(Re)building the awe-inspiring machines of Horizon Forbidden West

PS4 & PS5

The world of Horizon is inhabited by highly advanced machines — technologically advanced robots that have become Earth’s dominant species. They come in all shapes and sizes, based on various life forms that existed throughout history, such as dinosaurs, prehistoric mammals, and birds. Awe-inspiring yet ferocious, they pose a serious threat throughout Aloy’s mission.


Spoiler Alert: Please note this article contains some spoilers for Horizon Zero Dawn and its storyline.


Some of the machines encountered during the events of Horizon Zero Dawn will also be present in the upcoming sequel, Horizon Forbidden West. The Watcher, for example: resembling a small theropod, these machines often patrol larger herds and scan for potential threats. Or the Snapmaw: lethal, crocodile-like beasts which were originally created to purify water and went feral as a consequence of the Derangement.

The Forbidden West is also filled with new dangers… in the Horizon Forbidden West gameplay trailer, Aloy meets a few of them, such as the fast and agile Clawstrider and the deadly mammoth-like Tremortusk. Of course there will be many more machines to fight, mount, or run from, so Aloy – and you – should be prepared for any circumstance in these forsaken lands.

Awe-inspiring metal beasts

Principal Machine Designer Blake Politeski has been with Guerrilla since the first machines were concepted at the start of Horizon Zero Dawn. Together with Asset Art Lead Maxim Fleury, their teams (among others) have been working on some great additions for the upcoming sequel.

“We’re getting to explore a new area within the world of Horizon,” begins Blake. “It was interesting to figure out what type of machines would live in different ecological zones, and how they would interact with each other, their environment, and of course humans. Machines are the so-called caretakers of this world, so how they perform their roles and what the player can do to use these behaviors to their advantage was always interesting to consider.

“During Horizon Zero Dawn’s development, we had a ton of ideas — of course not everything could make it into the first game, but now with Horizon Forbidden West we’ve been able to match some exciting ideas that previously weren’t feasible with new and interesting concepts!”

Maxim elaborates: “Blake’s team provides us with a design document that describes the general look of the machine, what type of (interactive) parts it has, and what sort of attacks it can do. There’s some top-level drawings to explain the document further, but then the real visual design moves to the Robot and Weapon Asset team.

“Concept Artists will then make a 3D concept which goes through several reviews with art direction, game design, animation, and technical art teams, until we’re all happy. We’ll create, rig, and animate a model to see if everything would work as needed, after which the modelers on the Robot and Weapon Asset Art team will work on it, adding in all the details. After a few more iterations with various teams, the model is fully animated, painted, textured, and reviewed again before being added to the game and replacing the temporary model. The process for developing each machine takes a long time!”

Expanding the machine catalog

With over 25 different machines in Horizon Zero Dawn, finishing them all was not an easy feat. “In the first game we had to create the foundation,” says Blake, “so we started small by defining different roles. The Watcher is like a security camera, the Ravager is an enforcer, and so forth. Once those base roles were decided, we could really build on that by mixing in robot designs, unique abilities and features, and of course cool weapons and attacks.

“We’re expanding this catalog further with Horizon Forbidden West. For example, we knew we wanted a slightly bigger flying machine than the Glinthawk, which resulted in the Sunwing – but it needed a place and a role in the world. We studied various flying reptiles and primitive birds for inspiration, and came up with the concept of their wings collecting solar energy during sunny weather. This in turn created an interesting gameplay dynamic: Sunwings will be vulnerable when they are harvesting solar power, but are also more alert to potential predators when they are idle.

“Unique behaviors like these become the basis and are then expanded on when we define the machines’ roles in the world. We always want to make sure the machines are connected, and that they serve a greater purpose; so the whole machine (eco-)system is in harmony – just like in the real world.”

Creating an authentic world was always a main focus for Guerrilla, and that includes creating authentic machines that roam around the world of Horizon. “The design language that was created with Horizon Zero Dawn is still hugely important to us,” explains Maxim. “At the same time, we try to make the new machines different and unique so that we are expanding the world for our players. The machines in Horizon Forbidden West have a lot more functionality this time around, which is a challenge from a design perspective, but hopefully gives the player a unique experience during each encounter.”

New and dangerous foes

In a previous blog, we discussed some of Aloy’s abilities and combat moves that she learns in the Forbidden West. Some of which will come in very handy against stronger, faster, and deadlier machines.

“Aloy has many different types of weapons and ammunition available, and she’s going to need them all to beat the different machines!” says Maxim. “Without spoiling anything, every machine has multiple ways to be defeated. We tried to make it clear for players through the machine design, and added textures to show the weak points or interactive components. You’ll need to study each machine closely to find different ways to approach it.”

