Borderlands Part 4: Diamond in the Rough

By Shamus Posted Thursday Aug 3, 2017

Filed under: Borderlands 107 comments

Based on what the developers have said about the game, Borderlands was apparently a title that came together at the last minute. It shows. Almost every part of the game seems to be missing something obvious.

The Airing of Grievances

The field of view is so narrow it's genuinely uncomfortable. It doesn't look too bad here in a screenshot, but trust me: It's really pronounced when you turn your head.
The field of view is so narrow it's genuinely uncomfortable. It doesn't look too bad here in a screenshot, but trust me: It's really pronounced when you turn your head.

In the PC version, the multiplayer matchmaking was handled through the now-defunct Gamespy, which was awful and inconvenient when it wasn’t outright broken. The game had voice chat but no real interface, which means that once you joined a game it was always just broadcasting your default microphone with no option for push-to-talk, no ability to mute yourself, no control over the volume, and no hint that this was happening. The field of view was shamefully narrow, to the point where it felt like you were “zoomed in”, as if you were always looking down iron sights. I actually find this nauseating. Even today, the only way to fix this is to hack config files.

Rockets didn’t work properly, character classes weren’t really balanced, and it was far too easy to grief people and far too troublesome to deal with griefers. The developers bragged about how they simulated bullet trajectories instead of using the more typical hitscan approach, but in practice it was wonky and the only time you’d notice the difference was when it malfunctioned. The game ran poorly compared to contemporaries. Claptrap would pester you constantlyEven interrupting combat and story dialog! if there were quests available that you hadn’t yet accepted. The interface was obnoxious to use with a mouse and keyboard. Some simple gameplay conceptsLike respawn stations or the bounty board. were patronizingly over-explained by voiced characters while other less obvious topicsLike weapon proficiencies and ammo storage limits. weren’t explained at all.

I've just now clicked on Shep for the first time and I'm reading his quests. Claptrap has popped up in the background to say, "HELLO! DID YOU KNOW SHEP SANDERS HAS JOBS FOR YOU?" If I don't accept all of these quests then he will harass me about it forever.
I've just now clicked on Shep for the first time and I'm reading his quests. Claptrap has popped up in the background to say, "HELLO! DID YOU KNOW SHEP SANDERS HAS JOBS FOR YOU?" If I don't accept all of these quests then he will harass me about it forever.

Completing a quest involved stepping through an extra screen that simply repeated the text of the previous screen. The stats for each weapon were woefully inadequate and left out key information needed to make meaningful comparisonsThere was a mod that reduced the font size of the weapon stats, which allowed the game to display more properties. Apparently the information was there and able to be displayed, but the infobox could only show the first three properties., which is a pretty glaring omission in a game that involves so much looting. There were replenishing loot chests near spawn points, making it effortless to farm them by simply restarting the game. There was no indication of which of your half dozen open quests was needed to advance the main story and which ones were just side-jobs.

Sometimes side-jobs would be fully voice acted and sometimes story missions were reduced to reading text boxes. The quest balance was wonky, particularly in the early game where you might take a job at your current level only to find yourself dealing with multiple elite foes a couple levels above you. Lots of scenery had wonky collision boxes that could lead to getting stuck, walking through stuff, or running into invisible walls. There were over-large open areas that required excess walking and places where you were obliged to get out of your car and walk for no real reason. It’s a game for four people that has cars that only hold two, which resulted in a lot of needless confusion and messing around if you’re just trying to get somewhere and get things done.

Is this information something that needed to create a game-stopping popup? I feel like it wasn't.
Is this information something that needed to create a game-stopping popup? I feel like it wasn't.

The HUD crowded the center of the screen for no reason. Some tutorial popups were linked to a particular spot, meaning you get them every time you walk down a particular corridor. The loading screen tooltips don’t stay on screen long enough to read them, which might actually be good since many of them were bad advice. (My favorite tooltip is the one that suggests that when your car is under fire, you should get out and use the car as cover. Your car is basically a bomb on wheels that takes damage from both players and foes. It has a wonky hitbox and it’s basically the LAST thing you want to be near in a firefight.) Tutorial popups could appear onscreen during inconvenient times (like in a fight) and there was no way to get rid of them except to wait them out.

Deep Breath. Okay. Glad I got all that out of my system.

Oh! And there were a couple of spots where it looked like you could explore some of the map, but it was actually the edge of the playable area and you’d ragdoll and die if you jumped down.

Okay. Now I’m done.

But I liked it anyway. Kinda.

People are on fire, I've just gotten a critical, I picked up some loot, and I just killed a guy. I don't know what I'm doing or why I'm shooting these guys, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't like it.
People are on fire, I've just gotten a critical, I picked up some loot, and I just killed a guy. I don't know what I'm doing or why I'm shooting these guys, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't like it.

So the first game was wonky and rough around the edges. It had a core gameplay loop that worked really well and delivered an experience that you just couldn’t get anywhere else, but it had a way of annoying you every couple of minutes with its various shortcomings.

