Prototyping in Horizon Zero Dawn

Horizon Zero Dawn started with a small team.

And prototyping games is really hard.
I'm going to explain how they managed to create incredible game mechanics.

At the beginning Guerilla started Horizon with a team of 8 to 16 people.

The main composition was:
    • Designers
    • Artists
    • Coders
    • Animators

They had a lot of Shooter experience from past games, but no Open World experience.
The main idea was to quickly create prototypes.

If they worked iterate on them.
If they didn't ditch them completely.

The main question was → How do we do combat against robots?

The solution:

Come up with the most complex robot possible with a lot of parts.
    • Vulnerabilities
    • Shooting armor plates to expose weakness
    • Disconnecting weapons to use against them

They wanted to tests lots of things.


They prepared the prototype to be able to know how the combat would feel.
And most important of all, if that combat would be fun.


At the same time, they continued prototyping other aspects of the game.

The Open World would need to be created.
With the same idea about trying out difficult things they decided to create a complex outpost.
That would help figuring out what they would need to make an Open World game feel alive.

With this prototype they could figure out things like:
    • How would the architecture look?
    • How many NPCs are needed
    • Would the settlement be big?
    • Which are the ways the player can traverse the settlement?

And they continued prototyping this ans many more things.


For instance, player abilities and weaponry would be another major topic. As well as prototyping mounted traversal, specially from a game design perspective.
This was not an easy task as the mount should be able to ride through a dense forest while the player is shooting.

In the end Guerilla ended up prototyping lots of things quick. And it was not cheap, a lot of prototypes were thrown away or needed to be redone.
And the main problem was that they had cool protos, but there was not a game there yet.

They shifted their focus to the Core Loop of the game.

The loop became:
    1. Explore
    2. Interact with things
    3. Gather
    4. Progress

When combined, the first glimpse of the game started appearing after two years of work.

From this experience we can learn that it is difficult to end up with a final game vision and usually iteration is required.

Having a full game direction is helpful, but being able to prototype separate concepts allows for interesting ideas to flourish.

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