Games can take months, years, or even a decade to get developed. Guerilla Games’ Horizon Zero Dawn took six years to create and its director admitted that the team had plenty of low points during its development cycle. One of the lowest point the team had was with regards to establishing a good combat system for their first ever third-person open world game.
Horizon Zero Dawn Managing Director Hermen Hulst explained during a lengthy conversation with Naughty Dog’s Neil Druckmann how Guerilla Games struggled to make a new IP. Hulst admitted that his team had plenty of low points during game development and they felt clueless on how to make battles with robotic dinosaurs feel fun and engaging.
“I think it generally took a long time for us to crack the core combat of fighting these robotic dinosaurs. The amount of time it took us to make the first machine, which was the big T-Rex, the Thunderjaw, it took a year and a half. So during that year and a half, everybody starts doubting, ‘is it actually ever gonna work? What are we doing? You’re firing arrows at this big overpowering machine. How will that ever work?’ When we cracked that, we knew we were gonna at least, minimally, have a good game in terms of gameplay, but it took an awfully long time”
Working With Existing Tools
Despite the team’s struggles, Hulst said Horizon Zero Dawn was close to the finished product that they originally envisioned. In order to fulfill this vision; however, the team started with existing tools they have from their previous games, mainly the Killzone series.
“When you look at the core combat for instance, the very first prototype had Killzone M82 guns in it and you were actually firing your machine gun at these robotic dinosaurs, and that very quickly felt weird. Conceptually, to be making that much noise in a beautiful forest, that was wrong. That was one of those moments when we realized that we actually need to reduce not just the tribe’s cultures in this world, the people that live back in the Bronze Age, but also the weaponry that comes from that.”
Additionally, the main reason why Guerilla Games chose to develop Horizon Zero Dawn is because they wanted to create a beautiful game. “It actually was a big part of the decision that we wanted to make something that’s just beautiful. With Killzone, there’s beauty in it to me. It’s grim but we kind of call it gritty beauty. That was a big part of our decision. We wanted to put the player into a world where you don’t want to evacuate away from it.”
From Killzone To Horizon
Transitioning from the Killzone series proved difficult for the team considering they had to create new tools to fit the genre of their new IP. “On a very basic level, when we were making our first open-world game, first RPG game, we had no tools whatsoever. When we started making with the Killzone tool set, which was not at all adequate for making a game like this, so the entire tool set had to be created from scratch.”
Guerilla Games said they had to completely rework their game engine, named Decima. “We wanted to make a game that was the similar kind of resolution to a first-person shooter but to be open world, so the engine had to be overhauled” The Decima engine has powered visually impressive games such as Killzone Shadowfall, Until Dawn, and Kojima Production’s upcoming Death Stranding.
Hulst did not specify what Guerilla Games is working on next, though the developer previously announced that they’re working on a story expansion for the game. Horizon Zero Dawn has been met with high praise from both fans and critics. The game currently holds an impressive 89 overall rating on Metacritic across 104 critic reviews.