But if there’s one thing that drives home how this game was built while the design doc was in a state of constant flux, it’s the story. The story of Borderlands presents you with a goal you never really pursue, allies with whom you have no reason to care about or work with, a guide character that has nothing useful to say and nothing to offer you, and a villain that doesn’t really do much to oppose you and becomes irrelevant before you ever settle up with them. The story is threadbare yet overlong. The characters are “wacky” yet short on actual jokes. There are many environments but a lot of them look very similar and the structure of the journey sort of robs you of any sense of travel or accomplishment.

I’m not going to bother deconstructing the story quest-by-quest, but I do want to skim over it at a high level and talk about a few of the problems. Not because they really hurt the game (I never heard anyone actually complain about the story except to say it wasn’t interesting) but because it will make an interesting contrast when we get to Borderlands 2. Some of the problems with Borderlands 2 can be seen as over-corrections to Borderlands 1, but we have to look at both before we can make the comparison.

So You Want to Hear a Story?

Marcus is evidently a REALLY good artist!
Marcus is evidently a REALLY good artist!

Borderlands starts with two introductions. First Marcus the merchant sets up the basic premise while we’re treated to hand-drawn images of the events in question: On the planet Pandora there’s a legend of The Vault, a mysterious alien treasure trove of weapons, wealth, and technology. The legend is generations old, and our heroes are here on Pandora in search of it. Once we’ve got the basic backstory, we cut to a brilliant music video style intro with some licensed music and a little action to show off the main characters.

Once the music has us pumped up and ready for action, it all comes grinding to a halt while we’re treated to a laborious and mind-numbing unskippable tutorial. We’re greeted by Claptrap the robot and it takes him an agonizing three minutes to explain such fantastical concepts as the player’s HUD and the respawn station. During this time you can’t move on or do anything useful. You just have to follow him around and listen to him talk to keep the tutorial moving.

Part of the joke of this character is that he prattles on to the point of driving people bonkers, but there’s not nearly enough humor in that joke to justify making this opening so tedious. It’s particularly egregious when the concepts being explained are so obvious. You could cut this section out entirely and it wouldn’t hinder the player’s understanding of the game mechanics or the world.

If Borderlands is the offspring of Diablo and Halo, then it has failed both of its parents. Diablo would let you click through the text boxes and cut right to the action, and Halo wouldn’t lock you in place and make you watch someone explain to your character what a health bar is.

Diablo II lets you begin spending skill points and building your character as soon as you level up for the first time, but for some unfathomable reason Borderlands makes you level to level 5 before you can use your class-specific power. In Borderlands 1, that can take the better part of an hour. When combined with the unsatisfying starting weapons and the “kill 5 skags” approach to quests, it makes the introduction to the game a complete chore.

Angel beams her pirate signal DIRECTLY INTO YOUR BRAIN.
Angel beams her pirate signal DIRECTLY INTO YOUR BRAIN.

The other thing that’s going on during this tutorial is the Angel character begins talking to you. She can project her face directly into your viewEven before you’re given the HUD, which makes no damn sense but whatever. and presents herself as a guide and guardian.

This character does not work. She’s supposed to be our guide character, similar to Deckard Cain in Diablo II. She’s supposedly here to give backstory, set stakes, and encourage the player. The problem is that she doesn’t really accomplish any of those things.

At the start of a chapter, Deckard Cain would tell you about the threat you’ll face at the end of the chapter. He might give some backstory to provide context. In contrast, Angel’s dialog follows a very simple and extremely repetitive pattern throughout the game. Directly before a boss fight she’ll say something like, “Be careful. You’re about to face your greatest challenge yet. I believe in you.” Then after the fight, “I knew you could do it! You really are the hero this planet has been waiting for.”

The wording changes each time, but it’s the exact same idea. She doesn’t tell you anything meaningful about the threat you’re going to faceActually she does give you some protips on Sledge. They’re obvious things that you probably already know by level 15, particularly since you’ve already faced a boss just like him at the end of the previous murder-dungeon, and she didn’t feel the need to call you up before that fight.. She doesn’t tell you how your efforts have changed the world around you. She doesn’t tell you anything to make you care about the people you’re fighting for. In fact, you could swap her lines of post-fight dialog around and it wouldn’t make a lick of difference. Her dialog is completely disconnected from the game and she never tells you anything

Angel (upper right corner) calls me up to tell me I did the thing I just did.
Angel (upper right corner) calls me up to tell me I did the thing I just did.

“But Shamus, first you complained that Claptrap talks too much and now you’re complaining that Angel doesn’t tell you enough. Aren’t you being inconsistent?”

Actually both of my complaints are regarding the same problem: Talking is not storytelling. You can have as much or as little dialog as you like in your game, but regardless of how much there is it should be valuable to the player. It should be worth listening to. If you’re going to spend the player’s time on words, then those words should teach them something they need to know, tell them something interesting about the world they’re exploring, or develop one of the characters. Good dialog will accomplish at least two of those things. (And sometimes even all three.) Often the dialog in Borderlands accomplishes zero. Sometimes it might give you some character flavor. That’s nice, but then that same character beat will be repeated later.

Deckard Cain had interestingYour mileage may vary. lore, and you were always free to skip it. Borderlands has unskippable dialog that doesn’t tell you anything, or simply repeats the same character note again and again.

