Guerrilla Games: the story of the Killzone and Horizon development studio

Guerrilla Games: the story of the Killzone and Horizon development studio

Guerrilla Games

Where do the best known and biggest development studios come from? Were they born doing triple A or do they have more humble and staid origins? For example, what is the path that leads to work on a colossal like Horizon Forbidden West? How much mess does it take? What dangers must you have survived? Find out in this special dedicated to the history of Guerrilla Games and its origins: from Game Boy Color to PS5.

The origins

Yes, Guerrilla was born here It was 2000 when three Dutch software houses they decided to join forces and merge into one entity. At the time, Van Gogh's homeland was not a driving power in the world of video game development, but the local industry was growing very rapidly, opening up new possibilities. Arjan Brussee's Orange Games, who designed Jazz Jackrabbit with Cliff Bleszinski for Epic Games, Arnout van der Kamp's Digital Infinity and Martin de Ronde's Formula Game Development officially became Lost Boys Games, a subsidiary of the Lost Boys conglomerate, and began to to produce games on commission, for the most part negligible, for the Game Boy Color first and then the Game Boy Advance.

Their first commercial title was the platformer Tiny Toon Adventures: Dizzy's Candy Quest for the Game Boy Color, followed by another platformer, Rhino Rumble, always for the same console. Then came the leap to the Game Boy Advance, with the discreet fighting game Black Belt Challenge and the classic shooter Invader, genres that the studio would never touch later.

Initially the company was led by Martin de Ronde, but already in 2001 he was replaced by Hermen Hulst, coming from a company that dealt with consultancy and who will make a career up to reach the top of PlayStation itself. The same year Lost Boys joined IconMediaLab Swedes. Lost Boys founder Michiel Mol still retained ownership of Lost Boys Games, but made it a more self-contained studio. The name change will come only in 2003, when Mol will found the media company Media Republic and will have him acquire the majority of the shares of Lost Boys Games, renaming it Guerrilla Games, to reflect his new philosophy.

Note that since then the four games mentioned in the previous paragraph have often been attributed directly to Guerrilla and not to Lost Boys Games.

The Lost Boys throw themselves into extreme productions

Shellshock made headlines for the wrong reasons The new name also meant a leap forward in terms of the ambition of the developed projects. Instead of continuing to work on Nintendo's handheld consoles, Guerrilla Games decided to focus on the latest generation home consoles, making a cross-platform third-person shooter for Eidos, Shellshock: Nam '67, and a first-person shooter for PS2, Killzone. Both games were talked about in their own way.

Launched in 2004, Shellshock was a fairly anonymous title, were it not for the presence of torture scenes, performed directly by the player, which many read as a species of apology, or attempt at normalization, of what Bush's America was doing with some prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison. It was after 11 September 2001, the wound inflicted on the United States by the terrorists with the attack on the Twin Towers was still fresh and the controversy was inevitable. More than a political stance, however, many saw in the game of Guerrilla Games only a great cynicism for having exploited current events to make people talk about it, also given its not exactly excellent quality.

Killzone was Guerrilla Games' first hit Definitely better went to Killzone, released the same year, which was pushed by Sony marketing and billed as one of the most graphically impressive games released for PS2, as well as a anti-Halo potential (at the time on the Sony console there was nothing comparable to the title of Bungie, exclusive to Xbox, at least in the field of first-person shooters). Also in this case the controversy was not lacking, but for very different reasons: the final version of the game was considered boring and moreover graphically inferior to what was seen in the promotional material. Despite this, Killzone sold over a million copies, becoming one of the console's hits. Furthermore, in March of the same year Guerrilla signed an exclusive contract with Sony to develop only on PS2, PSP and PS3, which would later merge into a very stable relationship.

