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Horizon Zero Dawn: A Game Design Post-Mortem

  1. Horizon: Zero Dawn Game Design Post-Mortem
  2. Feedback was Brutal…
  3. GAME DESIGN = NOT EASY • Concepts = Very little to go on • Prototypes = Little polish • Production = Not everything there yet …Doubts… …second guessing… …negative feedback…
  4. Intro <Horizon stats / success images?>
  5. Concept Pre- Production Production Polish What are we going to talk about? • INTENTIONS • PROBLEMS • REFLECTIONs
  6. Hello! • Eric Boltjes • Lead Game Designer • 15 years at Guerrilla Games
  7. Early Concept Pitch
  9. AWE-INSPIRING Machines
  10. EXOTIC Tribes
  11. I’m dreaming of an open world…
  12. Concept Pre- Production Production Polish • Started 2011, would take~2.5 years • Small MULTI-DISCIPLINARY team • Make the concept PLAYABLE CONCEPT phase
  13. Designers Artists Coders Animators Concept Pre-Production Production Polish Early Team Structure ~(8 to 16)
  14. High Level Questions to answer in Concepting Concept Pre-Production Production Polish …Combat against robots? ? …Open world? ? …Player abilities? ? …Story? ? …World Interactions? ?
  15. Go wide, find out what works… Explore, Go wide Ship Abandon Cut Pitch Keep Concept Pre-Production Production Polish
  16. Concept Pre-Production Production Polish open world?
  17. Player Abilities? Concept Pre-Production Production Polish
  18. Takeaways • Getting things playable QUICKLY = Great • …. But costly Concept Pre-Production Production Polish
  19. Not a cohesive experience Open World Majestic Nature Combat Concept Pre-Production Production Polish
  20. Concept Pre-Production Production Polish
  21. Start earlier on proof of concept? Islands = Find WHAT your game is Full loop = Find what your game is not
  22. Steadily finding answers… Concept Pre-Production Production Polish …Combat against robots? Destructible parts, weak spots, Large encounter spaces …Open world? Appealing, inviting, natural, SIZE?, DENSITY? …Player abilities? Primitive weaponry, not guns, VARIETY? SPECIAL TYPES? …Story? ? …World Interactions? Outcast, Merchants, IMPACT ON WORLD?
  23. PRE-PRODUCTION PHASE Concept Pre- Production Production Polish • FOCUS on WORLD SYSTEMS • Focus on Building the world • Focus on DEFINING THE STORY/Narrative
  24. Design Team Structure Core Design Player Systems Combat User Interface World Design Encounters Activities Living World Quest Design Main Quests Side Quests Tutorials Concept Pre-Production Production Polish
  25. Narrative Team formed Concept Pre-Production Production Polish
  26. Robot Riding Concept Pre-Production Production Polish Context 1
  27. Concept Pre-Production Production Polish Defines Abilities Context 2
  28. Concept Pre-Production Production Polish Defines behavior, look and feel Context 3
  29. Unique spin on World ElementsConcept Pre-Production Production Polish Context 4
  30. Takeaways • CONTEXT helps everything you do • But don’t do it too early? Concept Pre-Production Production Polish
  31. Steadily finding answers… …Combat against robots? Destructible parts, weak spots, Large encounter spaces …Open world? Mapped out size, visuals coming together …Player abilities? Primitive weaponry, not guns …Story? World context established, Main character born …World Interactions? Talk to NPCs, Merchants Concept Pre-Production Production Polish
  32. Production Phase Concept Pre- Production Production Polish • Finalize CORE MECHANICS • MAKE entire GAME PLAYABLE Concept Pre-Production Production Polish
  33. Start at the beginning Concept Pre-Production Production Polish Problem 1
  34. Tutorialize core mechanics Concept Pre-Production Production Polish
  35. Gameplay WEIGHT shifts over time Concept Pre-Production Production Polish
  36. Start at the beginning? Concept Pre-Production Production Polish
  37. Problem 2
  38. Difficulty Spikes Concept Pre-Production Production Polish
  39. Make solutions mandatory? Concept Pre-Production Production Polish
  40. Introducing the Focus tool Concept Pre-Production Production Polish
  41. Make it core gameplay Concept Pre-Production Production Polish
  42. MORE humanS than we thought Concept Pre-Production Production Polish Problem 3
  43. Robots cannot speak Concept Pre-Production Production Polish
  44. Fewer tactical options than Robots Concept Pre-Production Production Polish
  45. 4 Focus on Encounter Design Concept Pre-Production Production Polish
  46. Make fighting single enemy as fun Concept Pre-Production Production Polish
  47. End of PRODUCTION …Combat against robots? DONE …Open world? DONE …Player abilities? DONE …Story? DONE …World Interactions? DONE Concept Pre-Production Production Polish Humanoid combat? Player pacing vs. narrative pacing? Accessible game vs. complex combat?