Like I said, this is not a game that sells itself on storytelling and we’re not here for some Planescape Torment type experience of mystery, intrigue, and discovery. We’re here to blast psychos and search for rare loot. The design team already had their hands full hammering out this new style of gameplay. If you’d asked me what one part of the game they could afford to cut corners on, I’d have suggested story. A good story would have made the game better of course, but the story didn’t need to be good the way that (say) the gunplay needed to work.

But I’m going to nitpick it anyway. Because I must.



[1] Even interrupting combat and story dialog!

[2] Like respawn stations or the bounty board.

[3] Like weapon proficiencies and ammo storage limits.

[4] There was a mod that reduced the font size of the weapon stats, which allowed the game to display more properties. Apparently the information was there and able to be displayed, but the infobox could only show the first three properties.

[5] Even before you’re given the HUD, which makes no damn sense but whatever.

[6] Actually she does give you some protips on Sledge. They’re obvious things that you probably already know by level 15, particularly since you’ve already faced a boss just like him at the end of the previous murder-dungeon, and she didn’t feel the need to call you up before that fight.

[7] Your mileage may vary.

From The Archives:

107 thoughts on “Borderlands Part 4: Diamond in the Rough

  1. Olivier FAURE says:

    Mhhh… I never played Borderlands, but the way you describe it, it seems like the team kinda failed at the story by trying too hard for their budget. I wonder if there’s a cheap-but-efficient way they would have done the job, that would have both felt more interesting and less of a chore.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Start small, and add more only later when there’s time. Cut everything that’s not necessary, fun, or interesting. The game would have been fine with a small story like, for example, Firewatch. Hell, the Metal Slug games have only the slightest hints of story, and are a blast to play. Borderlands could have been the 3D version of Metal Slug crossed with Diablo.

      1. Duoae says:

        I disagree. I think there’s more ‘story’ in the few hours of firewatch than the whole of borderlands!

        Much as I loved the game play in Borderlands, its story is threadbare, disconnected and poorly told. Firewatch, by comparison, is tolkein-esque levels of world building and story-telling ahead!

        1. Echo Tango says:

          There’s more story in terms of actual content and quality in Firewatch, but in terms of hours counted, Borderlands is far larger. It’s like a a mug of spiced, hand-made hot-chocolate compared to a bathtub full of gruel . One tastes great, lifts your spirits, and will last you for a couple hours of food requirements. The other is going to keep you alive for a month, but you’ll wish you had something else instead.

          1. Nimas says:

            Although that mug had sludge at the bottom of it. Yes it was hand crafted sludge, making an artistic point about the nature of Hot Chocolates and our expectations of them, but some people were *reaaally* hoping for some chocolate :P

            Yes I know this is petty and completely against the spirit and vision of Firewatch, but gosh darnit I was enjoying the ‘original’ plot so much, with Henry actually being able to say things that I was literally thinking of just before (and actually really concerned about) such as the “Are you actually real, is any of this real?” line that is honestly one of the *best* moments I’ve had gaming that the ending was just too much whiplash for me.

          2. Duoae says:

            Ah, okay. We “count” story differently then.

            For me, (using your analogy) Borderlands is like a bowl of gruel that’s been poured out behind a car that’s travelling at 30 MPH.

            Sure, there’s a mile of gruel to follow and lick up from the floor with some bigger splatters here and there when the road became bumpy but there’s still only a bowlful of gruel – not a bathtub!

            In fact, that’s one of the problems I had with the game – there’s just so little story and thought gone into it and it’s so stretched out over such a long period…

            Compare this to Firewatch where you have that mug of hand-spiced hot chocolate. Sure, you can drink it in 20 minutes (though you have to stop from time to time to let it cool because it’s a little bit hot in places) but then you realise that there’s a whole vat of hot chocolate that was made in the kitchen and if you go and take a look in there there’s even more hot chocolate to be had!

            To put it another way, Firewatch has so many layers on top of each other and both they and each character (except maybe the ‘antagonist’) are really well fleshed out with backstory and motivations each person experiencing the game can think about the story as deeply as they like.

            Borderlands doesn’t have that. There’s no real characterisation of the protagonists, antagonists or world. The story is so thinly spread out and poorly structured that, by the time you get to the end credits, you’re likely to be confused as to why things happened the way they did. I mean, we get most of the backstory of the vault in the final minutes of the plot…. without any real lead up to it (IIRC).

      2. Zak McKracken says:

        “add more only later when there's time” never happens. Either you reserve some time to do the thing, or you will never do it. That’s at least my experience with project planning. “If I can find the time” usually translates to “never”.

        …which would actually have been okay, I suppose. Just make a very rudimentary backstory, and the game is then just about four people who try to get by and run into trouble over and over again. Fine!

        …my approach would have been to start with a rudimentary story, implement that in a decent way with some time left before the shipping date, then review and either modify, reduce or add to it if it works well so far and you think you have time to do the additional things well. That way, you always have something servicable, whenever the shipping date hits. Except of course if your story is obliterated by some late changes to gameplay — in which case you should still be better of having something rudimentary to fall back on, rather than a huge set of tiny details that have already been implemented and now need to be rearranged and somehow tied together because there’s no time to make new ones.

        (All of which is, of course, grey theory)

  2. MichaelGC says:

    I feel like amusingly-annoying characters only ever really work as cameos, because of the fairly-obvious extreme risk that even in the best case the answer to the rhetorical metaphorical question: “Aren’t I annoying?” will swiftly transition from “haha, yes,” to simply “yes.”

