At the gameplay reveal event for Borderlands 3 I had the chance to chat with Lead Lighting Artist Carl Shedd. We talked about Borderlands 3 and the challenges of lighting the game as it had moved from the familiarity of Pandora and onto bigger and brighter worlds.
Shedd told me;
It’s completely different. In previous games we had to worry about the look and feel of Pandora and now with expanding out and going into new planets the challenge there is making people feel comfortable with the Borderlands universe on a new planet.
Then also being palatable so that they feel like they can stay in these places for more than four or five hours at a time.
Borderlands 3 Inspiration
The first new planet we’ve seen — Promethea — is a futuristic cityscape and is vastly different from Pandora. However, it still looks and feels part of the Borderlands universe and Shedd believes that lighting has a lot to do with that.
The concern was how do we keep this dystopian, distant feel while bringing in the neon, neo-Tokyo kind of vibe. We looked for a lot of inspiration from a lot of the films that took us back to the beginning, Borderlands 1.
He also describes how Promethea’s environments tell the player a story. What was once a large, thriving city, is now derelict and semi-abandoned.
You’re in the aqueducts and it was like trying to tell this story that maybe there were once these rich waterways and a paradise, but even though the city’s not entirely destroyed, something’s gone wrong.
In keeping with the Borderlands aesthetic, Shedd says that it was important to make the new locations feel like they’re on the edge of the universe. As for the inspirations Shedd mentioned, the first that comes to mind for him is Blade Runner.
[Blade Runner] feels lived in, it feels dirty, it’s not too high-tech. It doesn’t feel too sleek, too clean. It feels like something that I believe we can all identify with more so than incredibly future tech, right?
He also says that he feels that Star Wars and Borderlands are intrinsically linked despite being quite different. He said there’s a relatability across multiple planets and characters and that even though they’re “not at all the same” he sees the commonality.
I asked Shedd about the Sanctuary III and the challenges of lighting this hub in space. He immediately pointed to Firefly as the inspiration for getting the look of Sanctuary III right.
With Sanctuary III, the challenge is similar to the city.
Firefly, for example, was a great influence because of that low-tech, lo-fi sci-fi, right?
How do we make this place feel like we would believe that Ellie helped stick this together, and then we got our motley crew to somehow fly through space?
Moving away from Pandora is “incredibly freeing” for Shedd. He explains that he’s a huge Mad Max fan and used that for inspiration while working on Borderlands and Borderlands 2. However, moving away from one, singular environment has given him and the team at Gearbox the chance to stretch their creative muscles.
For Shedd, the creation of the Sanctuary III was his favourite and most exciting.
When we think sci-fi, it’s very easy to get a very stale image of it, right? So trying to figure out, how do we take Borderlands into a space so it’s techy and that doesn’t ruin the feel.
I’m very happy with that, I hope people are happy with that. I hope they get that Firefly feeling from it and I hope they feel at home when they get there.
Borderlands 3 will be available on PC, PS4 and Xbox One on September 13.
Leo Stevenson attended the Borderlands 3 gameplay event in Los Angeles, California as a guest of 2K. Flights, accommodation and meals were provided by 2K.