Guitar Hero 5

Following on the success of its preceding title, Guitar Hero World Tour, Activision brings gamers Guitar Hero 5. Building on the popularity of playing in a four-person band experience, GH5 opens up opportunities not just to play a new, if somewhat eclectic, playlist, it also gives players the freedom to play lead and bass guitar, drums, and vocals in whatever combination they want. If your little brother won’t give up lead guitar, have a band with two leads. Or two basses. Whatever!

The game is available as a standalone title, allowing players to use existing compatible instrument controllers, and as a bundle that provides these controllers. The new GH5 guitar sports an all-new faceplate and rebuilt neck slider for a completely new guitar experience. New features were added to make the game more accessible and simple to use, including drop-in/drop-out play and the afore-mentioned ability to add to your gameplay experience and play with up to 4 guitars or compose a band of any combination of available instruments. There’s also a Rockfest competitive mode consisting of several various scoring mechanisms, and both song-specific and general challenges to unlock new avatars, clothing, and other extras in the game. It’s definitely a more social experience, allowing players of different skill levels, both locally and online, the ability to play cooperatively and competitively against each other.

While playing in a band, you’ll have to earn your own Star Power now that it’s tracked separately for each player and no longer shared by the band (thank you Rock Band). A new play mode called “Band Moments” requires all members of the band to play sections of a song successfully to gain prizes. The Band Revival meter appears when a player fails out of the song, requiring the other band members to up their game together in order to bring the failed player back into the game. So if you suck, you can be saved. But only if your bandmates don’t also suck. A nice plus: GH5 incorporates any World Tour downloadable content that you may have into the various play modes.

Guitar Hero 5’s track list contains 85 songs by 83 separate artists Like previous Guitar Hero games, you can actually play as one of several musicians like Kurt Cobain, Johnny Cash, Carlos Santana, Shirley Manson, and Matthew Bellamy. The game continues to support the user-created music studio introduced in World Tour through GHTunes. Thousands of downloadable content for the game are also available. You can also import songs straight into GH5 from GH World Tour and GH Smash Hits. Most downloadable content from World Tour is forward-compatible with Guitar Hero 5.

The most appreciated improvements is the accessibility of the game. Where previous games required players to go through menus and customizations before rocking out, GH5 has a Party Mode that allows players to immediately jump in. I almost felt like I missed a step, because it was too easy. The career and competitive multiplayer modes were also improved and simplified. However, the game’s track list seemed pretty random, from No Doubt, Kings of Leon to Bob Dylan. And while I would never use Kurt Cobain to sing a Gwen Stefani song, I was told it was an option. As always, the best thing about playing any GH title for this reviewer is getting my ears (and eyes) opened to songs to which I may not normally pay attention. While my neighbors probably figured out I’m a big fan of Kings of Leon in my quest to reach “Sex on Fire” drum perfection, I had a real blast learning The Raconteurs “Steady As She Goes.” The playlist is quite broad in genre, where “a little of everything” is the best way to describe it. While most may question how Stevie Wonder and Kiss can co-exist on a playlist, I’m one of those players who actually likes that they do. The improvements to the note charts, the ease of play and the new features make this an exciting new toy for even the hardcore living room rock legends, but if you’ve waited to jump in and this is your intro to the Guitar Hero world, it’s a great welcome and definitely worth the wait.

Toy Story 1 and 2 3D

By Amara

The films that solidified Pixar as the studio it is today have been digitally remastered in 3D now as a limited time double feature. Toy Story gives us a look into the secret activities of toys after a child has left the room. The first film, “Toy Story”, centers around the story of a toy cowboy named Woody (Tom Hanks) who has a long standing history as the favorite toy in Andy’s room, that is until Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) is presented to Andy at this birthday. The two toys are forced to work together when they find themselves away from Andy, right before a big family move. In “Toy Story 2” we return to the world of Andy’s toys who this time must save Woody from an evil toyshop owner who stole him in an attempt to sell him as collectors item.