    1. Nessus says:

      I like to think of it as “The Ruby Rhod Rule”.

      1. Droid says:

        You mean the “Jar Jar Binks” rule?

        1. Agammamon says:

          Jar Jar was never *funny* at any time.

          Ruby Rhod is awesome – in tiny doses.

          1. Nessus says:

            Jar Jar was also never intended to be annoying. He was supposed to be a lovable goofball. The fact that he made audiences wish he’d take a swan dive into a shallow deep fryer was… well, lets be kind and call it an “oversight” on GL’s part.

            See also Nelix on Star Trek Voyager, who was supposed to be the shows big break out character, but was just an obnoxious load instead (He was Poochy, in other words).

            These characters are more like a mild form of “unfortunate implications”, in that they mostly just tell you lots of cringey things about what their creators find likable and funny.

          2. MaxEd says:

            I think I managed to get my hands on a novelization of the movie before I saw it (I’m weird), and from the book, I loved Jar Jar. I thought he brought much-needed comedy to otherwise over-serious full-of-itself Star Wars universe. But that may be because I don’t really like Star Wars (or Star Trek, actually).

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              Is that the one where anakin is supposed to be a teenager and the whole anakin/padme thing isnt weird and the whole “too old to be trained” line doesnt sound stupid?

              1. MaxEd says:

                I can’t remember anything about it now, aside from the fact that I liked Jar Jar (and later was very surprised by Internet hate for the character) and that the cover was green-ish (and I can’t even find that cover now – the ones I can find are all black). I checked that book out of my local library, so it did not remain with me.

        2. TheJungerLudendorff says:

          Or the Universal Comedick Sidekick Corollary

      2. krellen says:

        Is it a rule because Ruby Rhod stays just too long enough to make the point and not too much?

        1. Nessus says:

          First time I saw the movie, every time he was on screen he made me cringe so hard the movie just became white noise ’till he was gone, so whatever point he was meant to have was lost. On rewatching the movie years later, I wasn’t bothered by him, and was able to get the joke.

          He still doesn’t bother me (neither does Claptrap), but I feel like the fact that characters like these very evidently DO bother A LOT of people indicates that the theory behind their creation/inclusion is not entirely sound.

          So what I’ve been think of for years as “The Ruby Rhod Rule” is actually something along the lines of “Lampshading doesn’t work on audience reactions the way it does on plot or worldbuilding elements. Knowing that an annoying character is supposed to be annoying does not transform the fact that they are annoying.”

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      The really good annoying characters annoy other characters in the work,but not the audience.Its tough to make something like that.

      1. Zekiel says:

        Successful examples?

        (Geuninely interested, not being snarky)

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Vash the stampede perhaps.

          1. Radiosity says:

            Vash works because, while he’s a goofball a lot of the time, he’s also deadly serious when necessary. Or rather, NOT deadly, that’s kind of the whole point ;)

        2. Joe says:

          C-3PO. He’s fun to watch, but if I lived in Star Wars I’d rapidly adopt Han’s approach of telling him to shut up, or turn him off or something like that.

          1. Zekiel says:

            Its weird that I found C-3PO amusing in the original trilogy, but annoying in the prequels. I could never work out whether there was something different in the writing, or it was just that I’d changed in the intervening few years.

            1. Radiosity says:

              Probably because EVERYTHING ELSE in the prequels was so bad that your tolerance for mildly annoying characters was lower than usual?

              1. Zekiel says:

                Hey, the lightsaber fights were good! Well the one in Phantom Menace was anyway.

                And everybody agreed that CGI-Yoda was better than that puppet didn’t they? ;-)

                1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                  No. And the lightsaber fights in the prequels were just boring. Especially the lava one

                  1. Mephane says:

                    The award for most boring lightsaber fight goes to episode 4 – the one where Obi-Wan magically vanishes after some extremely clumsy (on both sides), amateurish and slow performance that barely even deserves the word “fight”.

                    1. ZekeCool says:

                      Interestingly, that was the point of that fight. Lucas wanted it to look like two old men, long past their prime, still fighting their battles. They were supposed to look awkward and jerky.

                    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

                      Id take an emotionally charged conversation between two old enemies sprinkled with awkward swings here and there any time over an actor swinging nothing at nothing.When I want to watch cartoons,I prefer them to be full over the top,like giant robots fighting monsters.If the prequels went bonkers like the star wars games,then you could say they were exciting.

                    3. djw says:

                      I agree that the actual saber part of the Obi-Wan vs Darth Vader fight was lame, but on the other hand we had Alec Guiness and James Earl Jones doing the talky bits.

                      I’ll take that over any scene with Hayden Christensen doing anything any day.

                      The slow fight in Star Wars IV also set up Luke to look much more badass in VI.

                  2. Radiosity says:

                    Seriously. Lightsabres everywhere devalues them in the same way Bethesda devalues power armour in Fallout. Less is sometimes more.

                  3. Zekiel says:

                    Ah I really liked the Phantom Menace fight with all the crazy acrobatics and Darth Maul with his double-bladed thing. Entirely agree about the lava fight though. I read people enthuastically lauding it for being the longest swordfight ever. Yes. That’s not a good thing. It just keeps going.

