Video games often require the player to go with logic which at first seems a little… well, flimsy. For example, Lara Croft may be the first person to enter an ancient tomb in years but will find a machine gun upgrade lying in the rubble. Sonic might be able to run at the speed of sound but can’t catch a lumbering Doctor Robotnik on foot. And John Marston can survive a bloody shotgun blast to the chest but dies instantly when he rides his horse into a river. Go figure.
All of those examples however pale in comparison when you compare them to a more recent one. A fact so completely beyond belief that if you think about it for too long, there’s a very real danger the fabric of the entire universe will disintegrate around us and video games will be a thing of the past. What am I talking about?
Aloy’s hair in Horizon Zero Dawn.
This girl can rappel down the world’s tallest mountain and slide into a patch of tall grass as soon as she hits the dirt. She can go head-to-head with Thunderjaws, Rockbreakers and Deathbringers without even breaking a sweat or a fingernail. She can take all that Mother’s Heart throws as her and her gorgeous, thick hair still looks as though she just stepped out of a L’Oreal advert – and she knows she’s worth it. With a few grey hairs starting to show, a desperate need for straighteners on a daily basis and an aversion to even the slightest damp day, mine makes me look as if I’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards in comparison.
I should hate her, really despise that makeup- that-looks-like-no-makeup thing she has going on and her ability to come out of any scenario with an immaculate appearance. But I just can’t; her attitude and independence make her one of the most likeable characters I’ve ever had the opportunity to step into the shoes of. Her physical beauty isn’t something she nurtures and she pulls up anyone who doubts her skill due to her age or gender. She tells men that her ‘eyes are up here’, questions the right of the matriarchs to take power simply because they’ve had children, and pulls apart any traditions that don’t make sense. She’s simply awesome.
It was a fun challenge to learn the intricacy of game hair development and work with my colleagues in code, rigging and shading to realize our 100k triangles in-game hair for Aloy to be fully dynamic, driven by 50 splines at 3-5 ms whilst maintaining a stable 30fps on a PS4 system.
Take a look at the images on the site – I love the way the protagonist is perfect-but-not-perfect, with flyaway hairs escaping from her braids and the style not entirely symmetrical.
Khinjarsi recently published a post on Upon Completion entitled All the Small Things which notes that it’s the smaller details in video games which ‘make us laugh, make us cry or bring us that little bit closer to our characters’. There are a number of such elements in Horizon Zero Dawn that elevate it to being one of the most gorgeous games I’ve ever experienced. Aloy’s hair ruffles when the wind catches it, and she hunches over and hugs herself when she’s battered by the rain. The mechanical beasts limp and spark when they’re wounded, and the way interact with their herd is almost magical. And have you seen the tree ants? You need to see the tree ants.
In a recent patch, developer Guerrilla Games included an update for the title’s photo mode and I’ve been making the most of the new filters, poses and facial expressions. Soak up Aloy’s model-like beauty below – because she’s worth it.