Borderlands Part 14: The Plot-Driven Forcefield

By Shamus
on Oct 19, 2017
Filed under:
Borderlands

It takes a lot of door-opening, fetch-questing, and button-pushing, but eventually the player breaks through the defensive layers to reach Angel. But before we get to her, I need to gripe about a plot door. This one:

Fine. I guess we have to do everything the hard way.

Fine. I guess we have to do everything the hard way.

That’s a “death wall” force field that will atomize you if you try to cross it. You need to jump through some hoops to enable Claptrap to deactivate the shield so you can pass safely. My problem is that this door doesn’t look like it should be that hard to get around. The space on the other side of the door is open to the elements, which means you should be able to get there via climbing or flying. This wouldn’t be a big deal, except that the previous quests had you do a bunch of work specifically to enlist the help of a fleet of flying machines (called Buzzards) and they’re supposedly under your control now. In fact, they show up the moment the forcefield comes down. It should be trivial to get over this door. Even if hitching a ride on a Buzzard isn’t an option, later in this mission Roland climbs far more daunting cliffs than the ones on either side of this door. Not being able to bypass this door makes about as much sense as being trapped on an escalator.

To rub salt in the wound, the mission to grant Claptrap the ability to open this door is also the mission that got Bloodwing killed. A sympathetic character died for this cause, so it’s annoying that, in retrospect, all of that screwing around was apparently pointless. This would be fine if it was played for a joke or lampshaded, but it isn’t.

I’m not saying I think the developers should have added a Buzzard ride or a climbing minigame. (Please no.) I’m saying they should have changed the scenery so that these two options were no longer (visually) viable. It’s the old problem with 90s shooters: I’m fine with not being able to climb over a chest-high wall, until the moment you put my goal on the other side of said wall and require me to go miles out of my way through waves of foes. Just make the obstacle more visually insurmountable and the sidequest will be easier to swallow.

Anyway, it’s finally time to meet Angel…

Angelic Exposition

I realize it`s really common these days, but you look nothing like your profile photo.

I realize it`s really common these days, but you look nothing like your profile photo.

For the last game and a half Angel has pretended to be some kind of AI. This lie was implicit in Borderlands 1. Of course, it wasn’t necessarily a lie (yet) in Borderlands 1 because the writer never figured out what she was. It wasn’t until Borderlands 2 was written that her faux-computer schtick retroactively made her behavior deceptive. Her claims of being an AI are far more explicit here in Borderlands 2, and it’s not until we reach her that the truth comes out in a series of reveals:

  1. Angel is a person, not a computer.
  2. She’s also a Siren, like LilithWe don’t learn what Angel’s powers are. We can infer they must have been dangerous, since later the story hints that she accidentally killed her mother with them..
  3. Handsome Jack is Angel’s father.
  4. Yes, Jack is charging the vault key with eridium. But the twist is that you can’t just shove the eridium into the vault key. Instead you pump the eridium into a Siren and she can charge the key.
  5. Angel is being kept alive by the constant flow of eridium into her system. If it stops, she dies.
  6. Angel is trapped in this one room all the time, hooked up to this giant key-charging machine. The only thing she gets to do all day is help her dad manipulate people. Jack gets to exploit her power while at the same time convincing himself that he’s helping his daughter.
  7. Angel wants to die to escape this existence.

Angel is hovering inside the bubble. Jack is yelling at us over the jumbotron. Roland is shouting from the walkway above.

Angel is hovering inside the bubble. Jack is yelling at us over the jumbotron. Roland is shouting from the walkway above.

That’s a lot of stuff to reveal at once, and it makes this entire section pretty dense. There’s no central boss monster to fight, but the relentless pace of the robot attack ratchets up the challenge into boss fight territory. The goal of the fight is to shoot several pipes leading into Angel’s chamber. This will cut off the flow of eridium, which will stop the vault key from charging and also kill her.

It’s one of the few sections of the game where you fight beside the original vault hunters. Roland is there for most of the fight, and Lilith shows up near the end.

Jack doesn’t want you to kill his daughter / charging adapter. As the fight drags on, he keeps changing tactics. He tries to threaten you. He tries to guilt you. He tries pleading with you. Then he goes back to threats, only more serious. Angel argues with him. Angel shouts directions at Roland. Roland argues with Lilith. It’s a madhouse. It feels like you’re trying to have a gunfight while on a conference call.

At the conclusion of the fight Angel’s prison powers down and she dies. Jack teleports in, shoots Roland dead, and ambushes Lilith with a collar that… I don’t know what it does. It doesn’t mind control her, but it does seem to hurt her a lot and prevent her from using her powers without his permission. He orders her to kill the player, but she teleports you away.

