Fans come to Borderlands for much more than its addicting brand of cooperative loot shooting and its unimaginable bounty of unique weapons.
It also cradles one of the game’s most instantly recognizable art styles: a cel-shaded aesthetic that makes Borderlands feel like it’s bursting out of the pages of a color comic.
We asked Borderlands Art Director Scott Kester if the Gearbox team has experimented with a new art style for Borderlands 3, perhaps wishing to create a new visual identity for the franchise.
We specifically named last year’s mega-hero superhero Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, a movie that perfectly draws the line between animation and comics in a way we haven’t never seen before.
âSpider-Verse is one of the best things I’ve ever seen in my life – the five best animated movies of all time. But, you know, we tried to push some boundaries with the Borderlands style. “
âWe tried to experiment on the far end of the spectrum, but we got to a point where we pushed some pretty wild stuff and it was just a little too much. It was abrasive and more difficult for people to see. Instead, we just said, hey, let’s spend our energy doing some crazy bullshit! “
That’s not to say that Borderlands 3 isn’t trying something new. In the roughly six years since Borderlands 2, the art team have continued to take advantage of new technology, learning from their work on recent remasters as well as Battleborn.
âThe biggest difference in this game is that we are using Unreal Engine and its PBR – physics based rendering. So the main evolution here is that we are showing a lot more readings of materials, sheets and surfaces.â
Again, with this cel-shaded motif being such a key part of Borderlands identity, stepping away from it in any way could have resulted in some serious backlash.
Just take a look at the thriving Borderlands cosplay scene to see just how much fans love this quirky art style. In addition to the crazy costumes and weapons, achieving that perfect cel-shading look requires some serious mastery in makeup.
Creating that same visual effect in-game also requires a lot of extra work – there’s no handy button the art team can press to activate some sort of cel-shaded filter.
âAll the other lines are hand drawn by someone. There’s nothing procedural going on to make the game look like this. It’s just us sitting there drawing above it all. To ink and draw things, a lot of games will use programs like Substance that will sort of generate textures and things, but that only gets to a certain point.
For the first time in franchise history, players will be able to board a spaceship and travel between different planets. Borderlands 3 is a notable advance in terms of size and scale – as a result, the art team had to create assets for a number of distinctive new locations, some of them with contrasting visual styles. In our recent hands-on demo with the game, we were unleashed on the Meridian Metroplex in the Promethea system.
âIt was such a great opportunity because it’s totally different to create a level that is all desert and rock and go to a big urban metropolis,â Kester tells us.
âYou can see what we did with that and, man, it was like making several different games. Each art [team member] said when we go to another planet it’s like making a whole different game for us. It’s just a ridiculous amount of content. I’m extremely surprised at the reach we’re getting and what we’ve been able to do on Borderlands 3. â
Borderlands 3 launches for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on September 13. Last month, Gearbox released a remastered version of Borderlands: Game of the Year Edition while also releasing a new UHD pack for The Handsome Collection.