Borderlands 3 is going to be one of the biggest releases of the year. Hot off an electric debut at PAX East 2019, developer Gearbox Studios has been building anticipation for the latest iteration of one of the weirdest, funniest properties in gaming. Despite controversy over Borderlands 3 Epic Store exclusivity, it feels like the game is poised to become the most popular release for Gearbox yet. Borderlands 3 co-writer Danny Homan knows that fans are passionate about the game, and while interviewing him, it becomes immediately obvious that he shares that passion. Quickly rotating between deft insight and quick-witted joke reponses, Homan feels like the perfect fit for a series that does much the same when it blends timely political references with pop culture vapidity and pure chaos.
At the Borderlands 3 gameplay reveal in Los Angeles, California, we got the chance to sit down with Homan and grill him on all things Borderlands 3 story. Why do the Calypso Twins feel so uniquely menacing? What can we expect from the new worlds that we'll explore as a series-first? Why on Pandora did Rhys grow such a heinous moustache? The answers to those burning Borderlands 3 questions and more await:
First of all, how excited are you to finally get this out and into the world and get people to see what you’ve been working on?
Danny Homan: Yeah, I mean, it’s crazy. Ever since PAX East, when we had our first trailer drop, I’ve never experienced, like, this kind of level of excitement. Like, the fan art alone just makes me unbelievably happy and just to see that after you know so many years of, um, between Borderlands 2, that people are still so excited about the franchise and excited to see what we’re doing.
How early did you start writing for Borderlands 3 after Borderlands 2? When did the narrative start getting crafted?
Danny Homan: So I’ve been at Gearbox for four years and I’ve been working on Borderlands 3 for 3 of those. So a decent chunk of change, y’know?
So one of the things that’s been the standout from what we’ve been seeing are the new villains, the Calypso Twins. I’ve only been [playing[ for twenty minutes so far but they’re already kind of making their mark.
Danny Homan: Fair enough.
Can you shed a bit more light on them?
Danny Homan: Yeah, so uh. The Calypso Twins have managed to create a cult called the Children of the Vault and in doing so they’ve kind of done something that people thought was impossible on Pandora. They unified the Bandit clans, y’know, You saw in Borderlands 2 the bandit clans were just a disparate group of maniacs who were mostly just killing each other if they weren’t being killed by you or by Hyperion. But the Calypso Twins have done the impossible and they’ve unified the bandits in pursuit of the Vault and they’ve kind of organized them and made them kind of like follow their every beck and call. It’s kind of a strange phenomenon that we’ve never really seen in the Borderlands universe and, uh, as you maybe saw with the video there’s a lot of new fun to be had with a cult of bandits. They don’t always kind of obey, right?
Was there any concern heading into designing the Calypso Twins that it was going to be tough to follow a villain that was as iconic as Handsome Jack?
Danny Homan: I mean, Handsome Jack is amazing, y’know, what can you say? And I think the answer is that you don’t try to mimic something that got past success, you try to create something different and new and just as a writer, the Calypso Twins are a hell of a lot of fun. I mean, you have this sibling dynamic, which I don’t know if you have any brothers or sisters but like for those of us that do, you understand that kind of crazy close relationship that’s like, quasi-competitive, quasi-cooperative and, throughout the course of the game they just, their relationship and how it kind of changes and warps is I think just really exciting and really entertaining.
I noticed in the preview that we were shown that they riff a lot on livestreaming culture, like Twitch and stuff like that - can you walk us through why you made that choice for their design?
Danny Homan: Yeah, I mean. Again, you know it kind of all goes back to the fact that they don’t quite look like bandits, there’s something kind of strange going on there. I don’t want to spoil too much of it but no, when you head to Pandora there’s...the greatest underused resources are the bandits themselves, right? They’re an army that were prisoners that were left by the corporations, they’ve kind of become the worst versions of themselves, and the Calypso Twins are smart, they’re savvy, right? They saw this opportunity to maybe galvanize the bandits into a cult and create an army of their own, and the Livescreams, and Let’s Flays, and these kinds of things; they’re a way of amping up their followers and kind of creating this cult machine that kind of attracts more and more followers. It increases their strength.
Can you go into a bit more detail on the Children of the Vault cult itself?
Danny Homan: Sure.
How do they manage to convince these bandits that this is something worth doing?
Danny Homan: Sure. I mean, part of it is in the name, the Children of the Vault right? There’s this belief that the Vaults are inherently theirs. They own the Vaults, maybe that it’s their birthright for example. A lot of it really goes back to the fact that the bandits were mistreated, they were left by Dahl Corporation, and they’ve kind of been left ot their own devices on Pandora just to survive the best they can and so the Calypso Twins come along and they recognize that thing: people need a purpose, even if it’s a terrible, maniacal, murder-soaked purpose, people need something to believe in and they need people to believe in them and that’s kind of what the Calypsos have provided. They’ve kind of gone “oh bandits, everyone calls you animals, everyone calls you trash...but we see there’s something, there’s something in you, there’s something we can elevate your murder to. Murder in our name.”