The first film benefits a great deal from the change to 3D viewing as the change allows children to feel much more swept up into the tales. The original “Toy Story” is fundamentally different as a result of the change I found the 3D version of this film much more engaging and interactive for the viewer. Interestingly enough the second film, while my favorite of the two, does not seem to present an exceptionally different experience as a result of the alteration to 3D. Also, fun for kids is the short intermission built into the films, complete with “Toy Story” themed screen quizzes, during my viewing I could hear the entire audience of children attempting to answer the multiple choice questions.

Children and adults will both love these morally sound films; If it is your first time seeing “Toy Story” & “Toy Story 2” you will enjoy these classic Pixar stories. If you are a long standing fan the 3D experience will be even more fun and prepare you for the third film, which is slated be released in 2010.


By Amara

Imagine if “IRobot”, “Die Hard”, and Joss Whedon’s television show “Dollhouse” had a child, the result would be akin to “Surrogates”. In the not to distant future technology is developed which gives us the ability to control customizable robots, called surrogates, with our minds. As a result, people rarely leave the house and interact directly with each other as surrogates. This robot filled thriller tells the story of FBI agent, Tom Greer (Bruce Willis), sent to investigate sudden deaths occurring when people are operating their surrogates.

In addition to Willis’s captivating acting, the film shines in part due to well-executed details, from the surrogate’s not quite human enough demeanor, to the underlying bias against people who don’t use the technology. “Surrogates” is a film that will make you reconsider the issue of advancing technology from both sides.

The least impressive aspect of this scifi/thriller based on a popular graphic novel is the fundamentally preposterous premise. One of the film’s main assumptions is that the use of surrogates has eliminated violence and racism. Believing that people, who are in essence operating a real world version of Second Life, would spend no time committing crimes, seems more than a little irrational.

Still, the film is engaging and much more thought provoking than I had expected. “Surrogates” fulfills both sci-fi and Bruce Willis fan requirements and is a visually enticing film. You will see a variety of locations common to a robot filled world, from a surrogate beauty salon complete with drills to the inner sanctum of the robot production line.

Touching on human, technological, and futuristic themes “Surrogates” is a fun film filled with visual effects and a truly engaging plot that is if you can overcome the plot holes that fracture the initial premise.



By Amara
I love musicals so whenever the big guys at the studios decide to remake a classic like “Fame”(1982), I get, well, nervous. How could there be a remake of a film that is so well associated with the 1980s without mocking current audience’s film going standards? Would a new “Fame” be possible without the time period that created it in the first place?

“Fame” follows the year-by-year story of a group of kids who apply to and later attend the New York Academy of Performing Arts. The story follows their growth as performers and as people in the never forgiving streets of New York City. The film has the expected music, dancing, and moral tales about the harsh realities of people in search of that ever-elusive “Fame”.

Littered in guest stars ranging from “Frasier’s” Kelsey Grammer to “Will and Grace’s” Megan Mullally, “Fame” seemed less like the remake of a musical and more like a star studded Ellen show.

Still, there are some exceptional performances from less seasoned stars like Anna Maria Perez de Tagle who plays young aspiring actress Joy and Natuari Naughton as Denise a classical pianist who dreams of singing.

While the film is good, it lacks the heart of a truly engrossing musical. The acting is decent and the choreography is excellent but this modernized version of “Fame” complete with Barenaked Ladies song jokes is no “Chicago”. Moreover, the new version of “Fame” varies significantly from the classic, with hip-hop tracks and a rhythm heavy version of the classic theme song. For many the biggest downside to this musical is sure to be the less than engrossing musical numbers.

Like a darker “High School Musical” for a slightly older audience, “Fame” is a decent film worth a watch, but it will not have you singing a medley in your living room.


Star Wars: The Clone Wars Republic Heroes Interview

Recently I spoke with Cris “Soup” Lee, assistant producer on the new Star Wars Game The Clone Wars: Republic Heroes. I want to thank Cris and Christopher for setting up the interview and answering my questions.

GVK: What is the background and setting for the game?

The game picks up at the end of Season 1 of the television series, where our heroes are on the planet Ryloth. As the story develops it bridges the gap on to Season 2; the Jedi also encounter a mysterious new villain named “Kul Teska.”

GVK: What are some of the charactares players will be able to play and will they
be assigned them during the game or do you get to select who you play at the
start of the game?

