Inside the Box: Designing Krieg, Part 1

Inside the Box serves as a forum for individuals involved in the production of Gearbox Software content to share personal motives, methods, process and results. Gearbox Software projects are created by a diverse range of individuals spanning a spectrum of different backgrounds, interests, objectives and world views. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Gearbox Software or any of its individual members outside of the author.

Welcome to Inside the Box, a new feature on! The goal of Inside the Box is to give you, our fans, cool new content on a regular basis that gives you some insight into what it is like at Gearbox, how we do things, and the behind-the-scenes scoop about a wide variety of topics from game design, writing, art direction and anything else that we (or you!) think might be interesting.

To kick off this new venture I thought, with the upcoming release of Krieg this week, I would go into some depth about the genesis of this new class. But first off, let me introduce myself.

Hi! I’m Paul Hellquist, the Creative Director and Lead Designer on Borderlands 2. I’ve been in the industry for nearly 15 years and was the Lead Designer on SWAT 4 and the original BioShock before joining Gearbox in 2008. While at Gearbox I worked on an unreleased title for a while before jumping onto Borderlands to work on the first hour experience among the many other things I poked my nose into. After that I worked on the Zombie Island of Dr. Ned and the Secret Armory of General Knoxx DLCs before shifting over to Borderlands 2.

Enough about me, you want to know about Krieg!

The first notions that eventually became Krieg started very early during pre-production of Borderlands 2 in spring of 2010. We had decided that BL2 would feature all new Vault Hunters, but who would these heroes be? We started that process with a huge brainstorming session that included most everyone who was on the team at the time. This group included Jeramy Cooke (Art Director), Steve Jones (Technical Director), Jonathan Hemingway (Lead Class Designer), Jason Reiss (Lead Level Designer), Ruben Cabrera (Lead Enemy Designer), and me.

The goal of the session was to throw anything and everything that could possibly be a class for the game up on a whiteboard. At the end of the meeting that board had everything from the classes we shipped to completely wild ideas like “Barber”, “Farmer”, and “Combat Mortician.” Of the many ideas on that board, one of them was “Psycho.”

Most of the ideas were crossed out because they were boring or silly (Farmer and Barber respectively). Others were rejected because they were, frankly, a bit…WTF? (Combat Mortician). Psycho was one of the ideas that made the cut to the final 10 or so ideas that had some legs. From the 10 finalists anyone on the team could write up some rough ideas for action skills and skill trees for any class that they found compelling so that the next time we met we could evaluate more specifics and see what was best from the group. I did a pitch for a few of the ideas on the board including the Psycho.

At the next meeting we presented our ideas. My Psycho’s action skill was called “Psychotic Fit” whose text was the following:

Psychotic FitIncreased movement speed and Increased Damage. All enemies attack the Psycho during the fit.

Pressing [ActionSkill] again during the fit causes area of effect explosion based on how much damage you received during the fit. After detonation you are put into Fight For Your Life.

Due to this action skill his trees had lots of skills that improved Fight For Your Life. Psychotic Fit is similar to what ultimately became “Light The Fuse.”

Krieg’s “Light the Fuse” Skill

The group generally really liked the pitch, but the major critique was that it was just too “out there” for one of the core characters for Borderlands 2. The group felt that it would not have enough broad appeal for new to Borderlands and returning customers alike. Ultimately, they were right. It was a fairly complicated design that was interesting but put a lot of burden on the player to see why it was cool. I knew that there were some awesome ideas for the class in that pitch but I also knew the decision to not move forward with the Psycho for Borderlands 2 was correct at that time.

Gaige’s Anarchy Skill

Flash forward to September 2012. Borderlands 2 is about to launch and Jonathan was busting his butt to finish Gaige the Mechromancer so that she could be ready as soon as possible. He was pushing some boundaries with the Ordered Chaos(Anarchy) tree and it was having some really interesting and awesome results in play test. He was doing crazy things like making the player’s damage get insane at the cost of accuracy getting terrible. A tree with skills that have pros and cons that changes the way you think about gear? It was directly in my design wheelhouse as far as what I think is cool in skill design. Even better was the fact that it plays great! This tree was a major factor in getting my creative juices for the Psycho bubbling again.

After Gaige launched and it was clear that players seemed to really love the idea of new playable characters, I was asked to figure out what the next one would be once we finished work on a few of the campaigns. With the response to the Ordered Chaos tree being so great I knew the time was ripe for my Psycho to get dusted off. I reminded some of the designers about the ideas for the Psycho and discussed it with marketing, Brian Martel (Chief Creative Officer) and Randy Pitchford (President and CEO). Everyone believed in the promise and design goals and decided the Psycho was the right choice for the next character class.

Maybe you are thinking, “Wait a minute! Why was it a good idea now when it wasn’t back then?” A fine question. First off, Jonathan’s work on the Mechromancer had shown that our fans were willing to embrace more advanced ideas and skill relationships in Borderlands characters. Second of all we knew that, by the time we finished building the Psycho, it would be well into 2013 and the game would have been out for quite some time. (In fact it is now about 8 months since the launch of the game.) We knew that our fans that would be still playing the game at that time were going to be our most dedicated and most experienced players. These are the players who, by now, know the game better than even I do. Because of this understanding of the potential customer for Krieg we knew that we could push the class design further and that the players would be ready for it. You guys are looking for something new, fresh, and exciting that can reinvigorate the game for you. I designed Krieg to fit that bill. Let’s hope I’ve succeeded.

There is a lot more to tell about Krieg, but you’ll have to return to Inside the Box soon for Part 2 where I will go into the details of his trees and some stories about the evolution of his skills. Before I can give you the inside scoop on the skills and skill trees it might help if you knew what Krieg’s trees were like. Good news is you’ll be able to play him beginning tomorrow (May 14) and in the meantime, you can check out his full skill trees at right now!

I hope you enjoyed this inaugural edition of Inside the Box. We would love to hear your feedback on this article and any ideas about what you would like us to write about in this feature in the future.Inside the Box is for you so please send any feedback to [email protected], hit up our forums or tweet me @theelfquist