Horizon: Zero Dawn was one of the games that drew huge applause in a preview at Sony’s press briefing at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) this week. It’s a beautifully animated PlayStation 4 video game with a strong female hero named Aloy, who hunts mechanical creatures in a post-apocalyptic world.
The positive reception to the brand new intellectual property came as a relief to Hermen Hulst, the chief executive of Amsterdam-based Guerrilla Games. After 4.5 years of development in total secrecy, the E3 presentation was the first time that Horizon saw the light of day.
In Horizon, the human race all but annihilated itself in an apocalypse. The machines have taken over. A thousand years after that event, Aloy has grown up as a huntress, attacking the huge, dinosaur-like mechanical creatures (GamesBeat senior editor Dale North calls them “dinobots from hell”).
I caught up with Hulst in an interview at Sony’s E3 booth. Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: This is a very creative title, and very beautiful. Could you talk about how it got started and how you guys found time in between Killzones to get to it?
Hermen Hulst: We started work on this project after we finished Killzone 3. It actually started earlier than Killzone Shadow Fall. It’s the original creative team that completed Killzone 3. We wanted to do a new game, a very beautiful game. We’ve always worked in science fiction, but the Killzone series was a very dark kind of science fiction. We wanted to concentrate on beauty.
The backdrop, the foundation of this game is a beautiful, lush, rich natural world. It’s about 1000 years on from a cataclysm that happened. Nature has reclaimed the land, and here’s a twist for you. Humans are no longer the dominant species. It’s the machines you see depicted there that roam the land. They’re in charge.
Humans are still around, working the land, but they’re now in a state where they’ve never lived in a world without the machines. Different tribes deal with the machines in different ways. Some are hunters. A member of this tribe is Aloy, our lead character. She’s a robot hunter. You play as her.
GamesBeat: It almost seems like we’ve gone through a cycle in human history there. We built up the machines, had an apocalypse, and then went back to the prehistoric age, only with machines instead of woolly mammoths, I guess.
Hulst: We call them machines. What I can tell you about the story right now is that Aloy doesn’t quite understand what’s happening in this world. This game is all about the great mysteries of this world. Where did the machines come from? How does Aloy relate to the machines? Through her we uncover all these great mysteries. She starts out not knowing exactly what the state of the world is, and you learn more with her.
GamesBeat: It’s interesting to see a strong female lead here. There are more at the show this year than there have ever been. How did your thinking evolve on that point?
Hulst: When you’re making a game of this magnitude, almost all creative decisions change a lot. You try different things and see what happens. Aloy has been in the concept from the very first day, though. This is what we wanted to make. It was always her. We wanted a lead character who’s curious, who can take in the awe and magic of this world. We wanted someone agile and intelligent. We wanted her to be smart before, during, and after combat. She fit that bill perfectly.
GamesBeat: It was interesting how you included the aspects of nature, the tall vegetation she was sneaking through, as part of how you approach these big things.
Hulst: We have an entire corner of the office at Guerrilla that just works on green things, these beautiful plants and vegetation. We’ve invented a lot of new plant species.
GamesBeat: When she disables the machines, I didn’t quite understand what she was doing. Is she somehow giving them some kind of electromagnetic pulse when she hits them?
Hulst: That’s her close combat weapon. She has that ability. But she doesn’t have the raw power of the machines. She’ll sometimes use the weapons you saw in the trailer, the weapons of the machines, against them. But she can also use electricity to stun them. She can use her rope gun tie them down. She has a rich range of weapons at her disposal.
GamesBeat: A lot of people see machines running the world and imagine things like the Matrix or Terminator movies. Is there a very different vision here for what your machines are like?
Hulst: You’re asking about one of those great mysteries. It would be very rude of me to spoil that. It’ll be one of your main goals to find out exactly how this all came about and how this ecosystem works.