Hot on the heels of the first Borderlands DLC, The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned, comes a second offering from the Gearbox team called Mad Moxxi's Underdome Riot. This time, the developers have presented three "riot Coliseums," where Mad Moxxi runs tournaments in which the players' team is assaulted by unrelenting waves of baddies. Moxxi narrates the entire experience and even imposes rules on the team to add spice and tactical challenges that take Borderlands' already chaotic combat to a new level of insane.
Who are some of the masterminds behind Mad Moxxi and what is it like developing DLC for a game like Borderlands? I sat down with some of the developers to get a sense of how this whole thing came together.
Stephen Cole: I'm a visual level designer and international man of leisure - you can blame The Ruins and The Gully on me, specifically, if you don't like them.
Matthew Armstrong: I forget what I did. It seemed to work out, though, in the end.
Drew Mobley: I did level design work for the DLC.
Jonathan Hemingway: I'm a game designer. I worked on designing the UI for the tournaments, and helped build the rules that direct the Coliseum combat.
Matthew Armstrong: Holistically, Jonathan and I did the rules. The two of us and Drew spent a lot of time working out the rules, the balance, and the structure, framing what each wave is, what the rounds are - fundamentally what makes this a different type of game than just plain, regular Borderlands.
Tim Wilson: I was responsible for pretty much all of the environment art, and Adam May did Moxxi, of course. I did the lobby, and I named Moxxi - what was she before? Candy?
Matthew Armstrong: So, we'd said from the beginning that we wanted to listen to what our players wanted when it came to DLC. We parsed a lot of feedback from people playing the game, from our community and focus testers, and paid attention to what came out on top. That helped drive the process of deciding what to implement.
Jonathan Hemingway: We wanted to figure out what we could feasibly add that players wanted. We sat down, looked over suggestions, and talked about what we could do that satisfied our desires to expand Borderlands and answer some of the players' desires. We added storage - there was a big demand for that, so it was important.
Matthew Armstrong: We were also inspired by a prototype fast-combat map that Rob Heironimus made. In this prototype, one of the options is "fast combat" - it's a very fast, quick, 5-minute experience. You fight through, you get some equipment, and it's like a little mini-mission to go kill a boss guy. The enjoyment of that quick loop was another inspiration for the Coliseum tournaments; it let us know this was something we could have success with.
Tim Wilson: Getting to the final realization of what this DLC is was definitely a collaborative process. As with any development process, it required iterating and evolving to distill it down to its essence and focus on what was fun.
Jonathan Hemingway: This kind of wave-based gameplay was one of the most common requests, and once we decided that we could be successful with it, we really wanted to take it and give it a Borderlands flavor. Moxxi and the rules she lays down are examples of us approaching that goal.
Drew Mobley: We tried to hone in on what was the most fun about Borderlands and take it from there. The combat is so fun, and this kind of game mode really lets the focus be about the combat.
Drew Mobley: When we were developing Borderlands, the game wasn't out in the wild yet; we weren't entirely sure what people would think. We did a lot of focus testing and we knew we liked playing it, but it still wasn't out in the public yet. Working on DLC, the game had come out, we knew it was a hit, and we knew people wanted more. It was a lot of fun developing something that we knew the audience wanted more of.
Stephen Cole: One of the best things was the small team, a little small fire team, running around doing their own thing. On a daily basis, we could move very quickly; we could be very agile, make changes quickly. That was cool.
Matthew Armstrong: It helps that, with DLC, we know the player is already familiar with the game. We had the opportunity to expand on the elements that were fun, and that's really what the DLCs are about - expanding on the things that we learned were fun about Borderlands. Zombie Island was focused on the humor and personality that we understood more the longer we worked on Borderlands - the journey of the game. Moxxi is about intense, co-operative combat.
Tim Wilson: They're really like epilogues to the main game. By the time we were making DLC, we had a greater understanding of what Borderlands is - it evolved so much in development, and now we knew what gave the game its personality, and we could capitalize on those elements. We really whittled the game that we'd been working on for so many years down to its essence.
Jonathan Hemingway: With the small team full of people very familiar with the tools, we could really focus on "what can you make that's cool" rather than "how can we get this to work?" That knowledge of the tools let us work and iterate very quickly.
Stephen Cole: It was really interesting to have our own piece of content that's off to the side and not part of the main game - we could get even wackier, a little crazier.
Drew Mobley: The bank, actually. I like the bank! It's awesome!
Stephen Cole: The lobby! You look at it, and it takes you right to the edge of "I want to see a whole lot more of this stuff, I want to know the back story; I want to know where it came from and how it fits in the universe." You can look at the stuff in there and imagine where it came from, where it's going, and where you would take it, but we don't shed light on all of it. There's story to the lobby.
Drew Mobley: I have to change mine. Moxxi is my favorite part. The announcer, all her little quips, and the constant reinforcement of being in a Coliseum and being watched. The crowd and Moxxi and the ambiance of the fighting are awesome.
Matthew Armstrong: Moxxi is so cool; she's constantly announcing and cheering and pumping up the crowd. She brings energy to the Coliseum that I don't think people have seen before in something like this. There are so many things I really like. I think Moxxi is fantastic, and the second thing I like is the challenge...
Jonathan Hemingway: Awww, that was mine!
