The following article contains major spoilers for Borderlands 3.

I wasn’t sure whether fans would love or hate Typhon DeLeon. After all, the Vault Hunter is one of the most pervasive myths in the Borderlands Universe. It’s an aspiration. Vault Hunters come in all shapes and sizes of course, but one thing they all have in common is that they’re badass, which—contrary to how he is portrayed on theater posters and such—isn’t an obvious descriptor for Typhon DeLeon the first time you see him.

His journey from son of a turd farmer to legendary Vault Hunter is less Indiana Jones and more Forrest Gump. Typhon is a genuinely good guy and not a natural fighter; to survive, he follows his intuition and rolls with the punches. He doesn’t let the darkness of rival corporations and wars and betrayals get him down. He’s a different kind of hero, one who fails but keeps picking himself back up again. Unfortunately, Typhon went missing decades ago searching for the Eridian homeworld. Or so we think.

IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF GIANTS

We first hear of the legendary explorer Typhon DeLeon early in the game when we come across a historical marker – the first of a series of ECHO logs documenting his journey from Pandora to becoming the First Vault Hunter and beyond. In addition to serving as advice for new Vault Hunters, Typhon’s journals are a narrative delivery device for lore, delving into topics we as players have been curious about since the first game.

Pandora’s a strange and harsh place. Sometimes, I get the feeling the whole planet is tryin’ to shake us off like a tick-infested skag. But I’ll tell ya one thing: if I do find the Eridian homeworld someday, I’m gonna finally get some answers! “Hey, aliens,” I’ll say. “What’s so freakin’ special about Pandora?”

In order to sell the idea that “heroes come in all shapes and sizes,” we needed Typhon’s voice to be down-to-earth, the Pandora equivalent of blue-collar. Part of the charm of characters like Forrest Gump is that they survive, even persevere, in spite of their limitations. In Typhon’s case, being from Pandora is that limitation. But it’s also his advantage. From his humble upbringing, Typhon gains curiosity and instinct, traits that serve him well throughout his adventures.

Unlike many traditional heroes, Typhon DeLeon’s pursuit of the Vault isn’t for fame or glory. He’s driven by curiosity itself. He’s an explorer’s explorer, driven to unearth the secrets of the universe. But as Typhon quickly realizes after finding a Vault for Atlas, the corporations don’t share his values.

Wish I could say finding that Vault did some good for the people of Promethea, but that ain’t true. At first, it sure seemed like it, though. Atlas started building subways and planetary tracks. But when they didn’t find another Vault, the corporation stopped investing in the planet, and Promethea became a craphole again. Be careful who you work for—corporations, they’re like assholes. They ain’t any prettier from the inside. And, if you stay near one long enough, they’re gonna crap all over you.

UNRELIABLE HEROES AND LORE

Although Typhon DeLeon’s surely an unreliable narrator (most are), there’s a lot of lore packed into his journals. In writing these ECHO logs, we tried to vary them between explicit lore (Typhon gives Jakobs its trademark slogan, “If it took more than one shot, you weren’t using a Jakobs”) and intentionally abstract lore (Typhon wondering why the Vaults exist in the first place). It’s up to you to determine what’s true and what’s a tall tale.

By tracking down Typhon’s journals, we literally follow in his footsteps. In doing so, we get a rare opportunity to see what the galaxy was like decades ago. What was happening on Pandora before the events of the first Borderlands? How did Atlas Corporation become the dominant power on Promethea? Why did no one discover the Vault on Eden-6? Part of the challenge of writing Typhon’s ECHO logs was the knowledge that some of you wouldn’t rest until you’d consumed the entirety of Typhon’s story, while others will experience far less. So, each ECHO log ideally stands on its own, but also contributes to his larger story.

