By Operation Rainfall Contributor / February 4th, 2016
Getting to sit down with Adam May at SacAnime and talk about some of his design work at Gearbox Software was an honor. Adam has worked on all the main character designs for all of the Gearbox titles for the last nine years, yes, even the bad ones like Duke Nukem and the Xenomorph from Aliens, but he is also the lead character designer for all of the Borderlands characters.
So let’s get down to business, as the lead designer do you get a lot of hate for Aliens?
Of course, but I swear, that’s not even our fault. Most of the negatively reviewed games weren’t actually developed by us, at the time Gearbox was buying different franchises. So they bought Duke Nukem and Aliens. Aliens was being developed by us for awhile and then we handed it off to another studio and that was just a mess. So we did most of the art in the games, but that was about it.
I never hear that it’s a bad looking game, so I guess that’s good on your end.
See that’s the thing, we had shown the game at E3 one year and people gave us a lot flak for this, but the demo that everyone saw there was a straight up level in the game, but then someone started developing the game for us, because we were so focused on our Borderlands series. They wanted to do their own thing with the series and we didn’t want to argue with their artistic vision or anything and, well, they threw that level out. So people were upset saying we tried to show things that weren’t in the game when it just got cut.
So let’s talk about Borderlands, when did you begin working on the franchise?
I came on board about five months into development of the original Borderlands and I actually made the original characters in the old art style. In the beginning we were tying to go for a far more realistic looking game, like Mad Max or Rage. Our designers were having all kinds of fun making characters faces melt off or eye balls pop out and it didn’t make much sense with the old art style. One of our owners, Brian Martel, had continuously been talking to us about wanting to do something more “freeing.” He wanted to give us the platform to do all those crazy things like electrocute people and stuff. We had a guy doing UI for us at the time, he had a sketch book of these crazy drawings of, like, weird characters and I picked one I liked, soon after we created a test bed of what Firestone ended up being and built up from that.
What inspires you and the team to create these characters?
I take inspiration from absolutely everything. Scott Kester is the art director for Battleborn, he was a concept artist for most of the characters on Borderlands and he pulls his inspiration from everything. He loves anime and more specifically, Japanese games, like anything from Tetsuya Numora and Shinji Mikami. Speaking of Shinji Mikami, Vanquish was one of the most under appreciated games that came out on that console. He used his ties to Eastern art and mixed it with urban graffiti art and we definitely all went with it.
What’s the reason behind not annualizing Borderlands?
We don’t want fans to be sick of it just as much as we don’t want to be sick of it, cause we love working on Borderlands and if it was just a constant flip right to the next one, we would get tired of it too and it would show.
So what’s the future for the series looking like?
I can’t tell you anything too specific, but there are definitely plans. The team plans on talking more about this soon, but that’s not my place [laughs nervously].
What I’m looking forward to is a Borderlands designed for next-gen.
It’s seriously like 16 times the amount of ram, the processor is like 45 times faster. It’s great working on this new hardware. It’s pretty much 1:1 from our PC design to console.
Battleborn seems pretty ambitious, what would you say are the expectations of that game?
That was probably one of the most difficult projects we’ve ever worked on. We know people that like to mention Alien and Duke, but like I said, most of that didn’t take place inside our studio. Battleborn is us and at the time we started working on it we didn’t know if first-person MOBAs could even exist. We all loved League of Legends and wanted to do that in first person. The project has moved on a little from that to form into it’s own, but there are a lot of expectations, cause of what we typically develop, box products with campaigns.
Are you playing any games right now?
Here’s what’s sad, I don’t get to play as many games as I want to. What’s good, is my wife plays all of them so I’ll sit next to her while she plays The Witcher 3 and Fallout 4 and get to see how great those games are. I spend all day on a PC, so I can’t stand playing games on a PC anymore. I always wanna sit and play on the console. That reminds of how upsetting it is seeing that there aren’t enough couch co-op games to play to play with buddies. You have Rocket League, Diablo, Tower Fall…
adam maybattlebornBorderlandsduke nukenGearbox