                2. Syal says:

                  I would have loved to see puppet Yoda fighting those lightsaber duels.

                  1. djw says:

                    Cut the strings and its all over…

                    1. Syal says:

                      He could still do the flips!

            2. CrushU says:

              Probably because the characters around C-3PO reacted differently. In the original Trilogy, he keeps getting cut off and told to shut up, and Han even reaches over and turns him off at one point to make him stop talking.

              In the prequels, I don’t think anyone ever cuts him off?

        3. Redrock says:

          Peter Parker is supposed to be extremely annoying to everyone around him, which is actually the tactical reasoning behind his constant joking during fights.

        4. MichaelGC says:

          Blackadder’s pals* Percy, George & Baldrick drive him up the wall. They’re all somewhat funny themselves, but it’s the range & quality of Blackadder’s flip-outs at them which ensure they don’t become annoying to the audience, I think.

          *Which of them counts as a ‘pal’ is somewhat dependent on which of the four series we’re talking of.

          1. djw says:

            It’s all part of Baldrick’s cunning plan…

          2. Zekiel says:

            Oooh good example.

        5. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Another one came to mind:Arnold judas rimmer,the biggest smeghead of them all.

          1. MichaelGC says:

            Oh, good one.

            Also: the Disney Tigger. Bit of a stretch, perhaps, as he doesn’t annoy Pooh – but then Pooh doesn’t really ‘do’ annoyed. Certainly winds up Eeyore, Rabbit & Owl, though. 🐅

          2. Zekiel says:

            Thank you for the link. I’d fully forgotten that marvellous song :-)

        6. Joshua says:

          Cordelia/Anya/Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer work as foils to annoy most of the main characters while amusing the audience. That’s actually the main point of their characters being in the show.

        7. Nessus says:

          Nobby Nobs in the Discworld books. His mates put up with him because of long-standing foxhole loyalty, but otherwise he’s a near constant source of aggravation. To the reading audience he’s just part of the comedy, and a beloved character as such.

        8. Zekiel says:

          Dreadjaws below mentioned Zap Brannigan, who is another excellent example.

        9. JakeyKakey says:

          Rygel on Farscape. Wait no, Chiana…wait no, Stark…wait no, Harvey…wait no, Crichton.

          …you get the idea.

          The order I’ve given is probably the most accurate, but part of Farscape’s genius is that the entire crew was legitimately flawed and dysfunctional and the ‘dickhead’ stick would just keep getting passed around to the most appropriate person in the given context so it was never just the case of one character with the ‘intentionally annoying’ trait.

          …though that’d totally be Rygel.

    3. Zekiel says:

      Reminds me of the beginning of Far Cry Blood Dragon which features a “hilarious” tutorial poking fun at how annoying tutorials can be. By forcing you to go through an annoying tutorial. The only differences between it and the thing it is parodying are (a) it was done deliberately and (b) your character keeps moaning about it throughout. Surprisingly enough, this is not enough to make it actually enjoyable or funny.

      1. MichaelGC says:

        Absolutely! I almost mentioned exactly this, but I couldn’t offhand think of a second example sufficient to establish a trend. (And also my sentence was stupidly long as it was.)

      2. Mousazz says:

        Huh. I liked that tutorial… Dunno why exactly. Maybe it just didn’t overstay its welcome for me? Wasn’t too long to become annoying? Also, the protagonist started moaning about the tutorial right from the very beginning, to the point I didn’t have any time to get into it seriously to start getting annoyed.

      3. AdamS says:

        Oddly enough, I was about to comment that I thought Blood Dragon’s forced tutorial was a rare example of this style of parody actually working. I don’t much like Claptrap either, though.

        1. Zekiel says:

          Well I never. I couldn’t imagine anyone enjoying that tutorial, but we have two people who did. To be fair, it wasn’t particularly long. (But it was unskippable and deliberately irritating!)

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            The whole dlc clicked for me as well.But I was never in it for the gameplay.Even though I have enjoyed the gameplay of fc3,I got blood dragon for the jokes.So I enjoyed the tutorial joke as well.

    4. Galad says:

      I think I pretty much never considered Claptrap annoying. He made me smile usually. Am I weird?

      1. KarmaTheAlligator says:

        If you are, so am I. Neither Claptrap or Navi in Ocarina of Time were annoying to me.

      2. Ilseroth says:

        Honestly, for me I was usually happy to see the Claptraps in BL1. Usually they were just little happy robots who got beat up. You help them out, they give you some loot and then say something goofy.

        Yeah the first tutorial Clap stuck around too long and outstayed it’s welcome but the rest were signs of an expanded backpack and likely some rare loot, so whatever post loot door opening comment they had was heartwarming.

        While the remaining Clap-Trap has their moments; they took him to the extremes and it frequently crosses the threshold. Maybe it was the fact that he turned from a punching bag that you get rewarded for helping to a punching bag that main characters in the plot take time to give a good punch kinda changes the position a bit.

