Guerrilla Games talks knowledge sharing between Sony’s first parties and the future of Horizon Zero Dawn

Posted: 20 February 2017 7:00 pm News


We sat down to chat with Guerrilla Games' Joel Eschler about all things Horizon Zero Dawn, including what the future holds for Aloy and why Horizon was never planned as a cross-media project.

During Sony's Horizon Zero Dawn preview event last week, we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to talk with Guerrilla Games' senior producer and Aussie expat Joel Eschler about the upcoming Horizon Zero Dawn for PlayStation 4.

Horizon Zero Dawn Media Event-credit-Anna Kucera

This being Guerrilla Games and Eschler's first third-person action game (Guerrilla is famous for the Killzone series, Eschler is known for Borderlands: The Sequel) we wanted to know a little bit about that journey from first to third-person perspective and whether champions of the third-person genre, like Sony's Naughty Dog, had any hand in guiding the Amsterdam Studio during Horizon's development.

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While Eschler confirmed there wasn't any "direct tech improvements or injections of code" from other studios, he did speak at length on the level of knowledge sharing that happens between the studios under Sony's umbrella. Eschler went on to explain that the tech directors of each studio are in constant communication, sharing discoveries and tech developments and that Sony holds its own conference before GDC (Game Developer's Conference), which gives each studio a chance to debrief with the rest of Sony and share stories of each other's successes and cautionary tales of development pitfalls.

Read on for the entire interview where Joel chats about the future of Horizon Zero Dawn and why he thinks he would have been arrogant for Horizon Zero Dawn to come out of the gate with a tie-in movie or comic book.

When we spoke to Arne Meyer of Naughty Dog before Uncharted 4 he was telling us how first-party developers under the PlayStation umbrella share tech and tips. He specifically told a story where Guerrilla helped fixed an ongoing issue in one of the Uncharted games. Did Guerrilla ever call on any other developers for help with Horizon Zero Dawn?

There’s definitely knowledge sharing within Sony, which is awesome. It’s happening more and more, which everyone loves because no one wants to be the only one to play with their toys. Our tech guys that are building the engine are so over the moon to be working with Kojima Productions on our engine. Because the more smart people you put in a room together, the more experience, the better it’s going to get. Every year before GDC, Sony has its own employee-exclusive GDC where they share the technology and findings. So there wasn’t any direct tech improvements or injections of code or anything like that but there’s always knowledge sharing. Our tech director Michiel is in communication with the tech directors from other studios, so they’re always talking to each other and geeking out on cool new rendering techniques. I’m sure they’re helping each other out in ways we don’t even know about.

With Guerrilla, and yourself, moving from a series of first-person games, was there any inspiration or advice from developers like Naughty Dog who have a rich history of third-person games?

I guess there’s lessons learned always that we all share. There’s avenues others have been down that don’t necessarily work out, those kinds of stories which have helped us to know to go that approach. Just advice in general. Talking about animation speeds, hit reactions, things like that. There was a lot of research for this game. The technology from Killzone was shared. It’s the same engine. It’s just expanded. Some of the tactical combat from Shadowfall has been expanded in how your fight machines, like their armour weaknesses. Outside of Sony, we hired a lot of experts who had worked on different types of games. It was a big learning journey for everyone. Scary, but exciting at the same time.

I suppose that goes back to what you were saying about knowledge sharing.

Yeah, we’ve all tried and failed stuff and course-corrected. That’s why we do GDC each year in San Francisco, to share these experiences. At the end of the day, we want to play really awesome games. We want every studio to have their best chance at making really cool stuff.

A lot of video games these days are tackling huge cross-media projects with tie-in movies and comic books I expand and explain the universe’s lore. Activision's Skylanders Academy on Netflix, Uncharted comic books, that sort of stuff. To me, a brand new universe like Horizon Zero Dawn begs for this treatment. An opportunity to give some background to the intriguing new universe and Aloy’s story. Was that ever part of the plan?

I think that would be a bit arrogant of us to plan from the beginning. It’s actually really awesome to be asked questions like this because it means people are buying into this universe. I mean, our writers would be super stoked if we decided to create something like a comic book or something like that. Who knows what the future holds but this definitely wasn’t built with the intention of making a tie-in. I’ve been down the road of making a movie with Bioshock. You know, we’ve got this director, then this director and then this guy pulls out. But at the moment, we’re just super excited video game developers. If people really do buy into the story, and we think that they will, that will make us really happy.

Sony UK’s Jon Edwards said that Aloy would become a future Sony icon alongside the likes of Sackboy and Nathan Drake. It seems Sony has a lot of confidence in this IP. Have you guys already starting thinking about the future?

We definitely did a lot of world building. We also spent a lot of time, trying to build Aloy, not just as a character that goes through a series of events in the game, but as a fully rounded character. We had to build dialogue that actually made sense for Aloy’s character and write with the confidence that, yes, that is how Aloy would act or behave.

It’s awesome. The confidence Sony has shown by allowing us to get the reviews out a week before the game comes out. Even just the confidence in Guerrilla to say “yes, you can make this incredibly risky, long and dangerous project”. There’s definitely stories in people’s heads, and definitely lots of stories that we could tell. At the moment, there’s a lot of people just taking time off. Now that we’ve hit gold, a lot of people are playing through the game naturally. Because a lot of the time when you’re working on it, you play in God Mode. Which means you don’t fully engage with the gameplay in the right way. Because you don’t need to lay traps, you don’t need to be stealthy, because you’re not going to die. For the longest time, I didn’t even play the game without headphones on so for us to see all the final content with voice-overs and cinematics in there is pretty special. When I see a game dev who’s been working on this game for years and years still smile and get excited when they get to play, it makes me really happy.

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