Friday, November 9, 2018

Horizon Zero Dawn: Making of Fireclaw

Celebrating the first anniversary of Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds, Guerrilla Games sat down to talk about creating one of the in-game creatures, Fireclaw.

Last year, around the same time this week, developer Guerrilla Games has released The Frozen Wilds expansion for their action role-playing game Horizon Zero Dawn on PlayStation 4, which added brand-new chapter for Aloy to explore new grounds and complete quests.

Of course, the world of HZD is full of dangerous machines everywhere that she would come across during her journey and hunt them down. To celebrate the one-year anniversary of the expansion, developers Richard Oud and Pinar Temiz talks about one such fierce character known as Fireclaw.

horizon zero dawn the frozen wilds fireclaw interview
Horizon Zero Dawn: Making of Fireclaw

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Initially they came up with the idea of creating a machine hybrid creature for HZD that resembles to a bear but due to time constraints, that idea was scrapped. So, when they were back at developing The Frozen Wilds, the idea of bear came back.

The team then immediately delved into development with design documents for making the bear concept into a machine. Animation department were provided the 3D models and they started testing with its attack and other movements.

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The Bear Essentials

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Some of the designs were implemented and some are tested but then left out when they thought some of its moves may come as difficult for players to get a read on. The design and animation team worked on it to come to a solution eventually.

Now that they established a better set of movement for the creature, AI department started putting the bear into the game and senior sound designer Pinar Temiz started working on its sound effects and vocalizations.

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Fireclaw is a huge bear-like machine that had move set comprised of lava-based attacks but it still has some similarity with other machines from Horizon Zero Dawn, which was a starting point for Pinar to work with an idea of not making it too clunky.

Check out his take on the idle movements of the beast from the game in the clip below when it is not engaging into a fight and just simply minding its own business.




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When the animation team was done making the basic movements and walking set for Fireclaw, they decided to add reference nature of grizzly bears from video clips. However, they moved to polar bears simply due to the fact that they are of a bit more authoritative figures and have slightly different features.

Since the idea of the creature came from bears, it makes sense when the studio took a round on variety of their races but wouldn't it sound completely crazy if they start looking up to Red Pandas? That is what happened and they got what they needed from YouTube.

horizon zero dawn the frozen wilds fireclaw polar bear
Polar Bear Refurrence

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Though looks quite cute, Red Pandas actually use their body weight to put their opponents down in a fight and the way they simply drops and rolls is amazing. Looks like the creators of the famous Kung Fu Panda franchise has taken their inspiration for the series from the same source.

After a few processing and development of layering those sources, the second stage of performance came out next.




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Pinar studied bears grunting, other animals that has an intimidating sound of being grumpy and the solution came from walruses and seals. These grunts mixed with synthetic movement sounds slowly helped him achieve the right mark he was looking for.

Now that he came to a stable state with the desired vocalization of Fireclaw, all they wanted was not to make the motions and sounds repetitive. All animators and sound designers worry about falling into this dilemma very often.

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Over time, this can be a problem when player will notice that it seems artificial and forcible on them. This has to be avoided at any cost but the studio didn't have enough resources to spare or much time at hand to keep working on it.

Therefore, the studio of Guerrilla Games came up with a system that will pick randomness and then mix it with their finite resource pool to bring variation. They even had this repetition issue on the early stages as well when Aloy used to ride her mount.

horizon zero dawn the frozen wilds fireclaw stance
Bipedal Movement Animation

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Fortunately, their solution worked and different variations were achieved from random cycles to provide a non-repetitive, natural look. The team even delivered different layers of sounds for both front and back footsteps.

Another issue that troubled them was when Fireclaw and Frostclaw stood on their two legs; it felt like a guy in a metal bear suit, which is awkward. So, more footage of reference came to play until they finally came to a convincing bipedal stance.

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Distinct Frostclaw Model

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What many people may not have known is that the studio used human performances among the mix of machine vocalizations but getting it right was the tricky part. So, human voices were pitched down and blended with other sounds.

Aside from these work, both Fireclaw and Frostclaw has their unique models and sizes to work with. They even have distinct attack animations, many of which taken reference from various CGI portrayals of Hollywood blockbuster movies.

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These up close development phases and videos clearly depicts how much coordinated team work it takes to create one of these creatures to come alive into the game environment and that is definitely a lot harder than defeating them in-game.

Developer Guerrilla Games have obviously taken a lot of effort to create these individual machines to add to their game and Horizon Zero Dawn became so great because of their dedicated hard work towards this project.