Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is an absolute blast, packed with fun for fans of Borderlands and TTRPGs. Gearbox launched Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands on Steam alongside a new DLC called Molten Mirrors. But what is next for Tiny Tina and the Wonderlands that she developed? Way more than I bargained for — that’s for sure.
I’ll be diving into Molten Mirrors myself as soon as I catch up with the rest of the Wonderlands, but before that, I interviewed Ashly Burch (Tiny Tina) and Sam Winkler (lead writer on Wonderlands) about the character, the game, and the future of the franchise. Yes, you read that correctly — franchise. Let’s jump right into our chat.
What direction do you hope to take Tiny Tina next?
Sam Winkler: “You can't really see it, but I have a bomb harness around my waist that 2K has set up — Oh, it’s beeping faster! Okay so, we’re really happy with Wonderlands, and it has had a wonderful reception, better than we could have hoped. We see it as the launch of a new IP. It is not a side story in the Borderlands universe. We view it as an initial foray into Wonderlands, and all I can say there is that I don’t think that’s going to disappear. There are many more stories to tell both in the Wonderlands and about Tina.”
Do you think we’ll see a grown up Tina DMing a Wonderlands game?
Sam Winkler: “Oh, I would love to. I had a pitch for that back in the Borderlands 3 era, and it was very different tonally.”
Rami Tabari: “Can we hear the pitch?”
Sam Winkler: “Oh lord no, oh—no it’s beeping again! The thing is that grown up Tina is very much the same person just with so many limiters taken off in the sense of what we can get away with saying. In Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, she has not left Pandora, but by the time Borderlands 3 happens, she has gone and exploded and slept with it all. So who knows what she gets up to in the interim?”
What do you want the future of Wonderlands to be as a whole?
Sam Winkler: “Where I would love to see it go is a world that is able to have the player be more of an inhabitant. I think we had to make a few allowances in Wonderlands to really make it the player's story. I think we succeeded on that front, but I would like to see more wiggle room for players to have a place in the world and have an identity without it being a hero’s journey.”
Do you see more player choice coming to the future of Wonderlands?
Sam Winkler: “I'd love to see it. I don't know if that's where we'll go. If you are trying to claim the feeling of an RPG, I do think that a responsive world, whether it's choice or not, has to respond to your actions. You have to feel that it is not a Disney ride. You have to feel that it is something that you are inhabiting, as there are other characters that inhabit that world along with you, and that your actions have consequences.”
How has Tiny Tina evolved alongside your voice-over experience through the years?
Ashly Burch: “I should hope that I have improved as a performer. It would really suck if I had just stagnated for like a decade. She truly was my very first vocal role, and it was helpful that she is very much in my wheelhouse. She was written by my brother and slightly based on the character that I played in our web series. So she wasn't that far out from stuff that I was already doing. But what's really nice about coming back to Wonderlands is that I've played so many different types of characters that I think I've expanded my toolkit as a performer. I think I'm a much more competent actor now, so to be able to bring that to a character that I established first in my career is really cool because it’s nice to have to play different colors of her. For the Dragon Keep DLC, that was the first emotional performance that I had to give as a character in a video game. Since then, I've done a lot of crying in various game titles. I'm a professional crier. Even though she sounds the same in terms of vocal print, we're exploring different things with her in the narrative that Sam and the writers penned. I feel grateful that the experience I've had in the intervening time has helped me bring the goods to that arc that they wrote out.”
What does collaboration look like on set?
Ashly Burch: “Depending on what you work on, there are folks that want you to read the lines as written, which is completely understandable. They wrote them; they hired you to say them. But the cool thing about Wonderlands and the DLC is that there's such an encouragement of improvisation and changing things up to find the funniest version. I have a lot of freedom to play around. There is an excitement, not just for me, but for all of the cast members to surprise the writers by bringing our own perspective and sense of humor to improv — to change things and to make things our own.”
Sam Winkler: “As a writer coming in to work with a character that is established and well beloved, there is a certain amount of intimidation that comes with that. But if you treat that immense undertaking with respect while also taking risks, then you will come out on top. One of the first conversations Ashly and I had about Wonderlands was talking about Tina and who she is, where she is in her life at the time, and how do we keep her unique phraseology across a full scale game while keeping players endeared. This is potentially someone's first experience with Tiny Tina, so we wanted to make sure that this is a great introduction to her. One of my favorite things is going into the writer’s room, coming up with all these ideas for Tina, then handing that to Ashly and being surprised every time. Yes, we can get ‘as-written’ read and that will be completely functional, but I always find myself gravitating towards the one where Ashly has put a little stank on it, a little extra sauce. It's such a fun collaboration.”
What experiences did you bring from your time in the TTRPG space to Wonderlands?
Ashly Burch: “It's so nice to have that background, to know how ridiculous, chaotic and completely off the wall tabletop games can get. I joined way too many tabletop games during the beginning of the pandemic. I literally joined like four one right after the other. I think the great thing about the original DLC and now Wonderlands is that it really has that spirit of a tabletop table. One of my favorite quests is where Tina has a character that she's made that's like her favorite character, but all of the people at the table immediately think that she is suspicious and evil, and they will not get off of that line of thought. That is absolutely something that's happened in the games that I've played.”
Sam Winkler: “I started DMing during the pandemic and that informed how you write someone who’s setting a scene and dynamically changing things. One thing I didn't necessarily understand before DMing was why so many voice actors end up in actual play D&D. And after my first session of DMing people, I walked out of the room and tried to say hello to my wife and I went [inaudible version of ‘hey, how’s it going’]. I realized I’ve been talking for four straight hours, and I'm like ‘oh, that makes so much sense.’ People who professionally manage their voices and scream and shout are, of course, able to do that and still be like incredible actors and evocative players. One thing that's just truly incredible is the amount of game that we would record in a single session with is just wild. The amount of just throughput that [Ashly] is able to have as an actor and a player is wild.”
It’s official. Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is just the first of Tina’s many fabricated worlds. We may see a grown up Tina, and we may even see some player choice down the road, but that is all up in the air right now.
It was really cool to hear about how the game develops in the background between the writers and actors, and how collaborative the set of Wonderlands is. It makes sense that the game felt fluidly attuned with the TTRPG shenanigans that it was attempting to embody. If you’re itching to get some more Wonderlands in your system, jump back in today and check out the latest Molten Mirrors DLC where you’ll dive into Vesper’s third Mirror of Mystery.