Delivering Borderlands with Gearbox Software
Portrait of a Partnership: Keywords Studios & Gearbox Software
Known as industry leaders not only in integrated development but specifically in art asset production, Keywords studio Liquid Development was the natural choice for Gearbox Software (Half-Life, Brothers in Arms) when they found themselves with a serious challenge on their hands.
Having previewed an early version of Borderlands, Gearbox was concerned that its gritty aesthetic would struggle to stand out in a market crowded with similar content, and made the bold decision to pivot at this very late stage to a more colourful, hand-inked look. But the schedule was tight, and to hit crucial release deadlines they needed a co-dev partner they knew they could trust.
They found that partner in Liquid Development, and it’s a collaboration that’s been growing deeper and more integrated ever since.
The task was significant: to transform a mega-budget AAA game’s visuals from top to bottom in under a year, including every asset from characters to weapons to background elements.
With Liquid Development having already provided services on the original iteration of the game, they now stepped in to provide the boost in capacity that would be required to meet Gearbox’s Q3 2009 release date. They would not only need to convert significant numbers of existing assets and props to the new artistic specifications, but create new ones from scratch – all while remaining on-budget, efficient and fully adaptable to creative innovations from the Gearbox team.
Liquid Development hit the ground running in their collaboration with Gearbox, providing the scale, pace and quality that was needed to transform Borderlands and build the foundations for a video game brand that continues to grow and thrive, more than 10 years later.
The collaboration has continued ever since. Soon after the release of Borderlands, Gearbox asked Liquid to build the weapons for Borderlands 2's unique customisation system, as well as to provide additional characters and animation. The volume of work was such that Liquid was soon called upon to leverage the power of its Keywords affiliation, drawing on close relationships with other Keywords Art Services studios in Asia to provide the necessary capacity. Delivering scalability, efficiency, value and, above all, unrivalled quality, Keywords was the perfect solution to Gearbox’s continuing needs.
By 2018, Gearbox's trust in Keywords had grown to the point that Liquid was taken on in the pivotal role of art direction and management hub, providing a single point of contact with external partners across the development process.
This is a story of radically exceeded expectations, long-term and short.
In the short term, Liquid delivered on an extremely challenging brief, helping to effectively transform an entire AAA game on a timeline that was beyond tight. The result was a truly global success.
In the longer-term, the collaboration with Liquid has allowed Gearbox to deliver a series of hit sequels while divesting themselves and their workflows of unwieldy global and multicultural management processes. Having collaborated on props, weapons and animation with sister-studios Mindwalk, RedHot CG, and Lakshya, Liquid now operates in both a production and managerial role for Gearbox, handling numerous vendors across cultures and time zones and leveraging Keywords' end-to-end, full pipeline capabilities to allow Gearbox to focus on what’s most important: telling great stories to their global audience.