Ultimately, we wanted Typhon to be an unlikely hero. He’s supposed to be rough around the edges, yet likable. A tad crass, but with a heart of gold. Humble, but a legend. Part of the joy of the Borderlands universe is that despite the dark shadow cast by the ruthless corporations, despite the pervasive greed, some good remains. It’s just a glimmer of hope, but to many, that hope is all that keeps you from giving in to the darkness of the universe. Vault Hunters seek the Vaults for reasons beyond greed and self-interest. To seek the Vault is to discover who you are, what you’re made of, and what ultimately drives you to go on.

TYPHON DELEON: FAMILY SECRETS

If you know what to listen for, Typhon’s journals reveal not only his past journey but reveal some of the game’s major plot points, including the true goal of the Calypso Twins. One of the themes of Typhon’s story is storytelling itself. As Typhon says later on in the game, “A story can be a dangerous thing in the wrong hands.” It’s no coincidence that your race to the Vaults against Tyreen and Troy Calypso follows Typhon’s own journey. Lilith and company sometimes wonder how the Calypsos and their Children of the Vault are always one step ahead.

After defeating Troy Calypso, we learn that Pandora is actually “The Great Vault,” a planet-sized Vault that contains a monster of unimaginable power within: The Destroyer. What’s so special about Pandora indeed, Typhon? Of course, the Calypsos have known this from the very beginning. Our journey to stop Pandora from releasing the Destroyer sends us to the Eridian homeworld of Nekrotafeyo, and once again we follow Typhon DeLeon’s footsteps.

When we arrive, we meet the First Vault Hunter in person. He’s… perhaps not exactly the heroic visage of his movie posters, but he’s still the same decent man we’ve come to know. Typhon fills us in on what happened to him in the intervening decades. As the story goes, he and Leda crash-land on Nekrotafeyo. They learn of the Vault Monster within Pandora that the Eridians trapped, and The Machine. They have children. Special children. Conjoined Twin-Sirens, a boy and a girl. Something the universe has never seen before.

See, when me and Leda first saw Troy and Tyreen’s tattoos, we knew we had to protect ’em. Sirens. The rarest thing in the universe, and there were two of ’em right in our arms. The only way to keep them safe was to stay here. Forever… For a while, we were one happy family. Then Leda, she, well, she died. And I had to raise the kids alone. I thought opening a Vault would be the hardest thing I’d ever do. Was I wrong! 

Typhon must raise his children on his own. And because he knows what the corporations would do if they ever discovered Troy and Tyreen—enslave them, conduct horrifying experiments, and probably much worse—he decides that the best way to protect them is to keep them on Nekrotafeyo forever.

Thing is, Typhon might be a legendary explorer, but that doesn’t mean he knows how to raise two children alone — a heroic undertaking in itself, let alone on a dangerous planet like Nekrotafeyo. Typhon does the best he can under the circumstances, though as the children get older, they start to grow restless and test the boundaries of their planetary cage:

The boy, he got sick all the time. And my daughter talked circles around me! Only time they’d sit still was to hear about my adventures. Killing monsters, opening Vaults, being a hero — they couldn’t get enough! …. I filled their heads with all sorts of stories. Even told ’em about the Great Vault… heh. That was a mistake! A story can be a dangerous thing in the wrong hands.

Part of storytelling is deciding what to make explicit, and what to leave in the imagination of the viewer. We know Typhon feared what might happen if his children ever left Nekrotafeyo. Did he think that his stories would be enough for Tyreen and Troy? Why didn’t he foresee that his stories might have the opposite effect of what he intended? The tragedy we wanted to set up was a man who’s gotten through life by the skin of his teeth, through perseverance and more than a little luck. But as Typhon admits, “I was a first-rate adventurer but a third-rate pops. What kind of hero are you if you can’t even raise your own kids?”

Hidden on Nekrotafeyo are two ECHO logs in which Tyreen and Troy conspire to leave Nekrotafeyo. In these, we discover that the stories have instilled in Tyreen a sense of destiny. Sirens are special, and because her Siren ability is to leech lifeforce, the Vaults represent the ultimate potential manifestation of her powers. Troy, however, is clearly hesitant. It’s not immediately clear to him that Tyreen’s plan is to leave their father behind. But when confronted with the choice, Troy realizes that he’s bound to Tyreen. Without her, he’ll die. What choice does he have but to stay by her side?