  48. POLISH PHASE Concept Pre- Production Production Polish • Playtest -> feedback -> improve • META issues started showing Concept Pre-Production Production Polish
  49. 1 Involve all content = Open world? Concept Pre-Production Production Polish
  50. More resources, more problems!Concept Pre-Production Production Polish
  51. World- VS Player LANGUAGEConcept Pre-Production Production Polish
  52. 6 Added Trader Jobs Concept Pre-Production Production Polish
  53. Problem not solved Concept Pre-Production Production Polish
  54. SHIP IT Concept Pre- Production Production Polish • Horizon launched February 2017 • 7 million+ SALES so far • Most successful game Guerrilla has built
  55. REVIEW OFTEN… BE HONEST and Flexible… ADAPT IF Necessary…
  56. Thank you! Questions ?

Notas do Editor

  1. I’ve been asked to remind you to please turn off CELL PHONES and don’t forget to LEAVE FEEDBACK through the FORM you get after the session. … Thanks so much for taking the time to come to my talk… I feel truly HONORED to be here, representing Guerrilla and HORIZON Let’s get started!
  2. TWO years ago, less than ONE YEAR before we were going to ship HRZ zero dawn… We were FINALLY doing our first BIG PLAYTEST! 20 Players, 5 days, playing through the ENTIRE game, back to front, for the FIRST TIME. We had setup telemetry and analytics, surveys for the testers to fill out and we brought our latest and greatest build… …it was going to be AMAZING.
  3. …But the feedback we got back, almost instantly, was BRUTAL. The game was UNBALANCED, TOO DIFFICULT, bugs EVERYWHERE, core mechanics were NOT fun… There’s really nothing like playtesters writing, in ALL CAPS, that your game is “beyond disappointing”…….. After FIVE years (!) of development and less than 12 months to go, I felt like we were in trouble. I truly felt PANIC.
  4. I think, we as GAME DESIGNERS have quite a TOUGH JOB  At the start of a project, YOU have to drive gameplay concepts and ideas with VERY little to go on YOU have to CONVINCE your BOSSES and TEAM MEMBERS that your concepts are any good YOU have to work hard to get parts of your designs in-game through PROTOTYPES And as soon as you build a PROTOTYPE, the FEEDBACK starts… Some positive, but usually mostly negative because its only 10% of what its going to be And this all creates DOUBTS… Did you make the right choice? Did you set the right goals? Second guessing yourself constantly. And this proceeds for the ENTIRE development of the game, it doesn’t even stop when you SHIP… If you dare to read FORUMS 
  5. TODAY… Big success… Critical acclaim, great sales… But most importantly, MILLIONS of players who loved the game we built. So the hard work IS worth it! Sometimes YOU just forget that when you’re knee deep in development. Now I know, it’s a Game Designers JOB to stay upright, take in the feedback, analyze it and try to TACKLE all those PROBLEMS head on…
  6. And that’s what I want to talk about today… I want to share OUR VERSION of staying upright. I want to take you through the journey that the GAME DESIGN DEPARTMENTS at GG went through, making HORIZON I want to take you through EACH PHASE of development and talk about… The INTENTIONS we had, the GOALS we set, what we tried to ACHIEVE The PROBLEMS we faced… Not ALL… But the most interesting ones… The REFLECTIONS we had THEN and what we tried to FIX… But also AFTER SHIP, looking back now My hope is that this can INSPIRE you to PRESS ON when things get bad and that maybe you can LEARN from our mistakes.
  7. Hi, my name is Eric, and I am one of the LEAD DESIGNERS at Guerrilla Games. I’ve been at the company for almost 15 years and have worked on almost every game Guerrilla has shipped. I started out as a single player level designers on KZ1, moved into game design on KZ2, went from SP to MP/Online and eventually became LEAD on KZ3 and KZSF. I’ve been trying to stay UPRIGHT for quite a few projects and have seen my share of PROBLEMS… And it only gets little easier over time 
  9. EXPERIENCE the MAJESTIC WILDERNESS of a FUTURE POST-POST APOCALYPTIC WORLD Make a BEAUTIFUL world where the players WANTS to be <killzone opposite example>
  10. RULED by AWE-INSPIRING MACHINES UNIQUE combat, something NEVER done before
  11. INHABITED BY INTERESTING AND EXOTIC TRIBES Humans go EXTINCT What would come back? How would those cultures affect a Player Experience?
