Horizon Zero Dawn was one of the games that got gamers buzzing at E3. Its mix of primitive man and animal-like machines in the distant future caught fire with our imaginations. We saw the game behind-closed-doors, which yielded additional info about the game not seen in its official trailer, but we also talked to Guerrilla Games' Mathijs de Jonge (game director) and Mark Norris (senior producer). The pair divulged even more about Horizon, from its creation to the some of the nuts and bolts of its gameplay.
In 2011, you had a
smaller team working on Horizon. Was that mainly art and general concept? Can
you talk about what that smaller team worked on and when you brought on the
other people, when it ramped up?
Mathijs de Jonge:
After we shipped Killzone 3, we asked our company to pitch IPs, and there were a
lot of people excited about starting something new. We got about 40 different
concepts, but there were a couple games that stayed close to what our company
can do, and inspired us. One of the concepts that was most appealing in terms
of different elements in it, funnily enough, was the most risky project there,
Horizon. That's the concept that we started prototyping with a smaller team.
I think at first we were 10 people and at maximum maybe 15
or 20. We built prototypes as much as possible. So we started this specific
robot that you've seen, the Thunderjaw. That started out as a Duplo big block
thing with very ugly animations. But the core elements that are on there now
were very present in the early prototypes; we had the basics up and running
quite early. And after Shadowfall shipped, the rest of
the company joined the very small team. So we had everything prepared for when
that switch was gonna happen. And now for a year and a half we've been working
with the entire company on this game. I think it's actually has been really
good that we have been able to define all of the rules of how this world
operates, because it has such crazy elements mixed together. We wanted to make
it feel like it was believable.
In terms of the
larger vision and bringing that together, would you say that some of the story
elements were the fundamental first blocks of putting the game together or was
it more about, "we want to do an action game that has some RPG elements"?
de Jonge: We
wrote early drafts of a possible story. We maybe wrote 20 different stories.
Very different stories. We explored with different player characters. We
explored multiple player characters. We explored many things to figure out what
worked best, because we already knew that it's going to be very lush and with
nature. Maybe 1,000 years in the future, with these robots roaming around that
look very animalistic. So, those core ingredients were already there. We have
been iterating on all these things the whole time.
Mark Norris: If
you had to take a look at the foundational themes, this tribal society or
primitive humanity. Humanity's struggle and survival is one of the things that
Mathijs is constantly pushing for… This is a world full of danger. It's a world
full of beauty and majesty, but we really wanted to get across the sense of,
"what does this juxtaposition really look like? What if humanity is not at the
top of the life list anymore? What would that feel like? What would that look
like?" That drew a lot of the other elements around it. We brought in John
Gonzalez, who was the former lead writer on Fallout: New Vegas to be the pen to
the story. But, the major elements of the story have remained even though John
has put his touch on it. So the story, at least the foundational elements of
it, have remained intact over the period. Of course, it's gotten better as very
good writers have come on to the story to help us flesh that out.
I'm not sure if that battle with the Thunderjaw is simply a demo example or if it's currently in place in the game. Can you say whether you would characterize that as a boss battle? Or would those kinds of encounters happen naturally, let's say, if you were just wandering around and got into the wrong situation?
de Jonge: These robots do roam around, and you can get into that situation, but the player would have to be at a high level to fight these, and have the right tools.
Norris: And you might run into that Thunderjaw at level six and that would be a bad time for you. [laughs] There are of course moments inside of the quests in which you'll have more scripted encounters. But 90 percent of this game takes place in the open world where you're running around and doing things. If you're in the wrong place at the wrong time, well…
In the battle against the Thunderjaw, she was using its tail projectile weapon against it. Is that anything you could keep or craft from?
de Jonge: The disc launcher, it's a very heavy weapon. You can walk around with it, but you can't jump, so it's a weapon that players will leave behind. It's sort of a power spike that we put in so momentarily the player feels very powerful against these big machines, but it's also something we want to take away, because otherwise…
Norris: Limited ammo.
Will there be any of the smaller weapons that would be native to the machines that you might be able to take with you if they've been blown off?
Norris: I don't think there's ever going to be anything inside of the game where you shoot a specific piece off the machine. Because the game is so based around crafting, it's always parts. And so there's never going to be a moment where you're like, "Oh that machine has a machine gun and now I've picked up that machine gun. Now I have a machine gun that I can put into my weapon slot."
de Jonge: That's right, plus we also felt like these robots are big, they're heavy, so how does that even work? How would she put that in a backpack? It doesn't even make sense. That's our reasoning for getting these very powerful things. They stay with the robots, more or less, or in their region, and the other weapons that are still very powerful for the player, you craft them for yourself. The ammo you craft yourself from bits and pieces from the machines.
Can you talk about
how players will approach the open world as far as getting objectives,
missions, and things to do?
Norris: So there
are obviously things that will have objectives and objective markers inside of
the game, and another thing that we mentioned during the demo here is the
exploration element. We want to drive exploration through having pick-ups that
you'll find throughout the world that you can craft with or replenish your
health. So, there will be reasons for
you to explore this open world that are meta-game related, but there are also
quests and a quest system in place that will deliver that story and give you
specific places to go.
Read on to find out more about the game's world, crafting, and things Guerrilla is not supposed to talk about.