Armed with a lifetime of knowledge on the corporations and Vaults, they plan their takeover. As a symbolic gesture, they choose to take their mother’s surname: Calypso. As homage to their mysterious upbringing, they name their cult The Children of the Vault. Their birthright. Meanwhile, Typhon remains stranded on Nekrotafeyo, forced to watch what his children have become, and burdened with the guilt that he shares some responsibility for what they’ve done. Which leads to a central question of the story: Why does Typhon forgive us for killing Troy? It’s no small thing to learn that your son is dead, let alone to meet his killer. In the end, Typhon has been forced to see the truth about his children. It’s not an easy thing to come to terms with, but as he notes, they’ve become monsters. “And Vault Hunters kill monsters.”

Early on in their lives, it seems clear that Tyreen was the instigator, and Troy the follower. But the root of his villainy is in how he enters this world. Conjoined to his sister. A Siren in tattoos only. Troy is broken, and completely dependent on his sister’s powers. That dependency is what twists his view of the world. It’s what compels him join Tyreen in abandoning their father. We can imagine that after his children abandon him, Typhon experiences a type of grief not felt since Leda died.

By the time we meet Typhon face to face, he’s been forced to confront a harsh reality. He chose to tell his children stories to protect them, but in doing so, he might have doomed the universe. His personal grief becomes secondary to the fate of the universe. He knows that if Pandora opens, his home planet will be ripped apart. And if Tyreen leeches the Destroyer, she’ll become unstoppable. Part of Typhon’s uniqueness as a hero is that the moral failure is not on us for killing Troy, but on Typhon for not seeing his monstrous potential sooner.

Ultimately, Tyreen appears to stop us from closing The Great Vault. For a moment, she’s transported back to her childhood, and what it was like growing up the children of the most famous man in the galaxy, the legendary Vault Hunter Typhon DeLeon. But her journey has twisted her. The power and the fame have corrupted those childhood dreams into something darker and more insidious. These dreams of stardom have consumed her:

When Troy and I were kids, we’d stare up at the night sky and dream of becoming stars. The brightest in the galaxy, Troy always said. So we left this place behind. Went to Pandora to become Vault Hunters ourselves. We’d open the Vault of Vaults and become the biggest stars in the galaxy. They seem so small now, our dreams. Not befitting a god. Now I’m gonna devour every last star in the universe, one by one, until nothing shines but me.

Typhon attempts to stop his daughter, but she’s grown too powerful for even him. His generation is fading. It’s up to the new generation. As he dies, he asks us to make a promise. “Don’t be the last Vault Hunters.” To pass the torch, you have to let go.

*This article originally appeared on Borderlands.com. All images copyright Gearbox Software/2K Games.

Legend of Zelda (Nintendo, 1986)


As a video game writer, you will draft mission scripts, battle dialogue, in-game text, and maybe a trailer or two. Hopefully you’ll have a seat at the table during pre-production, and throughout development you’ll work alongside designers creating missions. But you won’t tell the story, not by yourself, anyway.

Video game development is a hilariously complicated endeavor. How dramatically a story can be shaped by time and resources still amazes me. As a game writer, you should be ready to solve production problems with creative story and character solutions. Reason being — it takes tons of developers working in tandem to create a new character or to put together a single mission.

At the end of the day, AAA video game storytelling is a co-op game, not a solo mission. And you’ll need some storytelling allies on your perilous journey.

Story Allies: Narrative Safety in Numbers

As in any successful co-op party, you’ll need allies of various skills and disciplines by your side. Here’s why:

  1. Different storytelling perspectives strengthen how a game’s story is experienced by the player.
  2. Each discipline has expertise in knowing how to use available resources to tell a story.
  3. More story allies means a greater chance of success during the unpredictable game development journey.