  12. Open World = SYSTEMIC GAMEPLAY = Potentially ENDLESS But… KILLZONE experience only Knew that it is an ENORMOUS CHALLENGE
  13. INTRO: Started with CONCEPT phase Ended up taking 2.5 YEARS – Long time but… SMALL and MULTI-DISCIPLINARY team, REST OF TEAM on SHADOW FALL GOALS: DESIGN what Horizon will be, but more importantly MAKE IT PLAYABLE Find out WHAT WORKS and WHAT DOESN’T
  14. PROBLEM: CONCEPT TEAM = 8 TO 16 Designers, Artists, etc. Using KILLZONE content/engine/tools Autonomous to build prototypes
  15. PLAN/APPROACH: Answering HIGH LEVEL QUESTIONS Machines = KEY USP… But how EXACTLY? What makes a HORIZON open world? What makes a GUERRILLA open world? What kind of ABILITIES, what is the STORY we want to tell, how do you INTERACT with the world?
  16. PROCESS: GOING WIDE = CORE PLAY ideas, not just DESIGN Find what WORKS, remove the REST Now will go through some EXAMPLES of PROTOTYPES
  17. EXAMPLE QUESTION 1 – COMBAT INTENTION: ANSWER combat QUESTIONS (how does combat against robots work exactly?) PROTOTYPE: Try to build the BIGGEST MOST COMPLEX ROBOT first REFLECTION: EARLY DESIGNS SPOT ON – Vulnerabilities, weakspots, armor, use weaponry against it, etc.
  18. EXAMPLE question 2 – OPEN WORLD INTENTION: ANSWER open world QUESTIONS (What can you do in our world? What kind of interactions? Etc.) PROTOTYPE: Try to build the BIGGEST MOST COMPLEX SETTLEMENT first REFLECTION: PLAYGROUND to test density, size, feeling, looks, atmosphere, interactions
  19. EXAMPLE question 3 – PLAYER ABILITIES INTENTION: ANSWER ability QUESTIONS (What kind of weaponry? How do you traverse this immense world?) (one of the) PROTOTYPE(s): Focus on challenge for MOUNTED traversal REFLECTION: Never did it before, had to really LEARN how MOUNTED TRAVERSAL worked from a game design perspective
  20. TAKEAWAYS: This type of PROTOTYPING really helped make HORIZON what it is today But its NOT CHEAP Lots of prototypes REDONE, THROWN AWAY, etc. It essentially TAKES a lot of TIME / EFFORT
  21. PROBLEM LATER ON: Not a COHESIVE EXPERIENCE Scary for team! Doubts, second guessing, etc. Great ISLANDS… but where is the GAME?
  22. INTENTION/GOAL: Create the COMPLETE GAMEPLAY LOOP in a POC Try to SEE EVERYTHING WORK TOGETHER Explain LOOP – EXPLORE (walk, traverse, climb), INTERACT (talk to NPCS, hunt ROBOTS), GATHER (robot parts, quest rewards), PROGRESS (upgrade weaponry, armor, skillset)
  23. REFLECTION: CONFIDENCE BOOSTED! EARLIER NEXT TIME? COULD WE have done that? TAKEWAYS: GOING WIDE / ISLANDS = allows you to find WHAT your game is BUILDING FULL LOOP = allows you to DETRACT what your game is NOT
  24. END OF CONCEPTING: PARTS of questions being answered Some questions NOT ANSWERED AT ALL NEW questions being raised… And in 2014, at the END of the concept phase, we SHIPPED KZSF… The team effectively HAD to move over…
  25. INTRO: Even though CORE PLAYER SYSTEMS were not fully defined, having more designers allowed us to ALSO start focusing on WORLD SYSTEMS like QUESTS, ACTIVITIES, things you would DO in the world Having more members of OTHER DISCIPLINES allowed us to FOCUS on BUILDING THE WORLD (art assets, characters, terrain, foliage, etc.) Plus it allowed us to start focusing on STORY and NARRATIVE as well
  26. INTENTION: MORE DESIGNERS with SPECIFIC FOCUS Explain team structure/responsibilities
  27. PROBLEM (but good in the end): We had a lot of story IDEAS / rough thoughts (example?) Writing was done by the concepting team, no dedicated team members Lacked CONSISTENT CONTEXT for everything we were doing SOLUTION: DEDICATED NARRATIVE team formed First thing they did was LOOK AT WHAT WE HAD and changes MAJOR PARTS Felt bad at first, but what they did very well is establish CONTEXT for EVERYTHING WE WERE DOING
  28. CONTEXT Example 1: ROBOT RIDING PROBLEM: We wanted the player character to be special We wanted the player to interact with robots Big animals were getting in the way SOLUTION Remove big animals Make the player able to ride ROBOTS Achieved both goals, and less work
  29. CONTEXT Example 2: MAIN CHARACTER PROBLEM: Aloy was always there or at least BITS of her But it lacked details Without those details, you cannot truly DEFINE what she CAN DO SOLUTION Define CHARACTER, ARC, PERSONALITY, STYLE Allowed us to FOCUS the gameplay AROUND her Made everything feel like it had a PLACE
