The Art of Horizon Zero Dawn contains concept art from various stages of the design process and a fair amount of commentary from the developers. Overall, it’s an average video game art book. Quality of Physical Book -...
The Art of Horizon Zero Dawn contains concept art from various stages of the design process and a fair amount of commentary from the developers. Overall, it’s an average video game art book.
Quality of Physical Book - Average
-It has 192 pages.
-The quality of the covers and pages is average. It comes with a dust jacket that is, as usual, less cool than the normal book cover.
-I’d say the quality of the images on the page are probably a bit above average.
Content/Innards - Below Average
Variety of images and image types
-Finalized concept art
-Finalized prop designs
-There are a few things like monotone concepts that show the shape of the landscape.
-There are some images that show how they developed what they decay and re-growth might look like.
-Though there is some variety, it’s mostly what looks like finalized concept art or what could be called “inspiration” art.
Organization, does it make sense
-I think it’s organized a little weird. It’s organized by tribe, so there’s a section on the Nora tribe with the locales, buildings, weapons, people, etc. for that tribe, and then it moves on to another tribe. I guess this makes some sort of sense but I think it’s kind of a strange way to organize a book about Horizon. I would have had a large section on environments (which would include each tribe) a section on machines, a section on weapons and armor, and a section on characters.
-I think it might have been more interesting to be able to compare similar items from one tribe to another. So for example there’d be the clothing from each tribe in close proximity so you can compare their design decisions. I suppose this is mostly just a matter of preference, though.
Is there writing or insight from the artists and developers themselves?
-Yes. It’s all throughout the book. For example, they talk about how, as time went on, they realized they needed to place an increasing emphasis on Aloy’s hair because she needed to be easily identifiable in a variety of clothing and armor.
-Though I wish there was a bit more of this type of commentary, a lot of the remarks from the developers act as a sort of “tour guide” for the images, which is something I really like in video game art books. It adds a lot more to the viewing experience.
-Some of the commentary isn’t attributed to the developers but I think it might actually be from them, or from a design document.
Quality of writing.
-The book’s author is Paul Davies, who’s the same guy who did the Assassin’s Creed IV art book. His writing is generally fine but some entries feel repetitive or not very important, or sometimes a bit dramatic. I liked the commentary and quotes from the developers.
-Strangely, I quite liked the substance of the writing from the author but didn''t really think there was anything exceptional about the writing itself. That might sound weird but I can’t really think of a better way to describe it; some of it reminds me of a textbook - interesting information but without much personality.
-The more I read the book and think about it, the more I’m convinced that the author had access to design documents and based the writing off of them. From the Killzone book it appears that Guerilla Games develops a sort of development Bible that describes and guides their design philosophies for the entire game. The Killzone book has direct excerpts from such a book, and the commentary is great. In this book, the author seems to have looked at a Development Bible and is writing almost a direct quote from it, but still apparently using his own words. I would have just preferred to read excerpts from whatever he’s reading. It’s impossible to know if this is what’s going on, but I think it’s a pretty reasonable guess. There’s almost two different voices in the book and I think I can tell which captions are mostly from the development Bible and which are from the author.
-All this said, the vast majority of the writing is useful and gives context the the images in the section.
Does it have what you want it to have? -Major problem
-Okay, so you’ve played Horizon: Zero Dawn and you’ve discovered there’s an art book based on the game. What would you hope to find in it? For me, I’d want a heavy emphasis on the environments and the robots since these are major aspects of the game. Ideally there would be a lot of commentary on how and why they designed the robots the way that they did.
-While there’s a good amount of artwork on the environments, there’s actually not much focus on the machines, which is very perplexing to me - they’re a major part of the gameplay and story, and probably the thing that makes the game stand out from the crowd.
-On one page we see that there’s likely all sorts of existing artwork on each machine. It is simply beyond me that this section doesn’t contain a featurette on each and every machine, how they were designed, why they were designed that way, challenges in designing them, and so on. It seems like the most obvious thing in the world to include in this book. I personally think the issue is that the author was mentally stuck in the “design Bible” and how it is structured - but in doing that he ultimately neglected one of the main parts of the game. A Horizon Zero Dawn book without much emphasis on the machines? This type of thing is literally the whole reason my reviews have a section called “does it have what you want it to have.” Very disappointing.
