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In a nutshell: With only a few months to go before Horizon Forbidden West's release, developer Guerrilla Games took to the PlayStation blog to update fans and explain a few of the vital world-building aspects it has been developing. Aside from just creating environments that players can explore, Guerrilla has spent a lot of time making those settings feel real and alive.
Guerrilla's Lead Living World Designer Espen Sogn explains that they are making the world more immersive by implementing a crowd system that causes non-playable characters (NPC) to act in ways that make sense in the game. This system dictates everything from the paths an NPC walks to the way they carry items.
"Every non-combat NPC in Horizon Forbidden West is part of a crowd system," says Sogn. "Within that system, you can create rules such as reactions, walking paths, and other animations. We then also have the attitude system, which determines a personality. This means we can create unique people who behave like individuals within the world."
So rather than having a simple set of cookie-cutter NPCs that are only distinguishable by their appearance, each will have a unique personality defined by the attitude system and cultural influences. For example, some tribes are more social, so you may see them performing gestures like high fives. Other groups may be more subdued, saving overt social gestures for times they feel safe, such as when they are in their village.
Sogn says these behaviors make the environments more believable and serve as subconscious visual cues to let players know where they are in the world.
"All of this happens within the game's narrative framework. You should be able to identify from a distance which tribe you're looking at," said Sogn. "[For example,] the way that different tribes hold or transport water: the strong Tenakth will carry it on their shoulders; the peaceful Utaru will hug it closely; and the crafty Oseram will carry it with their hands."
We have seen other developers attempt behavioral crowd systems in the past with varying degrees of success. Assassin's Creed and Cyberpunk 2077 immediately come to mind, but neither achieved the feel that each NPC was unique. Whether Guerrilla has discovered the secret sauce to make it all work remains to be seen, but we don't have long to find out.
Horizon Forbidden West launches on February 18, 2022, on PS4 and PS5.