Guerrilla Games have been largely inspired by nature and natural processes in the design of Horizon: Zero Dawn, and they’ve released a video about it.
Hermen Hulst, managing director of the game, explains that the original vision always had a female lead (named Alloy), the gorgeous wilderness, and the mechanical “wildlife” of robots. He goes on: “The machines turned out to be very much animal inspired.
Jan-Bart Van Beek, art director: “We knew we wanted them very big, very awesome, and we wanted a lot of them… we also played with basically more insect like creatures, or more traditional looking robots… [but] the majesty of nature combined with more prehistoric looking creatures really created a very unique setting [and look].” He also discusses the game design term in animation, the “tell”: “You can look at a creature and by how it’s animating, how it’s behaving, you can tell what sort of attack it might do, and you can prepare for it.” Their animalism, it seems, goes a long way towards making this possible. The video illustrates this point with a crab-like machine using its claw to lift heavy objects, and then charge at the player claw-first, grasping for them.
Mathijs de Jonge, game director, explains that this “shellwalker” is essentially “a walking treasure chest”. While they sometimes started with an animal they wanted to recreate, they’d sometimes also look at a need, like a moving loot box, and ask themselves what kind of animal fit that. Van Beek goes on to describe the “snapjaw”, an alligator-like machine which takes advantage of aquatic and shoreline spaces, made to make those spaces more challenging.
Alloy, Jonge explains, can override machines with her spear. For instance, she can mount a wildebeest-like “broadhead” if she overrides it, or override a “watcher” to fight with her. There is a tall beast she can climb to override for map information, as with many open-world exploration games these days (Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, etc.). This also unleashes a stunning EMP-like blast which affects all nearby machines, giving you a reason to re-climb these beasts.
Their animalism, Jonge finishes, means you can study their behavior to defeat them. Horizon: Zero Dawn releases February 18th for the PlayStation 4.