    5. Dreadjaws says:

      It’s the problem with comic relief characters. They usually come in three flavors:

      – the most common, the one that story characters like but audience hates, such as, um, let’s say Rob Schneider in almost every movie he’s in,
      – the one that both story characters and audiences hate, like Jar Jar Binks and
      – the rarest of them all, the one the story characters dislike but audiences actually like, such as Zap Brannigan.

      Fortunately, Claptrap is far less annoying in the next games. It helps that his presence is not constant.

      1. djw says:

        Futerama did everything better.

    6. Alex says:

      Or you could let the player choose how long they want to put up with the character. If you could just tell the quirky character to be quiet, the problem disappears.

  3. Daemian Lucifer says:

    So the first game was wonky and rough around the edges. It had a core gameplay loop that worked really well and delivered an experience that you just couldn't get anywhere else, but it had a way of annoying you every couple of minutes with its various shortcomings.

    You know…Im trying to think of a game I love that wasnt rough around the edges when compared to its contemporaries.Other than the original half life,and maybe starcraft 1*,I cant really think of any.

    *There are wonkiness to sc1,but I cant say I noticed them before newer strategies made improvements to the ui.The only obvious one at that time may have been the 12 unit selection limit.

    1. Boz says:

      Pathfinding is somewhere between atrocious and nonexistent. Fans overlook that, unit control limit and total unit limit. All engine and programming limitations all rationalized as “this makes game more tactical”.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        I agree about the pathfinding.But its not like other strategies had better pathing at the time.Thats why I say compared to its contemporaries.

        1. boz says:

          No both Westwood series and Total Annihilation stuff had better pathfinding. If they were all equally bad Starcraft fans would not claim “this is more tactical”.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Ive replayed the whole of c&c/red alert recently,and no they dont have good pathfinding.I wasnt particularly impressed by pathing of ta back then either.

            1. Zekiel says:

              I still remember the hilarity of skirmishes versus the AI in C&C Red Alert which eventually got to the stage where there was a virtually unbroken line of enemy troops connecting your base and the enemies as they produced units and instantly sent them directly towards your base. :-)

      2. GloatingSwine says:

        Fans don’t “overlook” the wonky pathfinding in SC1, they positively demand it.

        Much effort was made apparently in the HD remaster to make sure that Dragoons are properly crap at pathfinding.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          I was so sad when the fans pressured blizzard to remove autocasting on queens larva spawn in sc2.Ill never understand people who like bad ui simply because they are used to it.

          1. guy says:

            I believe that was part of adding intentional skill differentiation for tournaments, along with Chronoboost and the Terran MULES. It’s a way to gain an advantage by remembering to make use of it at the appropriate intervals. Not exactly my thing, but Starcraft is the granddaddy of competitive esports, so it’s a valid design goal.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              Theres no skill in doing something that everyone does all the time.Its like making healing not be autocastable because it requires more skill.

              1. GloatingSwine says:

                The skill they’re trying to test is pure execution skill. It’s not just “remember to do this” it’s “be able to do this consistently whilst also building drones every 15 seconds and also scouting to keep up to date on what your opponent is doing and also building units for your timing push and also spreading creep and then fighting a battle and also expanding”.

                Starcraft is a disorganisation engine, it’s designed to test the ability to juggle many many tasks in parallel because success relies on all of them.

          2. Alex says:

            Presumably because they believe they are hurt less by it than their potential competition. The top level Starcraft players that already proved they can deal with the make-work hardly want a new wave of top level players coming after their prize money.

        2. Zekiel says:

          That brings back fond* memories of spending ages trying to corral a bunch of dragoon into a small area to be Recalled by an arbiter. One or two always got left behind.

          *Not really

      3. Blackbird71 says:

        Ugh, the pathfinding! I cut my RTS teeth on SC1, and as a result, I have a deeply-rooted need to micromanage all troop movements in any RTS, because I just don’t trust a game to get it right.

    2. Dreadjaws says:

      Batman: Arkham Asylum?

      While the sequels have improved the gameplay in several ways, I don’t think you can say that there was something the first game did badly in comparison to the other ones (there’s an argument for Detective Vision being too useful in that one, but that really depends on the player).

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Combat maybe?Yes,it is harder than in the sequels,but the sequels offer so much more freedom,and the gadgets in combat.

        But yes,asylum was pretty great compared to its contemporaries.

      2. Zekiel says:

        I agree. Although in the interests of being pernickety I would say the boss fights in City were much better than those in those in Asylum (which were basically the only flaw of the entire game)

  4. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Borderlands starts with two introductions.

    Ugh,that sentence…I wonder if they deliberately named their game with a plural noun in order to irk the ocd crowd.

    1. MichaelGC says:

      Wouldn’t be surprised – particularly if it’s the same folk who stuck around to inflict “pre-sequel” on everyone.

  5. KarmaTheAlligator says:

    Halo wouldn't lock you in place and make you watch someone explain to your character what a health bar is.

    Pretty sure it does, the only difference is it’s about the shield and the “targeting” (looking around) needing to be calibrated (might not happen on every difficulty, though).

    1. KarmaTheAlligator says:

      Right, found one example. Only happens on the two lowest difficulties, but it does happen.

    2. Alex McKenzie says:

      It happens in the original and the second one, though the second was primarily to explain that the shields worked differently from in the first game (no underlying health bar and it regenerated faster).

