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What does it takes to transform that twinkle in someone's eye into a fully realized playable character like Borderlands 2's Salvador the Gunzerker?

To find out more about that process, I spoke with some of the folks responsible for his inception and realization...

 Conception

Paul Hellquist, Creative Director:

The Gunzerker started as an action skill in a long list of potential action skills. The draw of dual wielding in our gun-centered game was immediately very strong. It was an idea that was kicked around during the development of the first game but with all of the other major challenges turned out to be one that we couldn't tackle at the time. Once we starting thinking about Borderlands 2 and decided that we wanted include dual wielding as an action skill we then needed to identify the action skills for the other classes before we could do anything else.

After the action skill, we then needed to identify the general theme of each of his skill trees. We decided upon a health related tree for tanking, a tree that was all about maximizing the dual wielding, and finally the "gun lust" tree which is all about maximizing your weapons. Next we thought about and brainstormed mid-game and end-game skills as we knew that these have to stand out. Once we identified the mid-game and end-game skills the next step is to fill out the rest of his passive skills looking for opportunities for skills to combo off of each other not only within a tree but across the tree. Once we were at this point it was over to the art department to flesh out the look of Salvador. Characters like the Punisher and Marv from Sin City were big sources of inspiration for the Gunzerker.

Once we got Salvador into the hands of our concept designers my main role was to discuss the drawing with them and provide influence and feedback about what elements I liked and disliked in the drawings. Honestly with this character I didn't really need to do any of that as the concept team immediately started nailing the idea and we quickly got to the final look.

Concept Design

Scott Kester, Concepter Designer:

After the initial thought of creating a new class that could dual wield any two guns was penned by our game designers, it was up to me to decide just what this guy would look like. Typically there is a cabal of sorts of ideas on what classes to make, in this case, many people got together in a room to discuss new options. Everyone from game designers, the art director, myself, and a myriad of other key players chose what might work best. The creative director and game designers mainly built his skill tree and action skills. That was enough information to take, and try to translate to the characters visuals. All I had to go off of was his skill trees and action skills, plus a loose inspiration sheet of characters we wanted to start from. We wanted a Punisher vibe to him, but also a bit of Jayne from Firefly thrown in.

In terms of visuals, and overall look and feel, Salvador was primarily my responsibility. I worked with Art Director Jeramy Cooke to establish what we were looking for with him. We knew he needed to be a rough and tough guy, but we already had Brick as an archetype, and wanted a new body type so that he felt unique from the other characters. We honed in pretty quickly on making a shorter, more squat compact character, we took some inspiration from the "dwarven" archetype, I was passionate in exploring what this meant for the Borderlands character line-up. I also wanted to infuse a rough, punk rock angle to him. The studded wrist bracer, the bullets through his ears, his tats, the rocker belt, it was important for me to give him an edge that the other characters didn't have. He's a bit more disheveled, a little unkept, has spurs, a beard, but most importantly, GUNS. This guy lives and breathes guns, so they are all over him, from the twin holsters under his arms, to the bullet tattoos, and spare ammo all over him. He, in many ways, the epitome of Borderlands, someone with a harsh background, making do in this rough world, living by the gun, getting by. It was very important to me for him to have some ethnicity to him, a skin tone and heritage to set him apart from the others, we wanted to represent more cultures in the game. He is one of my favorite characters I've ever made I put a lot of myself into these guys, I even got to name him, which was extra special to me.

I typically start with just pen and paper in a traditional sketchbook, I use hard lead drafting pencils, Micron pens to ink, and Pantone gray markers to grayscale tone at this stage. I seem to think better at the start of a new character that way, it keeps me looser, not so refined or worried about perfect lines. I'll do 20-ish (sometimes more sometimes less) and pick a few and start to refine the ideas from there. Then I take those drawings, scan them in to the computer and start to fiddle with more options and variations. I use Photoshop for all of this. After we feel good about his look, I will do a" turn around" that shows the front, side, and back of the characters to flush out the details for the modelers. often times close ups of the face, and other details that need explanation. I add all my color at this stage, all digitally, after many color options and palettes, we settle on a main color scheme. I use lots of reference here and there for real world details such as holsters, and gear. I also take inspiration from other artists, and the peoples feedback around me.

Once the concept is complete with a full turn and color, it heads to the modeler, in this case, the extremely talented Character Artist Adam May! He takes my chicken scratch, translates it to a gorgeous high poly state. During this process Adam, Jeramy, and I work out the model, I will often do paint-overs on the models to help refine areas or clarify what I was trying to show, we often times need to fix issues that come when 2D art gets translated to 3D, which happens regularly. Adam is a beast though, and typically just kills it. Once the high is complete, and we all sign off on it, he builds, the low poly, rips normals, UV's, and textures the bad boy. I continue to give feedback during this stage as well. I try to see the character all the way through, from idea, to concept, to model, rigging/weighting, to animation, and so on. I do what I can to tell animation what kind of movement and feeling I/we are looking for in his actions. It takes lots of us to make this character become a reality, lots of communication, and lots of teamwork.

Skills and Gameplay

Jonathan Hemingway, Game Designer:

I was part of the group that created the Gunzerker (and the rest of the characters) from the very beginning of Borderlands 2. We started by asking very high level questions about the different types of gameplay that we wanted to achieve, what cool new things did we want in Borderlands 2 that we couldn’t do in the first one, etc. The Gunzerker came about from the very strong desire to have dual wielding in the game. and was one of the most requested features from the community. We wanted to deliver dual wielding to the customer, and once we asked the question of “how do you ‘Borderlands up’ dual wielding” (answer: by letting the player dual wield rocket launchers and heavy machine guns) the Gunzerker quickly started to create himself.

My role in the character creation process is to be the “skills/gameplay” guy. I’m the guy who designed and built his skill trees. I’ve spent a lot of time creating skills that nudge the player down a particular path of gameplay to create the experience we want for the Gunzerker. For example, a lot of what the Gunzerker is about is aggression. Get in there and start shooting. Every first person shooter player knows that having to reload is can get you killed, but for this character I wanted reloading to not break the aggressive gameplay so I added the “Locked and Loaded” skill. If you have “Locked and Loaded” then after reloading your gun you get a Fire Rate bonus for a few seconds, effectively increasing the damage you can dish out. This allows the Gunzerker to change reloading from something that would normally slow him down to something you use to plow through enemies faster.

Art, design, and code all worked closely together to create the Gunzerker. I personally worked a lot with code to make sure the technical side would work, but I also spent a fair amount of time with Art to get the visuals of dual wielding large weapons in the first-person perspective to look and feel good.


And that's just the beginning -- keep an eye out for the next installment covering Modeling, Programming and Animation!

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