Highly Motivated

Yes, it`s very sad that Angel is dead, but can someone PLEASE pick up the stupid vault key before Jack ambushes us?

Yes, it`s very sad that Angel is dead, but can someone PLEASE pick up the stupid vault key before Jack ambushes us?

I certainly can’t accuse the writer of taking shortcuts when it comes to character motivation. Every single character now has multiple things pushing them towards the final confrontation.

Mordecai wants to avenge his bird. Everyone wants to avenge Roland. Everyone wants to rescue Lilith from her torment at Jack’s hands. Everyone wants to stop Jack from charging the vault key (Lilith is his new charger) and gaining control of the Warrior, which everyone believes will let him crush all resistance instantly.

Jack was originally just in this for power and glory, but now it’s personal. He’s been humiliated and his daughter is dead. From here on out he’s a little less funny and a lot more dangerous.

Both the good guys and the bad guys need to have a final showdown. Jack wants to do it after opening the vault so he can win easily. Jack is rushing to open the vault and working to stall the heroes, and everyone else is scrambling to reach him as soon as possible.

I can’t think of another game with a clearer or more intense set of motivations for the lead characters. Even brilliant story-based games like Witcher 3 aren’t quite this thorough about establishing the emotional stakes.

I don’t know that Borderlands needed this level of emotional tension. I was fine with the story when it was a simple good guys vs. bad guys story. But I can’t fault the writer for a job well done.

That said, I do have a problem with this scene. Because of course I do…

Hang on a Second

Jack has just shot Roland. (Hence the blood all over my monitor.) Not sure why I`m standing here doing nothing, though. I mean, can I at least TRY to shoot him?

Jack has just shot Roland. (Hence the blood all over my monitor.) Not sure why I`m standing here doing nothing, though. I mean, can I at least TRY to shoot him?

Okay, I actually have three problems with this scene:

1. Shut Up Already

I don’t think I’ve ever had a “boss” encounter with this much talking before. Angel is giving you exposition and encouraging you. Jack is taunting you via the jumbotron screens around the room. Angel and Jack are arguing with each other. Roland has to ask Angel for explanations (to stuff she already told the player) and she has to shout directions to him. Roland is shouting encouragement at the player and explains what he’s trying to do. Angel shouts when she spawns some ammo for you. Roland shouts when he drops his turret. Lilith and Roland argue a little when she finally shows up near the end. Lilith shouts some swaggering barks as she nukes guys with her siren powers. And the whole time you’ve got chattering robots, gunfire, and explosions rounding out the soundscape.

2. Why Doesn’t Roland Respawn?

In this game the respawn stations are an explicit part of the fiction of the world. This isn’t an out-of-universe abstraction like the save system. It’s not something nobody talks about, like respawning in Diablo. Respawning is a thing that happens in this universe and the characters know about it.

In the first game, Claptrap laboriously explains what the respawn station does, who runs it, and how it works. In this game, the machine has snarky little comments to make at you as you respawn. The machine explicitly charges you money to rebuild you, atom-by-atom.

And then Handsome Jack one-shots Roland and he falls over dead. No respawn. You can make the excuse that Jack “turned off respawn” for Roland, but then why does it continue to work for you?

3. Why Can’t I Shoot Jack?

Jack’s ambush goes off without a hitch. He shoots Roland, tosses out some snark, and puts the collar on Lilith. But the only reason this works is because this is a cutscene and the player is reduced to a passive viewer.

How Can We Fix This?

Sirens: Gotta catch `em all!

Sirens: Gotta catch `em all!

This is the part in my analysis where I usually try to “fix” a broken scene by suggesting some edits. I usually constrain myself to the same basic budget limitations that the original writer operated under. So I can’t “fix” a scene by suggesting a half hour of mo-capped cutscenes, a bunch of additional gamespace, or a new gameplay mode. I try to stick to changes to existing assets, like different dialog or a change to the scenery.

But I’m stumped. I can’t fix any of these problems without creating more.

We could fix the problem of “why doesn’t Roland respawn?” by showing Jack sabotaging the respawn station. Maybe just as Roland is respawning, Jack blows it up and Roland is atomized or whatever. But that just compounds the question of what Lilith and the player are doing while all of this is going on. Also, if Roland dies during respawn then Trek nerds might might start thinking he’s just stuck in the machine and can be salvaged later. For this scene to have the intended emotional punch we need to make it clear to the audience that Roland is 100% dead, right now. The abrupt shock of seeing him die is the whole point, and any additional confusion or after-the-fact exposition will erode that.

