How collaboration brought Horizon Zero Dawn's writing to life

“It's just one of these examples of how wrong I can be and, really, the importance of collaboration across the disciplines," John Gonzalez recalls one difficult decision from development.
"There are just some moments in the game where the animators were able to have her face, like the emotion on her face, the emotion on some of the characters, be realized in a way that find to be—I was really stunned."

- Narrative director John Gonzalez tells Noclip how animators used micro-expressions to enhance both the narrative and the game. 

Noclip has shared an extended cut of one interview from its earlier Horizon Zero Dawn documentary to shed some additional light on some of the challenges faced when writing for a massive, open-world game.

The interview in question features Guerrilla Games’ narrative director John Gonzalez and touches both on his past work with Fallout: New Vegas and, more recently, Horizon Zero Dawn

The interview itself features some quality insight from Gonzalez on the often complicated process of creating narratives for open-world games and offers a peek at some of the interesting solutions Guerrilla Games came up with when doing so.

For example, Gonzalez says that he had fought for the game’s main character Aloy to find her ‘Focus’ as an adult rather than stumble across the augmented reality device as a child. While that may have worked from a narrative standpoint, Gonzalez says the idea got a significant level of complaints from other developers who were unhappy that a major mechanic would be locked behind hours of play.

“There was a lot of pushback from design, saying ‘look, that’s basically saying that you want to not have our user interface until like hour three or something like that, are you insane?’ And I really resisted it,” recalls Gonzales. “It's just one of these examples of how wrong I can be and, really, the importance of collaboration across the disciplines."

"They really pushed really hard to say like ‘this needs to be something she’s getting at the beginning of the game," he says. "It was just the right choice.” 

As an added bonus, Gonzalez says that decision to have Aloy stumble across the device as a child allowed an opportunity to show her early emotional response to one of the ancient recordings unlocked by the Focus, in a way meeting the team’s goal of weaving Aloy’s own story with the story of the long gone ‘modern’ world.

Noclip’s full interview with Gonzalez is well worth a watch if you’ve got 45 minutes to spare and aren’t afraid of the odd Horizon Zero Dawn spoiler. That video, and many, many more from the game documentary crew, can be found over on YouTube

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