PREVIEW – Guerrilla Games has published a new Horizon Forbidden West, book-length developer diary on the PlayStation Blog.
Horizon’s world is inhabited by highly advanced machines, technologically advanced robots that have become Earth’s dominant species. They come in all shapes and sizes, based on various life forms that existed throughout history (dinosaurs, prehistoric mammals, and birds). Some of them from Horizon Zero Dawn will return in Horizon Forbidden West. For instance, the Watcher (resembling a small theropod) often patrol larger herds, scanning for potential threats; or the Snapmaw (lethal, crocodile-like beasts, created to purify water and went feral as a consequence of the Derangement). However, there are new threats in the Forbidden West, such as the fast and agile Clawstrider and the deadly mammoth-like Tremortusk. You have to be prepared for all of them.
“We’re getting to explore a new area within the world of Horizon. It was interesting to figure out what type of machines would live in different ecological zones and how they would interact with each other, their environment, and of course, humans. Machines are the so-called caretakers of this world, so how they perform their roles and what the player can do to use these behaviours to their advantage was always interesting to consider. During Horizon Zero Dawn’s development, we had a ton of ideas—of course, not everything could make it into the first game, but now with Horizon Forbidden West, we’ve been able to match some exciting ideas that previously weren’t feasible with new and interesting concepts!”, Blake Politeski, the principal machine designer said (he’s been with Guerrilla since the first machines were conceived before Horizon Zero Dawn entered development).
“Blake’s team provides us with a design document that describes the general look of the machine, what type of (interactive) parts it has, and what sort of attacks it can do. Some top-level drawings explain the document further, but then the real visual design moves to the Robot and Weapon Asset team. Concept Artists will then make a 3D concept that goes through several reviews with art direction, game design, animation, and technical art teams until we’re all happy. We’ll create, rig, and animate a model to see if everything would work as needed, after which the modellers on the Robot and Weapon Asset Art team will work on it, adding in all the details. After a few more iterations with various teams, the model is fully animated, painted, textured, and reviewed again before being added to the game and replacing the temporary model. The process for developing each machine takes a long time!” Maxim Fleury, the asset art lead added.
Over 25 machines
It wasn’t easy for Guerrilla to finish over 25 machines in Horizon Zero Dawn. “In the first game, we had to create the foundation, so we started small by defining different roles. The Watcher is like a security camera; the Ravager is an enforcer, and so forth. Once those base roles were decided, we could build on that by mixing in robot designs, unique abilities and features, and of course, cool weapons and attacks. We’re expanding this catalogue further with Horizon Forbidden West. For example, we knew we wanted a slightly bigger flying machine than the Glinthawk, which resulted in the Sunwing—but it needed a place and a role in the world. We studied various flying reptiles and primitive birds for inspiration and came up with the concept of their wings collecting solar energy during sunny weather. It, in turn, created an interesting gameplay dynamic: Sunwings will be vulnerable when they are harvesting solar power but are also more alert to potential predators when they are idle. Unique behaviours like these become the basis and are then expanded on when we define the world’s machines’ roles. We always want to make sure the machines are connected and that they serve a greater purpose; so the whole machine (eco-)system is in harmony—just like in the real world,” Politeski claims.
Guerrilla always focused on creating an authentic world, including the machines in Horizon’s world. “The design language that was created with Horizon Zero Dawn is still hugely important to us. At the same time, we try to make the new machines different and unique to expand the world for our players. The machines in Horizon Forbidden West have a lot more functionality this time around, which is a challenge from a design perspective, but hopefully gives the player a unique experience during each encounter,” Fleury says.