We could have Jack explain that he’s disabled the respawn station, but then why don’t Lilith and the player blast him in the face while he’s running his mouth? His ambush has to be a quick one-two punch, and there’s no room for exposition in there without making the scene really clunky.

Roland is dead, but *I`M* still alive, right? So why am I standing here doing nothing while Jack tries to murder me?

Roland is dead, but *I`M* still alive, right? So why am I standing here doing nothing while Jack tries to murder me?

We can explain why the player can’t act by putting them on the other side of a forcefield, but then it doesn’t make sense for Jack to try and make Lilith kill someone protected by a forcefield. Also it would be fiddly to make it clear where the forcefield is, given the camera distance. And besides, we don’t want to watch Jack’s big scene through a sparkly “forcefield” filter.

We could set up Roland’s death by having Jack announce during the fight that the respawn gizmo is off, but then… what if the player dies? This game doesn’t have a game over screen, and you really don’t want the player to have to replay a battle with this much emotion and dialog in it.

I have no idea how to fix this without fundamentally redesigning the entire confrontation. But this fight has already been built up by the preceding scenes, so those would need to be rewritten as well. I think if we kept pulling on this thread the entire second act would come apart.

I stand by my assertion that this fight is a little too talky, the unjustified loss of player agency is annoying, and Roland’s non-respawning death is a plot hole. But I concede that I couldn’t do any better, and in fact you might not be able to fix this without ruining all of the newly-energized character motivations I talked about above.

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Footnotes:

[1] We don’t learn what Angel’s powers are. We can infer they must have been dangerous, since later the story hints that she accidentally killed her mother with them.


202020161 comments? This post wasn't even all that interesting.

From the Archives:

  1. Aevylmar says:

    The author’s official Word of God is that the respawn stations are not in-universe canon*, and that the jokes and quests and exposition based around them are, themselves, not canon.

    Which opens a whole new can of worms, but that seems to be the answer they’re going with.

    (And I quite liked the super-talky-scene, and also thought about the other problems, and did, in fact, decide they were justified: when you fight Jack, he has an HP bar the size of the moon and does damage appropriate to an encounter ten-ish levels higher than this one. I believe that he can, stat-wise, one-shot Roland, and I also believe that the PC and Lilith wouldn’t have time to gun his shield down before he can deliver his one-two punch.)

    (*: http://borderlands.wikia.com/wiki/New-U_Station)

    • Ranneko says:

      In addition to this, in Pre-Sequel there are ads for the Non-Canon Museum. Which explicitly makes a joke about them, putting them on the same level as skill points.
      http://i.imgur.com/QJ8rw2n.jpg

    • Redrock says:

      I never understood this. Why go to all these lengths to make the respawn function lore-friendly when it’s one of those things people are really used to suspending their disbelief about? That’s really, really weird.

      My thinking is that the New-U stations were kinda canon in Borderlands 1, and the studio didn’t want to part with them in Borderlands 2 (some of the taunts are pretty funny and it generally works until you try to introduce stakes) and Anthony Burch didn’t want to bother with really integrating them in his more high-stakes writing. Because it’s hard, it really is. When you have a functioning resurrect option you can’t really have any sort of stakes. Even if you make an explanation for Roland’s death (sabotage, database deletion, whatever) and make an explanation for why the player keeps respawning (just make the stations belong to anybody but Hyperion, come on), you are still stuck in a world where resurrection is technically possible. Which undermines most attempts at drama.

      I think they should have just ditched the New-U stations in Borderlands 2 in favor of a more traditional, unexplained, game-y respawn mechanic. It would have honestly been much better. Or, alternatively, they could create a completely different respawn explanation that is unique to the player character. Like, maybe, you fall in a liquid eridium lake in the beginning of the game and become one with the planet and as such are respawned by Pandora itself. It’s not like Borderlands is hard sci-fi.

      • etheric42 says:

        I wish he had gone the other way and made them canon and integrated with the plot so tightly that areas that respawn when you revisit them is justified by New-U. Heck he could have even justified new game+ with them by adding a few lines to Marcus’s speech at the beginning or some Claptrap lines and giving a Groundhog Day vibe.

        Part of the tragicomic setting would really be reinforced by them. Who are the psycho raiders? Farmers/miners who have died/respawned enough times they have gone crazy. Why are there still farmers/miners left in this desperate environment? They keep respawning. As long as you can make enough scrip (or can be extended credit) to pay whoever owns the local New-U you can live again… even if you died by starving to death. It would be part of how the megacorps extract wealth from the locals instead of/in addition to taxes and exploitation. Maybe you (and the corps) can’t turn off the respawners, meaning people can’t die if they want to (again leading to the psycho epidemic).

