Gearbox Software's first Borderlands won fans over with its awesome, awesome loot, high-contrast art style and wacky characters. But, as great as the game's procedurally-generated weapons were, Gearbox say that the first-person shooter/role-playing hybrid was whatever the gamer wanted it to be.
During Gearbox Software's trip to NY for a Borderlands 2 preview, I asked senior producer Sean Reardon if he wished certain merits of Borderlands were more emphasized in the eyes of their community of gamers. He told me that the games the team makes are for the consumers, and it effectively becomes their game.
"We make that as a joke. We'll say, ‘You're a bad designer if you tell your customer that you're playing the game wrong.' It's actually the customer's game. We should do our best to enable that experience. If someone is playing the game and they're not having a good time and it's because they're not playing it right, that's our fault."
Borderlands 1's history shows that Gearbox has practiced what they preach here. I brought up the rampant duping and modding of weapons in Borderlands 1 where gamers would have access to things like rocket launchers with unlimited ammo and perfect targeting.
"People duping weapons was eye-opening and made us feel embarrassed."
This was a perfect example, Reardon noted. "People duping weapons was eye-opening and made us feel embarrassed," he responded. And although Gearbox released a patch embedded in the third DLC, The Secret Armory of General Knoxx, that wiped most of the duped and illegitimate weapons, they decided to keep one of the buggier creations. It came to be known as "Pearlescent" for its off-white tone. The glitch-based anomaly wasn't a very good gun but it wound up being incredibly cherished for its rarity. And even though it broke the game, the development team decided to embrace the community's positive response towards it. Because in their view, "So long as the player is laughing, it's a feature. If he's crying, it's not."
Fortunately, a game as wacky and creative as Borderlands lends itself quite well to new, community-inspired additions like this one. Reardon looks pleased when he tells me that "we can do basically anything we want if it feels fun." Gearbox feels obligated to deliver on the kind of content their gamers want, and that their gamers find fun even if it wasn't something that the team had come up with. And adding the Pearlescent gun class was fun.
It's unclear if Borderlands 2 will have similar exploits that let weapons like Pearlescent happen, but here's hoping that players will find more unintended options for making the sequel uniquely exciting.