Horizon Zero Dawn

Horizon Zero Dawn is PS4 exclusive, open-world action role-playing video game. It was developed by Guerrilla Games and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment in spring 2017.

The game set in a post-apocalyptic world where intelligent – and deadly – machines co-exist with bronze-age tribes. The protagonist Aloy, armed with both bow-and-arrow and futuristic gadgets at once, sets out to discover the truth about her birth, which is fatefully tied with the history of the world.

The game immediately distinguished itself as one of the best games of 2017 with its stunning visuals, exhilarating combat, and an intriguing plot. This post will analyse the reasons for the game’s success under the lenses of the essential experience, the elemental tetrad, the visible progress, the flow, and the reward.

Lens #2: The Essential Experience

The essential experience of the game is that of an expert hunter taking down her preys and Horizon delivers well on its promises. The player takes an active role in all three parts of a hunt: planning, stalking and confronting.

  • Planning: Analyse the machine for strengths and weaknesses in order to select a suitable load-out of weapons and armour. For example: using tripwire to catch invisible machine or rope-caster to tie down flying ones.
  • Stalking: Observe machine’s movement pattern and make use of environmental features such as tall grass or river to lay traps and sneak up to the enemy.
  • Confronting: Thrilling and fast-pace real-time combat in which the player switches between a maximum of 12 different types of arrows/bombs/traps while trying to doge the machine’s attacks and lure it into traps at the same time.

Every aspect of the game, from its expansive arsenal to its environment design, from its physics to its dialogues, enhances the experience of being a hunter. Everyone calls the player a hunter, gives her hunting jobs and awards her for being good at hunting. The player herself takes great effort to prepare the best possible weapon combination and exercises excellent skills and reflexes during a fight. Everything builds up to a great pay-off when a machine is killed and the player – justifiably – feels like a hunter of high calibre.

Lens #9: The Elemental Tetrad

The game’s the four elements are in harmony with one another and create an authentic and consistent thematic feel throughout.

Story: Horizon tells a story that is both mysterious and familiar. We are introduced to different tribes who practice various superstitions because they cannot comprehend the technology left over from “the ones who came before” like the Nora who worship All-Mother, a factory deep inside the mountain, and the Banuk who follow the Songs – electromagnetic signals that are broadcasted to control machines. The story sets Aloy and the player up for an adventure to different parts of the world in a quest to put together an explanation and learn about the true origin of the world.


Aesthetics: The tone and mood of the story are captured very well in the design of its characters and environments. Characters wear tribal outfit made of furs and leathers but interwoven with metal plates or synthetic accessory that look futuristic even to us in the 21st century. The environment is likewise teemed with thick foliage and majestic mountains, interspersed with metallic bunkers. The colour palette ranges from earth tone hues of green and brown to sci-fi-esque neon blue and purple.

Technology: The game was developed with a proprietor engine named Decima. The engine is capable of 4K-quality textures, intensive natural weather effects like rain storm and blizzard, and multiple particle effects of elemental explosions and lightings. The ability to blend these visual styles seamlessly while maintaining a high frame rate is crucial to the game success.

Mechanics: Aloy can employ various methods to take down an opponent from low-tech ones like stalking in the bush and throwing rocks to distract to high-tech ones like shooting elemental grenades and overriding machines’ CPU. She can watch holo-tape one moment and gather medical herbs the next. The mechanics clearly portrays Aloy as a child of both world in accordance with its story and theme and gives the player a genuine experience of living in a world where technology completely blends with tribal lifestyle.

Lens #55: The Visible Progress

Progress is constantly communicated to the player by the game via:

  • Skill tree: skills at the end of the tree are much more powerful than those at the beginning. For example, one allows the player to re-use any weapon upgrade or recover unused traps.
  • Weapons/Armours: higher-tier armours and weapons are visually more striking and also come with higher stats, more modification slots, and more ammo types.
  • Enemies: machines get bigger and stronger, and come with more mechanics as the game progress. Taking these stronger ones out gives the player clear indication of progress.
  • Exploration: as Aloy sees more of the world, she gets her hand on more resources, ability to override more machines, and more data-pad, holo-tapes about the previous civilization.
  • Story: As the game goes by, the player learns more about the main plot as well as the history of the world. The player gets closer to the truth, which is the ultimate form of progress.

