Like toys in a toybox — 2K talks the conception of Gearbox’s Battleborn

I recently got a chance to get some hands-on time with Gearbox’s upcoming class-based shooter Battleborn, and also had the opportunity to sit down for a quick chat with 2K Producer Chris Thomas. After briefly discussing my newfound love of the archer Thorn, Thomas and I spoke of the early days of Battleborn’s development, and what the future holds for Gearbox’s latest.

Kenneth Shepard: What exactly was the inspiration behind a game like Battleborn?

Chris Thomas: It was a crazy idea by Gearbox to create a game with a ton of characters that were all unique and had their own playstyles and abilities. I remember there was one quote early on in the project where they specifically said they wanted to make a game where every character in the game could be the main character of another game. That idea or feeling of taking a toybox and dumping it out and having all your toys fight each other is really where Battleborn started.

KS: So when it comes to creating these 25 characters that are distinct in both look and playstyle, what comes first? Is it design, playstyle, backstory?

CT: It usually starts with just a character concept. They actually opened up their whole concept phase to the entire company, even over at 2K. It was this cool experiment of “okay, anybody in the company, whether it’s a QA guy, an engineer, an artist, whatever, can just throw up a concept.” It had some rules; you have to have some sort of drawing. It could be a stick figure for all we care. But it needed to have a basic summary of what it was and the main abilities that it had. That was insane. You can only imagine. Some people were super serious about it, some people were like “I want to make this weird character!” The cream of the crop bubbled to the top, and those were the ones that went into full production. After that concept phase it’s all about prototyping the character, getting the character in-game, even in a rough state, and playing around with those abilities. Because those abilities are really the key of these characters. Making sure each of them is engaging, fun, and useful within a match. Whether it’s PVE or PVP. So, playing around with how those abilities act and how they react with other abilities…finding that sort of “secret sauce” was really the turning point of every character.

KS: When you’ve got all these characters that play so differently, is there a challenge to balance that for both PVE and PVP?

CT: There’s a ton of challenges! [Laughs] It’s been really challenging. You can only imagine the amount of scenarios that we run into, like when you have a support class playing against another support class, or playing against the sniper or a melee character fighting a certain type of enemy. How do you make the sniper and the melee guy both useful in a match? There’s a lot of testing that went into it. Both Gearbox and 2K have pretty large test teams, and Gearbox brings in a ton of external testers. So, every major change that happens with the game will usually get tested by fresh eyes that come off the street. We take their feedback and that goes into the next iteration of the characters, the numbers get tweaked, the balancing changes, and we get a new version that hopefully feels a little bit better. Over the last year and a half, every day the characters become that much more solid and feel that much better. It’s a long process.

Like toys in a toybox -- 2K talks the conception of Gearbox's Battleborn

KS: Are there any plans for any sort of cosmetic DLC or microtransactions in Battleborn?

CT: Well, all the characters have multiple skins, and you can unlock all those skins via the earned credits that you get from playing in the game. So you can actually change the way your characters look pretty drastically, which is cool and also gives you something to look forward to if you’re really focusing on one of the characters. Like, if you really like Thorn and want to rank her all the way up and completely finish her progression tree, then you’re going to be rewarded with new visual aspects like different skins that you can unlock. This shows that you’ve invested a lot. On the DLC side, right now we’re just focusing on getting the game done. We’ve always said, Gearbox and 2K, we’re really big on creating really big, wonderful, high-quality DLC. That’s always a byproduct of the passion of the community and the success of the game. So if the game comes out and people love it and it’s doing really well, we’re totally gonna support it after launch. It’s all about getting it out there first.

KS: You bring up player engagement. There’s been a lot of multiplayer-centric games that come out, have great numbers when they start out, and then just kind of plummet months after release. What exactly is the plan to keep players engaged in Battleborn for the months and years to come.

CT: Honestly, for me, it’s the amount of stuff you can unlock and learn for each character. You said you really loved playing Thorn, and I’ve done that same thing where I stick with one character for awhile and try to rank them up. As you rank each character up you actually are rewarded with new options that will be slotted into your Helix Tree. So instead of having just two options per level you’ll have three. So you can further customize how you’re playing that character. So with 25 characters you can only imagine how much time it will take to master each one of them. And you know, there’s some people who don’t want to master all of them, but there’s gonna be people like me who are like “Alright well, I’ve played through this character’s full tree, so I’ve gotta do the next one.” I think there’s gonna be a lot there for people to engage with during the months following launch.

KS: Battleborn’s concept and universe is massive in scope. Are there any sort of plans to expand upon this universe in ways past the game proper?

CT: It’s pretty much the same thing as DLC. We would love to have the chance to do that, but it really depends on the game getting out there, people loving it, the community knocking on our door like “Yo, we need more content!” It happened very aggressively with Borderlands 2. We knew there was a fanbase that loved the game, we knew that we wanted to support it post-launch. With a new IP it’s kind of a dance. You’ve gotta figure out “do people love the game? Are they really engaged with the game? Do they want more content?” If all those things are true we kick everybody in gear and we start churning out as much as we can.

Battleborn is coming to PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on May 3rd of next year.

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