Up until last week, I didn’t have a very clear handle on what sort of game Horizon: Zero Dawn was. It was the one with the robot dinosaurs, that much I knew, but details of how it actually played still seemed somewhat murky. It also seemed massively ambitious, given that its Amsterdam-based developer Guerrilla Games is best known for linear first person shooter franchise Killzone. It wasn’t the first studio I’d have in mind to tackle a project like Horizon, given that the two properties were like night and day, with Horizon an open-world action RPG set in a vivacious post-apocalyptic world where nature – and those aforementioned robots – have reclaimed earth.
“Every other month we had a moment where we felt we were trying too much,” Guerilla’s managing director Hermen Hulst tells me. “Moments where [we doubted] the amount of newness to the team, the size of the world, the fact that it’s a different genre; we had gaps in our team that we had to fill with experts in the genre. There’s so much new stuff, so much imagination that was needed to set up this new IP. Open-world is completely different, and I know there are studios with a ton of experience with that, but we needed to obtain all the experience on this project. It’s [about] learning as you go.”
The interesting thing about talking to the different departments of Horizon’s design team is that you get the sense that the company had to come up with new philosophies, new ideas and new ways of thinking, and that, to a person, they were all very much up for the challenge. That said, as Hulst puts it, they still had plenty of knowledge to draw from within their existing talent pool. “We hired in new expertise, exposed the great talent that we already had, and also really learned from everything that we gained on the Killzone series. They’re different, but it’s still a science-fiction universe, so the design processes are similar. The combat was very tactical, always. We stand on the shoulders of all our learnings from the Killzone series.”