From the highest mountains to the vaults of her ancestors, we review and explore the world of Aloy from conception to realisation. Gather the kindle, prepare the stones and take your place, around the bonfire as we review The Art of Horizon Zero Dawn.
In pursuit of the wider narrative, the necessity by design and of nature to embrace and explore the wider themes present, often the minutiae and nuance of the detail is overshadowed by the same structure. The themes and mysticism of the Old Ones, slowly revealed through the course of the narrative is explored and realised in more detail as the development and design process of regressing the urban environment transforms the familiar metropolis to a decayed, ruined landscape. As observed with Dead Space there is a certain predication to pursue the central narrative in these titles with a large over arching plot, resulting in missed opportunities to explore and delve into the lore of the world, crafted from nominally a simple premise of a world regressed by humanities over confidence in their dominion of the planet. These supportive volumes allow an opportunity to explore the development process, one of the points raised how the game designers realised a modern city block then progressively naturalised the environment around the familiar until it presented the ruins as shown in the final release. Small steps but intricate details.
The Art of Horizon Zero Dawn presents a mixture of both mono chrome sketches and full colour shaded images to show the contrasting steps of the design process. Whilst, visually the aesthetic of the coloured images are pleasing I do find a greater enjoyment in the monochrome work. Indicative and fitting with the games central narrative of a regressive development style of designing the worlds and buildings before adding the coloured layers and features as depicted. One of the features picked out and commented on during the course of the art book is the detail to which the designers ensured each region encountered and explored had a distinctive design aesthetic associated. From the tribal designs in the opening village to the feudal buildings encountered later in Aloys journey. In contrast to the ‘contemporary world’ and their peers, the design and appearance of the Old Ones is at once both recognisable and alien with a future on the precipice of our understanding but at the same time a bygone era for the game’s protagonist. The concrete structures stand mournfully, enveloped by nature whilst beneath the metal and electrical tombs of the ancestors sheltering from the technology above.
The design of the central protagonist Aloy is charted in-depth from the first conceptual sketches to her final realised appearance. In fitting with the narrative both her weapons and appearance are reflective of her upbringing and location when she is first revealed and through design was always an intentional step. Her clothes and features fitting with that of a huntress and warrior, utilising the bow as a weapon and prominent with its peers as a choice. There were a number of choices and decision to make, the book covering the different approaches the design team took. The more traditional almost elven looking hero as shown with a more slimmer, toned but wild appearance to the more playful sketches before the final design of Aloy was decided upon and fleshed out into her final form. What I personally enjoy about these art books and certainly this one in particular was the approach in designing the characters in art form, which is to say certainly when reviewing other titles the character development can present itself as series of development pieces from a data base. Slight amendments to hair colour and style for instance before a final design is chosen and accepted.
Here some of the images used and shown are reminiscent of the character design work from Baldur’s Gate 2, which in itself based on the Forgotten Realms world of the Dungeons and Dragons template. Looking at some of the ink based designs with the playful sketches of Aloy is reminiscent of those character designs, the RPG portrait sketch as featured in those titles. I enjoyed the nobility and design of Aloy both during the game play experience and here through looking through the art book but certainly there seem’s to be the suggestion on review that when looking to create this character the team took some inspiration from their peers and role-playing origins. Regardless, a central figure you follow for an in-depth period requires a fully realised form, in this sense the team did a great job in designing a hero that was accomplished and able in her own right.
Where, tonely, the game in my own opinion didn’t quite capture the right balance was the utilisation of the mechanical creatures encountered during the course of the game. Unintentionally perhaps or not, a great proportion of the art books content is fixed on the world and supporting characters with the final third focusing on the design of the creatures that inhabit lost world. Quite intentionally they represent and are designed around familiar creatures to a modern audience, from the tall necked dinosaur type look out platform to the swift horse like creature that provides a swift form of transport around the games map. But as equal attention went into their design and development, with robotic team consulted as to the authenticity and application of these creatures.
Here, as with other elements of the game’s design, but especially given the threat these pose there is often a need to move far from these creatures and as a result the smaller, finer details are often missed which I find a lost opportunity. Certainly mechanics were built into Horizon Zero Dawn that should you so wish, necessitated a need to slow down and study and analyse these creatures. Whether the user would instead take that momentary pause to study the design work of the predatory raptor like creature is another question. Certainly, and why I so enjoy these books supporting open world games you can reflect on the design and minutia of the world captured for prosperity going forward. And as ever reflect on the sketches and design work created purely to serve as a directional piece for the digital artists to base their final product off. The image of the captured long neck served no functional purpose beyond providing a queue at best or simply an indication of the direction for the games narrative.
The design of the tribes and characters encountered on Aloy’s travels are presented in an in-depth study, each unique to their kingdom and area. Whilst the level of attention to detail is impressive there exists perhaps a level of repeat familiarity with the finalised form. From the feudal Asian towns, the native tribes to the religious devout. None of these encounters and design are of any less merit to the worlds and creatures encountered but quite simply and I appreciate this is a largely subjective view-point I found personally a great deal more interest in the robotic creatures and lore behind these and personally would have enjoyed a creature look at the reasoning behind their choice and inclusion. But, given the level of inclusion of these creatures to the appearance and utilisation of the different tribes and individuals the art book at least is representative of the content of the game.
As mentioned previously, each tribe and location was designed specifically to have a unique art work and appearance. The furniture, building appearance, clothes and equipment each a unique characteristic that in our understanding provides a way to understand the distinctions between the tribes. Featured in the novel are the different colour schemes and cloth designs for example that make up one particular tribe over another, tiny detail and easily overlooked or taken for granted but also insightful for those willing to go in-depth into the world of Aloy. That for example the tribal huntsmen chose a specific colour set in keeping with their immediate environment whilst the more monarchist society discovered later has a regal almost Egyptian colour palette is fascinating.
Horizon Zero Dawn and its accompanying art book as with Dead Space and Alien Isolation provide a supportive look behind the design of these titles. Where the two previously mentioned games were set in more confined structures to illicit set emotions and triggers the more expansive open world environment by necessity required a greater level of detail to bring to life a world both familiar and unknown. Recognisable buildings to the user but alien to Aloy in contrast to the villages and cities encountered on her travels. In pursuit of a final resolution to the games main narrative there was a great level of detail I missed at first that I have come back to and appreciate now upon review. From Aloy herself and her progression from Elven heroin to human champion to the mechanical creatures ever-present on your travels.
Certainly the book itself, whilst providing greater insight into the design, doesn’t necessarily expand the narrative or provide clarification on any missed points or origins. My residual feeling coming away from the game were questions mainly as to the origins of the creatures, humanities fate and the fusion of the ancient technological world and the more tribal society presented. But having this title as a supportive addition does fill in a few of the pieces of the greater puzzle. In that regard a worthwhile compendium.