Horizon Zero Dawn: The Origin of Aloy the Hunter

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Horizon Zero Dawn: The Origin of Aloy the Hunter

Between an impressive cosplay scene and massive fan art community, few outside of Guerrilla Games’ could imagine the instant popularity of Horizon Zero Dawn‘s heroine straight out of the gate.

Aloy’s rise has been incredible to observe, given that for most of the world she didn’t even exist until June 2015. It’s a testament to her excellent design (something Horizon Zero Dawn is lavished with on a whole) — but like many iconic characters, there’s a distinct feeling that Aloy wasn’t so much created as she was discovered.

“In the initial concept art there was this young hunter with red hair,” says John Gonzales, Lead Narrative Designer. “And in one particular image she’s seated on a hillside looking out at this valley which has these ancient ruins… it seemed like she stepped out of the concept art and said ‘I’m going to be the lead character in this game'”.

Horizon Zero Dawn: The Origin of Aloy the Hunter

Laying the Foundation of an Icon

Integration between character, narrative, and gameplay is something vital to any story driven title. But Guerrilla didn’t just have the creative muses pushing the charismatic hunter to the fore — it also had a valuable and fundamental game design trick up its sleeve: the three pillars of what Horizon is about.

“Aloy was the first,” explains Mathijs de Jonge, Game Director. “Then she had to contrast against the other two: beautiful, lush nature, and the machines. It was really important to make the whole thing feel coherent and deliver a unique experience to the player.

“At the beginning of the project we didn’t exactly know what the rules of the world would be, so between these pillars, Aloy had to be a very agile and fluid character, and the combat mechanics and stealth system had to be tight.”

Horizon Zero Dawn

Giving Voice

So, with the environment and scenario set, and Aloy’s visual presence emerging, there was another vital aspect in crafting the heroine’s personality — her voice. Enter BAFTA and Emmy nominated actress Ashly Burch. “We were especially fortunate to find Ashly,” says John. “Her voice transmits the three qualities we needed for Aloy.

“First is her incredible toughness and grit, that feeling of someone of substance and someone you wouldn’t want to mess with. Then there’s an intelligence and articulate wit that’s realized in Ashly’s voice. And finally there’s an underlying vulnerability and woundedness based on Aloy’s experiences growing up as an outcast, being out in the wild.

“Aloy is somebody who couldn’t help but dream of being accepted and belonging to a community, but at the same time hating that same community for the treatment she’s experienced — there’s that conflict in herself about wanting to belong. And those are complexities that we as writers tried hard to understand, and to write it in subtle ways — but it wouldn’t work if we didn’t find an actress who could pull that off.”

Character and Consequence

Of course, even with all of these important elements, there’s still one part which is vital to forging Aloy’s steely personality — you. The narrative driven flashpoints let you define Aloy by choosing her reaction to particular events. Essentially, you’re emoting through her, which can affect certain elements by the end of the game. So, choose wisely…

One of the first flashpoints is deciding how to react to Bast, a young boy who injuries Aloy with a rock during her formative years as an outcast. You can decide whether to retaliate with your own stone, discard your primitive missile, or disarm Bast from throwing another rock.

And although Guerrilla has noted that most people seem to go for the last option, the team was not so quick to turn the other cheek.

“When it came to Bast, the thing which came most naturally to me was to whip the rock back at his head,” laughs John.

Managing Director, Hermen Hulst, agrees: “I’ve tried all the choices Aloy has to make through the game, but I admit I disliked the young Bast so much that I was actually harsh on him!” he chuckles. “I accepted the consequences of my actions!”

Horizon Zero Dawn, PS4 Pro

While not the main antagonist of the story, there’s clearly an important role for Bast which will be revealed as you play. And appropriately, just as Aloy is immediately likeable, Bast’s nasty qualities help create a classic contrast to heighten her charm, as noted by Art Director Jan-Bart van Beek: “When my girlfriend played that part of the game she immediately said that Bast was like Malfoy from the Harry Potter books,” he laughs. “I didn’t realize, but then said that I can kinda see that! There’s something instantly dislikeable about him.”

A Tribe Called Aloy

Regardless of how you define Aloy against characters like Bast, it’s clear that she will remain one of the main things most players will take away from Horizon Zero Dawn. Which is a remarkable achievement for a new property, and something Guerrilla is especially proud of.

“We focused really hard on creating the best possible character we could,” says John. “We never thought that it would be a selling point that we’re having a female protagonist, we thought it would be more a selling point that you’re being the best possible person and character to play as in this world. People who have played the game so far seem to really enjoy being Aloy.”

And being Aloy is definitely something people want to be, as proved by the growing number of them attending conventions, eagerly awaiting the game’s launch and exploring Guerrilla Games’ studio, waving and chatting to the team who created her.

“Things like the cosplayers gives us this feeling that Aloy is a character that people really want to become,” smiles John. “There’s something about her that they find in terms of visual design, abilities, and story that they want to immerse themselves in. That’s really exciting and inspiring.”

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  • Really excited! Can’t believe it’s almost here. Congrats on Horizon and I hope it sells well to warrant a sequel!

    • Congratulations on finishing Horizon! Already pre ordered and fully paid for my copy. Very excited to enjoy one of my most anticipated games of this year. Now, go work on a sequel :)

    • I would love to see an update for Share Factory to have different voices options, one of them to include ambiance noise for musical singing performances. It currently only offers Radio Talk Show Host, it’s sad.

    • So excited for this new game would be great to have a sequel in the works to. Also would like to say I’ve been trying to get my GF to game with me for years and this is the first game she is willing to give it a try with. The trailers and previews blew me and her away. So I am very excited about this can’t wait until it comes out. Been going up to the GF everyday 16 more days 15 more days lol

  • Really looking forward to this.

  • You know nothing, Jon Snow.

  • That Bast thing…what a spoiler.

  • I love what you are doing here. I really hope this new IP succeeds. Best wishes.

  • Man this just trounced on my Nier CE purchase. Can’t wait for Horizon to get here.

  • Interesting read but yeah, could have done without the Bast spoiler!

    Also, gotta give Sony some major kudos for deciding to lift review embargo 8 days before release. That says that they are fully confident about their product. Some other companies, cough Bethesda, are too scared of reviews to do that. I still don’t believe in pre-orders, but I am expecting to add this title very shortly after release.

  • This might finally give us a Icon character for the PS4. Nentendo always has Mario and co. but PS and Xbox always change each generation. PS1 was Spiro and crash. PS2 it was again Insomniac and Naughty Dog giving us the iconic teams of ratchet & clan, and Jack and Daxter as well as Kratos. Xbox had Master chief. The PS3 and 360 sort of stalled and just re used icons although PS3 Did get Drake. With this generation there haven’t been much in the way of exclusives that stand out much. The only ones I can think of are Bloodborne and Nioh but I think Horizon will change that.

    • This is because games are increasingly about some generic RPG character you get to play as, and you can customize their look / gender etc to make them your own.

      Nioh has a set character (William) but I don’t think Bloodborne has any specific named characters. In either case, those are generic characters.

      The Last Guardian has Trico and the Boy as central characters in the game. inFamous Second Son had a specific character and side characters (even got to play as Fetch in stand-alone follow-up game). Until Dawn has bunch of characters but it is an ensemble.

  • About time there is a leading lady more appealing to play as than generic bald tough-guy soldier / warrior dude

    • Sounds like you’re talking about Kratos. He’s not bad. I find him to be a very interesting character.

      I’m glad to see to not only see new PlayStation icon but a female one at that. I hope Aloy become as iconic as Lara Croft.

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