If there’s one thing that’s immediately striking in Battleborn, Gearbox Software’s new ‘hero shooter’, it’s the art style. The characters that make up the game are front and centre in marketing and trailers, and for good reason – they’re the personalities you’ll come to know and love as you play. During a preview session in Sydney we got the chance to speak to Sarah Rosa and Caitlyn Trout, artists on Battleborn, discussing the process that goes into creating these vivid characters and the game’s place in the 2016 game market.
Jayden: Battleborn’s visual style feels very familiar with similarities to Borderlands, but still manages to be unique. How did you go about creating something new while meshing that with iconic Gearbox designs?
Sarah: One thing that people see a lot, when looking at Battleborn and Borderlands, is that they’re both very stylised games. They have very particular feels to them, and a lot of what people are seeing is Scott Kester. He was an artist on Borderlands and is now the art director of Battleborn. You see a lot of him permeating through the game. We approached Battleborn with a clean style. We kind of worked around the idea of combining anime styles with Pixar, seeing how those worlds could smash together.Caitlyn: Even though the styles aren’t all that similar, besides being cartoony, I think that there’s so much personality infused and that the forms are really well exaggerated and interesting. Because they’re the same way for both projects and people kind of latch onto that, even though the characters themselves don’t look like a lot eachother.
Jayden: What’s the process of designing a character for Battleborn, so that the look and gameplay match up with the characters intended personality?
Sarah: We approach characters in a lot of ways. It’s actually a really organic and awesome process we have within the studio where both art and design are working very closely together. Sometimes, when we were working in picking which characters to move forward with and getting ideas for characters our designers might say “hey, I have an idea for a character, this is sort of what I want them to do. Art, what do you think? Can we make something around that?”
Other times, like in pitch meetings, an artist might come in and say I’ve had this idea for a character and drawn this up, we could move the gameplay in this direction. From there, a designer and artist will pair up and that’s where we get this great partnership – our characters look really cool and stylish, but also it reflects what their skills are.Caitlyn: They’re made with that form in mind. It’s open to anybody, you don’t have to be any one of those groups to pitch a character. Toby, the penguin mech, that was an effects team design – someone drew an adorable penguin in a mech and everyone was like we should make that, why is that not in the game right now? That’s just how that happened, and I really like that – it’s really inclusive. If I ever feel like it I can sit down and sketch something funny for a while to see if it takes, a lot of good designs come that way.
Jayden: With so many different characters and styles, who were your favourite characters to work on and bring to life?
Sarah: El Dragon is probably one of the most loved characters amongst the art team. He’s our luchador character, he’s very mobile. Last time I was playing in a group with him I was a healer, and watching him run all over the map, trying to keep tabs on him to keep him healed, was amazing. He’s been such a labour of love for the art team – Scott Kester did his concept, our character lead got him blocked in very quickly so they could start playing around with him. The more we got the other departments involved, everybody was able to put their stamp on him and add more to El Dragon, so he’s been a really fun process.Caitlyn: I always get to see the characters right before they get all their effects, the extra pizazz. I loved the transition for Attikus and his first person perspective. He’s a giant thrall who punches people and as his effects came in I saw how much life that put into him – I kept standing over our effects artist’s shoulder like “that’s so beautiful, I love it”.
Sarah: Deandre was another really fun one to watch production on also. We got her concept in and I instantly fell in love with watching her get going, us figuring out the mechanics of what’s going on with the back of her dress and how to make it work as a cosplay. Once we got her in the game and animation started we were able to really bring her to life, and she got such an interesting demeanour.
Jayden: For the game’s more competitive aspects, what was involved in ensuring things stayed balanced and competitive while retaining the personality in art and environmental design?
Sarah: For our PVP maps we actually follow a pretty involved process. Our level designers will block things out and find the fun and what works in a map beforehand, then art will be working with them closely to come in and do paint overs, seeing how we can work with what we have. We’re really cautious, especially with PVP, to make sure things stay competitive and fair. We’re constantly having a back and forth of sticking to their footprint and generating new ideas with the designers, making sure that it’s play tested; checking balance. If we add this perch here does someone now have an unfair advantage in the map?Jayden: How do you think Battleborn distinguishes itself in the market? The hero shooter is a new but on the rise genre, so what makes Battleborn unique?
Caitlyn: We have a whole cooperative standpoint that not many others offer, and we have the story stuff where you can hop in, play splitscreen, and can be as casual as you want. It’s very inclusive, but can also be quite competitive in PVP. It brings in a story that’s interesting to play and episodic; I don’t think anyone else has that. I feel very comfortable bringing in less experienced gamers, sitting down and experiencing that story side with them, they really love that cooperative play.
Sarah: The other thing that really sets Battleborn apart is the rapid progression system. That helix makes a huge difference, and because you’re constantly changing depending on the match and building your character different ways, it gives you so many options to play around with.
Caitlyn: I think it’s great that we have competitors in this young genre, from other really great companies I admire. If people are making games that are somewhat similar it means we had a good idea – and they’re all having it too.
We’ll have more on Battleborn in the coming weeks, including a new look at the episodic story content. Until then you can check out our thoughts on the game’s competitive multiplayer mode, Incursion, right here!