By Joseph Leray
Over the weekend, Gearbox Software president and magician Randy Pitchford tweeted to fans that there is a “100% chance of a level cap increase this year” for his company’s popular first-person shooter and RPG hybrid “Borderlands 2,” reiterating similar comments made by the game’s producer last month.
Pitchford followed up, though, by noting the chances are “ 50\50 on unforeseen consequences,” referring to a series of design problems the studio has run into while designing the update, detailed in a VentureBeat interview last week. Pitchford was blunt when describing the balancing and scaling issues that comes with raising the game’s level cap: “We’re gonna break our f**king game if we change the math.”
“We’re now in this world where we’re confronting the reality of what it means to do that work, and it’s terrifying and challenging,” Pitchford explained. “This is the fundamental thing about the game. It’s a big deal,” he continued.
While making sure the enemies and loot levels up appropriately has been a big issue, the skills trees in “Borderlands 2” are also giving Gearbox problems. “We designed the skills really well this time, but we did, for better or for worse, make a lot of the decisions with the knowledge that there will be no more skill points available to put into any trees after you reach level 50,” Pitchford said.
Simply adding more skill points would open the door for game-breaking configurations, including some that the Xbox 360 physically cannot handle: “Some of the impossible configurations, if they were possible, would break the game. Sometimes very literally. ‘Oh, that’s gonna blow memory. Your Xbox will crash.’”
Pitchford says that development for the level-cap increase is ongoing, but that it’s not clear what the final results will be. “There might be things that aren’t going to work the same way. We might have to radically change the game,” he notes. “We have to think, ‘What’s more important? Do you we maintain these skills, or do we let people level up? What if we have to change skills?’” Pitchford compared raising the level cap to making “the whole game over again.”
Despite the difficulties, Gearbox remains committed to increasing the level-cap, which seems surprising given that only 16% of players have a level 50 character. Pitchford explains that developing the level-cap increase has been time-consuming and expensive, which leads me to believe that Gearbox is counting on that 16% (myself included) to drive sales of customization packs and future DLC for “Borderlands 2.”