We previously wrote a former blog post that detailed some of Aloy’s abilities, which will be required for survival against more robust, faster, and deadlier machines. “Aloy has many different types of weapons and ammunition available, and she’s going to need them all to beat the different machines! Without spoiling anything, every machine has multiple ways to be defeated. We tried to make it clear for players through the machine design and added textures to show the weak points or interactive components. You’ll need to study each machine closely to find different ways to approach it,” Fleury says. “A lot of machines have various weapons and behaviours that can be used to create an advantage. This is not just in shooting off components and using them, but some machines might have some more passive states during which the player can sneak towards them. For example, if a machine is digging for resources in the ground, it’ll create a lot of dust—Aloy can use this as a visual cover to get closer. The machines in Horizon Forbidden West are more mobile in almost every way you can imagine—jumping, swimming, clinging to surfaces… Because of this, Aloy will need to keep up with them, so there’s new movement mechanics to help her out. We’re also focusing more on Aloy’s ability to survey and plan an encounter before engaging, as well as her ability to escape if things don’t go as planned,” Politeski adds. We can understand the machines’ behaviour and predict their movements through audio cues, as they have specific sounds for idling, alerting others, and initiating attacks. They will sound stronger on the PlayStation 5.
The gameplay reveal featured the Tremortusk, which will be challenging to defeat. “The Tremortusk is based on a mammoth with a nod to the historical and cinematic examples of the great war elephants. It has many different attacks and a body covered in various guns. Apart from using its tusks to attack up close, it also has different elemental weapons it can use. A rebel faction of the Tenakth controls the one we see in the trailer, but you can also find them wandering the wilds,” Fleury says. “It reminds me of a mixture of war elephants and a huge siege tower that was used to attack fortresses in medieval times: hard to destroy, slow-moving, and a lot of firepower. It generated the idea for the Tremortusk, which is a well-armoured but slow machine, almost an unstoppable force. In Horizon Forbidden West, human enemy factions can control machines, so it seemed like a natural fit to combine the two and make our spin on ‘war elephants’, with a platform on top that humans can fire at Aloy from. To come back to the machine (eco-)system, it was created to balance Earth and ensure that humans cannot wipe out life again. Tremortusks were created as combat machines—protecting other machine species so they can do what they were designed to do without human interference,” Politeski says. “We recommend using traps as well as the Pullcaster. Though slow, they can reach a speed that will easily trample Aloy, so get ready to dodge. Finally, be wary of its flamethrower trunk…” the pair adds.
While most machines itch for a fight, they also help Aloy throughout her journey. The Tallnecks aren’t hostile and will provide clarity and direction if you take control of them. “Aloy can, similar to Horizon Zero Dawn, override machines and have them fight with her. This time around, we’ve also added more mounts to explore and ride—you can see her on the Clawstrider during the gameplay trailer,” Fleury says. “Some machines may also inadvertently help Aloy out. If a machine searches for certain resources that Aloy happens to be after, they can lead her to stashes if she’s observant. Also, through overriding, Aloy can now exert some control over machine behaviour, shifting them into aggressive or defensive states,” Politeski says.
What about their favourite machines? “It was the first machine from Horizon Zero Dawn I saw a concept for, so it’s always been close to my heart. I love the design and character of it. In contrast, in Horizon Forbidden West, it’s the Burrowers: nifty little machines which can overwhelm you if you’re not careful,” Fleury says. “The Stormbird. It’s one of the first ones we designed, and we were trying to figure out what these machines were supposed to be. When I pitched it to a colleague, it sounded like an eagle combined with a fighter jet; but then it would also be elemental with electricity surges high from the sky. It would dive straight to the player like a bolt of lightning and explode as it hit the ground! Our Game Director overheard this conversation, turned around and said: “that sounds awesome!” So that’s how we figured out the Stormbird,” Politeski adds. “And for me, my favourite is the Shellsnapper. It’s a machine that had been brewing in my mind since the first game, and I’m excited to see it in the Forbidden West. It’s large and has several abilities that will excite players—combining inspiration from movies and real life, as well as some strange things we came up with ourselves. I’m just as excited to see people’s reactions to this machine as they are to play it,” the blog post closes.
Horizon Forbidden West will launch on February 18 on PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 4.