Matthew Armstrong: I don't know anything about the challenge; the second thing I like is actually the penalty box. The penalty box is a whole different way to handle the situation of going into a down state. In Borderlands, when you go down you can still save yourself; you can still contribute and be part of the team. In this DLC, when you're playing co-op in the tournament and someone dies, we don't put them in some ghost mode where they watch other people play. You go to the penalty box, and you can still fight from there. You can shoot, you can throw grenades, and you can use your skills and contribute. When everyone goes to the penalty box, you lose; you're out, but while you're in there you can still help and play or possibly earn the right to go back into the Coliseum. What about you, Jonathan?
Jonathan Hemingway: I really like the challenge! It's really one of the first places in Borderlands that can be so difficult that you really have bragging rights if you get through all of it. The game is always about co-op, but a whole new level of co-operation is required to finish the big tournament. You really will go in there and discuss gear and skills to make sure you can get through with your team.
Matthew Armstrong: It's important to note that there are two tournaments (difficulties). The little one, anyone can play and get through with a pretty tough challenge, but it's not insurmountable. The big tournament is insurmountable. You have to coordinate, you're going to have to work together really well, and it's great opportunity to test yourself.
Jonathan Hemingway: I like the three different Coliseums; they all have different tactical approaches and strategies you'll need to use. The level designers did a fantastic job making them all feel different and play differently.
Drew Mobley: Yeah - with Hellburbia, I wanted a modular set piece that I could move around and quickly create platforms and places for people to run. They all had doorways, and we've always been spawning people from doorways, so it made sense. The Gully has these nice changes in elevation that feel very different from the flatter Hellburbia; it has this nice circular flow. The Ruins was a space that Cole built from the ground up using the ruins and snow, we really like how those look.
Stephen Cole: I thought the ruins were really under-represented in the environments, it was an opportunity to see more of that content that people put so much work into. I really liked that we focused in on fun, that we spent our time and resources really getting the most benefit out of making the game mode better, making the tournaments and Coliseums more fun.
Tim Wilson: I like the lobby! I like the zaniness. I love how it focuses on the combat, how it's so over-the-top. Jacked up, funny, unique, strange fps combat; it's very Borderlands.
Matthew Armstrong: Someone needs to talk about Moxxi's Maxims. Moxxi's Maxims are a set of combat rules set by Moxxi, and they are where this thing goes crazy. We take Borderlands' crazy combat and make it extra crazy. I think we have over 20 Maxims, and each one significantly changes the nature of how you have to fight. At first you don't have any Maxims, and then when Moxxi introduces one it makes you have to think and change the way you're playing. You could get a rule coming in that says "Shotgun Challenge" and all of a sudden everyone has bonus damage with shotguns, and every other weapon does reduced damage. The enemies do more damage with THEIR shotguns. Now, all of us, we need to use shotguns. Then, maybe next round, Moxxi gives you a rule that says "Headshot." Suddenly, body shots do nearly no damage, but to compensate, headshots do massive damage. Now imagine if you have a shotgun challenge AND a headshot challenge at the same time, now we're dealing with close combat! As The Maxims get more and more complicated and stack on top of each other, of the difficulty increasing and the number of enemies increasing, we really get into some wild, enjoyable, chaotic fun.
Jonathan Hemingway: We have some pretty crazy rules that get really nuts when they combine. There's "Low Grav" and "High Speed." There's "Vampire," where you constantly lose health until you kill an enemy and regain a chunk. This is how we "Borderlands-up" this mode. We took the idea of randomly generating combinations and applied it to the combat with Moxxi's Maxims.
Jonathan Hemingway: Anything you're building, if you can just inject a little bit of personality into it, it makes it ten times better. In Moxxi, we have a bank. The idea of a bank is something that people want. It's something functional, and it could've just been a box. But in the DLC, you go in there, and it's just hilarious. There's a Marcus painting on the wall, there's Claptrap in a tuxedo with a monocle. Borderlands' personality was something that became clearer and clearer as we developed the game, and we really tried to take it and run with it in DLC.
Drew Mobley: One lesson for me was how important it is for the players to be able to talk about the level to each other. Everyone really stressed the importance of landmarks, making sure there were distinguishing parts of the map, so players could relay where they were to each other. That was really important - landmarks, making sure each area of the map is identifiable.
Tim Wilson: It's a lot about collaboration - people caring about something and running off with it, smaller collaborations turning into larger collaborations turning into defining pieces of the game. There's this trickster element to developing for Borderlands, and you can feel it when you play the game. In a way, there was some chaos that ended up lending the game some personality - something gets made, maybe doesn't get used for its original purpose, it gets co-opted by other developers and ends up just working, becoming part of the whole. You couldn't plan for everything - it's developers excited about what they're doing and being nimble.
Stephen Cole: There's something to be said for grabbing something and scurrying off from the light, and gnawing on it for a while and bringing it back to the ant hill. You have people doing that, and then somebody coming along and squishing individual ants, and taking whatever isn't squished and making it better and better. Letting people take what they care about and work with it was important.
I'd like to thank the devs for sitting down and chatting about Moxxi with us, and thank everyone who has made Borderlands possible! We hope you enjoy the game and the DLC, and that this interview sheds some light on the people behind the scenes who bring you awesome Borderlands goodness! Don't forget to check out the Borderlands community to interact with other fans and with our developers, and to get the latest Borderlands news!