Borderlands’ change of art style shaped sci-fi games for years to come

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Anyone with a long internet memory will remember how Gearbox changed the art style of the original Borderlands. It has been talked about a lot in the years since its original release in 2009, and it’s widely regarded as a “last minute” change that helped the FPS co-op series take off.

When it first appeared in public in 2008, Borderlands was a drab, mostly brown shooter that looked a bit like the original Halo via Mad Max. It was definitely a product of its time, emerging in an era dominated by Gears of War and other games with a muted color palette, like the Resistance series on PlayStation, or Metal Gear Solid 4, or Resident Evil 5. Les pieces of Borderlands were certainly there, the guns, the vehicles, the enemies. It looked boring on any screen where someone wasn’t shooting a gun.

Interestingly, UK gaming media resource Games Press still has all of the original Borderlands screens from before the change, a time capsule of the game as it once was. I’ve put most of them in the gallery below, if you’ve never seen them before, or it’s just been a while. The first six were unveiled at Leipzig 2008, while the last three were dropped at E3 2008 a few months earlier.

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As meticulously detailed by Gamespot in 2010, Borderlands was designed as “Halo Meets Diablo” in 2005. The color scheme swap was attributed to several factors, including testers thought it looked too much like Fallout 3. and the Rage to come. of id. About 75% of the change happened during development, so what quickly became the previous iteration was called the ‘brown period’ of the game.

The point is, the decision to give Borderlands a wild, cel-shaded art style wasn’t just a pivotal moment for the game and the collective destiny of Gearbox. This was a turning point for sci-fi games in general – cel-shading was a bit of an early 2000s gimmick already seen in games like Cel Damage and Ubisoft’s XIII, but here it made perfect sense when it came down to it. was combined with the game’s weird sense of humor. When I reviewed the original Borderlands for an Xbox magazine now defunct in 2009, it unexpectedly became a game I called colleagues to check out – either because I found a ridiculous new weapon. that was shooting elemental bullets, either because the tone surprised me somehow (I gave it 9/10). I remember insistent to a friend in a pub to buy it, so that we can try it cooperatively. It’s gone from being barely on my radar to my personal GOTY.

Along with the second, more colorful Borderlands game that arrived in 2012, I think the art style of the series helped pull us out of an era of muddy shooters and into an era where Destiny, No Man’s Sky, and Fortnite could thrive. These games might not be directly inspired by Gearbox’s work, even though Destiny’s Cayde-6 would blend in perfectly with Pandora, but it did help start the trend they would ultimately belong to.


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