‘New Tales from the Borderlands’ is extra Gearbox than Telltale

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With brightly coloured outfits, high-tech glasses and hoverchairs aplenty, “New Tales from the Borderlands’ ” three major characters actually look the half. And as their journey by means of a sewer (in quest of one of many collection’ borderline-mystical Vaults, after all) offers option to “Metal Gear Solid”-inspired field shenanigans and a life-or-death duel with a guard involving motion figures as a substitute of weapons, it feels the half, too. That is undoubtedly a successor to “Tales from the Borderlands,” Telltale’s unexpectedly spectacular story-driven spinoff of a collection not sometimes identified for its story.

However one thing is lacking.

It’s laborious to place a finger on what, precisely, because the motion performs out throughout a digital demo offered by Gearbox, the studio dealing with improvement after Telltale, the spinoff’s originator, died in 2018 after which (type of) got here again the following 12 months. The setup is harking back to the unique “Tales from the Borderlands” whereas starring a brand new forged: Anu, Octavio and Fran, three lovable losers who’d possible be background NPCs in a normal first-person shooter “Borderlands” sport, bumble, stumble and stutter their manner by means of the machinations of evil capitalists and a planetary invasion on the worst day of their lives. There are jokes and quips aplenty. There are dialogue decisions, quick-time occasions and minigames. Octavio, the primary male lead, exudes a certain-to-be-humbled cocksureness that’s harking back to earlier “Tales” lead Rhys, besides streetwise as a substitute of company.

However it all hits just a little otherwise. Perhaps it’s as a result of giant amount of meta jokes referencing “Borderlands,” character archetypes and different video video games — the generously poured sauce atop customary “Borderlands” video games’ feasts of surroundings chewing which the unique “Tales” dialed again (barely) in favor of extra stand-alone character-driven shenanigans. Perhaps it’s the look: darker, dingier and dirtier, to convey “New Tales” consistent with 2019 major collection entry “Borderlands 3.” Perhaps it’s the dearth of Telltale’s signature “So-and-so will remember this” immediate when you decide that resonates profoundly — for good or sick — with one other character.

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It’s a wonderful line to stroll, echoing again to a beloved cult hit whereas additionally charting a brand new course. However the leads of the brand new group making “New Tales” say the variations are very intentional. The shortage of a “So-and-so will remember this” immediate is an efficient instance. On one hand, Telltale’s signature line pushed gamers into the pinnacle house of contemplating what different characters may be pondering of them; it received the creativeness going with little greater than a short line of textual content. On the opposite, it gave sure decisions extra weight than they essentially deserved.

“That notification does make you think about [your decision], but also from what we observed, people tended to think that those were the most important choices — the big ones — and in the process it potentially undermined all the other choices you make,” Gearbox director of manufacturing James Lopez instructed The Washington Publish. “One of our mottos while making this game is that every input is a choice, and every choice matters. It’s kind of hard to celebrate that idea if we still use the notification, so instead we invested more in a spectrum of consequences.”

As well as, “New Tales” is working on the Unreal Engine as a substitute of Telltale’s herky-jerky outdated tech, permitting Gearbox to make use of a collection of movement seize instruments to convey its characters’ faces and our bodies to life. The hope, then, is that gamers will not want a immediate to allow them to know when characters suppose they’ve achieved one thing cool (or extremely silly).

“Performance capture lets you understand, ‘Oh, this had an impact!’” stated Gearbox Studio Quebec producer Frédéric Scheubel. “If you’re in a hurry, just like in real life you don’t have the weight of the consequences in front of you right away. Performance capture allowed us to bring it forth without a cue. It allowed us to do it with our actors and their acting.”

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Whereas the transient 20-or-so minute demo was heavier on sewer spelunking and gags than heartfelt character progress, Lopez and Scheubel stated that character relationships are nonetheless very a lot on the core of this sport — extra so even than the group anticipated on the outset of improvement. The rationale for this, oddly sufficient, is the pandemic. “New Tales’ ” script was written earlier than covid-19 despatched us all scrambling into our personal vaults for security, forcing rewrites in order that mocap scenes might be shot over the course of 14 months with out endangering actors.

“We had some fight sequences where the idea was to have, like, eight to twelve people on set, which was a lot even pre-pandemic,” stated Lopez. “So the pandemic happened, and it could have been a matter of us just cutting the actors in half — the number of actors, not the actual actors. That would be a crime.”

However as a substitute of committing a criminal offense in opposition to the script (or human actors), the “New Tales” group targeted on rewrites that gave the story a extra intimate focus.

“We have three playable characters, and a lot of the time it’s them plus someone else,” stated Lopez, explaining that shoots often maxed out at simply 5 actors. “So it was like, these three characters are gonna get really close to each other; we should probably think of the story through that lens. … It became much more of a story about family and unconditional love for each other despite your flaws.”

These distinctive constraints in thoughts, it’s not shocking that “New Tales” offers off a vibe that’s part-“Tales,” part-“Borderlands” and part-all its personal. That stated, Gearbox appears intent on sustaining a direct lineage to the unique “Tales,” if not with cameos (Lopez and Scheubel stated this one can have a “98 percent new cast”) then with help from former Telltale staffers — one thing the corporate has repeatedly touted. This is sensible; the unique was a uniquely narrative-heavy mission whose sensibilities have been born of a comparatively small, particular group of individuals.

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Nevertheless, Gearbox has been conspicuously cagey about exactly which, if any, ex-“Tales” leads are attached to the project. The Washington Post contacted several lead writers from the original “Tales,” all of whom either said they were not involved or did not reply. Most of the game’s main writers, years later, are now listed as having full-time jobs at studios like Remedy, King and the Netflix-owned Night School. One former “Tales” lead who chose to remain anonymous out of concern over potential retaliation said Gearbox only reached out to get his current company to say it’s not working on “New Tales.”

“Our only contact with Gearbox was them asking us to put out a statement that we were not working on it when there was a rumor that we were,” said the ex-“Tales” lead. “We responded to them asking to chat about it before putting out a statement, but they basically iced us. As someone [who] put a lot into the project I was hoping we’d be able to get a glimpse into their plans, but it was radio silence after that.”

In response to repeated inquiries about which particular “Tales” writers contributed to “New Tales,” Gearbox would solely say that Bruner Home — the brand new studio run by Telltale founder Kevin Bruner, whose managerial type reportedly contributed to crunch and burnout — was “integral to getting this game off the ground” and that “many alumni from the original Telltale Games narrative team for ‘Tales from the Borderlands’ partnered with Gearbox and worked on the title.” Bruner Home’s narrative engine, Beanie, additionally offers scaffolding for “New Tales.”

Lopez and Scheubel say they did their greatest to keep away from Telltale’s managerial missteps whereas engaged on “New Tales,” whose October launch is now simply across the nook.

“The development process, we focused on sane energy,” Scheubel stated. “The whole studio was mostly doing nine-to-five throughout the project. Even landing this title right now, we have people on vacation. That’s the feeling that we want. That was my priority on the development side.”

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