Every story decision you want to make as a writer will require your fellow developers’ time and resources, whether that be a concept artist, animator, 3D modeler, programmer, designer — you name it. Each discipline has some effect on a game’s story and characters, and it’d take quite a few articles to cover them all. But on a day-to-day basis, my story allies almost always include concept artists, mission designers, and level designers.

Concept Artists — Visual Storytellers

Concept artists create first impressions.

If I want to pitch a new character, I almost always reach out to a concept artist first. I’ll send some quotes from the character, a short backstory, maybe some thoughts on what the character looks like. The concept artist will ask a few questions. Does the character have a pet? A tattoo? Where are they from? An hour later, a concept artist will have made an amazing piece of environmental art or character sketch. Concept artists create pure magic, and they’ve taught me a lot about creating characters.

But the most important lesson I’ve learned from working with concept artists is the power of a first impression. Even before your character opens his mouth to say his first carefully-crafted lines, his appearance will tell a player everything he needs to know. In the concept stage, all aspects of a character are explored.

  • Shape language and silhouettes (the big read of a character)
  • Costuming and accessories (clothing, gear and equipment)
  • Personality (via facial expressions or posture)

Because a character’s visual design creates such a powerful first impression, staying in good communication with your concept artists is crucial. Otherwise, the poverty-stricken character you’re writing in secret might end up sporting a top hat. After a character starts down the production pipeline, it becomes more and more costly to change a character’s appearance. Usually, if something’s going to change later in production, it’s your dialogue.

Mission Designers — Interactive Storytellers

Mission designers wield the verbs.

A mission designer views story through the lens of a player’s actions, and how those actions advance the mission. Video game verbs are often seemingly limited, and usually include: go, interact, fight. It’s the context that makes those limited verbs interesting:

  • Go to a fun house run by nuns (not a real thing, not part of Borderlands 3).
  • Interact with a talking jukebox (ditto).
  • Fight the guy who stole your sandwich (no promises, jk).

Mission designers are natural story advocates, though their focus is on a player’s moment by moment experience. Clarity is paramount to mission design. Reason being, if a player doesn’t understand what they’re being asked to do, the next question they’re liable to ask is why they should bother with it. Just as concept artists help a writer create the right first impression, mission designers work to sharpen motive in the interest of both entertainment and clarity.

It took me a long time to truly understand why mission designers are so invested in story. The reason is stupidly simple. A mission designer will play their mission more times than almost any other developer in the studio. They will labor over pacing and wording of every objective. That’s their job! But consider this. If that clever joke you tell that gets a laugh the first time, see how funny it is the tenth time. Or the hundredth.

 I try to get drinks with my mission designers as often as possible. It makes it easier when we come to blows later in the week about whether to cut a line or keep it. And in a medium where space is usually tight, a single line can sometimes make the difference between a vivid character and a forgettable one… so you’re gonna need all the space you can get…

Level Designers — Environmental Storytellers

Level designers determine the space.

Of course, they don’t do this in a vacuum. Level designers work with writers and mission designers to plot out story beats. I drop by my LDs’ desks from time to time to ask for a set piece, a blood trail, a crashed ship — any props I might need to sell a mission or character. Some level designers love storytelling, and some don’t. I say this only because, by nature, mission designers have to be invested in story to some degree. But level designers have other masters: exploration and combat. 

However, whether they want to be or not, level designers are natural environmental storytellers, because they’re most familiar with the art assets at their disposal to help you tell a story. I’ll come to a level designer and say, “I’d love something super foreboding.” Ten minutes later, you’ve got yourself a half-sandwich on a plate, lathered in blood. Story gold!

The potential conflict between a writer and a level designer often comes down to space, and it’s something I am constantly advocating for. A character needs time to share an amusing anecdote. I’ve got one more joke to squeeze into a mission. Without the proper space to tell your story, you either have to cut back or put the player in a slow-moving elevator, and no one wants that, right? Right? Right…

Cooperative Storytelling

A richer character backstory can enhance the significance of a mission. An extra line here or there might turn a rote fetch quest into something special. That’s what I believe, anyway. Day by day, I roam the office forming story alliances, hoping to recruit my fellow developers to invest their time and resources in the pursuit of memorable characters or unforgettable missions. Fortunately, my fellow developers at Gearbox appreciate how a game’s narrative elements enrich a player’s experience. But as a game writer, you can’t do it alone. Nor should you. So choose your allies wisely!



