How ‘Horizon Zero Dawn’s’ Concept Art Fuels Its Enchanting World

Doug Trein

Horizon Zero Dawn, the next title from Killzone developer Guerrilla Games, drops early next week. The game follows the adventures of Nora Tribe outcast Aloy as she discovers her mysterious origins and seeks answers in a world overrun by strange, mechanical creatures. Impressions of the game have been positive, and many have noted how much Dawn’s visual style adds to its world.

To gain some insight into this element of Horizon Zero Dawn, our German Fandom team interviewed concept artist Roland Ijzermans, a 15-year veteran of Guerilla Games.

This interview was originally conducted by German Fandom Staff Claudia. You can find the original interview on the German Horizon Zero Dawn Community Blogs.

Fandom: When did your work on Horizon Zero Dawn begin?

Ijzermans: I’ve been at Guerilla Games for 15 years and was involved in Horizon Zero Dawn from the very start. The game saw its true beginnings about 7 years ago. Our first task was to define the look and feel of the world. Then things moved to fleshing out the different tribes found in the game. We had to ask ourselves: How do they deal with the machines? What kind of relationships do they have, who deals with whom? And of course, these decisions had an impact on the style of the environment, clothing, architecture, etc.

Fandom: Do you remember the first concept for the game?

Ijzermans: Yes, the idea came from our art director. He had cut different film scenes for his pitch and added a female voice-over. The completed video gave everyone an immediate emotional reaction. The concept was rooted in a world long after humanity became extinct, as we know it today. It was our world if nature regained control once again. The important elements we took from this pitch were the tribes, nature and the character Aloy.

Fandom: Were there any real-world locations that inspired you for Horizon’s world?

Ijzermans: I can’t reveal too much about this yet because an important part of the game is to discover more about the world and Aloy’s origins. But I can tell you that we flew in many helicopters to take pictures, which the team had a great time doing.

Fandom: Horizon Zero Dawn is Guerilla Games’ first open world game. How did you manage to find a balance between the main quests and the numerous optional quests?

Ijzermans: This was quite a challenge because the player has to remain invested, even when playing a sidequest. This is a question mainly for the story authors or quest designers. But in my mind, all smaller quests are linked to the major storyline. Side quests are best used to learn more about the world and culture in which Aloy exists within. Side quests will answer a lot of smaller questions, while the really big questions are answered in the main quests.

Fandom: Is there such thing as too much freedom in an Open World?

Ijzermans: I believe this mainly depends on the player’s personality. I think a lot of freedom is generally a good thing, but the game can fail if it doesn’t convey the importance of these optional tasks. If there are a million things to do, and you miss a good portion of them, the world can become too confusing. For Horizon, the size of the world depends on the quests you complete. And of course, as an artist, we tried our best to create a world gorgeous enough to keep players curious to explore. Even if the player does not stray too far off the beaten path, they can still wonder what might be behind the next mountain.

Fandom: Many machines bear strong similarities in looks and movement to real world animals. How important was this combination of nature and technology in the development?

Ijzermans: That was a very important aspect. We wanted the machines to coexist within the ecosystem of the world. In today’s society, we see machines and nature as polar opposites. We knew we wanted to reverse this idea, and we feel did a great job doing that. It was important to us to make a strong impression that the tribes regard the machines as a natural part of their world and daily life.

Fandom: Players can choose different dialogue options as Aloy throughout quests. To what extent do these decisions influence the play?

Ijzermans: Horizon Zero Dawn is mainly about uncovering secrets and finding answers to them. Player decisions do not affect this process, and the storyline remains the same regardless of the choice. But these choices bring an important element to Aloy’s character. These decisions allow players to insert themselves into her personality and affect the way she interacts with other tribe members.

Fandom: Aloy comes from a matriarchal society that worships a goddess. Was this, and the general the choice of a female protagonist, a political decision or simply a gut decision?

Ijzermans: It was definitely a gut decision. It was clear on the first pitch that we wanted to have a female heroine. We felt that we wanted to explore this world through the eyes of a character like Aloy. Her identity and character were a big part of the game’s design from the very beginning. Aloy is compared with other female game figures, and many have been sexualized. But our design was not a response to this trend. We simply wondered what clothes would be practical for them and what materials her tribe would have at their disposal.

Horizon Zero Dawn releases on Tuesday, February 28th, 2017. Be sure to check out our expansive Horizon Zero Dawn wiki for more information.

Doug Trein
Doug Trein is a staff contributor at Fandom and focuses primarily on video games and animated television shows. His game genre favorites include strategy and turn-based role-playing games, first-person shooters, 2D fighting games, and action/adventure titles.
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