Assembling Aloy: How ‘Horizon Zero Dawn’ Is Built Around Its Hero

In television adverts for Horizon Zero Dawn, when player-controlled character Aloy says that the Earth has been reclaimed by nature, but for machines rather than ourselves, she’s not entirely on the money—or the shards, I suppose, to use the game’s “post-post-apocalyptic” currency. Yes, the world of some 1,000 years from now is much changed, and inhabited by mechanical creatures of curious design and mysterious origins. But Horizon Zero Dawn isn’t a game built around its clanking, stomping goliaths. Its origins are of a more human nature.

“Looking back at the concept art for the game, there’s an early image where there’s this young, female, tribal hunter with red hair, sitting on the side of a valley, looking out over this extraordinary vista,” Horizon‘s narrative director, John Gonzales, recalls. “So, Aloy showed up there, in the initial world concept conceived by the studio’s art director, Jan-Bart van Beek, which dates back something like six years. That was before I came on board, about three and a half years ago.”

Once committed to Guerrilla Games’ maiden voyage into role-playing territories, the Amsterdam-based company having built its name on the Killzone shooter series, Gonzales set about bringing this then-nameless warrior, this hero in waiting, to life. Initial inspirations included Ellen Ripley ( Alien), Sarah Connor ( The Terminator), and San from Princess Mononoke, “but as we dug into her story, she transcended any particular starting reference.”

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