Principal FX artist Andrew Schneider talks about atmospherics and how the expansion offers massive clouds that feel like an environment.
Guerrilla Games’ Horizon Forbidden West expansion Burning Shores is out next month, but we still haven’t seen much gameplay. In a new PlayStation Blog post, the developer discussed the clouds in the expansion while also showcasing some stunning new images.
Principal FX artist Andrew Schneider said, “When we think of a horizon, we imagine vast expanses like the open ocean and how the clouds and the sun arc down to touch them at some immeasurable distance. Open-world games present developers with metaphorically similar challenges. How do we push the experience so that the player feels that they are in an environment that could be endless?”
The cloud system is based on the volumetric cloud system used in Horizon Zero Dawn. In Forbidden West’s Burning Shores, the team wanted to convey more emotions and add “movement, variety and definition” to its clouds.
As Andrew notes, “We looked to artists who were part of the luminism movement for inspiration, like 19th-century painter Albert Bierstadt. These painters had mastered the interplay between clouds and the land beneath, using light and detail to create space, producing truly dramatic landscape paintings.
“To recreate this effect in 3D, we had to develop a way to model clouds. For Horizon Zero Dawn, we explored various methods for creating cloudscapes. Voxels are blocks that can build volumetric 3D clouds. We’d actually made a cloud simulator and experimented with rendering three-dimensional ‘voxel’ data in real-time.”
“But technologically, it was too early for this. The hardware and software just weren’t at the right stage of development. So, we settled with modeling clouds in an efficient-to-render way that still yielded high-quality results, but with more modeling effort than simulation.” While painting fixed layers of clouds provided a solution, the use of flying mounts in Forbidden West meant expanding on it further.
With Zero Dawn’s system receiving an upgrade to its rendering quality, fog-like clouds at low altitudes and superstorms were conjured. In Burning Shores, the team uses voxels and implements other “technical improvements.”
“The cloud systems that we developed for Horizon Zero Dawn and Horizon Forbidden West were fast because they didn’t store clouds as 3D objects, but rather instructions on creating 3D clouds from limited 2D information. The PlayStation 5 can handle larger datasets. So, after Forbidden West wrapped, we set to work writing a voxel cloud renderer prototype that could live up to our standards for quality, and allow the player to fly through highly detailed cloud formations.”
The result? Large “Frankencloudscapes” that feel like their own terrain and are treated as such. So while it’s a gorgeous background while roaming the lands, it’s also its very own environment.
Lots more had to be accounted for, like flying through these clouds and maintaining quality without sacrificing performance. It’s well worth reading, but in the end, Andrew teases “new ways” to explore.
“It was important to us to make the experience fun and joyful on its own outside of the main gameplay. The clouds are not simply immersive scenery but an explorable landscape in themselves. Among the clouds, players will be able to explore tunnels, caves, and other surprises that make for fun flying.
“The best part is that depending on when you try any of these features, the experience will be different. As the day progresses, the quality and direction of light change, hiding and revealing some of these features and changing the feel of each journey. And I don’t want to spoil anything – but we hope you aren’t afraid of a little lightning.”
Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores is out on April 19th, exclusively for PS5, and retails for $19.99. You’ll need to finish the game’s story to access it. Pre-orders can net the Blacktide Dye Outfit and Blacktide Sharpshot Bow for free. Stay tuned for more details en route to its release.