There are 8 Jedi, and 10 Clone characters to chose from, so favorites like Anakin, Obi-Wan, Captain Rex, and Commander Cody will be playable as well as some new characters like Sergeant Kano, and the bounty hunter Cad Bane. At anytime the player can go back and replay any mission they like as any character they like.

GVK: How will players gain new skills, and what are some of the moves players
will be able to make?

As a follow up, will moves be unique to each character?

Players accumulate points in the game by collecting Force orbs, and defeating enemies. In turn players can then spend those points however they like in the Shop to upgrade and customize their characters in the game. Outside of the Shop customization, each character group has a unique ability. Jedi can “Droid-Jak” which is the ability to jump on and control any droid in the game, and alternatively the Clones have a special ability to “slice” security consoles.

GVK: What are some of the locales players will enounter?

Players will see familiar locales from the show, like the planet Ryloth. There’s also the space station mining facility Juma-9, as well as some other new locales to the series like the frozen planet of Alzoc III, and the remote planet Behpour.

GVK: What are some of the enemies players will face and will their be boss

You’ll face off against the enemies of the Republic that you see on the show, including some new droids like the chameleon, and sabotage droids. Yes there are boss battles, so you can expect to see some familiar villains making an appearance as well.

GVK: What type of multiplay will the game offer?

Local Drop-in/Drop-out co-op multiplayer.

GVK: Will any of the voices from the television series appear in the game?

Yes, in fact all of the actors from the show are lending their voices for the game.

GVK: What are some of the differences players will experience playing as a Clone
Trooper as opposed to a Jedi, as I would think that being without the force
would present new challenges.

Like in the series the Clones and Jedi are always working together, helping each other… while the Jedi are acrobatic and have lightsabers and the Force, Clones are tactical experts with an arsenal at their disposal. From blasters to rocket launchers, thermal detonators, and even jet pack,s the clones have the firepower and the means to get the job done at any cost!

GVK: What can you tell us about the bonus items and in level challenges as well
as character upgrades?

Throughout the game are hidden artifacts. By collecting these you unlock all kinds of things from items and abilities to databank info about the series. “Instant Challenges” break up the co-op gameplay and give players the chance to compete against each other for points, ranking, medals, and bragging rights. These Instant Challenges appear as ‘access beacons’ within the game once an area is cleared of enemies; players can then choose to play these instant challenges as many times as they want or ignore them and continue with the story.

GVK: The Star Wars films have always had a dynamic musical score, what can you
tell the readers about the music in the game?

Well being Lucasarts, we have the very good fortune of working with all of the Lucas companies on Republic Heroes, so fans will be happy to know that we’ve worked with Skywalker Sound and have gotten a lot of those great scores from the series into the game.

GVK: Will vehicles be a part of the game?

Asolutely! There are STAPs, AT-RTs, as well as missions involving the massive vertical cliff-climbing AT-TEs

GVK: Roughly how long is the game?

That really depends on the player.. There are over 40 levels and with all the artifacts, unlockables, and collectibles there’s plenty to go back for if you’re a true collector.

GVK: What would you say sets this game apart from previous Star Wars games?

With Republic Heroes you get two completely different gameplay styles with the Clones and the Jedi. In addition to playing a pivotal authentic episode in the series you’ll also get to play as 4 brand new clone characters, meet a brand new villian, visit never before seen planets and also get to play as the ruthless bounty hunter Cad Bane. Did I mention the unlockables? Have you ever seen a Star Wars game where you could outfit a clone trooper or Jedi with an Indiana Jones Fedora?

GVK: What have been some of the greatest challnges in the game and the greatest

The greatest challenge is working on a Star Wars game. From rabid fans to hard core gamers it’s not an easy task to create something in a space where so many people have an opinion or expectations. Since Jedi Mind Tricks don’t work, (we’re rabid fans ourselves) we took some of those expectations and really collaborated with all of our partners (internally and externally) to bring an authentic Clone Wars experience that fits right in with the show, and is also a game that fans of any age or skill will love. For me, watching the new generation of Star Wars fans playing alongside the old school generation of fans and enjoying the game together is the greatest success.


