Recently, Randy Pitchford, President and CEO of Gearbox Software took to the panels at GDC 2017 to show off the new engine that will be running the next Borderlands. Pitchford stated that the Borderlands team would be utilising Unreal Engine 4, which allows for the cartoon-y, unrealistic style of design that has become the staple of the Borderlands universes.
Utilising the Unreal Engine 4, the latest Borderlands instalment appears to be a congregation of relatively simple techniques, that when combined together, create a more astonishing and in many ways, more interactive world than the previous iterations of the series.
For Borderlands 3, they are attempting to make the more subtle things, in relation to shadows and vibrancy of colour, to stand out more and in essence make the environment seem more realistic in its interactions. Within the panel discussion, Pitchford stated that one of the problems that they had with regards to scaling was that the scale of the cross-hatching (the series of lines utilised to showcase shading – as seen above) was rendered inconsistently with the linework of the actual object.
Hence the solution, of procedurally mapping the cross hatching directly to the objects themselves which, apart from holding the same consistency at any size, also adds an artists unique design-style to it. What I am saying with this is, that transitions in shading and highlights on certain objects, are not perfectly uniform and so appear imperfect and un-software rendered, which in turn creates a more polished realistic look.
The demonstration goes on to show how light and reflections alter the consistency and appearance of the object itself. Even when it is altered to present a glossy, metallic finish, it perfectly presents the objects that the metal is reflecting. All of this, is what is going to be the main difference, design-wise between Borderlands 2 and Borderlands 3. The environment in Borderlands 3 or whatever game is rendered utilising Unreal Engine 4 will be less solid and set in stone and more interactive with the surrounding environment.
This in turn suggests that the environment in the next iteration is going to be more dynamic and changing. Whether it is as simple and subtle as day to night transitions or drastic weather changes such as dust-storms, snowstorms and torrential rain, it would seem that Gearbox would like to get the most out of what Unreal Engine 4 can do, and indeed with what they have presented at GDC, fluctuating environmental changes would definitely provide some wow factor.
One thing that is definitely a possibility is the moving away from Pandora as the main locale for Borderlands 3. At about the 6:45 minute mark, Pitchford explains that the interactive environment under Unreal Engine 4, could simulate time of day changes and also could present different physics or sun/moon positions if we get to explore other planets that are not Pandora. It could be a coincidence but it is highly unlikely given the ending of Borderlands 2 that we will still remain on Pandora for the next instalment. There are just too many Vaults to hunt in the universes.
Even the effects of simple sunlight, or the god-rays are seen to have a much more drastic effect on the environment, effectively eroding away the shadows and sending them scuttling away to wherever shadows go when it is way too bright. This, as I have said before, serves to make a more realistic environment and functions to make the Borderlands universe feel more incandescent and alive, even as the dead wasteland that is any Borderland. This extends to the explosions and lighting changes that will inevitably be seen around the environments in the next Borderlands.
Take the above screenshot for example, taken directly from the GDC panel. They go ahead to manipulate the light just by moving a metaphorical lightbulb around the room itself. In that way, they created a series of dynamic mood and lighting effects that subtly altered the scene itself, which is a small snippet of the finer environmental control Gearbox may be exerting over Borderlands 3. Even with regards to an explosion that was set off in the above room, the way the shadows interacted with the room after the sudden influx of light and even how the smoke affected visibility, was truly remarkable and is going to make the locale and aura feel much more realistic whilst still maintaining the un-realistic artstyle we have all come to know and love.
While the GDC panel did not reveal anything concrete about Borderlands 3, it did showcase how the environment of the next instalment will create a more robust and dynamic world, that will seem more alive and a whole lot more menacing. Simply by using an assortment of line edging, cross hatching and rendering under Unreal Engine 4, the scenes that they presented had an air of realism which made it that much more breathtaking.