There’s a lot of mention of Pandora with this, but this is the first time we’re going beyond that. What are some of the narrative challenges when you’re taking people away from a home that you’ve built up for a series of three games now?
Danny Homan: Pandora is one of a kind. It’s this place where insanity seems to be kind of the de facto personality trait that someone needs to survive. Whether you’re a hero or a villain. When you take that aspect of Pandora, how do you bring it to the other planets in the borderlands, right? I think for me that comes down to the fact that the borderlands have kind of been this staging ground for different corporations, it’s like the wild west. It’s a gold rush kind of area. Every place you go has its kind of own different brand of insanity. Madness and insanity and this fact that this is kind of a dark galaxy, right? It’s a place where the governments have fallen, and corporations have kind of taken their place. They’re basically arms dealers with some new-yous and some other technology kind of thrown in so wherever you go in the Borderlands universe there’s that kind of unifying factor of: humanity hasn’t done so great, and there’s only a few people that are what you would call good.
Danny Homan: Decent is...yeah, good is maybe even over-selling it.
Are you able to share any details on the new planets you’ve designed? Anything that you’re particularly excited about?
Danny Homan: Promethea is rad. It’s the home of Atlas Corporation, it was the site of some of the first Eridian discoveries, so Atlas Corporation discovered Eridian ruins and that was kind of what sparked the borderlands kind of wild west trip to Pandora. There’s just some fun stuff, we’ve never experienced this kind of city in the Borderlands franchise, we had an opportunity in Borderlands 2 but the city is rad, there’s so much fun humour with service bots that you might have seen from the videos. Playing in the city gives you that other side: you have Pandora, you have the wild west, and then you have “what’s insane about a city?” Pretty much everything.
On Promethea we get to see our first glimpse of Rhys.
Danny Homan: Yeah!
What are the challenges porting a character from what’s a cult classic Borderlands title to, you know, the main entries of the series?
Danny Homan: Sure, well the first thing you have to do is put a moustache on him.
Danny Homan: Otherwise, what are you gonna do?
The siege moustache, I got that far.
Danny Homan: The siege moustache, yeah. Funny side story: part of the reason he has a moustache is because of me. I was going through a very strange social experiment and I was just curious how my co-workers would react if I grew a moustache, and it was a very fascinating week of people - when you grow a moustache people just come up to you and insult you, which is kind of a fascinating thing. When we were thinking about Promethea and Rhys, he’s besieged by Maliwan Corporation and he’s kind of been pushed back into one little area. We thought: “okay, well what is he gonna do to kind of rally his troops and make them believe him?” And it’s a siege moustache.
Apparently so, yeah.
Danny Homan: We hope it works out for him, you know.
I’ve got my fingers crossed. I know they’ve covered this before, but because we’re talking about Rhys, and because he’s tied to him - Handsome Jack, fully dead?
Danny Homan: Yeah, Handsome Jack is dead.
Fully dead. Any chance that we’re going to see any other Tales From the Borderlands characters crop up? Do we have any chance of - personally, I’m really hoping for Loaderbot to make an appearance, but are there any ones you can talk about?
Danny Homan: I don’t want to spoil anything at this moment, you might learn a little more at E3. Man, Tales is such an amazing game, I don’t know, I just love it. Telltale did such an incredible job and all of those characters are just fascinating. Whether its Rhys or Vaughan or Fiona, and yeah, who knows.
Okay. How accessible is the writing in Borderlands 3 to people who are new to the series?
Danny Homan: You know, you’ve gotta write for the person who’s never played the game before and doesn’t know what Pandora is, doesn’t know what a Claptrap is, right? We write for - we had to kind of straddle that line between people who have played every game in the franchise and people who are just experiencing it for the first time. What you quickly learn is that insanity is kind of the rule of law. Claptrap at the beginning of the first missions says, you blow something up and he goes, “Relax, on Pandora it’s really super weird if something's not exploding!” And that’s how we onboard players. Because when you hear that line and you go “okay, that’s a weird thing. Explosions are just par for the course on Pandora.”
Are any of the characters in this game your babies? Is there one you worked on more than any others?
Danny Homan: You work on - we have quite a few writers and we kind of work on all of the missions together. We kind of have missions that we start with, and characters that we shepherd, but it’s a pretty highly collaborative environment. We have a writers room, we punch up stuff, we play our missions. I’ve always loved Ellie, I just think Ellie is one of the most amazing characters and it’s been such a pleasure to be able to write for her. I’m a southerner at heart, so I’ve been able to sneak in a few: “squish squish Jellyfish” and “in a while crocodile” kind of stuff...
Some colloquialisms that might not have made it if it wasn’t for you?