FairyTale Fights Interview

Recently I spoke with Rick Van Beem Public Relations Manager for Playlogic Game Factory as well as Producer Martin Jense about their new game Fairytale Fights which was a blast to play at PAX. I want to thank Rick for answering my questions and for Danitra for arranging the interview

GVK: What is the background and setting for the game?

The game is set in an idyllic colorful fairytale environment. Three years ago the development team at Playlogic Game Factory came up with the idea to do something funny with famous European fairytales. Other influences were cartoons such as Ren & Stimpy, Happy Tree Friends and Itchy and Scratchy from Simpsons’ fame. After acquiring the Unreal Engine 3 and prototyping our own technology Fairytale Fights was born…an over-the-top Hack ‘n Slash Platform Adventure from Playlogic!

We have taken these known fairytales and mixed them up a little. You will encounter known fairytale settings and characters but it is all twisted. You are one of four playable characters that has lost their fame, because someone has altered the fairytale they star in. You can play as Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, Beanstalk Jack or the Naked Emperor. As these characters you are challenged on quests to reclaim your fame and fairytale status. This happens in a very brutal, visual manner. Let’s just say that our version of Little Red Riding Hood is not afraid of the Big Bad Wolf!

GVK: What are some of the locales gamers will see in the game?

Some you will recognize, others are self invented. But during your travels you will traverse the lumberjack lands, meet up with Gepetto and Pinocchio, eat candy from the candy castle (our version of the candy house from Hansel and Gretel), climb the beanstalk and battle the Giant!

GVK: What are some of the weapons we will see and will they change between locales?

There are over 140 different kinds of weaponry in the game, varying from blunt, sharp, ranged and magical weapons.

Blunt weapons will give players some beating power. When using the weapon in glory mode (a special attack you earn after getting consecutive combos) you will see a picture in picture screen depicting your enemy character as an X-ray skeleton. You can actually see his bones breaking while you are hitting him.

Our Real-Time-Dynamic-Slicing technology allows players to cut up an enemy in any way they like. You can slice vertically, horizontally, diagonally; all controlled with the right analog stick. You can even chop of an arm or finger. Every slice is unique. With a glory attack you can slice enemies multiple times and is good for an instant kill!

A good thing is that all this hacking and slashing will leave a lot of blood on the battlefield, which you can use to slide through, thanks to our volumetric liquid system.

Ranged weapons allow players to take out enemies from a safe distance, although the ammo is limited you can use glory mode to make a shotgun into a machine gun…basically gunning all enemies on-screen. The best are some of the magical weapons. There is an acid potion you can drink for a puke attack or you can throw it as a grenade. When enemies get in contact with the acid, their skin will melt off, just leaving a skeleton.

Weapons are fixed to their locales. In the lumberjack lands for instance you will find saws and axes, while you will find broken lollipops (sharp weapons) and candy canes (blunt) in the Candy castle. Whenever you find a wishing well you can spend money to spawn random items. This can result in more money, enemies or weapons. These weapons can come from other places than the area you are in.

GVK: How will vehicles be used in game and what will players be able to ride in?

There are no vehicles as such which players can control. There is however a rafting sequence that precedes a hefty boss fight!

GVK: Taking on beloved fairly tale characters is going to bring some Controversy?

Because of the over the top nature of this game and its cartoony looks we think to have a good chance to escape that controversy. The game is highly violent however; our goal with this game is to create humor with the contrast between this very colorful fairytale world, the wacky cartoony characters and the over-the-top slapstick violence! If people laugh while playing this game our mission is a success. We hope to offer one of the funniest co-op experiences in recent videogame history.

GVK: What are some of the biggest obstacles you faced in creating the game
and the biggest successes?

The biggest hurdle was developing our technology. Although we use Unreal Engine 3 as our base we have developed a lot of our own technologies as well. Amongst them is real-time dynamic slicing. This tech allows you to discect polygon models as you are playing. Every cut is unique and that takes up a lot of processing power. Also fine-tuning the volumetric blood system has ben difficult but at the end I think we have nailed it perfectly. Other stuff we are proud of is the game design and distinct art style.