        How does this fit with the high-stakes story? Two routes I can see. One is have the original vault hunters break the cycle by pulling themselves out of the system somehow. Probably as part of the resolution of Borderlands 1. Their deaths are permanent now, but being outside the system has allowed them to lead this resistance faction in a way that would otherwise be impossible. How do they respawn in New Game+? When the player kills the final boss, it creates a cascading hard reset that reverts the planet back to the start of the game, even things not normally respawned.

        The other route is to lower the stakes slightly but darken then. Jack doesn’t permakill Roland. Jack kills him and respawns him into a New-U-in-a-torture-box that kills/respawns him over and over again. By the end of the game when you can rescue him, he’s a gibbering psycho mess and the hard reset is something you have to do to save him.

        • BlueHorus says:

          Does the game not already state that the bandits and psychos (i.e the usual cannon-fodder enemies you mow down) use the New-U machines?
          ‘Cos that seems like such an obvious thing to say. It makes killing them more…darkly flippant (which seems to fit the tone of the series) and it explains endlessly respawning enemies.

          If not, why not!?

          Unreal Tournament did that, and it made perfect sense. The constant regenerations drove everyone who used them murderously insane, but since it was a series of gladiatorial death-matches performed for spectators, that was fine…

          • etheric42 says:

            No. The New-U stations are not canon and I do not believe they are mentioned as being used by the psychos (from what I remember of my playthrough of 1 and 2).

        • RCN says:

          I’m also in favor if integrating game play abstractions into the cannon of the world, and it drives me crazy when a game goes halfway.

          Why do all this trouble integrating the system if you’re going to ignore it when it is convenient. It is not for the sake of jokes, since they only started joking about it in Borderlands 2. And as pointed, it actually explains away most of the gaming conventions neatly in lore, making BOTH more satisfying.

          How would I rebuild this scene? First, trap the players. An stun bot paralyses the players in place. They fall into a pit that places them in a cell full of gigantic monitors where they can keep witnessing what is going on. When Syren is ordered to kill the players it wouldnt change the result, except that jack ordering her to kill the players already contradicts the respawn system. So instead he orders her to do something else, like erasing the minds of the players, and she teleports them away instead.

          As for Roland: it was just lazy. Simplest solution? Jack got a one-shot only special weapon that erases Roland for good in a way that not even the respawn system could rebuild him. Probably from the last time the vault was opened, and of course handsome jack is wealth enough to buy it, but not even him is able to replicate it. The reason he doesn’t use it before is because he wanted to discover a way to at least reload it, but when Angel dies he flips it and uses the gun anyway. There are other options as well. Like transporting him to another dimension that not even handsome jack knows is. Or any other explanations. Ignoring it just weakened the game as a whole.

      • Echo Tango says:

        I think they should have just ditched the New-U stations in Borderlands 2 in favor of a more traditional, unexplained, game-y respawn mechanic.

        Ditto. They could have just had a simple save-file or checkpoint system, or gone with an unreliable narrator ala Prince Of Persia: Sands Of Time or Call of Juarez: Gunslinger. Either completely out-of-world and out-of-narrative, or just out-of-world but because the narrator is drunk. :)

    • MilesDryden says:

      I’m surprised they needed to specify this. Things like the New-U stations have always seemed like really obvious Gameplay and Story Segregation to me. But Shamus is proof that not everyone thinks this way, so…

      • TheJungerLudendorff says:

        I think the problem is that they are adressed by the actual characters at several points, and were introduced as part of the setting itsself.

        Instead of explaining them through text boxes or some 4th wall-breaking Tutorial Delivery Character, it was done in-character, and thus implicitly “real”.

        • MilesDryden says:

          Was it? It’s been awhile since I played the first game, but I think Claptrap, the tutorial character, is the only one who explicitly mentions that they exist, and only DURING the tutorial. That doesn’t sound like “part of the setting” to me.

          But maybe I missed something, and/or maybe the 2nd game is more explicit about them. And if that’s the case, why on Pandora did they do that if these things aren’t supposed to be canon?!

          • Shamus says:

            There’s a quest in BL2 where Jack explicitly goads you into “killing” yourself and then jokes about it after you respawn. This quest can’t exist if they aren’t in-universe.

            The writers can claim they’re canon or they’re not, but either way there’s something really inconsistent going on.

            • MilesDryden says:

              Oh. Ok, then it’s not as obvious as I thought it was.

              Maybe they’re only ‘canon’ when the humor calls for it? And not when the story is trying to be serious?

  2. Nick says:

    I think the easier fix is to have Roland (and the other original characters, assuming we want stakes/deaths for them later) deleted from the respawn database and denied access to re-establish themselves. Angel managed to sneak you back into the system. Then HAVE LILITH ACTUALLY KILL YOU.

