Everyone in the Borderlands is trying to eke out a living the best they can—and when you aren't a Vault Hunter or bandit, it can be tough getting by in a violent universe.
New Tales from the Borderlands gives you a closer look at the everyday lives of people on the megapolis planet of Promethea, which our heroes Anu, Octavio, and Fran all call home. And where there are people, there are corporations to exploit them—like Tediore, which has decided to aggressively pursue new acquisitions vis-a-vis armed invasion. How do these otherwise average people get by in such a hostile universe?
Just as she did in New Tales Dev Diary 1, Lin Joyce, Head of Writing at Gearbox Software, is here to provide more insight into the making of New Tales from the Borderlands. Read on for details on how the team crafted the lives of regular people and corporate CEOs alike—from the grimy bottom to the gilded top of Promethea's capitalist food chain.
PROMETHEA'S EVERYDAY POPULACE
The people of Promethea just can't catch a break. During the events of Borderlands 3, they were besieged by the Maliwan corporation during its attempted takeover of Atlas. Corporate armies filled the streets and orbital lasers rained down from the sky (including the beam that took out a sizable chunk of Fran's Frogurts).
Now, roughly a year after the dust from the skirmish has started to settle, another merger-turned-warzone seems to be just around the corner.
"You play the mainline Borderlands games as the Vault Hunters, and what I love about New Tales is that it begs the question, 'What happened for everyone else? What about them?'" says Lin. "This game is an opportunity to answer those questions. To look at the broader society living in the Borderlands and show what their day-to-day is like.
"A lot of other recent media is looking at that concept these days, like superhero shows asking 'What is it like to live in a world with superheroes when you don't have a superpowers? What's that power dynamic?' This is our opportunity to poke at that question in the Borderlands universe."
Meridian City's neon-trimmed concrete jungle is also a far cry from the harsh desert wastelands of Pandora that Borderlands fans are intimately familiar with. Population density and life expectancy are exponentially higher, and citizens aren't forced to constantly fight for their lives, freeing up time for such thrilling activities as shopping, grabbing a bite at a taco truck, or updating social media. Life is comparatively pretty good (except for the constant threat of corporate invasions, that is).
"Personally, I really liked the idea of being able to take a closer look at a more metropolitan environment—something that's very different from Pandora or the moons of Eden," says Lin. "Setting our story on Promethea gave us the opportunity to tell a focused story with huge ramifications. The goings-on of three civilians could potentially change life in the galaxy forever, but very few people in Promethea even know they exist, let alone what they're up to."
HOW OUR HEROES GET ALONG
Speaking of those three people, Anu, Octavio, and Fran each have their own motivations for trying to change the world around them. You'll get to know them better over the course of the game, but at a high level, Anu hopes to invent technology that ushers in a less violent universe, Octavio dreams of entrepreneurial success to back up his natural bravado, and Fran wants to give these megacorps a taste of their own medicine by hitting them where it hurts (both metaphorically and literally).
From the moment that Anu, Octavio, and Fran's paths converge early on in the story, their relationships will be monitored and evaluated by L0U13, a debonair assassination bot and Octavio's longtime buddy. As discussed in Dev Diary 1, the way your bonds are calculated based on your words and actions all happens behind the scenes—but at the end of each episode, L0U13's readouts will give you a snapshot of where things stand between our trio of lovable losers.
Along with an overall team bond score, you'll get further insight into how things are going between the three possible character pairings: "Brain 'N Brawn" (Anu and Fran), "Sis 'N Bro" (Anu and Octavio), and "Yogurt 'N Tacos" (Fran and Octavio).
"For me, the most challenging pair to write for was Fran and Anu, but that's the nature of the story," says Lin. "Fran and Octavio know each other already—Fran gave Octavio a job despite the heavy cost of repairs needed to fix her shop. Similarly, Octavio and Anu are adopted siblings and have a long history to pull from. But Anu and Fran meet for the first time in front of the player, so their relationship is starting from zero; there is no assumed intimacy or history to refer to.
"You can't call back to a moment that they had off-screen. Since Anu and Fran meet through Octavio, a lot of their relationship-building happens via the group's interactions. So that pairing was naturally a little more complicated. That said, their dynamic was still a joy to play with. "
As for writing the dialogue of our three protagonists, each character holds a place in Lin's heart.
"All writers approach the characters differently, but we had pillars for who these characters are, what their touchpoints are," she explains. "I consider myself a Fran stan, but Anu was the easiest for me to write.
"Anu often feels like the only grounded person in an untethered world, and I resonate with that deeply," Lin laughs. "With Octavio, who is the youngest of the group, I often had my teenage kiddos as solid reference points. Funnily enough, my son got his first job while we were writing New Tales, and I kid you not, it was at a froyo place."
A TOUR OF TEDIORE
Standing in opposition to our protagonists is the monolithic Tediore corporation, headed by Susan Coldwell. Though Tediore has been a part of the Borderlands universe since the very first game, players haven't had much visibility into its inner workings—particularly its cold-hearted CEO.
"I know there are fans that wanted to believe Tediore was 'one of the good ones,'" says Lin. "With Tediore, we're still playing in shades of gray. Players know a good deal about the family dramas behind Jakobs and Maliwan. Players also know Atlas had a history before Rhys Strongfork.
"Most corporations can't be easily reduced to their CEO, and Susan Coldwell is no exception. She's the voice of Tediore, but she's also an individual. We're filling in a page for Tediore, but it isn't the whole story."
Susan herself is the perfect foil to Anu, Octavio, and Fran: an untouchable elite who would loathe such commoners if she could even spare a moment to think of them. Her belittling, holier-than-thou demeanor stands in stark contrast to the southern charm of Wainwright Jakobs, or the impassioned, expletive-laden yelling of Mister Torgue.
"We looked at our CEOs and said 'Who do we have, and what's missing?'" says Lin. "Who else needs a seat at that table: what kind of personality, what kind of leader, what kind of business views? It was as much about adding to the spectrum of corporate CEOs as it was about putting a face to Tediore.
"But as we continued to think about Tediore's CEO, it was interesting to consider how much Tediore believed in its own marketing. Tediore markets itself as being for everyone and for caring about the needs and budgets of average folk. But how much do they believe that? How much of that is just branding?' And if it is marketing spin, what does that say about Tediore and its CEO? These are all questions we had fun playing with."
The very notion that any massive, universe-spanning corporation could have humanity's interests at heart may be flawed.
"The Borderlands are a corporatocracy and the corporations are, by and large, weapons companies," says Lin. "Weapons are for very specific things, and it's generally not to keep people healthy. New Tales gave us the opportunity to examine the dynamic this must cause between civilians and these corporations. Tediore may be the focus, but the qualms and hopes of our protagonists extend beyond any one corporation."
For what it's worth, Susan is not without some redeeming traits, even when she's crushing her opposition beneath her proverbial heel.
"There are qualities she has that I would view as admirable," says Lin. "They're taken to an extreme that might be questionable, but at a fundamental level, being a strong woman who's able to command a room? Thumbs up! How you're commanding that room, and to what ends… well, we can all be led astray by power. I think that's true of anyone."
Lin sums up Susan's villainous appeal perfectly: "She's just deliciously corporate evil. She's the one I want to cosplay, just to channel that energy for a day." You can get a closer look at the people of Promethea and the Tediore corporation when New Tales from the Borderlands launches on October 21; be sure to check back for more until then!