Being a professional video game writer is one of the best jobs around. Period.  I’d love to see the look on my six-year-old self’s face if I told him I’d be writing video games one day. But here’s the real talk. The path to becoming a video game writer is tough — and different for everyone. But in case it helps, here’s how I got started. My video game career began after a hilariously bad birthday.

The Bad Birthday Pivot

My girlfriend and I had recently come back to the States from Japan after the Tsunami of 2011. I’d left a soon-to-be amazing teaching job in Tokyo, the type of gig an aspiring novelist dreams of: short hours, great pay, plenty of time to write on the side. But with my family’s concerns over the Fukushima situation, we came home instead (blowing much of my savings in the process) to Florida to crash with my parents. The plan was to recoup a bit and then figure out next steps. Then my girlfriend and I broke up, a week before my birthday. So, to review: Recent break-up. Unemployed. No savings. Living with parents.

Chrono Trigger

On the morning of my birthday, I dug through my closet, found our Super Nintendo, and fired up Chrono Trigger. Alongside the novels I’d read that shaped the type of novelist I wanted to be, video games had also impacted my imagination and sense of story, games like Final Fantasy IV and VI, and of course, Chrono Trigger

While I was playing, my mind drifted to my writing career, and how I wanted to be a working writer — that is, I wanted to pay the bills with my writing, rather than my writing being a “when I’ve got time” situation. Most writers go for TV and movies, incredibly competitive but potentially lucrative careers. But I wasn’t sure I wanted to move to Los Angeles.

I asked myself what I liked about storytelling in videogames. The answer was that I felt like I was part of the story, instead of an observer in someone else’s story. One writing career lesson I didn’t learn soon enough is that sometimes you have to pivot when one avenue isn’t working out, so, I said to myself, I should try to make it as a video game writer.

Then the inevitable question followed…  so how do you become a video game writer?

My First Strange Gig

I scoured game studio websites for an entire year, but I didn’t see many open game writer jobs available. Then, one day my brother told me about a guy he’d recently met looking for a writer. I sent a few sample scripts, which the team liked, and I was hired. It was a strange, ambitious, iPad game called Alfa-Arkiv.

Alfa-Arkiv

For this first gig, I wrote a series of fictional emails hidden within the app. You’d consider it a secondary or even tertiary story — imagine the types of emails you read while playing Deus Ex. The emails explored the backstories of several main characters. I suspected that most players wouldn’t read this content, but in video game writing you sort of have to have that mentality. Some people gobble up story at every opportunity, and others skip in-game text like the plague.

The value of starting your career by working on a small team is that you get to see the entire game develop right around you, day by day. You collaborate with people from every discipline. Even the discussions on how to market the game were new and exciting to me. Although Alfa-Arkiv wasn’t financially successful, it did manage to get recognition from CNET as one of the best mobile game of 2014, and more importantly, I learned a lot and cut my teeth with professional and very talented developers in the process. As the game was nearing completion, I started to look for other gigs, but again, there weren’t many game writer jobs being advertised.

If you don’t see a game writing job, try to find indie developers working on a game you’d like to write. That’s what I did, at least.

Kickstarting a Game Writing Career

I tracked tons of indie projects before eventually reaching out to a Mexican developer making a retro Zelda II throwback called Elliot Quest. Basically, I asked him if he needed help writing the story, and ended up helping him run a small but successful Kickstarter. In the meantime, I also jumped on a few other indie games. Of them, Elliot Quest was the only one to get a publisher and came out on most modern game platforms, including most recently the Nintendo Switch.

Elliot Quest

While I was working on Elliot Quest, I started taking notes on the games I was playing, analyzing story, character development, pacing, and what narrative tools the writers had at their disposal. I also began reading game design books like: Theory of Fun and The Art of Game Design.

