Interview: Lead AI Designer Jasper Foreman Warns of Smarter Enemy AI in ‘Borderlands 2′

Sure, you probably beat Borderlands a couple of times, looted everything imaginable, and shot anything that didn’t look like your running buddies (and maybe you shot them once or twice). Actually, Gearbox’s first game set on the wilds of Pandora would sometimes flip right out into a hail of bullets and dead bandits, skags, and anything else that saw fit to come between you and your latest gun mod.

Now, most of the enemy types that you know and love (to shoot) are back in Borderlands 2, but Lead AI Designer Jasper Foreman is promising that you’re not going to be getting them in your crosshairs quite so easily this time around. In addition to providing more variety to the RPG/shooter hybrid, the Gearbox team wanted to make players more deliberate in how they approach enemy encounters, and that meant making the enemies…smarter.

Gone are the times when bandits would haphazardly lob grenades at you, and some of the other enemy types have gotten it into their code that maybe they should start coordinating, maybe even accepting commands from a leader in the battlefield.

Hit the jump to find out some of the many ways Borderlands 2 has smartened up its enemies, making your next trip to Pandora a little more perilous.

Foreman and his team had several goals with the enemy AI in Borderland 2, both centered on the player: first, they wanted to up the challenge of the enemies by making them more reactive to their environments. For example, the ubiquitous Bandits will now jump on and over barriers to get at you and your squadmates or hide behind cover (depending on the type of bandit it is). Look for the local fauna and mechanica to be more aggressive and intelligent about where it’s positioned relative to you and your team. Plus, some enemy types will pick up objects in the environment, like cars, and toss them at you.

But enemies taking cover isn’t the main thing Gearbox wants you looking out for: they want you paying attention to how Skags, Threshers, Bandits, and Bots interact as a group. If Borderlands was about teaming up in a group for a better chance of survival, the same ethos has been passed along to your opponents on Pandora, who now follow commands from leaders and (in some cases) provide buffs and status effect changes to their allies. Foreman explained that this was all about moving Borderlands 2 away from endless shooting and encouraging the players to make more choices. Part of that is making you deliberate more on which enemies to take out, while the other part is teaching you which enemies present different kinds of threats, by giving them more noticeable “tells.”

Gearbox felt that in the first game, players didn’t have enough of a sense of enemy intent, and the changes they’ve made in Borderlands 2 are about refining that. Foreman explained that a combination of animation and sound cues will clue you in to what you’re enemy is about to do next, plus you’ll encounter new enemy types as mini-bosses so that you can get a feel for their abilities in a controlled setting.

For instance, consider the Ion Loader, which can put up shields to protect other Bots on the battlefield. Gearbox wanted to create distinct animations that would make it clear that the Loaders were about to deploy shields, allowing you as the player to make a choice: keep shooting the swarming nearby Bots or focus your fire on the Loader before it can protect its allies? Or consider the Loader class that will indicate with a wrench icon over its head that it needs repairs, attracting nearby Surveyors to repair them. Which would you shoot? Then there’s the Constructor Bot, which can digitally construct more little robots to bedevil you out in the field. You might also want to keep an eye out for Skag Heavies, which will now lend effects like +lightning to nearby smaller skags.

Perhaps my favorite example of creating choice from the discussion came from Foreman’s description of Goliath, a hulking mutant with tunnel-vision rage kept under a semblance of control by a helmet. You and your squad can focus your fire on the Goliath and take it down, no problem. Or, you can pop its helmet with some carefully-placed shots, sending it into a frenzy, where it will attack everything nearby (including his allies). There’s a catch, though: for every enemy the Goliath kills, he earns XP, leveling up and becoming tougher to boot (ultimately making all of that extra XP you earn after taking him out all the more rewarding).

Those are just some of the new enemies and ways they’ll try to mess you up that you can expect in Borderlands 2. Foreman says that there are plenty more that players will get to experience in game when they make the return trip to Pandora this September.

Borderlands 2 returns to Pandora on September 18th for the 360, PS3, and PC.

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