horizon Developer Q&A: Horizon Zero Dawn

We spoke to Mathijs de Jonge, game director responsible for the vision and quality of 'Horizon Zero Dawn'.

Mathijs de Jonge joined Lost Boys back in 1997, long before its game division spun off and became known as Guerrilla. Mathijs first assumed the role of Game Director for the critically acclaimed handheld KILLZONE spinoff KILLZONE: LIBERATION, and followed up with two award-winning KILLZONE sequels for PlayStation 3: KILLZONE 2 and KILLZONE 3.

How refreshing is it to work on an open world game like Horizon, in comparison to your previous FPS series, Killzone?

It was great! Not only was the open world a fresh challenge for our art and design teams, but it also felt new and exciting to work on the core components – the combat with animalistic machines, the story that takes a lot of hours to complete, the tribes you meet during your journey, the mysteries you uncover… Throughout production there was a tangible sense of enthusiasm from the people on the team. Everyone was passionate about working on this game.

The game looks incredible. How long is the development process of a game of this size?

We started working on Horizon Zero Dawn about 6 years ago. For the first 3 years, we had a small team of about 20 people that did a lot of paper designing, prototyping and blocking out the world – basically they laid all the groundwork and created a foundation to build on. During the second half of the development cycle, we bumped up the team size to around 250 developers to be able to create all the required assets, such as characters, machines and quests.

Where do you even start with creating such a detailed story of a post, post-apocalyptic world?

When we started, we knew we wanted to have a couple of things in there, like the tribes not knowing what happened in the distant past and machines of unknown origin roaming the lands. When we started looking at Aloy, we felt that she too needed personal mysteries, which would collide with this world’s biggest secrets. We didn’t have a lot of experience with writing stories for a game of this magnitude and complexity, so we were very happy when our team was joined by John Gonzalez, who had previously written stories for games like Fallout New Vegas. And because the game basically has two stories, he formed a writing team to flesh out all details and to ensure that the mysteries and revelations would feel engaging, surprising and emotional.

As enjoyable as the development process is, how good is it to see it finally in consumers hands?

It’s somewhat strange to work on something very intensively for six years, and then stop and hand it over. But seeing so much praise and love pouring in for our game is incredibly rewarding, and it makes me even more proud of what we have created.

What’s next for Guerrilla games. A Killzone or Horizon sequel possibly? Maybe both?

Right now we’re completely focused on the launch of Horizon Zero Dawn. It’s fair to say we’ve done a great deal of world-building for this project; we want players to believe in Aloy as a character and in this post-post-apocalyptic setting we’ve crafted. It’s a premise that gives us endless inspiration for storytelling, one we hope we can continue to explore.

How excited are you to see what Kojima Productions are going to do with the Decima engine for Death Stranding?

I’m very excited! As a lifelong fan of his work, this collaboration is extra special. I think many people in our studio are looking forward to seeing how the engine and tools, as well as the collaboration, evolve.

How do you find working exclusively on PS4? Does is make development easier focusing on one platform?

Being a Sony First Party Studio and solely focussing on one platform definitely allows us to maximize all our efforts and ensure our games are the best we can deliver.

Were there new technologies you could take advantage of for development on PS4 Pro?

PS4 Pro has a lot of extra processing power, so for 4K TV owners we can display the game on a very high resolution. On a 1080p TV, we can use the extra power to further smooth the experience, add supersampling and create a sharper image.

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