Horizon Zero Dawn is one of gaming's modern classics, and a large part of that has to do with the story and world of the game. With such a deep and interesting world to explore, it's no wonder that fans are constantly clamoring for more from the universe of Aloy and friends. While we do have Horizon Forbidden West to look forward to at some point next year, you don't have to wait that long to experience more Yor, Hunter from the Future-style action. Horizon Zero Dawn Volume 1, the graphic novel, is out right now and gives us the chance to spend more time in the world we know and love.
We were lucky enough to get a chance to talk to Anne Toole, Ann Maulina, and Ben McCaw, three of the minds behind the graphic novel, to ask them about the creation of the novel and how it ties into the larger story of Horizon Zero Dawn.
Same World, New Story
Horizon Zero Dawn Volume 1's story takes place after the end of the game's story and follows Talanah Khane Padish, one of the characters that Aloy meets on her adventure. The original game's strong world design is present in The Sunhawk; it also has its own distinct feel. With so many different environments to be found across the game world, there were many potential environments for the graphic novel to draw from.
According to Ben McCaw, one of the game's writers, the story they had in mind had to occur in a specific location, so the luscious jungle and open plains environments of this new story fell into place directly from the game's world map.
"The story we wanted to tell had to be on the edge of the Carja Sundom, so the jungle and plain settings made sense, based on the map in HZD," McCaw said via email.
With such a specific in-game location for the graphic novel's story, it was no surprise that the world's natural greens and browns were translated so faithfully. Parity with the world presented in Horizon Zero Dawn was clearly important to the graphic novel's creators. During the novel's early production, the artist behind it, Ann Maulina, even played the game and used that to inspire her art.
"At the beginning of the comic making, I played the game and explored the open world," Maulina said. "That's why when I read the script, I mostly could imagine the environment immediately."
It's pretty clear from Maulina's work that there was a strong sense of collaboration between the writer, artist, and the Guerilla Games team. This sentiment doesn't stop at just the design of the world, either. According to McCaw, this continuation of Talanah's storyline was even thought about during the game's production. The comic's writer, Anne Toole, was heavily involved with Guerilla's staff while coming up with the new narrative.
"It was a collaborative effort," McCaw said. "We invited Anne out to Amsterdam, and she worked with myself and the other writers to beat out the story."
The graphic novel's strong story is a testament to Toole's and Guerilla Games' mastery of narrative design. Talanah is a strong and vibrant character in the game, and that sense of character is bought to the comic very well. Her strong character is part of the reason she was chosen in the first place, with her standing out in many fans' minds as a favorite character. It's easy to see why. She's a master machine hunter, much like Aloy, and with a deep tangle of personal tribulations and conquered obstacles in her wake, the writer and artist didn't need to compromise on either story or action.
"One of the goals of the comic series is to highlight other fan-favorite characters," McCaw said. "We wanted to start with a machine hunter, because it plays to our world’s strengths – action, amazing environments, and, of course, the machines themselves. So Talanah, the Sunhawk of the Hunters Lodge, seemed like a natural choice."
The Journey from Screen to Page
While comics and games may seem to go hand-in-hand, the transition isn't always straightforward. Taking an interactive, motion-based story and transposing it into a static, passive form can be tricky, but Toole handled it with aplomb. The full benefits of comics as a medium were taken advantage of, and Talanah is given much more detail thanks to the storyline's tight focus.
"There weren't so many challenges as there were opportunities," Toole said. "Comics allow you to show emotions and relationships outside of cutscenes. You can see character expressions and body language throughout the story, and freeze an important moment in time in a way you can't in a motion media. You can also send characters in a direction a player might not necessarily choose if it were a game."
Translating game art to comic art holds an entirely different suite of challenges. Ann Maulina has to translate the moving images on-screen into something that could be captured in a single moment. While that allows a greater emphasis on emotion and body language, those ideas have to be conveyed completely differently from their video-game counterparts.
"I think simplifying the details was a challenge," Maulina said. "On animated cutscene and gameplay, the machines and characters are moving so the viewer can easily tell their behaviour by their body movement. In the comic medium, we need to emphasize the silhouettes of those characters and machines to make the behaviour clear. To make those silhouettes solid I had to simplify some designs."
Speaking of Horizon Zero Dawn Volume 1's design, it's really quite impressive. It manages to have its own style, with some slight softening of character and environmental details compared to the game it is based on. Despite this, the art conveys the same feeling that the game it's based on carries. The world still looks like Horizon Zero Dawn while managing to carry the distinct style that Maulina brings to the table.
"I explored various art styles for this comic," she said. "I tried to push my usual style one toward more cartoony and another one toward realistic. In the end, we used the one that [has] more realistic proportions, especially for the face. As for the body proportion, I didn't change it much from my usual style. Although I had to simplify some designs, especially on the machine details and character outfits to get a better silhouette."
Despite the difficulties and changes that needed to be made, the line between comics and video games isn't so defined for everyone. Toole has previously worked on comic/video game hybrid sequences and believes that both mediums share similarities.
"In terms of creating comics separate from the game, the comics definitely give the opportunity to explore characters like Talanah in greater depth," Toole said. "We learn more about the world and the stories that continue on outside the game. We also get to see characters from a perspective other than Aloy's, including Aloy herself. And really, through these comics, readers get the chance to revisit the beautiful world of Horizon—thanks to Ann!—in a fast, fun, and easy way."
The Journey Continues
If Horizon Zero Dawn Volume 1 is indicative of what else is to come from future graphic novels set in the same universe, then we have a lot to look forward to. At the very least, we should be excited to hear more from Talanah and Amadis, two principal characters in the comic. When asked how much the comic's storyline ties into the upcoming Horizon Forbidden West, McCaw was emphatic that there was a strong link.
"A lot! Both Talanah and Amadis will appear in the game," he said.
With the promise of future stories focusing on more fan-favorite characters, it seems likely that we might hear more about characters like Erend and Nil soon. Personally, I'll be looking forward to just spending more time in the game's universe, especially without the threat of a giant robot hawk literally hanging over my head.
Thanks to Anne Toole, Ann Maulina, and Ben McCaw for taking the time to answer our questions. If you want to get your hands on the Horizon Zero Dawn graphic novel, it's available right now.
TechRaptor received a review copy of Horizon Zero Dawn - The Sunhawk.