April 13, 2012 at 5:45 PM ET
The biggest booth at PAX East 2012 was for "Borderlands 2," one of the most eagerly anticipated games of the year. And such a demand was clearly evidenced by the long line of attendees, some of whom waited more than four hours, to be one of the first to put the new game through its paces.
On-hand was Randy Pitchford, Gearbox Software co-founder and CEO, as well as executive producer of the game. Msnbc.com caught up with him early Sunday morning, just as the final day of PAX was getting underway. And only 5 minutes in, a secondary line of people waiting to get in the actual line to check out the "Borderlands 2" demo, was also already long.
The mood was jovial. "Seeing people, who had waited hours and hours, and who finally spent time with the game, with the look of satisfaction on their faces, has made all the hard work worthwhile," said Pitchford. "This is why we fight."
But before talking about the sequel, he reflected on the huge success that the original turned out to be. "We were very fortunate to have a confident publisher partner, 2K Games. They told us to follow our instincts, to take risks."
And it is "risk-driven game design" that Pitchford says is at the heart of the original and the sequel. "The success of the original validated our risks, and in turn, let us double down with the sequel."
What was the biggest risk that Gearbox took the first time around? "Well, the most obvious example was how, at the very last minute, we changed the art style, from something realistic to a real-time graphic novel look. People thought we were out of our minds, but it feed us creatively. It freed the action, it freed the fiction, and allowed us to take even bigger risks."
One key element of the first game's continued success has been feedback from the players. There's a very active community that Gearbox has helped to cultivate, and one of the most satisfying things of the show, according to Pitchford, was the chance to interact with members of the community, face to face.
"We also have an in-house team called the Truth Team, who brings in gamers from the outside world every single day," he said. "We go over the data that we compile from them religiously."
As for new features, there are plenty, but one aspect that Pitchford and company paid especially close attention to was connectivity. "I'm very much interested in shared experiences, which is why so much investment has gone toward profiles in the cloud" which will allow players to enjoy the game anywhere, anytime.
Another focus was providing a robust choice of multiplayer modes. This includes the ability for two players to not only play each other at home, on the same monitor, via split screen, but also allowing them to interact with additional players online. When asked why such a feature has yet to be used in other games, Pitchford explained all the technical difficulties involved. Which is why it's even absent in the first game.
"But connectivity is important, not just among players, but to allow us to have a better relationship with our customers."
At PAX East, upcoming downloadable content was also revealed. A brand new class, the Mechromancer, will be available 60 to 90 days after the games launch. When asked about the possibility of backlash, if only due to the subject being a public relation nightmares for other publishers in recent weeks. But Pitchford is confident that "Borderlands 2" will be immune.
Pitchford said all the additional content created for the first "Borderlands" has been warmly received, and has even won awards. He belives that's because "we don't start working on new content till after the game. It's new ideas, after the fact. Whereas, in other instances, there's this perception that DLC is just part of the main game that had been withheld. But not with us."
Matthew Hawkins is an NYC-based game journalist who has also written for EGM, GameSetWatch, Gamasutra, Giant Robot and numerous others. He also self-publishes his own game culture zine, is part of Attract Mode, and co-hosts The Fangamer Podcast. You can keep tabs on him via Twitter, or his personal home-base, FORT90.com.