E3 2011: Gearbox Software Interview

By Jordan Douglas on June 20, 2011, 2:48PM EDT

During E3 2011, we sat down with Gearbox Software's president and co-founder Randy Pitchford, and vice-president Steve Gibson. Their team out of Plano, Texas has been hard at work developing several simultaneous projects; including but not limited to, Duke Nukem Forever, Aliens: Colonial Marines and Brothers in Arms: Furious 4. Randy and Steve shared with us how they manage this workload, how Gearbox's culture has changed as a result, what's going into Aliens: Colonial Marines, and more. Enjoy.

Gaming Union: Has the culture changed at Gearbox now that you have so many projects in the works?

Randy Pitchford: Gearbox is about 12 years old now, and so our growth has been very steady. We've been very careful about who has been invited into our culture, and we've done a really great job of maintaining that culture. My feeling, and I think most of the team's as well, is that we're just getting started. There's so much to do and there's so many great things we think we can accomplish. We loved when we took a new angle and created the first Brothers in Arms game, and now we're trying to reinvent again with Furious 4. We also did it with Borderlands, things nobody has done before. We have so many more thoughts about what we can do, so yeah, we're just getting started.

Steve Gibson: There's hundreds of people at Gearbox these days. We're showing a new Brothers in Arms, we have Duke Nukem just finishing up, we have other unannounced games also in development.

GU: Borderlands 2?

Steve: [Laughs]... It's a big studio. Guys who were working on Duke Nukem are rolling off into other unannounced projects and things like that, but we don't bite off more than we can chew.

GU: I remember a while back you [Randy] were talking about the business pressures of being an independent studio. How has scale impacted that side of things?

Randy: Well, you've always got to care about what you're doing. Everyone has to be worth more than their cost, otherwise we don't get to keep making games. With scale comes certain advantages. We can leverage technology across platforms and we can smooth out specialization spikes. There's some moments on each project where specialized guys are really needed, then there's moments when they aren't needed. If you have multiple projects, you can smooth that out. People can always give their best this way too. Because if you work on the same project for three or four years in a row, you can get burnt out. So at Gearbox we can move our attentions around and keep our passions high.

GU: We just saw the demo for Aliens: Colonial Marines, the official sequel to the movie. What's the scripting dynamic like working with the film studios?

Steve: It's cooperative with the Fox writers. They don't just say 'Hey! Write all you want for Aliens'. It's a very close relationship with Fox. We're working with Syd Mead, the futurist artist who did a lot of the concepting; Ridley Scott, we went through the storyboards with him and he talked with us about Space Jockey and all that stuff. It wasn't just us going off on a tangent and doing whatever we wanted in the Aliens universe.

GU: Were you able to pitch ideas? How exactly did that relationship work?

Steve: They set up the framework, and we worked within what they had created. When you're doing a game, there's certain ideas you want to do for gameplay reasons, so we'd run those ideas by them first. For example, we introduced the new Crusher breed to create new dynamic gameplay elements. We ran that through Fox and they were like 'Yes! We like this'. So ultimately, we work within the play space they have already established.

GU: Has there been any talk of including special features on the Blu-Ray version? Putting the original movie on disc or something along those lines?

Steve: We would love that. It's the decision of Sony and 20th Century Fox for those types of things. Because we don't own the IP like we do with Borderlands and Brothers in Arms, it's not our call to make. It's the kind of thing that usually gets sorted out about six months before you ship and we're shipping next spring, so I think it will come up a bit later this year. We would love it though.

GU: You emphasized the unscripted and dynamic lighting, AI and other gameplay elements the Aliens engine allows for. How does that help recreate the Aliens experience?

Steve: When you're thinking about the rendering, lighting, that type of thing, it really just helps make the world look cool. While it doesn't impact the story, it helps the environment and the best environments are the ones you don't have to think about, you just accept them. As far as the dynamic AI, we still determine how many aliens are coming at you and what angle they start at, but we want them to dynamically act within the environment because it's a coop game. If it's too predictable, then you can just say 'My buddy points there and I'll point here' and it's hardly even cooperative anymore. We want people to have to constantly adjust as the AI adjusts to them.

GU: Thanks for your time, guys.

Aliens: Colonial Marines is out in spring 2012 on PS3, Xbox 360, PC and Wii U.

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