    You respawn with a note from Angel explaining what she did (and that she communicated it to Lilith). Assuming you need Jack to still know the player is coming for him, he gets flagged when an unauthorised respawn happens at the abandoned old respawn station that Angel managed to hack back online.

    • BlueHorus says:

      Having Jack actually kill you would work too, then all the exposition is done via Angel’s note upon respawning. That might work. The cutscene is really quick:
      Roland: ‘Wait, did someone just teleport in?
      Bang, Jack shoots you, bang, Jack shoots Roland, then as the screen fades to black, you see him clipping something on Lillith.
      Jack: ‘Now I need a new key. Gonna have to rig all this up again. [swears at player over black screen]’.

      Then you wake up in a respawn machine and read Angels note, whic hexplains that you were the only one she could un-blacklist.

      I’m reminded of one of the expansions from Neverwinter Nights: your respawn mechanics were part of the story there, too. At the end of the second act, the antagonist kills you and you wake up in the respawn room, same as usual…
      …but then the repawn NPC says he can’t help you anymore, for plott reasons. He lets you out of a different door and you find yourself in Hell, looking for a way out – without respawns.

      It was a great ‘oh, shit!’ moment for the story.
      You can kill all the NPCs you want in your game, but if you really want to get to a player, fiddle with their game mechanics.

  3. zompist says:

    I’m bugged by the respawn thing too. But I think it’s easily fixed, and not by the dumb non-canon idea. The system is run by Hyperion. The game could have established way earlier that the original Vault Hunters were banned from the system. (Precedent: you couldn’t use Scooter’s cars till he gave you access rights.) You’re not banned because Jack doesn’t fear you. (After all, he doesn’t shoot you in this scene.)

    (Another idea: the respawn only works for the first 500 times. After that there’s too much message loss. The original Vault Hunters, and Jack, long ago exceeded this limit; you haven’t.)

    As for not shooting Jack… gotta be shields. He slapped you in a shield sphere when he arrived. We know that shields don’t last very long, but it’s not that long of a scene.

    • Nixorbo says:

      the respawn only works for the first 500 times. […] The original Vault Hunters, and Jack, long ago exceeded this limit; you haven’t.

      Clearly you’ve never watched me play Borderlands 2.

      • TheJungerLudendorff says:

        Or maybe they could respawn at first, but Jack blocked their access as part of his ambush.

        Also, if you try to shoot him, maybe it could cut his dialogue short to the last couple of lines. That would feel like extra player agency as well.

  4. Philadelphus says:

    We could have Jack explain that he’s disabled the respawn station, but then why don’t Lilith and the player blast him in the face while he’s running his mouth? His ambush has to be a quick one-two punch, and there’s no room for exposition in there without making the scene really clunky.

    So maybe have him reveal this after pulling off the ambush? He pops in, one-shots Roland, neutralizes Lilith, tells her to kill you, then briefly gloats that you and Roland aren’t coming back because he sabotaged the respawn machine temporarily (or whatever). Then Lilith teleports you away. Seems like a pretty simple fix to me, but I’ve never played Borderlands at all so maybe there’s a reason it wouldn’t work.

  5. Redrock says:

    The canonicity of the whole digistruct technology is, I think, a big sore point for the whole franchise and is the result of the tonal uncertainty of the first game that Shamus described. It seems that it was originally meant to be a pretty tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement of shooter tropes like respawning, huge inventories, etc. So they ended up with something that is lore-friendly but not exactly narrative-friendly. Because digistruct blocks most of your attempts to generate drama. You can’t disarm someone – they may always have a digistruct bazooka up their sleeve. You can’t imprison someone. You can drop digistructed buggies on people’s heads. It was never really thought through, no Sanderson-like laws and limitations were designed. The original Borderlands didn’t really call for that.

    Somehow, Tales from the Borderlands didn’t really have this problem. I don’t remember too well, but I think that they had digistruct, but only to a very limited degree in terms of both scope and distance. Most things had to be physically sent and carried somewhere. I really think that Gearbox should have bitten the bullet and just rewritten the whole respawn and digistruct thing for Borderlands 2. No-one would have really complained too much.

  6. Hal says:

    I know this is a sin in and of itself, but perhaps the entire room of people gets disabled before Jack enters. Maybe Angel’s death triggers a big blast of Siren-juice, or now that Angel is dead, Jack has no problem punctuating his entrance with orbital bombardment.

    Either way, having everyone in the room disabled gives Jack plenty of time to walk in, destroy the respawn device, kill Roland, collar Lilith, and threaten the player, without having to worry about why everyone just lets it happen.

