Afterwords – Horizon Zero Dawn

Jeff Marchiafava

For years, Guerrilla Games has been synonymous with its sci-fi FPS series, Killzone. However, the studio's decision to change gears – and genres – for Horizon Zero Dawn has already proven an astounding success, selling over 2. 6 million copies in less than a month. We recently spoke to the team about Horizon's intriguing world, characters, and gameplay, what the future holds for the fledgling series. What was the most difficult aspect about transitioning from first-person shooters to a huge open-world RPG? Hermen Hulst, managing director: This project was out of our comfort zone on so many levels.

Even aspects that we felt were relatively "safe," such as our goal to preserve the intense and tactical style of combat that we were accustomed to from the Killzone series, proved much more difficult to achieve in an open world. We quickly found that the designers for these combat encounters had far less control over the position of the player character and the enemy characters than they would have in a linear setting. And other project goals were just as daunting. For example, we wanted to have a level of visual detail in Horizon's open world that was similar to or greater than what we were used to from our Killzone games; you can imagine the hurdles our tech and tools teams had to take to achieve this. But probably the biggest challenge was to create a new, believable, and inspiring science-fiction universe from scratch. The fact that Horizon takes place a thousand years in the future on a radically altered Earth means everything had to be imagined, researched, and conceptualized first.

There weren't a lot of photographic reference materials or pop-cultural frames of reference we could use as shortcuts. Everything, from the setting to the story and the cultures and visual language had to be built from the ground up. Jan-Bart van Beek, art director: There are plenty of technical challenges involved in going from a linear game to and open-world structure, but frankly the most difficult transition was a mental one. In first-person shooters, and most other linear games, it's all about controlling the emotional experience of the player. Every single second is carefully scripted and designed in order to, almost literally, control every single heartbeat of the player. It's a carefully crafted rollercoaster.

But like a rollercoaster it is on rails. It's exciting and exhilarating, but the player's control and agency is a well-crafted illusion. Transitioning from this is very hard. A designer doesn't control the variables they are used to. The player can come from any direction into an encounter, with any set of weapons, at any experience level, and from many different previous quests. He might be idly…

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