  30. CONTEXT Example 3: ROBOTS THEMSELVES PROBLEM: We knew what INDIVIDUAL robots could do from a COMBAT perspective But we didn’t yet understand why robots were there CONTEXTUALLY Without that, they lacked the right PERSONALITY or FEEL, when not engaged in combat SOLUTION Define reason why ROBOTS are there (terraforming, rebuilding the planet, part of a bigger plan etc.) With that CONTEXT, we could better define the LOOKS, the BEHAVIOR and the FEEL of robots It also generated a LOT of ideas for MORE robots
  31. CONTEXT Example 4: HORIZON WORLD UNIQUENESS PROBLEM: We knew what kind of activities we wanted Similar to existing open worlds (underground dungeons, challenges that unlock parts of the map) But they did not feel HORIZON at all SOLUTION Defining the context for the world, WHY THE WORLD IS THE WAY IT IS, allowed UNIQUE SPINS on existing activities “Challenges that unlock parts of the map” became TALLNECKS, underground dungeons became CAULDRONS Even though the gameplay was the same, CONTEXT made our world feel UNIQUE and WONDERFUL
  32. TAKEAWAYS: CONTEXT makes everything better It allows you to focus which MECHANICS work and which don’t It allows you to define your WORLD better and make it UNIQUE REFLECTION: But being able to TRY OUT THINGS without CONTEXT first, is equally important! If you add CONTEXT too soon, you might prevent very cool ideas to be born…
  33. END OF PREPROD Worked out how STORY and WORLD worked more The GROUNDWORK for HORIZON was now there: CORE MECHANICS + WORLD + NARRATIVE But this is where the bigger PROBLEMS started rearing their ugly head…
  34. INTRO: We were now able to start on building our ENTIRE game We felt we had a lot of the CORE MECHANICS (not all) but that we had ENOUGH to get started PROBLEM: However, our INEXPERIENCE WITH OPEN WORLDS started showing here Want to talk you through SEVERAL PROBLEMS we ran into at this stage NOT ALL, but I cherry-picked ones you could LEARN from
  35. INTENTION OVERALL: We wanted to START AT THE BEGINNING of the game 100% of players SEE this part, HAS to be AMAZING If you do this right, you ENTICE PLAYERS to keep on playing
  36. INTENTION – FIRST QUESTS OF THE GAME: GD wants to expose/tutorials CORE MECHANICS (health systems, combat, stealth) Write them into the NARRATIVE, expose them EFFECTIVELY PROBLEM: QUALITY narrative costs a lot of effort (dialogue, characters, cutscenes) Killzone = LINEAR set pieces Horizon = Know EXACTLY which MECHANICS you need We had to guess!
  37. REFLECTION: Gameplay weight SHIFTED throughout dev Systems we THOUGHT were going to be important became LESS IMPORTANT and vice versa Adding NEW MECHANICS later on, SHIFTED the GAMEPLAY WEIGHT of others EXAMPLE We thought that DISTRACTING ROBOTS (distraction rocks) and knowing their PATROL PATHS was going to be important When we BUILD THE WORLD and the encounter spaces were MUCH BIGGER, this became less important as the player could just ‘avoid robots’ all together
  38. TAKEAWAYS ITERATING on NARRATIVE is NOT EASY if you want to achieve HIGH QUALITY So was starting at the beginning a good thing? I would argue that starting on the beginning WHEN YOU KNOW YOUR ENTIRE GAME is better
  39. INTENTION: Horizon = MULTIPLE SOLUTIONS possible = YOU CHOOSE There is no PERFECT solution BUT Horizon = ACCESSIBLE as well
  40. PROBLEM: Playtesting showed DIFFICULTY SPIKES Players who were LESSER SKILL or LESSER ENGAGED ran into issues Basic Arrows CAN kill something, why would they TRY SOMETHING ELSE? REFLECTION: How do we ENTICE players to engage with other options? How do we do this WITHOUT losing our core pillar of there not being a PERFECT SOLUTION
  41. REFLECTION: We considered making specific SOLUTIONS MANDATORY FEEDBACK = NOT POSITIVE = FEEL FORCED = NOT HORIZON! So instead, we decided to SHOW as many OPTIONS as POSSIBLE
  42. SOLUTION: ALL IN on FOCUS OPTIONAL tool = Good = Before AND during combat NEW PROBLEMS: Don’t want to block PRETTY WORLD Not a lot of HUD space? INSPIRE options, not GIVE them
  43. REFLECTIONS: FOCUS shows POSSIBILITIES, not SOLUTIONS But it didn’t SOLVE the entire issue, it simply ADDED AN OPTIONAL LAYER to people that WANTED IT It HELPED with the difficulty spikes but it didn’t FIX the core problem TAKEAWAYS: If you wanting the Player to CHOOSE their own solution, you have to consider HOW you’re going to EXPOSE them to the options But you have to try and do this in your CORE GAMEPLAY, rather than us, in an ADDITIONAL OPTIONAL LAYER Enable the player to SEE the options, without having to do ANTYHING extra
  44. INTENTIONS: ROBOTS = CORE We wanted to have HUMAN combat, but as a SIDE ACTIVITY But we started introducing more and more humanoid combat… WHY?