  7. Phil says:

    For fixing Roland’s death, I’d suggest dropping hints throughout the game (and more during that battle) that Jack was working on (or has) some kind of prototype weapon that could kill you while preventing triggering the New-U system from reconstructing you. Throw in some line(s) about it requiring some huge investment of Eridium (cash he’d probably continue to throw at you, Eridium he wants for the keys). Then, after he one-shots Roland, the prototype breaks in some spectacular fashion.
    Slight problem being though, why would he invest all that Eridium before, but not again. And I suppose adding in MORE dialogue hinting at the weapon would exacerbate problem 1.
    And, have one of the robots that was holding Roland earlier spawn in with Jack and capture you. Slight rework of the cutscene, but nothing major, I don’t think. But, why wouldn’t he have done it before or since?
    Hmmmm. This is why I am not a writer, heh.

    • Olivier FAURE says:

      some kind of prototype weapon that could kill you while preventing triggering the New-U system from reconstructing you

      Yeah, “Jack has a special mega-nano-atomizer” seems like the way to go. Other people suggested having Jack explain he somehow deactivated the machine, but that’s kind of anticlimatic. Like, it would be kind of weird to have Jack stop in the middle of a very dramatic “kill the NPC” scene to explain “Oh, by the way, I deactivated the respawn machine using procedure something something except it didn’t come up before because…”

      Instead, Jack could pop in and shoot Roland with a very big, obvious MEGA-DISINTEGRATOR; other NPCs could go “Roland, noooooooo” has he disintegrates in a very dramatic and permanent-y way. Jack would then say something like “we’ll wait 30 seconds for it to recharge, then it’s your turn!”, which raise the stakes, and makes the player feel like he’s actually about to die by the time Lilith teleports him away.

      Of course, this is exactly a “free” fix, since it adds a few logistical problems. You have to foreshadow the disintegrator gun before it appears, and afterwards you have to give the player a quest to disable/destroy it before the final boss fight. But if I had to pitch it to a project manager, I’d say the added emotional impact (both of the scene, and of destroying the weapon later) would be worth the effort.

      And, have one of the robots that was holding Roland earlier spawn in with Jack and capture you. Slight rework of the cutscene, but nothing major, I don’t think. But, why wouldn’t he have done it before or since?
      Hmmmm. This is why I am not a writer, heh.

      I agree. It’d probably be simplest to do it Half-life 2 style. Maybe have the robots that paralyze you appear later (they can still ground you, but they’re less dangerous than in the cutscene).

      Dishonored 2 does this: Delilah petrifies the character you chose not to play as (if you play as Emily, she casts Corvo into stone) in the opening cutscene. When you confront her for a boss fight, she can still use the ability (she even says the same combat taunt as in the opening cutscene), and it’s a one-shot kill unless you dodge it.

  8. Christopher says:

    Maybe you shouldn’t have the possibility to revive infinitely as part of the world unless it’s a pretty major part of the story, like Undertale. In Borderlands 2 I didn’t even remember that it was there, and it creates all sorts of problems when characters die. The best you can do is say “It only works for you, for x reason”. I looked up Bioshock’s Vita Chambers, and apparently they’re locked to only two characters in that game.

    • Falterfire says:

      The respawn stations are easy to forget about and just brush aside as a non-canon gameplay contrivance, but giving them a voice and tying them explicitly to the Evil Company draws them closer. But I think the real problem is the quest where Jack pays you to commit suicide for him, because it only makes sense in the context of New-U stations existing.

      If you took away the voice and that one quest, I think more people would be able to just automatically avoid thinking about them during story moments like this one.

    • Felblood says:

      Bioshock actually did it right, though.

      If you’re paying attention, one of the plot twists should also serve as an “Aha!” moment as you realize the reason that you are still able to use the Vita Chambers, when everyone else is locked out.

  9. Ani-kun says:

    Watching this comment thread is basically the best argument possible for writers having peer review and critique from people outside of their own personal circles. So many ideas Shamus didn’t think of :)

  10. WWWebb says:

    Tie Angel and the machines she’s connected to with the respawn system. Roland dies because there’s no siren hooked up to the system at that point. The player would also have died since Lilith isn’t plugged in yet.

    Have the Roland/Jack fight up in the rafters to keep the player out of it. Lilith teleports up and gets captured, but the player can’t follow.

    • Paul Spooner says:

      Brilliant. Plus it gives extra motivation to rescue Lilith, since it would be impossible to kill Jack otherwise.

