Gearbox Software's distinct looking game in focus

Epic Diaries: Borderlands

Gearbox Software has reinvented its sci-fi shooter, Borderlands, with a new distinctive look. The game, which has always been powered by Unreal Engine 3, got an extended development timeline last year when the decision was made to launch in holiday 2009. The larger window proved to be a opportunity for the team’s art department.

“From a small group of artists came an initiative to render the concept art style in the game,” said Randy Pitchford, president of Gearbox Software. “Have you ever seen a really cool looking concept car? Concept cars are always amazing. But we never get to drive them. Something always happens between the concept car and when it’s finally manufactured and all the coolness is stripped away. I think our artists asked themselves why we couldn’t just make the game look like the concept art. So they did it.”

The prototype blew away management at Gearbox and publisher 2K Games. Pitchford said when people see screenshots, they want to know what the game looks like when it’s moving in real-time 3D. And when they see it moving, they want to pick up the controller and walk through the world themselves.

“Unreal Engine 3 is a great platform for the art direction because it supports so many great features for the kinds of materials we want to render,” said Pitchford. “It’s also extensible; our engineers have added to and extended the engine’s rendering features to make lighting and shading changes necessary for this distinctive look. We’ve been able to do this and remain compatible with the Unreal Engine 3 code base and accept new upgrades as they come, both from within Gearbox and from Epic, who are constantly improving the technology.”

Gearbox’s programmers have worked with its artists to add new rendering techniques that work with the content to create the astonishing look of Borderlands that is unlike anything seen before. Pitchford said it’s an amazing testimony not only to the technical flexibility of UE3, but of the possibilities that can be unleashed when talented artists, designers and engineers are empowered to be creatively flexible.

Pitchford said his Borderlands team has also capitalised on the advancements from Epic’s own Gears of War 2.
“With the success and quality of Gears of War 2, we leverage a huge amount of technology value,” said Pitchford. “We use this to ensure that Borderlands looks amazing and runs fast on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC. But the look of the game is not even half of the story. The gameplay is amazing, too, and the results we’re seeing are only possible with strong talent using great tools.”

The Borderlands team also used UE3 to develop a data-driven system to support the creation of an artificial intelligence that procedurally generates each of the millions of different weapons in the game. This Gear Builder system and AI is new technology that Gearbox was able to seamlessly layer on top of UE3 without compromising systems. The end result is a game that looks and plays like no other experience out there.

Pitchford said that one look at Borderlands is all that’s needed for someone to see that Gearbox has used UE3 technology to create a look that is simultaneously familiar and yet unlike anything that’s ever been seen before.

Pitchford concluded that Borderlands is a very robust, rare and valuable game experience that’s been created from the mix of Gearbox Software’s talent and the tools of Unreal Engine 3. In essence, it’s the perfect marriage of creativity and technology.

Thanks to Gearbox Software for speaking with freelance reporter John Gaudiosi for this story, which will be posted in full at

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