Remember when Borderlands was going to be beautiful? When it was detailed and polished and looked like a slick Fallout 3 + Rage mashup? (Not to mention when each character actually had a story and a reason for being on Pandora, such as Lilith looking for one of the other 6 Sirens in existence to learn more about her own powers?) Sadly, those days are long gone, with Gearbox's original design thrown away in a last-minute gamble to differentiate themselves. I was actually really excited when I heard about the change and saw the early promo screens for the new look; I'm a sucker for cel shading, what can I say? But as I played through the game, it was clear that a lot of things were rushed and the game wasn't ready to be shipped. Never have I played a AAA game with so many blurred and mismatched textures, buggy menus, world geometry errors, and such a pervading sense of half-completed, slipshod work. Even the story and ending were completely botched and haphazard.
And so, as I played through with my friends, we began to long for the days of "the real Borderlands:" the one we'd seen movies and screenshots for, the one that seemed to have a real plot, the one with such love and care put into the graphics… The game we'd thought we were buying.
We carried on, the game enjoyable despite some of its efforts to the contrary, until we reached New Haven. That's where we saw it… Like an ancient monolith, it called out to us as we entered, and we were reinvigorated as we gazed upon it. Suddenly the game was fun again; suddenly, we had a purpose.
We had found an ancient remnant; a piece of Original Tech. Behold!
This object single-handedly revived our interest in the game. Suddenly, there were hidden treasures to be found all across Pandora, glimpses of the Game-That-Was.
Here are some more detail shots. Notice how much more detail was actually modeled into the objects rather than implied with the Pen tool in Photoshop; see how fine and crisp the textures are.
This tube is a symbol to me; it's the first thing I noticed and latched onto when I saw the model, and every time I see it, it brings back the joy and thrill of finding this wall section for the first time. They say you never forget your first…
I love the hinges on the bottom door, and I really like the detailed texture on the circular piece at the top-center; not only is there the honeycomb grill under the outer covering, but there's another layer of something underneath that.
The first time I saw this next piece, I was looking at the North-most gate into New Haven. As I've explored the compound, I've realized that these pieces are all around the outer wall, along with the piece we just looked at.
These lights can be found on the trail that runs West to East below the South edge of town. In other words, if you're coming into New Haven for the first time from the Dahl Headlands, follow the beaten dirt path and take your first right, just before the entrance into town; it'll take you straight to the entrance for Rust Commons West, and these lights are all along that trail.
Check out how sharply these little fuses (or level vials, or whatever) contrast with the nasty blob of a texture used on the pole.
It's my belief that Gearbox started converting assets from the beginning of the game forward and didn't have time to finish all the art assets before they shipped. For a lot of reasons, I'm pretty sure New Haven marks the point where they started cutting corners: Misaligned and original textures, original art assets, and geometry and object placement errors are everywhere here.
While we're wandering around New Haven and talking about textures, I couldn't help but notice this unmodified riveted steel texture. This little porch is attached to the far end of Lucky's garage, close to Helena Pierce's office.
These next four pieces can be found in and around Dr. Zed's office. The first is a vital signs monitor, liberally placed through the room.
This is one of the many pieces of technology that they didn't quite bother to convert; the texture on its face is nowhere near as detailed as I would expect from an original piece of art, but it's still clearly not in the new style. Maybe they just blurred it out and called it a day when they got pressed for time; I don't know.
The second piece is a chair located across from Zed's desk.
Check out the stitching around the lighter, interior swatch of leather. The detail on the material is also really good if you look at it from farther away; I don't know if it's the way the engine deals with textures or if there's some bump mapping/specularity juice on the material, but it looks great and very noticeable when you stand in front of Zed's desk. Also note the toppled medical monitor next to the chair; the detail on the back is what convinced me to include it in this post.
The third piece, a video monitor, is outside of Zed's office, tucked up in the corner of the building next to the vending machine.
The video screens can more often be found on important people's desk as Borderlands' version of a computer monitor. Fortunately, Ms. Pierce doesn't seem to mind us checking out her hardware. (No jokes about her arm; it makes her mad.)
The fourth piece is the light fixture found on Zed's walls and ceiling.
Since we've been talking about lowering the resolution of the textures and/or blurring them so they blend in better with the new art direction, I'd also like to draw your attention to the Protean Grenade.
Notice the different texture rings above and below the buttons, and that little clip/release next to the buttons. I get the feeling this whole thing was just de-resed as a quick fix. Look at the detail on the carrying clip at the bottom and note the absence of even the outline shader around the grenade. I concede that I could be wrong and that things like this grenade, as well as the light and medical monitor from Zed's office, could be textured just the way they were originally and that not everything got the care that some of the models did. I don't think that's the case though, and I suppose we'll never really know for sure.
Carrying on, we'll leave New Haven for a bit to travel to the nearby Tetanus Warren. Tetanus Warren is a small cave system burrowed out from the rusting trash piles surrounding the New Haven area, and just like in the game, there are plenty of forgotten and thrown-away relics for us to find as we dig around. I've found two Ancient Artifacts in here so far, and there are probably more. The first is what I call a fan, but to be honest I'm not sure what it was supposed to do other than be a piece of trash.
The second piece of goodness we have is AMAZING. This is one of my favorite pieces for several reasons: 1) It's huge. 2) It's super-detailed. 3) We were walking out of the Tetanus Warren and I said to my teammates, "You know, I bet with all this trash on the ceiling, they had to have missed something," and then I looked up and saw this. The timing was perfect.
This piece is actually pretty hard to miss. The entry area for the level is one long upward slope that narrows into a small passageway, and this piece is right at the top of that slope. You're basically looking at it the whole time you're walking into the cave system.
Something that will haunt you as you go through Borderlands with an eye for original architecture is the ability to see things the way they used to be. There are so many models and textures where you can look past the way they are now and imagine the detail and clean feel that they had before.
A good example of this can be found, again, in New Haven. This piece is on top of Helena Pierce's building, but it's also in several places throughout the town.
You see those small details down at the bottom? The wheel, the switch, and the tiny pipes? Do you see how if you lean back and squint a little the whole thing looks like real metal, it feels solid? It has a sense of how it used to look that's hiding just beneath the surface.
That concludes our walk down memory lane for now, but rest assured there's more coming. There's so much left to find! In fact, I intended for this post to be a compilation of everything I've found so far, but as I went in to take screenshots I started finding more and more objects. Over half of the things on this list were discovered when I went in to start documenting, so the idea of doing an all-inclusive post ballooned out of reality pretty quickly.
In the mean time, I hope that this glimpse into Borderlands' past has given the game some extra flavor and fun for you.