At a recent panel (whose footage can be found exclusively at Gamespot) the Gearbox team talked about the many branching paths the Borderlands story could have taken. In these bizarre alternate realities, we could have ended up with a game that had a silent Handsome Jack and a thoroughly unlikeable Claptrap.
The Borderlands 2 story hinged on revenge since its inception. A betrayal originally propelled your journey through the wasteland. “There was gonna be a coliseum.” Borderlands 2 Lead Writer Anthony Burch told the panel crowd, “and you were gonna be in it, and [Jack] was gonna betray you midway through and take all your guns and kick you out into the tundra.” The team intended for this beat-down of an intro to act as the catalyst that propels your character through the story of retribution.
However, during development, Gearbox scrapped the coliseum idea, feeling that it forced the story to focus so much on the revenge that some of the larger ideas (“the vault and alien lore”) became invisible. To correct this, the creative team started the player in the tundra at the beginning of the game, but this move made the game’s antagonist, Handsome Jack, invisible.
Burch described the team’s realization on the not-so-visible Jack: “Oh shit, now that whole point of our game, the entire point of our game being kill this one guy, you don’t ever meet him now.” In order to correct this, the team had to find a way to fit in more Jack wherever they could. This mad, panic-induced scramble culminated in some of the game’s most memorable lines.
“It was the last pick-up session we had and we were just looking for any space to put more Jack in,” Burch said. So he went through previous written lines to find jokes he liked. One of these jokes, Butt Stallion, came from a scrapped idea that had Jack buying more and more extravagant things from the money you spent at the Hyperion respawn station. Burch squeezed the pony made of diamonds into the game just to give Jack a larger presence.
The Gearbox team talked about a lot of interesting information in the panel: information such as the lead writer wanting to make Claptrap more unlikeable, a character select screen that involved you shooting your intended avatar with Handsome Jack's gun, and that the original Borderlands had a third act where the so-called antagonist Commandant Steele had a more visible role. Game development, like most creative endeavors, appears to be messy and full of what-ifs, close calls, and might-have-beens.