    3. Viktor says:

      And in Halo 1 it’s mostly because this was one of the first, if not THE first, games with regenerating health. The shield is a completely new concept, and needs the explanation.

      For anyone who doesn’t know, the opening of Halo 1 goes(all cutscenes skippable):
      In media res cutscene between the 2 major NPCs that explains what’s going on without being exposition (a couple minutes)
      Select inverted or normal camera controls
      Maybe 1 minute spent explaining the shield and HUD
      A couple minutes of running through gunfire without a weapon looking at your enemies and their cool particle effects.
      30 second cutscene
      Start shooting dudes.

      It works great your first time through the game. Drags a bit on repeated playthroughs though, which they fixed in later games. (those mostly go cutscene>really easy level with tutorial popups)

      1. Sannom says:

        The shield is a completely new concept

        I’m pretty sure Starcraft and the Protoss predate Halo and Masterchief.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          In fps though it was a new thing.

        2. Ultrapotassium says:

          In Halo your shields regen REALLY FAST. it’s effectively a new mechanic as it introduces a new way to play – fight until your shields deplete, then duck into cover for a few seconds, then back into the fight. In SC, recharging shields take minutes, not seconds.

    4. GloatingSwine says:

      “Look at these things in order” has become a pretty standard part of 3D games. It also gives the user an opportunity to choose their preferred camera inversion.

  6. Xapi says:

    Anyone here seen the romantic comedy “They came together”?

    It’s a romantic comedy that is at the same time a parody of romantic comedies, going through all the beats of romantic comedies, sometimes amping up the goofyness, sometimes repeating the joke until it bores you to death, and a few times going completely crazy.

    For instance: The main male character and his brother have a heart to heart, after they had a fight. When they are done, they go their separate ways, but one of them turns around, calls the other, looks at him knowingly and says “Thank you”. Then the other brother does the same thing. Then the first brother again. Then the second one. Then the first. Then… you get the idea. It gets stupid and awkward quite a long time before it is over.

    While we were watching it, my wife and I were talking about it, and all we could say about it was “Is this guy a genius or a total idiot?” We settled on idiot by the end. Or, at least, he took his genius so far the joke was no longer funny, and then he took it quite a bit further away.

    1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

      The way a repeat joke can work is that it’s:
      -funny once you realize it’s being repeated
      -less funny after a few iterations
      -and then you can loop around to funny again if you push the repetitions into ludicrous territory

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        The best overly long gag is:
        Clowns are nothing but ultimate EVIL!They want to be the dominant species on the planet,and they will destroy us all to make it happen!
        DESTROY US ALL!!

        DESTROY US ALL!!

        DESTROY US ALL!!

        DESTROY US ALL!!

        DESTROY US ALL!!

        DESTROY US ALL!!

        DESTROY US ALL!!

        DESTROY US ALL!!

        DESTROY US ALL!!

        DESTROY US ALL!!

        DESTROY US ALL!!

        Ill take the chicken.

        DESTROY US ALL!!

        DESTROY US ALL!!

        DESTROY US ALL!!

        DESTROY US ALL!!

        DESTROY US ALL!!

        DESTROY US ALL!!

        DESTROY US ALL!!

        DESTROY US ALL!!

  7. King Marth says:

    I’m curious, are there any good examples of games that actually did just drop the story instead of spending lots of money on making something terrible? The real core of these ‘bad story’ rants isn’t just that the story could’ve been better, but that the bad story was really expensive with all the voiceover and (frequently) mo-cap.

    1. ChrisANG says:

      There’s any number of games with excuse plots, any of which could be an example of this.

      To come up with a specific example, both Dark Souls and Bloodborne have underlying lore, as well as side characters with their own story arcs, but neither expends any great effort on the usual nuts and bolts of game storytelling (for example, they do hire voice actors to read the lines, but they don’t bother animating anything beyond the occasional whole-body gesture, ie, no facial expressions or even moving lips). The main character in Bloodborne has some sort of motivation implied, but you can easily fail to notice an early NPC (Gilbert’s window) and a note at the back of the hub and be left with little to no idea what’s supposed to be motivating you.

      I seriously doubt that punching DS/Bloodborne’s stories up to fully animated mandatory cut-scenes/usual levels of videogame melodrama would have improved either game. Without drastically improved writing, all it would do is highlight that the main character’s motivations are thin at best, and most-or-all of the side plots are very basic.

    2. Joshua says:

      Are you asking about games where they elected to go with a bare bones plot or games where there was going to be a lot of plot and then they discarded most of it to go bare bones?

      Not sure about the latter, but there are tons of the former, even if you discount older games that did so for technical limitations reasons.

  8. Brandon says:

    I tried playing Borderlands 2 once. Claptrap and Handsome Jack’s constant yelling annoyed me so much I put it down and never went back.

  9. Warclam says:

    That first image of Angel, I didn’t realize it was a picture of a face until you said so. I thought it was a couple of ghostly black trees walking across your vision on their leg-roots.

  10. Grudgeal says:

    (…)Gamespy, which was awful and inconvenient when it wasn't outright broken.

    Their forums were pretty cool back in the pre-IGN era though, around the turn of the millennium. I used to be active on PlanetBaldursGate and Forumplanet main. Had a PBP tabletop group.