GVK: What are some of the enemies players will face, and what characters
will players be able to play?

You can play as Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, Beanstalk Jack and the Naked Emperor. You will face multiple enemies, from gnomes, gingerbread men and a Giant Beaver Boss. Also you will encounter many characters you know from your childhood fairytales.

GVK: What game engine will the game be using and what features will it
bring to the game?

The game runs on Unreal Engine 3. Epic has created a fantastic editor in which you can quickly prototype stuff and see how they are working in your game. It is one of the best engines available and easy to work with.

GVK: What forms of multiplayer does the game include?

We have four player co-op offline and online (drop in-drop out). You can choose to leave friendly fire on so you can chop up your friends. Next to that we have player vs player arenas where players can go for a gory deathmatch extravaganza!

GVK: How will mapping and navigation be conducted in the game?

Your character is controlled by the left analog stick. All combat actions are set to the right. This is also what enables the slicing. Players can use the right stick to slice up enemies in any way they want.

GVK: Will boss battles be a part of the game?

Yes…absolutely! Appart from the giant beaver boss there are a lot of mid and end-level bosses.


Justine Wachsberger talks about “Sorority Row” and “Twilight: New Moon”

Recently I had the chance to speak with the lovely and talented Justine Wachsberger about her new film “Sorority Row” as well as her pending appearance in the next “Twilight Film. I want to thank Justine for answering my questions and Jordyn Borczon for arranging the interview with her client.

GVK: How did you become involved with Sorority Row and New Moon and what can you tell us about the films and your characters?

I auditioned for both films in Los Angeles and I was cast as Katie in Sorority Row. Katie is a sorority sister who does not fit in with the popular crowd. She is not part of the Theta Pi sorority. She uses sarcasm to get noticed. In New Moon, I play Gianna. Gianna is the human receptionist that works for the Volturi, the most powerful vampire coven. She is of Italian descent. My character was an interesting one to portray due to the mystery surrounding her motivations to become one of them (the Volturi.)

GVK: What sort of prep did you do for the films, as I would expect becoming a part of a franchise such as Twilight must be at times daunting as well as exciting.

I started by reading all 4 novels to understand where my character Gianna fits in the grand scheme of things. After that, I started to try to grasp her motivations for wanting to become one of them aside from her desire to be immortal. Gianna is putting her life at stake with only hope that she will be turned into a vampire. She is a risk taker.

GVK: Horror has often earned a bad rap for placing women in the position as being helpless objects, what are your thoughts on this and how would you say “Sorority Row” is different from other horror films?

In 1996, when the movie Scream was first released I definitely became a fan of the horror film genre. I must admit that in general women are objectified in the genre and appear helpless. However in Sorority Row, Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger created witty and strong female characters.

GVK: With such a radical fan base for Twilight, does any part of you have concern about the notority from from role leading to fanatical fans whenever you are out in public?

I am not concerned on the contrary I am thankful. Thanks to the fans, being part of the Twilight Saga, has opened so many doors for me. I doubt that many movies can create such a buzz around every character even the ones with smaller parts. New Moon helped me get the break I needed to start climbing he ladder of this gigantic machine that is Hollywood.

GVK: What were some of the more memorable moments from filming both movies and what were some of you fondest memories?

Sorority Row was my first experience of being on set. I made great friends with the cast as well as the crew. So I have great memories of Pittsburgh. Even though there was not much to do I got to see the Andy Warhol museum as well as spend quality time with everyone.

One of my most memorable moments on the set of New Moon was on my first day. I arrive on set for the fitting and some of the security thought I was a fan so that was a pretty humorous moment it was lovely to meet everyone and I made some great friends.
GVK: What can you tell the readers about your training in acting and about your first break?

I have been taking acting classes for as long as I can remember. I use to do plays while growing up in Paris. When I moved to LA, I started taking classes with some of the best coaches in town such as Larry Moss, Leslie Kahn, Scott Scedita, Eric Stuart and more.

I think it is important for every actor to better its craft on a daily basis. There is always room for improvement.

GVK: I noted in your bio that you had a marathon museum tour in Amsterdam, what can you tell us about that and what are some of the things you like to do in your free time?

