A Quebec studio deals with the pandemic and new technology to create the new video game Borderlands


Amélie Brouillette has her own stories about creating the « New Tales From the Borderlands » video game.

They include diving into performance capture – think enhanced motion capture – on the other side of the country during a pandemic.

“We learned a lot. There were a lot of firsts,” said Brouillette, associate producer at Gearbox Studio Quebec in Quebec City.

“There was complexity. Not all the time but a lot. And each time it was different,” she added.

Developed in conjunction with Gearbox Software in Frisco, Texas, « New Tales From the Borderlands » is the latest spin-off game in the Borderlands series that debuted in 2009.

The mainline franchise offers first-person « looter-shooter » games in a western/space sci-fi setting. « New Tales From the Borderlands » is a more choice-driven narrative adventure, following in the footsteps of the « Tales From the Borderland » episode developed by Telltale Games and released in 2014.

The new title sees the player stand against ruthless corporate overlords in the war-torn metropolis of Promethea, controlling a trio of characters (Anu, Octavio and Fran) « on the worst day of their lives ».

After Telltale’s closure, Gearbox’s studio in Quebec has been tasked with overseeing the new game, which will be released on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S and PC on Friday.

With the choice players make in « New Tales » to determine what awaits them, the developers have turned to performance capture to help demonstrate emotion and consequence. While motion capture basically relies on actors to translate body movements into the game, performance capture takes it to a new level to achieve body, face, and voice realism.

« When you have a serious moment, you want to sell that moment, » said James Lopez, production manager at Gearbox Software. “Human beings are friendly creatures. We mostly look at the eyes and face to tell us how someone is feeling and what they are going through right now. We’re not as good at reading body language unless it’s super exaggerated… Our faces are really good at reflecting how we feel.

“And so we knew we wanted to have strong storytelling in this game and we knew that storytelling is best supported by strong acting. The two combined can do a lot to help the game.”

And with a story with elements of humor, timing is everything.

The end result is a stylized game that features striking graphic novel-like visuals.

Brouillette says around 60 actors were recruited after a long process of creating storyboards and props to plan the game.

With borders closed due to the pandemic and a planned 11-month shoot, the developers opted for a studio in Canada to facilitate access to Quebec studio personnel like Brouillette who needed to be available. Beyond Capture Studio in Vancouver was chosen, primarily for its availability, size, and ability to operate under strict COVID guidelines.

The studio also had experience with video games, TV shows, and movies.

« Even though it’s a video game, it’s much more film-focused, » Lopez explained. « There’s a lot of close-ups of faces, there’s big acting. They already knew that kind of complexity better than some of the other stages we looked at. So it was a really good arrangement.

Although Gearbox has used motion capture before, this game has taken it up a notch, with one of the main benefits of performance capture being that the right shot can be incorporated into the game almost immediately.

« It’s a huge upfront investment in terms of time, because there’s so much more planning…We were waiting between two and three months of preparation before we could do a performance capture shoot, » Lopez said. « So it’s a lot more upfront investment, but once it’s done you’re basically good to go, with some caveats in there. »

Brouillette noted that a fight scene that lasts two to five minutes in-game took eight hours to shoot.

Brouillette lived in Vancouver for two months while filming. Those in Quebec watched what was happening via Zoom.

There was also the challenge of COVID, with social distancing and regular testing, as well as working with different time zones. If someone fell ill, filming was stopped for 10 days to avoid any further contamination. And Brouillette had corps-doubles in reserve, just in case.

« We were lucky not to have to call them, but that’s the kind of strategy we had to adapt to be able to deal with whatever might happen, » Brouillette said.

There were still stops. Luckily, more than half the game was shot down before anyone got sick.

The Quebec studio also helped with « Borderlands 3 » and « Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands » as well as downloadable content for « Borderlands 2 ».

Gearbox also has an office in Montreal, with some 300 employees split between the two Quebec studios.

Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on October 20, 2022


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