  45. PROBLEM 1: STORY without HUMANOIDS = impossible… Cannot SPEAK  So we introduced more and more human characters Which made it go from a secondary activity to PRIMARY activity
  46. PROBLEM 2: We really did achieve making ROBOT combat deep and interesting But this HIGHLIGHTED the fact that human combat was NOT Fewer weakspots, tactics, choices, options…
  47. SOLUTION We wanted the HUMAN COMBAT tactical depth to come from ENCOUNTER design Adding COVER, different APPROACHES, gaining an ENVIRONMENTAL ADVANTAGE And to an extent, you can see this working in the CAULDRONS/BUNKERS and the BANDIT CAMPS REFLECTIONS Horizon = OPEN world You therefore cannot FULLY rely on ENCOUNTER design (different approaches, etc.) We underestimated the impact of this
  48. TAKEAWAYS In hindsight, we should have made SINGLE HUMAN should be AS DEEP as ROBOTS Focus on WEAKSPOTS, BEHAVIOR, WEAPONS and ARMOR THIS = SYSTEMIC GAMEPLAY Less relying on encounter design
  49. END OF PRODUCTION: Found a lot of answers to the questions we asked But we found out the hard way that we didn’t ask ALL the questions Questions in hindsight, we SHOULD have asked way earlier
  50. INTRO: We now could play the ENTIRE game from start to finish All content and mechanics were IN We started PLAYTESTING a LOT PROBLEM: But now the META ISSUES started showing Problems we could not spot before because we COULDN’T PLAY the entire game Now that players were playing for DAYS and DOZENS of HOURS we were able to, for example, PROPERLY STRESSTEST our ECONOMY
  51. INTENTION: Our intention with the economy was to make it INVOLVE ALL CONTENT The player would have to hunt ALL ROBOT TYPES and engage in ALL ACTIVITIES to unlock everything This to us was what it meant to BE AN OPEN WORLD
  52. PROBLEM 1: This however did end up resulting in there being a LOT of DIFFERENT TYPES of ECONOMY resources Each ROBOT had their own set, plus WILDLIFE, plus HUMANS, plus FAUNA And the PLAYER was having difficulty understanding WHAT was used for WHAT PLUS where do I get RESOURCE Y?
  53. INTENTION 2: TRIBES ARE PRIMITIVE They wouldn’t understand what a CPU is LENS versus EYE, COIL versus BATTERY PROBLEM 2: Added abstraction layer = Added confusion Player can also not understand VALUE of something due to AMBIGUITY
  54. SOLUTION: Late to TRULY change this Add TOOLS to MITIGATE problems TRADER JOBS REFLECTION: Too deep, not core Didn’t fix core problem
  55. TAKEAWAYS: We should have realized the economy would be TOO COMPLEX earlier Even though we couldn’t TEST it, in hindsight, we SHOULD have realized there was a problem If one of your CORE PILLARS is ACCESSIBILITY, making sure your ECONOMY is simple but effective is key
  57. FINAL TAKEAWAY: But if you take anything away today, it’s this… REVIEW often… Review your GOALS, your INTENTIONS, your PROBLEMS, constantly reflect during development to flag issues as early as possible… Be HONEST with yourself; what WORKS what DOESN’T… Don’t get STUCK in ideas that are not working out And get READY for the problems; build in FLEXIBILITY in your processes so you CAN ADAPT if necessary If you FACE your problems HEAD on, it’s much easier to STAY UPRIGHT…
  58. Thank you