I went with my best friend for 3 days to Amsterdam. Upon my arrival I realized that there were so many museums so instead of being lazy I decided to see as many as possible and thus leave Amsterdam feeling content of my trip.
On my free time I like to go out, watch movies, go hiking, read, and shop.

GVK: What movies have you seen recently and what do you have on your to see list?

Recently I went to see The Time Traveler’s Wife, Julie and Julia, 500 days of Summer, The Hurt Locker. So many movies I want to see so I really don’t know where to start.

GVK: What sort of music do you like?

I love Kings of Leon!!! Definitely my favorite artists of the moment. I like the Kooks and so much more.

GVK: What future projects do you have coming up that the readers can look forward to?

I have projects in talk but nothing set it stone so I really can’t reveal too much but I am not ready to disappear. This is only the beginning of an amazing journey.


Skewed and Reviewed: The magazine coming November 2009

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Twitter at garethmb

Borderlands Interview

Recently I got to speak with Chase Sensky, Borderlands Associate Producer about their highly anticipated game that made such a big splash at PAX. The game is scheduled to be released on October 20th and I want to thank Chase for answering our questions.

GVK: What is the background and setting for the game?

Our game is set on Pandora, one of the edge planets that comprise the remote territory known as the Borderlands. A largely desolate place, Pandora was only valuable to large corporations that sought its natural resources. However, legend has it that one of these major corporations, Atlus, discovered a mysterious alien technology on Pandora. Able to capitalize on this discovery, Atlus soon became the most powerful company in the universe. Understandably, this created a bit of a “gold rush” to Pandora, with other companies looking to find alien technology of their own.

As years passed, rumors of this alien technology and a hidden vault waned. With that, Pandora – a largely frozen planet – began to melt as the seasons changed. Deadly creatures came out of hibernation, and a once resourceful planet was suddenly barren and inhospitable. For the companies that could afford it, departure was the only logical choice; Pandora was simply too dangerous. Those that couldn’t make the journey were forced to stay, ultimately forming settlements or breaking off into hostile, bandit parties.
You, as one of four adventurers, arrive on Pandora looking for this mythological vault, attempting to piece together the broken story of this planet.

GVK: What are some of the locales gamers will see in the game?

Players will start Borderlands in one of the smaller settlements known as Fyrestone. This area is mostly arid hills and is largely under bandit control. This scene will be common to our heroes as they become more familiar with the planet before venturing out into the rest of the world.

From here, players can expect to dig deep into old mines, explore lost caves, and travel through industrial worn scrap yards. The player will visit newer, more civilized settlements, shipping docks, and see plenty of colorful greenery along the way.

Pandora is a big place! Without spoiling some of the more unique and exciting locations in the game, I will say we’re very proud of the variety! Borderlands is not your typical brown, post-apocalyptic shooter or RPG. We’ve got a lot of character, and it shows in the environments as well!

GVK: What are some of the weapons we will see and will they change between locales? And can you tell us about how they become customized?

Borderlands features over 16 million weapons! Clearly, you are going to see some wickedly cool and unique guns as you progress through the game!

To accomplish this feat, we developed an AI system, Gear Builder, to generate the guns for us. So, instead of creating individual weapons, we fed the artificial intelligence with data that defines a gun. We developed manufacturers, materials, weapon components, ammunition types, and let the software generate the outcomes for us based on various parameters. The result is nothing short of amazing! Every day we hear things like:

“Holy shit, that shotgun shoots rockets!”
“Check out this caustic sniper rifle – with a clip. It melts faces!”
“This combat shotgun is capable of electrocuting midgets until their eyes pop out!”
I’d love to give you a list of the weapons, but I haven’t even seen them all! Perhaps we can compare notes once the game is released?

GVK: What can you tell us about the RPG aspect of the game and character creation and how this plays into the overall game, as it seems to be a hybrid of RPG and First Person Shooter.

Right. Borderlands is a hybrid role playing game and first person shooter, so we’re calling it a role playing shooter, or RPS for short. For those players that have ever played a FPS, you’ll be able to immediately pick up Borderlands and feel right at home.

