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Gearbox Community Day: Pitchford, Duke and 2,000+ fans

3:00 PM on 06.22.2011 // Allistair Pinsof
  @DtoidAllistair

John Carmack and Warren Spector may have more history behind them, but no Texas game developer throws a party like Gearbox Software CEO Randy Pitchford.

Last week, Pitchford and other key staff hosted Gearbox Community Day in Dallas, Texas. The event is Gearbox’s response to QuakeCon and BlizzCon; it’s their opportunity to meet Borderlands fans, show off its upcoming projects, let the public get their hands on its latest games, and talk about its history and future as a company.
 
During the event, I was able to catch up with Pitchford and Gearbox co-founder Brian Martel and discuss the company's future. Read on for new details on the Wii U-exclusive features of Aliens: Colonial Marines, Brothers in Arms: Furious 4’s real influence and how Gearbox Community Day may expand next year.
 
Also, Randy Pitchford beatboxes.

Aliens: Colonial Marines
 
Now that Duke Nukem Forever is finished, Gearbox is putting the final touches on another much delayed entry in an established franchise about extraterrestrials getting their asses kicked.
 
After the public presentation of the E3 trailer, the panel started up with Pitchford praising the Aliens series and videogames’ debt to it. From working with marine dropships in Halo to headcrabs in Half-Life, Gearbox worked on titles that owe a lot to Ridley Scott. After years of working on games indebted to Aliens, Pitchford said he is glad to finally work within it.

Aliens: Colonial Marines will be the true sequel to James Cameron’s entry in the series, he said. The game will focus on large scale combat with the xenomorphs, while presenting brutal scenes of marine causality. Even the brief demo held a couple nasty squad encounters.


 
The most interesting part of the panel revolved around the Wii U, which Gearbox has had its hands on for months -- for the record, Pitchford said the name is “kind of cute.”

At Nintendo’s E3 press conference, it was announced Colonial Marines will be playable on the Wii U. Now, we have some new details. The game is already playable on Nintendo’s new console and contains exclusive features, such as the ability to use the controller’s screen as a motion tracker. You can sweep the controller around you and pick up enemies from different directions.
 
Some other details about the game also came out during the panel: the game is running on a new engine built by Gearbox, players will get their hands on marine vehicles for the first time in the series (including turrets) and Ripley will not make an appearance. After all, she died in Alien 3.

Brothers in Arms: Furious 4
 
Long-time series writer and current creative director Mikey Neumann introduced the panel by addressing concerns over Brothers in Arms future. The Borderlands-infused Furious 4 is intended only to be an offshoot, not a replacement.

Matt Baker’s story will be continued in a future Brothers in Arms title. After addressing the elephant in the room, the E3 demo was played in front of the crowd to loud applause and laughter -- not the response you expect for a serious WWII game, but Brothers in Arms isn’t that game anymore.
 
In reaction to claims that Gearbox are borrowing heavily from Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds, Neumann said Kelly’s Heroes was a bigger influence on the project. The goal with Furious 4 is to tell offbeat stories of soldiers that play out like campfire stories, filled with outlandish events and humorous details. 

Pitchford said the game will have dramatic moments, but, judging from the footage shown, it seems the game is placing an emphasis on slapstick comedy, bright visuals and comedic one-liners -- some of which are written by ex-Destructoid editor Anthony Burch. Between jetpack-strapped nazis and tomahawk-wielding soldiers, the game’s character design is very reminiscent of the wacky, cartoon-like Borderlands cast of heroes and villains.

“We designed these characters so that they can not say a word but still make you laugh,” Neumann said. 

While Gearbox would like to do an HD compilation of the original Brothers in Arms trilogy, Pitchford said that fans need to start a letter-writing campaign and nag publisher Ubisoft if they ever want to see it released.
 

Gearbox Community Day: The Future
 
Between five panels, a large demo room and a Gearbox museum, there were enough distractions to keep the over 2,000 in attendance entertained throughout the day.

The Palladium Ballroom in downtown Dallas was large enough to accommodate the crowd, but Gearbox employees struggled to keep things organized. Panels got delayed and shifted around, people cut in line and the hallway into the venue was hard to navigate due to crowds waiting to get into the next panel.

The panels themselves were pretty good, depending if you like the game being talked about. The Duke Nukem Forever panel was disappointing, however.

Rather than using the opportunity to explain what went wrong and how Gearbox contributed to the project, the panel was mostly a self-congratulating party where Duke and everyone involved was celebrated for being awesome. Perhaps, this is fitting, being that the launch party would take place hours later in the same venue, but I still wish I walked away with new details of the game’s convoluted history.


 
Even when the panels didn’t live up to their promise, Pitchford, Neumann and producer Brian Martel brought an incredible amount of energy to the table -- despite the event only being two days after E3. The audience was enthusiastic, cheering loudly during every minute of the demos which were received in relative silence when I saw them at E3.
 
After attendance exceeded expectations and with Gearbox simultaneously taking on more and larger projects, upgrading to a new venue and hosting "GearCon" might not be too far away.
 
“If the people that love Gearbox games want to get together and have one big ole’ crazy Con, we would absolutely love it,” Martel said. “As a development studio, we’re like a family. So, it’s nice to have people come together and celebrate with us.”
 
Besides, Gearbox Community Day isn’t exactly the catchiest event name.

---------------------------

Make sure to check out our video coverage of Community Day and our interview with Anthony Burch, which will be posted tomorrow.

Did any of you guys make it out to the Palladium Ballroom last week? What did you think of the event? What was the best part and will you return next year?

UPDATE: As some of you pointed out, I meant to type "xenomorphs" instead of "necromorphs," which are not to be confused with Animorphs. This is serious stuff, people. 

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Allistair Pinsof,
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