The lights are on
If there's one thing that's impossible to ignore about
Horizon Zero Dawn, it's the gigantic machines you go head-to-head with. All of
them resemble different wildlife, from dinosaurs to crocodiles to hyenas. Guerrilla Games spent a lot of time thinking
about various features of these mechanical beasts, from their role in the game's
ecosystem to their weaknesses and values. While in Amsterdam, the team gave
insight into the intricate process of bringing these intriguing creatures to
life by showing us how the Shellwalker came to be.
Guerrilla tries to look for inspiration in nature for all
its designs, using recognizable wildlife to form its robotic creatures. "We go for that...that there is a recognizable
element in there," says lead designer Dennis Zopfi.
"We try to twist it a little bit, so that there's something new to it." This
all ties into giving you familiarity before stepping into battle. "The reason
for that is so that you expect certain behaviors and movements, so it's all
about readability," explains managing director Herman Hulst. "The combat
encounters need to be fluid and easy to read."
For the Shellwalker in particular, the team looked at
various pictures of the hermit crab, focusing on how it shields itself and uses
its claws for protection. The Shellwalker is part of the transport class of machines
within Horizon's unique ecosystem. Guerrilla studied hermit crab movements,
especially how they looked and functioned in groups. They rarely travel alone,
and the lowest amount you'd usually encounter at one time would be three.
Because the Shellwalker is part of the transport class, it
needed something to cart; this led to the addition of the Shellwalker's
precious box on its back. Moving boxes is all that matters to the Shellwalker;
this is the role it's programmed to perform and the creature will do everything in
its power to ensure it doesn't leave its box behind and completes the task at
hand. Once Guerrilla gets some ideas down, it has designers build the machine
as if it could actually be constructed. Yes, actual engineers are on staff who do
this. This also means designing all its behaviors; the team especially spent a
lot of time deciding on how the Shellwalker would handle the boxes. From there,
it's deciding on how large certain elements, such as the claw or box, should be
in the world.
Bringing Robots To
Guerrilla Games has a team of six that do nothing but work
on animations for the machines in the game. Visualizing these robots is one
thing, but it is a whole other task to make sure they work within the game. "We
need to make sure that things move in a way that makes sense, but also have
enough clearance so that the things that need to happen in gameplay can," says
principle animator Richard Oud.
For the Shellwalker, one of the things they needed to test
and get right was the length of its arms to be able to pick up crates and put
them on their head or strike the player from the side. The Shellwalker design
had bulky arms, which made animating them a challenge, because there wasn't
always room to convey as much as they wanted. The animators made some
adjustments, such as making the eye units move in and out, instead of just sitting
there on top of the Shellwalker. "It gave it a little more of a robotic feel to
it," Oud says.
Most of the time during the animation phrase, the team starts
discovering what's fun and interesting about each machine. "Every robot has its
moment where you find out its personality," Oud says. "For the Shellwalker, it
was the first time he puts the crate on his head. His only obsession is protecting
his cargo. When we did the first animation, that's the moment it started
clicking with the whole entire character."
While the box certainly stands out, the Shellwalker has 150 unique
animations to make him feel alive and react to various things that happen in
the heat of battle. For instance, even if you shoot off the cargo clamp, he'll
use his claw to secure his crate, giving him one less weapon to use against you.
If you kill him and shoot off his precious cargo without destroying it, there's
loot awaiting you. However, you never know what or how much is inside, making
it a gamble.
To make these robots feel even more in tune with the world, their
behavior will change depending on which other machines are or aren't around.
For instance, if Watchers aren't around to alert of nearby danger, another
machine, such as a Grazer, takes on patrolling. Grazers, which are usually
peaceful animals, can also have one of its members turn into an alpha male if
it gets angry. "These roles are layers of complexity on top of the generic
group behavior," Hulst says. The components they have also determine their
behavior and help players strategize how to take down these mammoths. Machines
always have some type of risk/reward, whether it's loot or a weapon you can
shoot off. Guerrilla also focused on getting the destructibility of these
machines just right, so as you shoot off more and more components, robots
reflect that and start to look different.
Finding The Right
Sound can be make or break any game, so Guerrilla is
doing all that it can to capitalize on this in Horizon Zero Dawn. Different
machines all have memorable sounds that you can recognize from afar, such as
the piercing lasers coming from Scrappers. "It was really hard at first to find
a balance between machine and animalistic at first," says senior sound designer
Anton Woldhek. "If you went too far animalistic, they wouldn't really seem like
machines anymore. And if you went too far robotic you lost the emotional
impact. It was a lot of experimenting and finding out what worked emotionally
as well as rationally in this world."
For instance, the Shellwalker, every so often makes a sound
that conveys his state, while his machine-like elements come in the sound of
how he walks and how he picks things up. As soon as you start to get in his
way, he pounds his fist angry and lets out a terrifying mechanical shriek.
Every robot has 200-300 unique sounds and then there's another 150 sounds that
are shared between the different machines. For instance, when they're walking
on different materials you get different sounds and different A.I. states, such
as suspicion, also bring out different noises. "There is a lot of inspiration
from animals," Woldhek says. "Sometimes it comes from directly how they sound,
so you can use the recording and change it. And sometimes you take information
from that. For example, if there was a robot that could howl. You might not
modify a howl, but analyze the recording and say this is the pitch is goes up
and down by and then recreate that sound using something completely different."
Finding machines and how they act is part of the fun for
Horizon, so we don't want to spoil too much about the sounds or their creation.
However, it sure seems like Guerrilla shares plenty of our excitement about
these robotic creatures and is putting a lot of time into making sure they
function in the world in interesting ways. What do you think of the machines
you've seen so far?
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