As we were developing Borderlands, we realized that first person shooter games are satisfying because of the tactile feedback. For example, when I aim my crosshair over a target and score a sweet headshot, I become as giddy as the next school girl. Role playing games often miss this mark by introducing dice rolls which affect my genuine ability, or skill. Borderlands doesn’t do this. We’ve removed chance when it comes to combat. With tight, responsive controls and honest first person shooter game play, it can be said that Borderlands comes from the shooter vector first.

However, we’ve layered several RPG elements on this solid foundation. From the RPG vector, players will have the opportunity to select one of four character classes at the start of the game: Roland the Soldier, Mordecai the Hunter, Lilith the Siren, or Brick the Berserker`. Each character has a special ability, strengths and weaknesses, and may be complimented by the guns and equipment acquired throughout the game.
When I select a character, I’ll be able to define how the character develops over time. For example, by selecting Roland the Soldier, I have the option of being a medic, providing healing support to my party. Alternatively, I can spec my character to be an ultimate badass, if I want to go in guns blazing. Maybe I want to provide team support with ammunition and party buffs, or perhaps I want to be a jack of all trades. Either way, in Borderlands, it is up to me to decide.

GVK: As a follow up, what options will players have as they gain XP and will players be able to trade and barter weapons and loot?

Borderlands focuses heavily on three main concepts, first, with discovery. As players gain XP and complete missions, they will unlock new and exciting locations to discover. The players will encounter more dangerous and threatening enemies, as well as acquire better loot and equipment to combat these challenges. And it should be said, Borderlands has a ton of loot! Apart from the millions of weapons, players will also be able to find shields, which are protective equipment that can recharge, heal, or even explode as defensive techniques.

Players will also find grenade modulators (for making everything from teleporting acid grenades to grenades that literally rain fire) to class specific equipment which can enhance character abilities.
So, as players gather all of this awesome loot, they are faced with the second concept, that of choice. Do I equip this item now? Do I leave this item and move on? Do I store this in my backpack and sell it to a vendor? Could one of my friends use this item? As you make these tough decisions, we provide players with the tools needed to make smart, informed decisions. You’ll be able to compare item statistics, buy and sell loot, and yes, even trade items with friends.

As the player gains XP, levels up, and acquires equipment, it builds on the last major concept of growth. Again, because Borderlands is an RPG, we want the player to feel like they are growing, becoming stronger and personalizing their character. We want this growth to happen in single player, as well as co-op!

GVK: How will vehicles be used in game and what will players be able to ride in?

Borderlands is a huge game, so vehicles will serve as the means to transport players across the large landscapes. But, don’t get too comfortable cruising on Pandora! Bandits have hoopties of their own! This, as you might expect, leads to inevitable, Mad Max-esque encounters complete with exploding vehicles and bandits that leap your way if you get too close.

GVK: Blending action with a detailed plot can always be tricky. How have you attempted to create this element, and will scripted events be a part of the game?

As mentioned above, Borderlands comes from the shooter vector first. As such, we don’t want the player to get stuck in intricate dialogue trees or many scripted sequences, because this takes the player away from the action. While we do have some of these key events, we tend to favor story delivery through mission objectives and general player progression. We want the player to unfold the mysteries of Pandora while keeping them engaged in game play.

GVK: What are some of the biggest obstacles you faced in creating the game and the biggest successes?

The biggest success of Borderlands is the amazing fusion of first person shooter and role playing elements, without a doubt. I’ve always been a huge FPS fan, so playing Borderlands is second nature to me. However, I can’t say I’ve ever played a FPS with the depth and value of Borderlands. There is so much to this game, but more importantly, it is accessible. The shooter fan will find a familiar friend in Borderlands, and the RPG player will find comfort in our systems and concepts. When combined, I think we’ve got a winning formula that will appeal to both sides, and indeed establish a new genre.

That of course, has been the very difficulty in developing Borderlands. Which elements do we take from the role playing side? What do we take from the shooter side? Can we provide the depth of an RPG but not overwhelm the FPS player that may never have experience with these concepts? Can we provide fun combat, even for the RPG player that has never played a shooter? As you can imagine, these are hard questions to answer! However, I think the team at Gearbox has done an amazing job doing just that! Combined with our publisher, 2K Games, we have been allowed us to take these risks and explore these questions.

