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The Procedural Nature of the Horizon Zero Dawn

Jaap van Muijden from Guerrilla Games shared a presentation of the GPU based procedural placement system, that created the stunning open world.

During GDC 2017 Jaap van Muijden from Guerrilla Games did a little presentation, talking about the ‘GPU based procedural placement system that dynamically creates the world of Horizon Zero Dawn’.


Although we do not have the video recording of the talk, we do have a presentation, which was shared at the official website. It basically shows how some very complex algorithms can work together to build an amazing open world ad fill it with assets in an incredibly realistic and artistic way.

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“Not limited to just rocks and trees, the procedural system assembles fully-fledged environments while the player walks through them, complete with sounds, effects, wildlife and game-play elements. Van Muijden shows the entire pipeline, from the graph editor where artists can define the procedural placement rules to the GPU algorithms that create a dense world around the player on the fly. He demonstrates the power of this procedural approach by showing how painting in a tree line and redirecting roads can be just as easy as moving mountains and changing a desert into a tropical swamp’.

Although this is more of the technical presentation it does show a lot of stuff done for artists. For example, Guerrilla Games showed how every aspect of the world, although generated by a clever algorithm, could be easily modified by an artist. They could alter the placement logic and work with hand-authored assets.

Plus they’ve showed how they’ve worked with the world production. You can see various types of maps coming together to achieve the final result in DECIMA engine. ‘The GPU-math’ basically took care of all the placement, which to our surprise gave the game a very organic and naturalistic look. The fact is, that computer-generated ‘rough’ landscapes in Horizon Zero Dawn actually look so good that users are making screenshots and post them online, praising the craftsmanship of the studio. It’s amazing, if you take into account that only 3 people actually made the nature assets for the whole production.

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It’s a little frightening. Does that mean more upgraded stuff like ‘Deep Mind-powered landscape generation tech’ could actually make better spaces than an environment artist? Tell us what you think in the comments.

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