    • Shamus says:

      Yes. This is the solution. It stops working between Angel’s death and the point where Lilith takes over, and it stops working again when Lilith is freed. You could even foreshadow it beforehand. “Angel is tied to the New-U system. Once she’s neutralized it might stop working. So… I guess try not to die.” Roland could say that on the elevator ride to the fight, thus making it a bit ironic when he’s the one that gets killed.

      That’s good.

      • Francis-Olivier says:

        Although then you have to ask why hasn’t Wilhelm or Nisha respawned. Meh they’re somewhat minor characters so you can probably edit their deaths out somehow.

        • Francis-Olivier says:

          And you also have the deaths in BL1 that remain unexplained. Then again maybe the NEW-U stations are only available to Hyperion employees… Except that we are trying to destroy Hyperion… But maybe the process was messed up when the key was charging or Hyperion already registered us in the database when we first came to work for them and they can’t get us out.

          Yeah I can see why Anthony wants to retcon that out. It really is a plot-hole writting device. Right now we can somewhat think of answers but it really only feels like a matter of time until we’re stuck.

          • Matt Downie says:

            Any form of in-story resurrection should be restricted by various means right from the start. Only people who have been injected with a certain type of rare nanotech can come back, that kind of thing. That way, when someone is dead you assume they’re dead-dead unless it’s been established they’re one of the lucky ones.

        • Syal says:

          A possible solution to that is that Hyperion employees respawn on other worlds to avoid people taking over a machine and infinitely murdering Hyperion employees.

      • =David says:

        I really like this option a lot. But the problem it creates is with the final battle; isn’t Lilith out of the collar by the time you fight the Warrior and Jack? And the average player dies time after time during that battle.

        I guess you could have Lilith mention over ECHO that she’s hardwired it on “so what happened to Roland can’t happen again.”

      • Blake says:

        Another option is to have Angel say she’s hooked it up to deactivate for a minute from her death to ensure she herself doesn’t respawn and end up back in the device (assuming she does stay dead – I haven’t played that far).

        The cutscene could then have Jack kill Roland, then shoot somebody else a moment later who respawns. Jack laughs that Roland is now proper dead, and the player has less incentive to shoot Jack since the permadeath window has closed.

  11. Abnaxis says:

    I could have sworn I remember somewhere in that talk with Anthony Burch you linked a couple entries ago, that he explicitly mentioned how he was fully aware that all the jokes at the New U stations after you die really screw with this scene, but the jokes are a longstanding part of the setting so it was unavoidable.

  12. Cybron says:

    Instead of killing Roland, Jack could inflict some sort of brain death on him. Doesn’t kill him, so the respawner can’t fix him. And you can drop a quick line along the lines of “And updating your backup… Done!” Now he’s essentially dead forever.

    • The Rocketeer says:

      That strikes me as way too dark. I know this is often dark comedy, and that this is probably the darkest moment of the game, but having a named character the audience is supposed to like get stuck with something like permanent brain death really doesn’t fit the tone, and would require too much on-the-spot exposition for this scene to carry efficiently.

      That, and this isn’t really the kind of setting where permanent brain death seems like it would be too much of a problem anyway. This isn’t really a game where being brain dead would result in his friends sitting around his bed, shell-shocked, grappling with survivor’s guilt and the dilemma of how long to keep the life support plugged in. In this game, catching permanent brain death would just result in Tannis or someone rebuilding Roland into a cyborg, chipperly referencing how perverse and excruciating the process is, and then Roland returning with a new load of jokes and dated references to make about his condition. Which I think might qualify as a rip-off of Bulletstorm, which is a pretty compelling reason not to go that route.

    • Arctem says:

      I like the idea of him turning Roland into some kind of monstrosity, Cronenberg-style. Then THAT is what gets resurrected if he dies. Gives you a great bittersweet boss fight later on as you put your friend out of his misery.

      …though, again, that might be a bit too dark.

  13. Changeling says:

    Another explanation would be that the vaults are filled with McGuffin radiation which destabilized the vectors of the DNA of every person close to an unsealed vault and made them impossible to be recreated via resurrection stations.
    Angel got the same radiation by powering up the vault key.

    And at the final confrontation Jack and the Player are inside a Vault, so both cannot respawn.

  14. PhoenixUltima says:

    I remember someone asking the writer about the whole “why doesn’t Roland just respawn?” thing on twitter, and his reply was basically “oh shit, I forgot about that being a thing”. Looks like those tweets were deleted, though.

  15. Dreadjaws says:

    Every time I see one of those doors I think of that scene in Hot Shots Part Deux.

  16. Joe says:

    Hey, Shamus, I hear that Gearbox is looking for a writer. Have you thought about applying? A Shamus-written Borderlands would be interesting.