GVK: What are some of the enemies players will face, and what characters will players be able to play?
Aside from the four playable characters, visitors to Pandora will encounter a slew of enemies. Much like the guns in Borderlands, the creatures vary in quantity and type. Players will cross everything from skags, which are dog-like creatures that have a nasty bite, to flying Rakk, and even armored spider-ants. Creatures are generated similar to our weapons, so they total well over a hundred different variations. They come in all shapes and sizes from weaker variations to the stronger, “Badass” versions, which may prove challenging to the unprepared!

GVK: What game engine will the game be using and what features will it bring to the game?

We’ve been fortunate enough to use Epic’s Unreal Engine 3 as the base to Borderlands. With that, we essentially get all of the next-gen features gamers expect right out of the box. From ambient occlusion, dynamic lighting and shadows, surround sound, to a fantastic art pipeline, it was all there.

However, to showcase Borderlands’ beautiful art, we modified the engine and added some really unique shaders and lighting models to compliment our concept art style. The result is nothing short of amazing! Furthermore, to accent our heavy cooperative influence, our engineers have spent a significant amount of time implementing full feature sets on all platforms for friends, matchmaking, and online play. We want players to get into games easily with friends and be amazed once they are there!

GVK: What forms of multiplayer does the game include?

The heart of Borderlands is four player co-op. It is important to note that Borderlands supports dynamic drop-in, drop-out play, in which the game automatically adjusts the experience to the number of players. Also, unlike a number of next-gen games, Borderlands supports split screen play. At Gearbox, we understand how important it is to play with a friend locally as remotely, and we want to encourage that type of play! On the other hand, for those that wish to talk smack, and go head to head, Borderlands supports PvP combat in the form of dueling, and more organized fighting in arenas across Pandora.

GVK: How will mapping and navigation be conducted in the game?

Borderlands tries to make it as easy as possible for players to stay in the action and stay in the game. Getting to the next location on Pandora should be the least of the players’ worries, so we’ve incorporated some really nice features to accommodate this travel.

First, all players will have a compass on the HUD detailing key waypoints and objectives. In addition, each character is equipped with an ECHO device, which functionality includes a complete map of the current area. As players complete missions, they even enable a fast travel network, which serves as a teleportation system to key locations in the game. Coupled with vehicle stations, players should have no problem navigating the world. After all, Pandora is a large and beautiful place. As developers, we don’t want the players to miss any of it!

GVK: Will boss battles be a part of the game?

Absolutely! I’d like to be a bit tight lipped here, but Borderlands boasts some interesting bosses with outrageous loot. You’ll be inclined to play some of these multiple times!

GVK: The game appears to have changed from what was first announced nearly two years ago. Can you talk about the changes and what lead to them?

Sure! So, late last year, we realized that Borderlands was becoming something really special. We understood the shooter component, and the RPG component was maturing quickly. We wanted to build on this, so we added an extra character class and expanded the world significantly. With that, most of the work relied heavily on the programming and design teams. Most of our art assets were already created, so the artists were chomping at the bit to contribute as well. The result was a revisit to the art style.

One thing the artists noticed is that we had all of this awesome concept art, much of which was not translated justly into the game. Truth be told, the concept art was cooler than the end result. But, to be fair, we see this a lot – just take the car industry. We’ve all seen these awesome concept cars, but once everyone is involved, it usually boils down to something more practical.

Well, the artists (and a few coders) set out to change this! Independently, and on their own accord, they created a prototype of the unique art style seen today. While a major departure from our previous effort, there was no question the end result was simply fantastic! The new styled oozed character, and reaffirmed the tone of Borderlands. Still, this was a huge risk.

Luckily, the redesigned art style resonated well at Gearbox, but we had to convince our publisher, 2K Games, that this was a good move. Admittedly, we probably couldn’t have done it with any other publisher. Not too far off Bioshock’s release, 2K was feeling more confident in a new, unique style, and in the end, they agreed to the change. Almost a year later, we have an amazing looking game with a unique, concept art style!

Skewed and Reviewed The Magazine Coming November 2009
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