Guerrilla becomes a PlayStation Studios: the era of Killzone

Killzone 2 With the launch of two games in one year, Guerrilla became an attractive development studio for eventual acquisition. In particular, Eidos and Sony came forward, i.e. the publishers of Shellshock and Killzone respectively, but in the end the Japanese multinational won and in December 2005 Guerrilla Games officially joined the PlayStation Studios. From then until 2017 the story of Guerrilla becomes the story of the Killzone franchise, of which it will produce four more chapters. In 2006 Killzone: Liberation was released for PSP, which is much better received than the PS2 chapter. In fact, despite running on a console with inferior technical characteristics and being playable only in portability, it was much more refined than its predecessor and definitely more fun. It also had a good multiplayer mode, one of the most loved on PSP (probably the most loved, if we talk about first person shooter).

Killzone 2 for PS3 will only be released in 2009, accompanied by some controversy for a trailer passed off as made with the graphics in game, but proven to be blatantly false.

Killzone 3 Directed by Mathijs de Jonge, who had already led the series with the chapter released on PSP, Killzone 2 turned out to be an excellent title, the best of all the Guerrilla production, as well as one of the most acclaimed first person shooters released on PS3. Finally Sony really had its anti-Halo.

The development had cost 45 million dollars, the initial success was not disruptive, even if the game sold a total of more than a million copies, but in those years that Killzone however became one of the most iconic series in the PlayStation world, so much so that in 2011, just two years later, Killzone 3 was released, also for PlayStation 3 and always directed by Mathijs de Jonge. The third chapter convinced slightly less than the second, despite being called an excellent game. Sales were also lower than those of Killzone 2, so much so that there was fear for the future of the series.

Killzone, despite some good results, has never actually been an explosive franchise in terms of sales. The definitive freeze came in 2013, after an important piece was gone in 2012: one of the founders, Brussee, left the company to join Visceral Games.

Killzone Shadow Fall Anyway, Sony decided to launch PlayStation 4 with a Killzone. Killzone Shadow Fall was therefore one of the titles that made up the console's launch line-up. He received generally positive, albeit not exciting, criticisms, but also several slurs for his lack of courage and originality, as well as for his extreme brevity. Despite this, it sold quite well, exceeding two million copies, which however were not enough to save the series from the stop, it is not known whether it is definitive or temporary.

Horizon is coming

Horizon Zero Dawn Since the time of the first Killzone, Guerrilla has been seen as an excellent software house from a technical point of view, as well as very concrete in development. For this reason, over the years Sony will not relegate it to just video game development, but will also use it to find graphic solutions for its consoles, such as the upscale checkerboard rendering system used by PlayStation 4 Pro.

Of course, production videogame has always remained central to the studio, which after Shadow Fall realized its new engine, the Decima, using it for a new intellectual property, conceptually very different from everything it had done up to that moment. Horizon Zero Dawn came out in 2017 and, in honor of the new trends in triple A video games, it was an open world, the first ever for Guerrilla. Aloy, the protagonist, has to contend with robotic dinosaurs that have occupied the Earth for reasons that are clarified in the course of the adventure. The reception of the game was excellent, with positive judgments given by almost all the sector publications. Sales were also excellent: the best ever recorded by a Guerrilla title. In 2019, the copies sold were more than ten million, as revealed by Sony. It is one of the best-selling games ever for PlayStation 4, as well as one of the intellectual properties that made the best debut ever.

The following year Horizon Zero Dawn will be expanded with the launch of The Frozen Wilds, which received equally good feedback, while in the summer of 2020 the game will be launched in a PC version on Steam, in a comprehensive edition of the base game and expansion, as well as several graphical improvements over the PS4 edition. In addition to this, Guerrilla is also credited with a collaboration with Kojima Productions, for which he took care of the technical part of Death Stranding, a title that uses the Tenth Engine.

Guerrilla's next project is the highly anticipated Horizon Forbidden West for PS4 and PS5, initially planned for 2021, but probably postponed to next year (at the time of writing this article there are no confirmations on the matter, but many rumors and clues point in this direction). The new Horizon will follow the events of Aloy a few years after the events narrated in Zero Dawn. The game was shown during a dedicated State of Play, which aroused some controversy for the appearance of the protagonist, but which convinced everyone for the gameplay shown.

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