  17. droid says:

    What if Roland has locked himself out of the system for some reason? Maybe he is tired of the pain of resurrection. Maybe disconnecting from the system gives him some advantage in combat and he thinks it’s worth the risk here. Maybe its costing him his sanity and since he’s the leader he can’t take that risk. Maybe he thinks someone else should take his position but they will refuse to do so as long as he is alive. Maybe Jack can’t be charged for murder if the victim is still alive. I don’t know what would fit best (I haven’t played the game) but I think there is more potential here than if it is something in Jack’s power.

  18. Francis-Olivier says:

    And that’s what I get for judging a scene without having seen it first. I always knew about the death of Roland but I never realised how it happened. Never realised how hectic the situation was so to me it was always weird to know that Jack somehow teleported in killed Roland and captured Lilith.

  19. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Why Doesn’t Roland Respawn?

    He has lost the will to live.Its as good of an explanation as any.

  20. Grampy_Bone says:

    This is easy to fix: have Roland respawn. He comes running into the room after Jack leaves and says, “Aww man, I hate respawning! Jack just cost me fifty-thousand bucks! What’d I miss?” And scene. It wouldn’t affect the rest of the game at all, just add some more Roland barks to the comms and you’re fine.

    It wouldn’t ruin the “emotional impact” of the scene because it has no emotional impact. The scene is utterly incongruous with the rest of the game’s firmly established black comedy tone. You want me to care about the death of an NPC in a game where the bad guy brags about naming his horse “Butt-Stallion?” Give me a break.

    This is like if you went to a stand-up act and the comedian kept telling dead baby jokes. Then suddenly he talks about his actual dead baby. You keep waiting for the punchline but it never arrives, his baby is actually dead. You’re supposed to go from laughing your ass off to feeling sad? Tonal Dissonance doesn’t even begin to describe it.

    This scene didn’t make me hate Jack, it made me hate the writer. It completely takes you out of the story and the game. This is Borderlands 2’s crucial story misstep that ruined the whole thing for me.

  21. Taellosse says:

    So my RSS feed says you posted a review of Batman v. Superman 4 days ago, but when I try to click through, I get a page not found error, and I don’t see it scrolling through the recent posts, either. Did it get pulled down because it wasn’t actually ready to be live yet, or out of some controversy-conflagration in the comments?

  22. Natomic says:

    What if immediately after killing Roland Jack exposits that while you were killing his daughter he was busy putting a freeze on all of yours and Roland’s assets, so you can’t respawn because you’re both broke, whereas if you kill him he’ll just pay money to respawn again and continue to do his stuff. Then once Lilith teleports you to safety, you get contacted by the bank saying they were hacked and they fucked up and stuff and have unfrozen your assets. Also establish that the respawn machines don’t work if the person has been dead for too long, like say 15-30 minutes.

  23. MelTorefas says:

    Good lord I am glad I stopped playing this game before it got this far. Unfortunately I am going to have to bail on reading the rest of this analysis now, since this story completely infuriates me.

  24. Captain France says:

    I always figured for Roland not respawning that he and the other original Vault Hunters were purged from the database and banned from being reentered. It still works for the new Vault Hunters because the database is put together incredibly poorly, so actually locating a specific person to remove and ban them takes a long time, and Borderlands 2 takes place over the course of what, a couple weeks maybe?

  25. Tim Keating says:

    They could fix the “no-respawn” problem by giving Jack a magical no-respawn gun early in the story (with a high-tech bullet that somehow disrupts the respawn process, for example), but it’s a rare prototype, he’s only got one shot, and he’s saving it for YOU. Then in a fit of enraged pique, he kills Roland instead… guaranteeing his downfall, since the player is the one who is destined to take him down.

    • mechaninja says:

      Nice. Very simple, and would be previously set up.

      I would argue that Jack would have been saving it for Roland moreso than the player, though maybe there is someone that should have been in the Pre-Sequel that he wants to save it for even more.

  26. mechaninja says:

    Lilith picks up the key and the player is heaving, deep breaths, etc. The robot arms that previously suspended Angel (instead of her hovering or whatever, I forget) are suddenly repurposed by Jack, and they grab the player and Lilith, holding us unable to move. Jack gets that collar on Lilith right away with one hand, while shooting Roland with the other.

    Roland not respawning is as much a surprise to Jack as the rest of us, and he laughs a lot.

    I’m going to go with the No Siren Installed Means No Respawns theory, and frankly that would give another side quest, where the player has to install some other macguffin so that a Siren (Lilith) doesn’t have to be plugged in constantly.

    Jack tries to force Lilith to kill the player, she teleports you out, and away we go.

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