Anthony Burch Talks Humor In Borderlands 2 [Spoilers]

Anthony Burch, lead writer for Borderlands 2, tells us how developing humor is a lot harder than we may think.

Borderlands 2 is one of the funniest games I've ever played; I can say that without reserve. The game is not only great story, extended content and style, but a lot of thought goes into how to make jokes work in a video game.

In an Inside the Box post, which is a forum for those involved in the production of Gearbox Software to share their ideas behind the games they produce, Anthony Burch, lead writer for BL2, talks about the humor behind the beloved Borderlands 2.

Burch points out at first that Borderlands 2 is not a comedy game, which I completely agree with. This game is so emotionally wrecking I sometimes forget about the Bane or even the silly incoherent comments that Tiny Tina makes --oddly enough voiced by the same actress.

Rather than designing brand new systems to make the player laugh, we had to take the existing mechanics we had – mechanics designed for shooter gameplay--and co-opt them in order to make fart jokes.

And there are fart jokes galore, but of course there was a lot behind all of the jokes in general. A lot of thought went into creating the humor behind weapons, characters and quests. The Bane, for example, went from just a gun based off of Winchester 73 to the annoying yet amazingly spec'd gun we know and love.

Without writing a single line of “funny” dialog, The Bane was an attempt to turn a piece of loot into a punchline. And because it’s a piece of loot, because it’s not a line of dialog but an actual item, the joke can actually get better depending on how the player deals with it.

Burch also discusses that breaking patterns can make for some great dark comedy, his two examples being Claptrap's Birthday Bash and the quest 'Shoot Me In the Face.' Both of them break the stereotypical ideas behind quests in Borderlands 2.

For about three minutes, you have to attend Claptrap’s lonely, awkward birthday party and there’s nothing you can do to speed it up. You just sit there while he dances around to cheesy music and blows party favors and keeps convincing himself everyone just got lost on the way to his party. This quest succeeded so much as a piece of awkward, dark comedy that some people in our forums said it was the saddest part of the game, and we kill like five of our main characters.

The Birthday Bash works in breaking the pattern, according to Burch, by making it a quest that you honestly have no control over. If you leave before the party ends, the three minutes starts over and you have to endure it all over again. Shoot Me In the Face works a little differently.

Shoot Me In the Face is a short and simple quest where you basically just shoot a guy in the face. Easy right? Well, not for the developers.

In practice, Shoot This Guy In the Face was one of the most weirdly complex quests in the game despite its apparent simplicity. Designers Ryan Heaton and Drew Mobley had to add a bunch of optional objectives to NOT shoot the guy in areas that AREN’T his face, but since optional objectives are generally something you DO rather than something you DON’T do they had to start off checked and then UNCHECK themselves if you accidentally shoot him anywhere else, and…yeah, this mission was some bullshit. But in the end, people really liked the quest.

Humor takes a lot more time and effort than you may think. For example, Tiny Tina had a little bit of every department to make her the bomb-making thirteen year old that we know and love.

Sometimes the jokes don't work out, but when they do we get a great game that's not only hilarious but is there to make the community happy.

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Better dead than a damsel. I'm a Magazine Journalism student at the University of Georgia. I enjoy shooting bullymongs in the head while I'm not cuddling my cat.

Published Nov. 12th 2013

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