Interview with Joel Eschler on Horizon Zero Dawn

After 5 years of hard work, Guerrilla Games have now released  their spectacular post-post apocalyptic adventure, Horizon Zero Dawn exclusive to PS4 and PS4 Pro. We were lucky enough to have a chat with Joel Eschler, one of the Senior Producers at Guerrilla who moved from Australia to go and work on Horizon Zero Dawn.

Most post apocalyptic games focus on Zombies, Horizon Zero Dawn has gone for a post post apocalyptic setting where nature has reclaimed much of the world. Can you tell us more about how Guerrilla came up with the concept?
The initial idea for the game was a result of an internal pitching competition within Guerrilla. The idea for Horizon Zero Dawn came from Jan-Bart van Beek, our Studio Art Director and had the 3 main pillars which can be seen in the final game today; a lush environment, the machines and Aloy.

There was a desire from an artistic perspective to build something not just technically and artistically impressive but something beautiful and the juxtaposition of our ruined human world against the colourful vibrant overgrown vegetation, while risky, was the approach the studio wanted to take. The entire development of Horizon Zero Dawn was one of the studio challenging themselves to always be better and to work out of their comfort zone and this philosophical shift can be viewed across the game.

Aloy appears to be a very strong female lead, which is great for gaming can you tell us how her character evolved throughout the development process?
Aloy has been an integral part of Horizon Zero Dawn since the day Guerrilla committed to making the game. She was not born out of a predetermined tactic but was more of a natural development. Aloy as a character had complete buy-in from the team from the beginning, based on the early imagery and she developed into a well-rounded character organically, as the team got to know the world and the challenges of Horizon Zero Dawn.

It has been so heartening within the team to see the public response to Aloy. For us, she is almost another member of the team, so to see her character resonating with such a wide group of people is amazing.

What can we expect to see from Aloy’s interactions with other tribespeople and the world around her?
Aloy’s journey throughout the world of Horizon Zero Dawn is one of discovery, as the majority of the world is a mystery to her where she is encountering much of it for the first time, at the same as the player. This means that she is very inquisitive about the tribes, new landscapes and of course the mystery of the machines. Aloy can interact in some form with every NPC in the game; some are very basic with quick remarks but others will be trading with her or engaging with lengthy branching dialogues. It is entirely up to the player how they play as Aloy; whether they wish to be short with people getting on with her missions or diving deeper to discover more about the world and even some of the more personal stories of the NPC’s.

This world appears to be massive and ripe for exploration. How do you balance the exploration aspects of the game while trying to progress the story at the same time?
For us, Horizon Zero Dawn is all about player choice. We allow for a variety of different playstyles. The game allows for people to progress through the main story, engage in some of the rich side stories, explore the landscape hunting for clues to mysteries or challenge themselves to become master of the hunting guild.

While the world of Horizon Zero Dawn is indeed very large, we worked very hard to ensure that there is a good density of activities and quests across the entire landscape. Also, everything in the game world is connected, so while one player may decide that they want to spend a week exploring the world and undertaking in side activities, they will still be engaging in the mystery and mythos of the world.

Can you take us through what it’s like working on a game as it goes through its development cycle and the challenges you face along the way?
It is always a rollercoaster of a journey working on a videogame that eventually will be in the hands of the public. One of the earliest challenges for any game is to actually get buy-in from the development team to commit potentially 6 years of their lives to building it. If a team is not motivated to be working on a project, then a multitude of difficulties can eventuate.
Luckily for Guerrilla, Horizon Zero Dawn was a result of the development team wanting to challenge themselves to make something bigger, better and more grandiose than anything they had worked on previously. The concept had almost instant buy-in from the team and the technical risks and creative challenges generated an equal amount of excitement for a team made of experienced devs ready to push themselves.

Along the way, there are always technical challenges that must be overcome and creative differences between departments but luckily the belief in the core vision for this game was strong enough to overcome these (plus a lot of hard work!).

Last year the PS4 Pro was announced and Horizon Zero Dawn is optimised for the platform. Did that have much impact on development?
Guerrilla’s asset art team authors all content in at least 4K resolution handily, which meant that content wise, we were ready for the Pro. There was some effort put in to ensure we could hit our 30FPS goal at full 2160p and to produce the best quality image when supersampling to a 1080p display but overall it was a very minimal impact on development but one that made our artists very happy.

Can you take us through the techniques Guerrilla have used to optimise the game for PS4 Pro?
The optimization efforts were shared across both platforms to ensure we had target framerate parity.

Some of those optimizations appear to translate well to the PS4. How do you achieve that?
We have a very talented technical team at Guerrilla, who were able to work on our proprietary engine built to support the game we were creating. We knew this was an important title for PlayStation and also for everyone that has bought a new TV or console recently so they have something to show off.

What would be your biggest tip for players when they step inside this world?
Don’t be afraid to explore. We built a huge world filled with exciting encounters, enticing mystery and visual splendor. Going off the beaten track is one of my favourite things to do in Horizon Zero Dawn.

We’re giving away a copy of Horizon Zero Dawn thanks to PlayStation, enter here.

Written by: Ben Carmichael

Love Gaming and am a self-confessed Tech Geek. I created the site so I'm the guy you can either thank or abuse, either way I'm just happy to have some human interaction!

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