future. We completely agree. Right now, that means The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned and Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot. Beyond that there are many options. We’re still deciding where to take Borderlands next.
GT: Are there any plans to raise the level cap with a future DLC or patches?
MA: As I said earlier, we’re trying with the DLCs to react to the wishes and desires of our customers and as long as they support our efforts, we’ll try to find ways to give them what they want.
GT: Everyone has their favorite character or class to play so far, but are there any plans to add new characters or classes to the cast with DLC or patches?
MA: Once again, we’ll see what people want.
GT: You’ve said that Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot will contain a whole new game mode, similar to Gears of War’s ‘Horde Mode.’ Can you tell us a little bit more about what this new game mode will entail?
MA: Scott Kester, one of our terrific concept artists, did a design for an over-the-top showman kind of woman. A combination carnival barker and ringmaster. She was such a strong character that she completely took over this DLC and made it into a coliseum for her own amusement and profit. She is quite literally running the show. Moxxi’s AI controls the Coliseum. She defines the difficulty, chooses your opponents, and even changes the rules of combat at her whim; all the while commenting on the action, cheering on the players, and generally putting on the best show she can for the crowds. Because this is a fight to the death, and unlike in the rest of Pandora, in Mad Moxxi’s Underdome, dying hurts.
The Small Tournament takes you through three distinct and exciting Riot Coliseums, each requiring different tactics and gameplay.
Each Small Tournament Riot consists of 5 rounds. Each round is 5 waves long, and each wave has its own personality. You have waves like the starter wave – an easier wave to get you ready for the coming challenge – or the Horde wave where you are completely overwhelmed with Psychos. You have to survive, because unlike in the main game, dying hurts. There are significant consequences to dying. You really have to earn your victory here, and if you go in alone, you’re going to wish you brought a friend or two.
Along the way, Moxxi might start wanting to spice things up a bit, and she’ll throw down one of her rules, which she calls “Moxxi’s Maxims”. These rules can radically alter how you play the game. She might proclaim “Shotgun Challenge!” Now all your weapons are doing significantly reduced damage… except for shotguns, which suddenly do 50% bonus damage. Or she might proclaim the Maxim “Vampire!” All the players lose health constantly and can only regain health by killing enemies. And if she thinks you are just too strong for the competition, she might just go with something brutal and simple like “Loaded!” where she radically increases the enemy weapons’ ammo capacity. There are over 20 Maxims she can call upon, and every one of them will force the players to reconsider their tactics. Of course, things get really rough when Moxxi decides that 1 Maxim at a time isn’t enough…
The Small Tournament can be completed as a quest in both playthroughs for a small but precious reward. It’s fun, and it’s cool for the casual player. With those 6 hours of repeatable gameplay and the bank, everyone who buys this will get their money’s worth.
The BIG Tournament is the same 3 levels, but over 6 hours of intense and crazy combat.
Moxxi wanted the Big Tournament to be an epic challenge for the best players, so that’s what it is. We don’t argue with Moxxi. It’s her Underdome. Nobody so far at Gearbox has found a way to beat the Big Tournament in single player. It’s a co-op war of the highest order. It’s a challenge. Bring your best character, your best guns and your best friends.
GT: One of the things that people always mention about Borderlands is the large variety of weaponry available to the player. Are there plans to expand the amount of weapons in the game? Are there any plans to add new upgrades or options for players to improve the weapons they already have?
MA: We know this is something that our customers would like to see in the future.
GT: One of the things that seem to be mentioned a lot about Borderlands is the lack of sufficient storage space for players to keep the weapons they really like. Was this a conscious decision going into the design of the game, or are there plans to increase player storage in the future?
MA: In the main game, you can get 42 weapon slots – even more with The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned – and that is plenty to carry all the weapons and gear the average player uses, but we have a section of our fans who have grown more attached to their other weapons than we expected. Even if they never use the Sledge’s Shotgun, there are a great many players who are using up equipment slots to hold onto it. This is not a large percentage of our customers, but they are our most passionate fans. So we’ve also added a Bank to Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot.
Our artists – Tim Wilson, Scott Kester, Adam May and Stephen Cole did a wonderful job bringing both the Underdome thoroughfare and Marcus’ Bank into the world of Borderlands. It’s a great area with lots of Underdome flavor outside the bank while inside you find portraits of Marcus’ family and a Banker claptrap who can stow away your extra guns so you can come back and get them later.
GT: While Borderlands features a raft of weapons, there isn’t so much as one piece of armor for players to collect. Are there any plans to add armor into the game in the future?
MA: It was vitally important to the success of Borderlands to keep it accessible to the average FPS player. We played with including armor early on and found that the stat juggling involved was a major hurdle for many players so we decided to simplify the concept to the much more accessible “orb shield” concept. In the later game – when the player is a bit more settled into the gamplay and understands the game mechanics, we add the Class Mods, which do many of the ancillary things that you’d expect from armor in an RPG. They provide significant bonuses and can radically change how you play the game. They are not the typical “helmet and shield”, but they are powerful ways to customize your character and serve much the same purpose.
GT: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us today! Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers, or any parting thoughts you may have?
MA: Yeah. Gearbox is an independent company, and for us and 2K a brand new Game with a brand new kind of gameplay was a risky thing. I really want to thank all of you who bought our game and are buying our DLCs for validating that risk and being willing to take a chance with us and try something new. I hope your readers and our customers all enjoy the new things we are adding to Borderlands!
We really appreciate Matthew taking the time to speak with us, and we’re also already anxious to see the release of Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot. More Borderlands is always a good thing!