As Elliot Quest’s development was wrapping up, I finally found a few video game writing jobs and applied to all of them. I received plenty of rejections, most of the time in the form of never hearing anything back. This is part of the entertainment industry, and certainly videogames. Competition is stiff. Getting noticed is a combination of hard work, who you know, and luck.  For a select few studios I got a writing test, and of those I interviewed with one or two companies. But no job offers.

I didn’t know many people in the game industry, other than a handful of indie developers. I had two indie game credits to my name. If I had to guess why my materials got noticed, it’d be that I wrote speculative scripts based on mainstream, popular games like Telltale’s The Walking Dead and Mass Effect. Although I’ve never written fan fiction, a spec script can be a powerful tool to demonstrate to potential employers that you can write in a particular voice or genre:

Never underestimate the power of a spec script.

Multitasking My Way to AAA

Armed with spec scripts, I got my first mid-sized studio job, a six-month contract working for Trendy Entertainment. My employment started right after some upheaval at the studio, after which I joined a pre-production team for Dungeon Defenders 2. I wrote a lot of lore and world-building documents, as well as character bios.

My Walking Dead Game

In 2013 I saw that the University of Texas at Austin was starting a video game fellowship, the Denius-Sams Gaming Academy: Free tuition and a living stipend, and directed by Warren Spector. There were only twenty spots, and I figured that a video game writer didn’t have a chance in hell of getting in. But I did.

Although I never took a coding class in college, I knew that having a more diverse skillset would both make me more attractive to potential employers as well as give me a better insight into how games are made – which would translate into my ability to write better video game stories. I took all the basic courses in code academy, and also began to (slowly) learn a game engine, Unity. Later, I’d use Unity to build interactive games (Telltale-Lite) but more interactive than, say, a Twine game. 

Anyhow, I also learned basic level design in Unity and completed as many tutorials as I could. Armed with my spec scripts, I applied to the Denius-Sams Gaming Academy and, to my surprise, got an interview. When I was speaking to Warren Spector, the inevitable question came up. What would I do if the game we decided to make didn’t need a story? Due to my work in Unity, I was able to say that I could jump onto level design or potentially even audio (I play guitar and piano, and have sub-par editing skills). I got in.

The Denius-Sams Gaming Academy is no more, and I killed it. Kidding. Unfortunately, the program only lasted two years, and I was in the first of two classes. Really, that the program isn’t around is a shame, because in a short nine months, so much video game wisdom was crammed in my head, not just by the program’s faculty (Warren Spector, Joshua Howard, and David Cohen) but also a myriad of veteran game developers who came to speak: Richard Garriot, David Bettner, Max Hoberman, and a host of other veteran developers

Nearing the end of the fellowship, the Denius-Sams Gaming Academy hosted a job fair, and Gearbox was one of the participating studios. Write for Gearbox, the studio who made Borderlands? Yeah, I’m in.

The Road to Gearbox

By now, I had an armada of materials, indie game credits, as well as my spec scripts, which I’d turned into short interactive games using Unity and a plug-in called Fungus. As luck would have it, Gearbox was looking for a writer — I say luck because posted AAA writing jobs are incredibly rare, amazingly competitive, and you should apply anyway. I landed a writing test, then a phone interview, then an on-site interview, and finally a job offer.

Gearbox

For most, becoming a game writer is a long, twisted path filled with tons of rejection (unless you catch a break) in which you’ll spend years working for just the opportunity to prove your writing chops. The honest truth is that there are a million factors that can ultimately determine whether you get that job or not. Who you know. The weather. So, my best advice is to:

Make your own games.

Reach out to indie studios. 

Be fearless. Embrace rejection. 

In the end, I got my current job at Gearbox after a ton of hard work, a lot of rejection, and some luck. That said, everyone’s path to game writing is different. But there’s an upside. Video game writers are part of a small, welcoming community. So, on your path to becoming a game writer, don’t be afraid to ask for advice along the way.