Inside the Box: The Personality of a Psycho

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.

Hi, I’m Anthony Burch. I was the Lead Writer of Borderlands 2, I can grow a full beard in a week, and if we ever meet in person you will probably think I’m angry or bored (that’s just my face).

Following the article on the design of Krieg from Lead Designer Paul Hellquist, I’d like to talk a little about how he, Raison Varner (Audio Designer and the Voice / Co-Writer of one of the Psycho enemies in Borderlands 2) and I came up with Krieg’s personality.

As a Psycho — as a version of the enemy sprinkled all throughout both Borderlands games and even adorning our cover art — we knew players were going to come in with certain specific expectations and demands of Krieg’s personality.

So, when you think of a Psycho Bandit, what comes to mind? Probably a mixture of things from this list:

  • Word salad
  • Mommy issues
  • Surreal threats
  • Violent (but not profane) language

To that end, the first revision of Krieg’s battle dialog list was basically a hodgepodge of these Psycho memes already established in the two games. Here are some of the first lines of dialog Raison and I wrote for him:



You’re ruining my birthday!

Raison, Paul and I realized that this direction just wasn’t right. It played like a “greatest hits” of Psycho dialog, devoid of any individual personality – he’s got mommy issues and he says weird stuff. Woo-hoo.

Not only that, but we knew Raison wasn’t going to voice this new character, because players would need to instantly tell Krieg’s voice and the voice of a Psycho enemy apart (you wouldn’t want your friends suddenly turning and blasting you in the face because they heard you say “strip the flesh, salt the wound” and thought you were an enemy). And if we weren’t going to have Raison’s uniquely high-pitched Psycho voice — if we were going to go with a voice actor who embodied the muscly, intimidating concept art we’d seen for Krieg (whom I called Meat Popsicle at the time, then Grim, then Blitz — we’ll write about how hard it is to name things in a later article), then his personality needed to be markedly different from the enemy Psycho.

And so, jokes about birthday parties and mommies became more aggressive rants about blood and cartilage. We replaced the Psycho’s whimsical contrast of insanity and childishness with a slightly darker combination of rage and surrealism. Here are some of Krieg’s lines after the second rev:

Crack the ribcage to get the goodies!

I like my treasure like my baby steaks: rare!

Now to scrape your face from my fingernails!

Hopefully, these lines accomplish the dual goals of making him feel like a Psycho while still giving him his own distinct personality. (That said, he still says “rip the flesh salt the wound” sometimes because that’s a popular line and I’m a goddamn hypocrite.)

So, we’ve got a new personality for him. Everything’s great.


…Well, now that we’ve made him sort of angry and violent and sinister, he’s coming off a little, uh, angry and violent and sinister. And even though our Vault Hunters are anti-heroes (this is a really good article that captures what we were thinking in regards to their moral ambiguity), we didn’t want players to feel uncomfortable inhabiting this guy — nobody wants to play a Jeffrey Dahmer simulator for sixty hours. I mean, most people don’t.

To that end, Paul tossed a question at me: what makes Krieg different from all the other Psychos? Why isn’t he just another [REDACTED] face trying to kill the player, and why aren’t the other players trying to kill him?

After some deliberation, either Paul or I — I can’t remember who, so I’m going to go ahead and pretend it’s me — came up with the idea of Krieg’s inner voice.

Basically, think of Krieg as a runaway semi truck that’s barreling down a hill towards a small town. The driver desperately wants to stop the truck, but he knows enough about physics and momentum (he graduated from MIT but times are tough and he has children to feed) to know that he can’t possibly halt the truck — he can only hope to steer around as many people as possible and mitigate whatever damage the truck causes.

That’s Krieg’s inner voice. If 99% of Krieg is pure rage and insanity, the 1% of him that remembers who he used to be before he went insane is trying to, at the very least, direct his violence in the right direction. The inner voice knows he isn’t powerful enough to just plain stop Krieg from murdering people, but he can at least make sure Krieg is murdering the RIGHT people — bandits and Hyperion and skags rather than, say, puppies and children.

So, when you’re playing Krieg, you (and nobody else in your party) may occasionally hear a quiet voice whisper stuff like this:

I feel powerful. I hate it.

I deserve to burn.

Forgive me.

And even these inner voice lines needed some reworking, because they initially came off as too condescending — they felt like they were chastising the player for having fun. After another rev, though, the inner voice became more of a reluctant partner — a guy who knows that he’s stuck inside a psychopath, but still derives some pleasure from performing tremendous acts of over-the-top violence against deserving people:

Hunh. Maybe I’m not so bad after all.

Lotta bad guys. Time to go to work.

Get up — we’ve still got bad guys to kill.

As I’ve hopefully shown, the process of doing something as seemingly straightforward as writing dialog for a psycho can often take several revisions before it feels right. Hell, even now, I wish I could do another rev.

In the end, I’m pretty happy with where Krieg’s personality landed — focus testers have told us he’s funny, and, more importantly, they HAVEN’T told us that he’s overly creepy or too similar to the enemy Psycho. I’m also writing this before the release of our video about how Krieg became a Vault Hunter — I hope people like it, because I quite enjoyed writing it.

Anyway, yeah. Hope that wasn’t too boring. If you’d like us to talk about anything specific on Inside the Box, please let us know at [email protected]