-One reason I was really looking forward to seeing a lot of commentary and design work on the machines is because in Killzone Visual Design it mentions how the design team is meticulous in designing mechanical objects and designs them in a realistic way. I think this is actually one of the main strengths of the machine designs in the game, and why the combat gameplay is so satisfying and engaging. Sadly, I’m left with basically none of the things I was looking forward to. If it were up to me, I’d honestly like it if more than half the book were about the machines. And if anyone out there is listening, I think you could probably release another book that focuses solely on the design of each machine.
-Here it mentions that the machine designers consulted with a robotics expert and even designed functional skeletal systems for each machine. While this tidbit is great, it’s also disappointing that this is all the book says about this - there’s bound to be so much interesting information connected with this little blurb, but we get none of it.
Aesthetics - Good
-I liked that the scraps of art aren’t just put on a white background, but that some effort has gone into making the presentation more aesthetically pleasing, like having a soft blue background with a symbol from the game. Not every page is like this, but it’s a nice change.
-As usual, this book would have benefited from being in a wide format because it would enable to images to be displayed more prominently. The publisher actually did a great job overall with the aesthetics, but a number of images are chopped up by the book crease.
Full pages of art?
-There are many full pages of art and I think it really contributes to a pleasing aesthetic.
Quality of the art itself? Very subjective but notable if extremely good or bad
-A lot of the art is quite nice and painterly, but a fair amount has the sort of “image database cut-and-paste” look, which I don’t actually mind that much but it does feel a bit more sterile than art that’s . . . less digital.
-In general I really like the look of the images. It’s just a really nice, pleasant presentation.
Anything else about the book like the cover, binding, feel, etc.
-I think the book itself looks pretty cool, and I like that the cover doesn’t have any writing. It has a matte texture to it, which is nice.
-The front and back inside covers are pretty cool - the same scene pre and post apocalypse.
Nostalgia/Affinity Evoked For The Game - Average
-I think that nostalgia is hampered somewhat by the organization of the book - it’s organized by tribe but the tribes aren’t really a major focus of most of the gameplay (apart from the Nora), or really even of the story.
-The two main story threads are “What happened to the world?” and “Where did Aloy come from?” The main gameplay aspects are taking down machines with a bow and other weapons. Though there’s some content on both of these topics, neither of them are strongly presented in this book.
-There were a number of random things that did make me want to go back and play the game, like learning that almost all iconography for the Oseram consist solely of circles and squares, and that what they make is utilitarian with an aesthetic flourish to suggest that they are actually smarter than their gruff exterior would suggest.
-There are images here and there that, for me, remind me of memorable parts of the game, like the stadium.
-Though some of the environments in the book aren’t in the game, I did want to explore them and felt that sense of adventure that the game gives.
-I’d read at some point that the game world was originally something like 50 times larger than it is now. Many of the images look like they were drawn with this much larger game world in mind. I couldn’t help but think of how fun it could be to explore some of these larger locales.
-There’s a number of details that I didn''t notice while playing, like how the Banuk decorate themselves with monster parts in order to “be one” with them, and the Eclipse decorate themselves with military props, like shell casings.
-The comments that are directly from the developers, and the ones that are probably from the Horizon Bible, add a lot of context to the way that the developers think and how they approach creating something from scratch.
-I happen to know that many of the artists with Guerilla are industrial designers. I imagine this has something to do with why the machine designs are so interesting and functional. However, this book doesn’t have anything in it about that. I wonder what other interesting tidbits there are about this game that we simply don’t know about because they aren’t in the book? Another missed opportunity.
-There’s a lot to like about this book, and a lot of the commentary is interesting and informative, but there’s also a lot that’s not in the book. And it’s a shame.
-Different people want different things in video game art books, but I hope this review has been helpful in showing you what you can expect from THIS book. For more video game art book reviews, click on my profile picture.