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World in Motion: Horizon Zero Dawn 4K time-lapse

Digital Foundry showcases the scale and scope of Guerrilla's open world.

With Horizon Zero Dawn, Guerrilla Games has capitalised on its technical acumen to deliver one of the most beautiful open world video games to date. The environment is massive both in scope and scale, featuring everything from vast deserts and dark forests to snowy mountain tops and abandoned skyscrapers. In this Digital Foundry World in Motion time-lapse, we'll be visiting several biomes across the world of Horizon, showcasing the attention to detail on display. From individual leaves to gargantuan mountain ranges, the detail on offer is breathtaking. In creating this video, we visited four distinct corners of the environment to better showcase the variety on display.

The last time-lapse we produced - Assassin's Creed Syndicate - took days to produce, slowly but methodically moving from location to location, with each shot taking around an hour to capture. Thankfully, Horizon makes things much easier in this regard - the powerful photo mode offers full control over the time of day, meaning you can enjoy a full 24-hour period within just 15 seconds. It's glorious. The photo mode also allows you to adjust depth of field, disable on-screen characters, play with exposure and more. It's a powerful tool and it's all handled in real-time without additional processing.

In creating this video, we simply captured several different sequences while using the photo mode with the interface hidden from view. While adjusting the time of day we could use one of the analogue sticks to carefully move the camera carefully along a set path - something we can't usually do in a standard time-lapse. In a few scenes, we enabled depth of field to highlight the level of detail on display when looking at objects near the camera.

A six minute montage of Horizon Zero Dawn time-lapse shots, the vast majority captured while manipulating the game's photo mode.

What's impressive here is how smoothly the time of day transitions are handled. The world lighting is robust and enables some beautiful vistas while shadows stretch out across the land per the sun position. The one limitation with photo mode that we encountered ties with the towns in the game - it's not possible to adjust the camera while exploring any of the games town or cities. The rest of the world is your oyster.

There are a couple of limitations with photo mode for those looking to produce their own time-lapses. For example, Horizon features a robust volumetric cloud simulation which is not active here. Indeed, all animation, including blowing trees, is paused in this mode. When capturing shots demonstrating the cloud simulation, we simply used our standard time-lapse capture technique, recording the game at five frames per second, before speeding up the resultant capture - accelerating time and creating the time-lapse effect.

We had a lot of fun putting this together, and hope you get a kick out of it too. We've just about completed our full analysis for Horizon Zero Dawn, along with a 20-minute extended technical breakdown video. We'll post that as soon as we can. In the meantime, for those looking for a small taste of Horizon Zero Dawn 4K video presented in pristine quality, check out, where there's a three minute video free to download. And remember, every video we produce is available to download at the same quality by supporting the Digital Foundry Patreon.

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Digital Foundry specialises in technical analysis of gaming hardware and software, using state-of-the-art capture systems and bespoke software to show you how well games and hardware run, visualising precisely what they're capable of. In order to show you what 4K gaming actually looks like we needed to build our own platform to supply high quality 4K video for offline viewing. So we did.

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About the author

John Linneman

John Linneman

Staff Writer, Digital Foundry  |  dark1x

An American living in Germany, John has been gaming and collecting games since the late 80s. His keen eye for and obsession with high frame-rates have earned him the nickname "The Human FRAPS" in some circles. He’s also responsible for the creation of DF Retro.


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