Borderlands 2 Postmortem with Matt Charles (Producer)

Matt Charles who was a producer for Borderlands 2 at Gearbox Software, was invited by the SGDA UTD to come give a postmortem talk about the game. The fun thing is that Matt graduated from UTD in 2008 and talks about his experience during the development of Borderlands 2 which was released Q4 2012. Matt will cover information about the methodology and processes of shipping a game.

What does a Producer do ?

  • Be responsible for the game shipping; on time, on budget, and up to quality.
  • Maintain the mission
  • Establish goals
  • Anticipate needs
  • Remove obstacles
  • Track progress
  • Be camp counselor
  • Ask Questions

Why make Borderlands 2 ?

  • Borderlands 1 did well
  • We were excited about the future of the Borderlands universe
    • Those are ideal conditions!

High-Level Goals

  • A Better Borderlands
  • ~2.5 Years development cycle
    • Still relevant on current consoles
  • RPS (Role Playing Shooter)

Mission Statement

  • Iterate if possible; innovate where necessary, but always stay true to the proven RPS formula while building a foundation for the future of the franchise.
  • Demonstrate a significant, measurable improvement in both customer and critical acclaim.
  • Maintain a high performance team that trusts one another in decision making an execution.

Assemble a Team!

  • Don’t underestimate the power of the right people in the right positions.
  • Lead structure is important.
  • Play to people’s strength, not weaknesses.

Critical Review Analysis

  • A massive undertaking!
  • Gain insights as a team into our game and our processes.
  • Absorb findings, make decisions:
    • Vehicles ? Improve.
    • Arenas ?  Cut.

Initial Schedule

  • Create a high-level schedule!
  • Break down high-level schedule and missions into attainable, short-term goals.

Our Process and Framework

  • Extremely important for a large team
  • Establish a ratification process to establish clear goals and avoid wandering direction.
  • The ratification process itself requires consensus-building. so problems are aired and worked out sooner.

Confluence

  • It’s one thing to have an idea, it’s another to it documented and peer-reviewed.
  • Crucial for time-saving.
  • Usability of the software and readability of the document are extremely important.

JIRA

  • Task-tracking is essential.
  • Requires constant maintenance and upkeep, but is infinitely useful.
  • Powerful tools help expose trends and help you understand the state of the project.

Perforce

  • Source control is required.
  • We nearly lost data history once during Borderlands 2 because of a server caught fire.

Production Stages

  • “When did we leave pre-production and enter full production?”
  • Have important questions been answered?
  • Gradient based on ‘ready-for-iteration’ status.
  • Iteration loops can be traps. Keep the testable surface area low.

Design and Story

  • Have a good story, but gameplay wins.
    • Example: No non-interactive cut scenes.
  • Design is the reason why we have the aforementioned framework in place.
  • Proximity matters.

Characters

  • ~1 month for design consensus on our cast.
  • Rules:
    • Easy to learn, challenging to master.
    • No ‘wrong’ class.
    • All play well solo & co-op.
    • Action skill work with core FPS loop.
    • Familiar and new promises.

Level Development

  • Plan stages of progress for each map
  • LD is where everything comes together!

Art Development

  • Art Style kept the same – or not ?
  • Guiding principles remained consistent.
  • Art style guide for new artists.

Creature Development

  • Establish the baseline: Skags 2.0
  • Stalker (1st invisible enemy)
  • Loader

Code development

  • Construct
    • A visual  builder instead of a code base builder from BL1 to speed up development.

Coding Development

  • Established engine that passed certification.
    • Reuse the Borderlands 1 engine, but update production software.
  • Debugging tools

Challenges

  • Release date uncertinty
  • Consensus-building can be difficult
  • Planning for QA

Q&A

  • Do you had any personally conflicts during the project ?
  • Did adding new blood help with tunnel vision ?
  • How do you determine if something is a good addition to the game ? (Mechromancer Class)
  • How do you manage the iteration during the alpha and the beta ?
  • What happens when a department can continue if another department fails to meet goals ?
  • How do you deal with disagreements ?
  • How do you prevent burn outs ?
  • More…

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