Blake adds: “A lot of machines have various weapons and behaviors that can be used to create an advantage. This is not just in shooting off components and using them, but some machines might have some more passive states during which the player can sneak towards them. For example, if a machine is digging for resources in the ground, it’ll create a lot of dust – Aloy can use this as a visual cover to get closer.

“The machines in Horizon Forbidden West are more mobile in almost every way you can imagine – jumping, swimming, clinging to surfaces… Because of this, Aloy will need to keep up with them, so there’s new movement mechanics to help her out. We’re also focusing more on Aloy’s ability to survey and plan an encounter before engaging, as well as her ability to escape if things don’t go as planned.”

Actions like climbing or using a Smoke Bomb to escape can give Aloy an edge during a machine battle, but it’s not just the player mechanics that have been improved. Machines in the Forbidden West are more dangerous, but the player can understand their behavior and predict their movements through audio cues. For example, a machine will have specific sounds for idling, alerting others, and initiating attacks. For the PlayStation 5 version of the game, this will come through even more precisely with 3D Audio, providing great situational awareness within a vast world when combined with compatible devices like stereo headphones (analog or USB).

Meet the Tremortusk

During the Horizon Forbidden West gameplay trailer, Aloy goes head to head with one of the biggest foes we’ve seen so far: a Tremortusk. While it is truly a spectacular sight to behold, it is also incredibly difficult to defeat.

“The Tremortusk is based on a mammoth with a nod to the historic and cinematic examples of the great war elephants. It has many different attacks and a body covered in various guns. Apart from using its tusks to attack up close, it also has different elemental weapons it can use. The one we see in the trailer is controlled by a rebel faction of the Tenakth, but you can also find them wandering the wilds,” Maxim explains.

“It reminds me of a mixture of war elephants and a huge siege tower that was used to attack fortresses in medieval times: hard to destroy, slow moving, and a lot of fire power,” recollects Blake. “This generated the idea for the Tremortusk, which is a well armored but slow machine, almost an unstoppable force. In Horizon Forbidden West, human enemy factions can control machines, so it seemed like a natural fit to combine the two and make our own spin on ‘war elephants’, with a platform on top that humans can fire at Aloy from.

“To circle back to the machine (eco-)system, it was created to keep balance on Earth and ensure that humans cannot wipe out life again. Tremortusks were created as combat machines — protecting other machine species so they can do what they were designed to do without human interference.”

Both Blake and Maxim agree that the Tremortusk is one of the most formidable enemies in the game, requiring a lot of preparation to defeat: “We recommend using traps as well as the Pullcaster. Though slow, they can reach a speed that will easily trample Aloy, so get ready to dodge. Finally, be wary of its flamethrower trunk…”

Turn the tide with an override!

While mostly every machine is itching for a fight, they also hugely contribute to the world of Horizon, or offer Aloy help throughout her journey. Think of the Tallnecks, which aren’t hostile and will in fact give Aloy some clarity and direction when overridden!

“Aloy can, similar to Horizon Zero Dawn, override machines and have them fight with her,” says Maxim. “This time around we’ve also added more mounts to explore and ride – you can see her on the Clawstrider during the gameplay trailer.”

Blake adds: “Some machines may also inadvertently help Aloy out. If a machine is searching for certain resources that Aloy happens to be after, they can lead her to stashes if she’s observant. Also, through overriding, Aloy can now exert some control over machine behavior, shifting them into aggressive or defensive states.”

One of the things everyone at Guerrilla is looking forward to most is seeing which new machines players will like. Of course, we have our own machine ranks in the studio; for Maxim, the Thunderjaw is his favorite.

“It was the first machine from Horizon Zero Dawn I saw a concept for, so it’s always been close to my heart,” he smiles. “I love the design and character of it. In contrast, in Horizon Forbidden West, it’s the Burrowers: nifty little machines which can overwhelm you if you’re not careful.”

And Blake’s favorite? “The Stormbird. It’s one of the first ones we designed, and we were trying to figure out what these machines were supposed to be. When I pitched it to a colleague, it sounded like an eagle combined with a fighter jet; but then it would also be elemental with surges of electricity high from the sky. It would dive straight to the player like a bolt of lightning and explode as it hit the ground! Our Game Director overheard this conversation, turned around and said: “that sounds awesome!” So that’s how we figured out the Stormbird.

“And for me, my favorite is definitely the Shellsnapper. It’s a machine that had been brewing in my mind since the first game, and I’m excited to see it in the Forbidden West. It’s large and has several abilities that will excite players – combining inspiration from movies and real life, as well as some strange things we came up with ourselves. I’m just as excited to see people’s reactions to this machine as they are to play it.”

What’s your favorite machine from Horizon Zero Dawn, or the one you look forward to discovering most in Horizon Forbidden West? Let us know in the comments below this post.For more information on Horizon Forbidden West, please visit here. We’ll be back soon with another developer blog!

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