    …Christ I’m old.

  11. Adrian Burt says:

    “The developers bragged about how they simulated bullet trajectories instead of using the more typical hitscan approach, but in practice it was wonky and the only time you'd notice the difference was when it malfunctioned. ”

    That explains it!!

    Okay I have a story. A couple of years ago Borderlands 2 had a free weekend on Steam and I decided to pick it up because I had never tried it before. My experience it was the best game ever until I played it. It was colorful, vibrant, funny, exploding with personality, and then I tried to shoot guys and it felt wrong. It couldn’t explain it beyond that but it felt like my bullets were passing through the negative space in the enemies. I had never played a game like this before. I got so frustrated with missing guys I should be hitting that I uninstalled the game and never looked back. But apparently what was going on was that despite the entire game’s aesthetics and tone and mood were all screaming “this is not a realistic game, this is a dumb and wacky game” for some sodding reason Gearbox decided that they wanted realistic bullet physics, in their dumb, wacky, unrealistic game. I was expecting Halo, but I got Advanced Warfighter.

    1. Chris says:

      There are a few oddball guns where the bullet trajectories are the unique aspect. There’s a quest reward assault rifle in BL2 that fires in a parabolic arc, and I think I vaguely recall a pistol in BL1 that shot at some weird angle and the bullets bounced around.

    2. Ilseroth says:

      Well in Borderlands 2 they actually went a bit more cartoony, they are still projectiles but there is less dropoff and the hitboxes are far better sized.

      BL1 has some serious hitbox issues and the projectiles are surprisingly slow. Not too big of an issue if you go around with an assault rifle/SMG/shotgun, but trying to use a sniper at proper sniper distances can be infuriating. Not to mention the fact that on top of the awkward hitboxes, bullet trajectory, you have the fact that weaponhs have an accuracy stat component, which means that until later in the game, getting a sniper with above 95% accuracy is unlikely. Which means that even if your shot is perfectly lined up with the wierd hitbox and the character isn’t moving, you can miss just because your gun stats.

  12. Exasperation says:

    “The interface was obnoxious to use with a mouse and keyboard.”

    In fairness, I found the BL1 interface worked significantly better overall with mouse & keyboard than the BL2 interface. The BL2 interface has some particularly egregious design changes (e.g. the skill tree overview no longer allows you to select skills or even to mouse over them for info, so comparing skills from different branches requires you to change sub-menus multiple times) and bugs (e.g. every time you change sub-menus there is a small but non-negligible chance that the mouse input will be reversed(!) or simply stop working until you change sub-menus again).

  13. Chris says:

    Is the default FOV in Borderlands 2 the same problematic angle? I recently started playing it, and I find myself getting dizzy and disoriented very easily. It’s the only FPS I’ve played in a while, so it could just be old-manhood settling in; on the other hand, if a simple graphical tweak might make me more comfortable, I’d love to know about it.

    1. Duoae says:

      The potential fix is to move your monitor way away from you! :D (Or there might be an .ini file edit for you as well – I’ve never tried to mod any of the Boarderlands games)

      I really dislike smaller FOVs – even on console set-ups, despite them supposedly being introduced because of them. Mind you, I’m one of those people who played Q3A at 110-120 degrees FOV…

  14. Binary Toast says:

    I think you just summed up most of my issues with Borderlands, but you did miss one: The story is forgettable. Going into Borderlands 2, I couldn’t tell you much at all about Borderlands 1; we ran over a space-dog, got off a bus, shit happened, we opened the vault, the end. Does that even count as a spoiler at this point? Edit: Well, screwed up the spoiler tag, so whatever.

    I’m sure you’ll bring this up to some extent or another when you get the comparing Borderlands and its sequel, but looking back on it I can’t help but consider Borderlands only the prototype of Borderlands 2. Borderlands 2 just did so many things better, I can’t help but see it as an example of what Borderlands 1 could have been. The game it should have been.

    Maybe come 2019 they’ll release a ten-year anniversary remake of the first Borderlands, bringing it up to the quality of the later games. Borderlands 3 seems more likely.

    1. GloatingSwine says:

      I’d take Blands 1’s forgettable non-plot over Blands 2’s smug twattery any day.

      Blands 2 was nowhere near as funny as it thought it was, too much of its humour was “hey look at this thing you sort of remember, isn’t that funny”, it had way less sidequests and so less distraction from how dumb the plot was, the plot was dumb (ps. it is hard to make you believe in the drama of a character dying when trivial resurrection is reified in the game world and the very next quest you find is the bad guy paying you to kill yourself for a laugh), the narrative and gameplay failed to appropriately dovetail (the first half is trying to make you believe how scary bad whatsisface is who all the old characters are shit scared of but he dies instantly to a gun Tiny Tina gives you, possibly before the dialogue is finished telling you how super hard he is.

      The Blands 2 DLCs are way better than the main plot (especially whenever Mr Torgue is involved).

  15. SADD1 says:

    Hey, Shamus, are you going to come back to comment on the Environmental Story-Telling from Borderlands 1? If I recall correctly that was one area of the game that you did specifically appreciate?

  16. Pinkhair says:

    The FOV combined with the art style(which somehow made it worse) just made the game entirely unplayable for me.

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