Danny Homan: Yeah, Pandora isn’t so different from Florida, I think. It’s got its own brand of insanity, so…
I feel like Florida may be a little bit crazier than Pandora at times, in my experience.
Danny Homan: Maybe a little bit, yeah.
Would you say that there’s a favourite character [of yours] of the new ones that you have?
Danny Homan: Well, we haven’t met all of them yet so it’s kind of hard to weigh in on that.
Danny Homan: I’m excited about the new characters. Borderlands is awesome because there’s so many characters from this franchise and they’re all really rad and fun to work with. As a writer, being able to create new characters is good.
I’ve got a little bit of a deep dive on Siren lore here because I was really interested in it when I was researching this interview.
Danny Homan: *laughs* Sure.
Are we going to see the final unknown Siren in this story?
Danny Homan: *sighs* You’re gonna have to wait and find out, man.
Are new Sirens created when old ones die?
Danny Homan: These are all great questions. You might find out some of that in this game. Who knows?
Can existing people become Sirens?
Danny Homan: Um, that’s an interesting question. I mean, there’s a lot of ways that someone can become a Siren. It’s not a de facto X-Men kind of thing. There’s some different conditions that kind of arise. Yeah, Sirens are unique and I feel like we like to keep it a little amorphous. What we like the most is when fans kind of create their own myths and stories about how this kind of stuff happens. As a writer we try not to definitively say one thing because there’s a lot possible.
Are we going to see Scooper in this story?
Danny Homan: I don’t think so.
How much time has passed between BL2 and BL3 narratively?
Danny Homan: Roughly the time since BL2 launched, so it’s been about seven years.
So just chronologically accurate to the development time.
Danny Homan: Yeah, absolutely.
How many tea parties with Tina do we get in Borderlands 3?
Danny Homan: *laughs* You’re going to have to wait and see.
There’s a lot of wait and sees going on.
Danny Homan: We don’t want to spoil anything!
Are any of the walking guns characters or are they all just going to be fired from the gun and discarded immediately?
Danny Homan: *laughs* I love all these questions, but unfortunately I can’t answer all of them.
Would you rather fight three Claptrap-sized Mr. Torgues or one Mr. Torgue-sized Clap-Trap?
Danny Homan: That is a terrifying question that will haunt my dreams. Man, I don’t even want to hear what CLap-Trap’s voice is like if it gets amplified to that Torgue level so…
So we’re gonna go with three Claptrap-sized Mr. Torgues.
Danny Homan: Yeah I think so.
Are you speaking for all the writers now?
Danny Homan: No, you’ll have to ask them individually.
Is there one Vault Hunter in particular that’s returning that you’re excited for people to see - now that we’re kind of talking about how we can’t talk about a lot of the new ones, is there a returning one you’re particularly excited about?
Danny Homan: For Borderlands 2 I played as Maya and we saw her on the ship. She was always my favorite, I love Sirens in general. She’s a great character.
Speaking of the ship, it’s interesting that we’re getting this homebase dynamic that’s a spaceship. Are there any pop culture properties that you kind of borrowed from when designing that? I got Firefly-esque vibes when I was watching the presentation.
Danny Homan: Yeah, there’s similar kinds of franchises that kind of quasi-sci-fi-west. What I love about Sanctuary  is that it is a spaceship but it’s got band-aids on it, you know? It’s a Borderlands spaceship so it’s got broken parts of the ship and it’s kind of got its own charm. It feels very lived-in. So as you walk around you see stairs that have been broken, you see an exhaust pipe that someone has put tin foil over, right? It’s very kitbash put together.
How much work went into designing the ship’s atmosphere? It feels like a lot of the NPCs had things to say. Is there a lot of writing that goes into that as well?
Danny Homan: Yeah, we’ve got a lot of NPCs on board. Our goal as writers is to make it feel like a living breathing place, right? So we spend so much time traveling around the ship being like “what would I want to comment on? That exhaust pipe is leading to nowhere. Let’s comment on that.”
Any one specific narrative beat that you can talk about that you’re really excited for fans to experience in Borderlands 3?
Danny Homan: I really like the moment where we first meet the Calypso Twins face-to-hologram. Tyreen says “you’re my most loyal follower you just don’t know it yet” and there’s a lot kind of packed into that line. The Calypso Twins have this kind of strange arrogance where they presume you’re just going to be another one of their followers. There’s some interesting ways that kind of plays out.
Is that going to crop up in the narrative - them trying to kind of pull the player over?
Danny Homan: That and also just that kind of sense that entertainers always kind of feel like everyone should be watching them. Everyone should be paying attention to them.
That’s an interesting beat.
Danny Homan: Part of the fun of the Calypso Twins is that they are entertainers, right? They’re entertaining you and they’re entertaining the bandits. That’s why the cult exists. They’re kind of - they’re doing terrible things in the name of their cult.
In the name of views?
Danny Homan: Yeah.
Thank you so much for your time.
Danny Homan: Yeah, that was fun, absolutely.