Guerrilla Games took on an unusual challenge during development Forbidden Horizon West, which comes out on Friday, February 18. According to the director and technical director of the game, Guerrilla was familiar with the PS5 and much of its capabilities when he started working on it. west forbidden in 2018. But, the company also planned to run the game on the PS4, a console that will turn nine this fall.
It’s not uncommon for games to be released on both consoles, but west forbidden is notable for being a particularly massive and detailed game, perhaps the most advanced title to date on the PS5. In a chat with Engadget, Game Director Mathijs de Jonge and Technical Director Michiel van der Leeuw discussed Guerrilla’s process for ensuring the game worked for the PS4 while simultaneously showing everything the PS5 is all about. able.
“We knew it would be difficult to create something that would make PlayStation 5 shine, but also be very rewarding for people who own PlayStation 4,” van der Leeuw said. “So we’re very happy to have known the capabilities of the PS5 early on, because it meant we could plan how we’re going to make that distinction.”
The most immediately obvious difference between the two versions is visual fidelity, with the PS5 targeting 4K resolution (reduced to an enhanced checkerboard at 1800p when running in “performance” mode at 60fps). “Right from the start, we targeted higher fidelity characters, high fidelity environments, higher fidelity vegetation, everything, just for the PS5,” van der Leeuw said. “So you’ll just see different designs for the PS4 version, but with the same kind of vibe throughout the game.”
The realities of playtesting during a global pandemic actually provided Guerrilla with plenty of opportunities to get feedback on the PS4 experience. “It was really difficult for us, the pandemic just hit us while we were in full production,” added van der Leeuw. But Guerrilla was able to use Sony’s PlayStation Now game streaming technology to send early versions of the game to PS4 game testers. “Due to the pandemic, we had to switch to remote play testing,” de Jonge said. Sony would have done this with the PS5, but it was not possible to have people in their offices during the pandemic.
The upshot of this was that Guerrilla had to make sure the PS4 version got a lot of attention throughout the development process. “It was a big advantage, in a way, that we had the PlayStation 4,” de Jonge said, “because it really meant that we had to get the release in good shape rather than just focusing on the release. PS5.”
While the team was mindful of making things work for the PS4 throughout the game’s development, they also worked hard to make the PS5 version stand out visually. “We were looking at screenshots for everything on screen, be it grass, sky, leaves, fabric, hair – everything should have something where if you look at screenshots, you’d feel like it’s definitely the PS5 version,” van der Leeuw said.
While improved fidelity and frame rate were obvious things to expect in the PS5 version, Guerrilla put a lot of thought into how the PS5’s controller could be a differentiator – but it was sort of an act of design. balance for the experience to be correct. “In our first prototypes, I remember we set [adaptive trigger] relatively high values,” said de Jonge, “and I remember that after a few minutes we already felt some fatigue with the triggers. And then we started adding haptic feedback. And then you have to balance the amount of haptics you have against the pressure you put on the triggers.
Somewhat surprisingly, the team working on haptics is separate from the team working on adaptive triggers. “Haptics are handled in our studio by audio design designers, but adaptive triggers are handled by our game designers,” de Jonge said. Obviously, no part of game design happens in a vacuum, but he specifically cites the collaboration between these teams as something he was proud of in the development process.
The end result is something that doesn’t scream at you like a huge update, but a skillfully executed component that helps Forbidden Horizon West shine on the PS5. “I think it was great to also see how we could [use haptics and adaptive triggers] bring out the different weapons, kind of give them their own character,” de Jonge said. “So it’s really different when you’re using a slingshot versus when you’re shooting an arrow using a bow.”
Like most games made specifically for the PS5, Forbidden Horizon West loads quickly thanks to the console’s built-in SSD. With such a massive map to explore, near-instant loading (like when fast-traveling) is a huge quality-of-life improvement. But van de Leeuw said these optimizations aren’t limited to fast driving. “You don’t realize how easily games get blocked,” he said. “If you’re running a PC game on a very fast SSD, it doesn’t automatically load in seven seconds. There is so much work we had to do.
The end result is a game so fast that the development team had to revamp the hints that appear on the loading screens. “In Horizon Zero Dawn, we called it fast travel, but it could take maybe a minute to load,” de Jonge said. “With the PS5 it’s maybe four or five seconds, it loads so fast that players can’t even read the hints.” But from testing, Guerrilla knew players were coming to trust those cues, so they decided to take things a bit slower. “We had to add a very simple feature where it hangs on the loading screen for long enough that you can actually read at least one hint while it’s loading.” Of course, people who want to speed things up can just mash X or disable pause in settings so the game loads as fast as possible.
Although Engadget has not tested Forbidden Horizon West on the PS4 again, first reports indicate this guerrilla blocked landing, creating a game that doesn’t feel compromised on the PS4 that still shows off the power of the PS5. “I’m pretty happy with how it went,” van der Leeuw said. “I’m very proud of the PS5 version. But the PS4 version has the same kind of atmosphere, the same kind of feeling. Sure, it’s a generation older, but it’s holding up, I think, pretty well.
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