The player reliably feels a sense of progress in every play session due to this multitude of feedback.

Lens #34: Skill

Horizon demands two types of skills:

  • Research: players are encouraged to plan and prepare for each encounter. Their effectiveness is directly proportional to their effort spent in researching.
  • Reflexes: at the same time players need to have good reflexes to shoot their arrow accurately at small parts on moving targets, dodge enemies’ attack and aim melee strikes.

These two skills are kept in a good balance and complement each other. A player with poor reflexes can prepare more and vice versa. This allows more types of players play the game and the difficulty levels can be adjusted on the fly. Lastly, the skills are coherent with the essential experience and the story, creating a solid core mechanics that the player will enjoy thoroughly.

Lens #46: Reward

The game gives out both subtle and tangible rewards of many types. Here are some of the notable ones that further enhance the game’s experience and mechanics:

  • XP: killing enemies and finishing quests give XP. But killing enemy in a special ways (stealth, headshot, etc.) and complete extra objectives give extra XP. This encourages creative problem solving.
  • Gears: gears cannot be bought only with cash but with special loots from enemies. This encourages the hunting aspect of the game.
  • Override: completing the game dungeons (named Cauldron) rewards the players with ability to override more machines to ride or fight with. This encourages exploration.

Once again, the rewards work in tandem with other aspects of the game to highlight its hunting mechanics and mixed-lore world building.


Cuphead is a run and gun action indie game heavily focused on boss battles published by StudioMDHR. The aim of the game is to defeat the boss, while dodging obstacles and avoiding the attacks at the same time. The attack patterns will vary for each boss, resulting in a dynamic and versatile gameplay.

—————— The Lens of the Elemental Tetrad ——————

– Aesthetics
Cuphead is a 2D game that uses visuals and audio inspired by cartoons from the 1930s, where cartoons such as Mickey Mouse and Popeye were popular. The characters were first drawn and inked on paper, after which colour was added digitally. Custom fonts were also designed based on lettering from the 1930s. The attention to detail to recreate the 1930s animation results in an extremely aesthetically pleasing piece of work.

– Story
Cuphead and his brother Mugman are two children that live on Inkwell Isles who lost their souls to the Devil in casino craps. The Devil strikes a deal with them. Should they successfully collect the “soul contracts” of his runway debtors (bosses), they may get to keep theirs. The brothers then go on a journey to fight and defeat the debtors in an attempt to collect their soul contracts for the Devil.

– Mechanics
To defeat each boss in the boss battle, they are given infinite ammunition. The player has to avoid obstacles and attacks from the enemies and ultimately defeat the boss. The player can jump, dash, and parry to gain cards which allow the player to perform special attacks. There are no checkpoints in the game and limited health.

– Technology
Cuphead is playable on Xbox One and Microsoft Windows. Having played the game on Xbox One, I feel that having the controller complemented the game really well as it was quite intuitive to work with.

—————— The Lens of Essential Experience ——————

My experience of playing Cuphead and successfully defeating the boss feels like I have survived the battle rather than defeated the boss. This is due to the fact that there are no checkpoints in the middle of the battle, which means that the player needs to clear the battle in one shot. As the Cuphead is also given infinite ammunition, this results in the game feeling like a stamina game where the player has to continuously dodge attacks in order to defeat the boss.

—————————— The Lens of Skill —————————-

Cuphead is a game that depends on trial and error to succeed. Since there are no checkpoints in the middle of a battle, the player is forced to restart the battle. Some level of skill with controls and reaction time and a lot of practice is needed in order to defeat the boss. With practice, the player can improve reaction time and control skills, which will allow the player to be able to detect short prompts in animation before the actual attack from the boss is executed.

———————— The Lens of Challenge ————————-

There are different kinds of battles in each level, some being run and gun and also platform battles where players have to control where the platform moves and use them to their advantage. There are also levels that resemble bullet hell games. Cuphead also presents a challenge due to the constantly moving elements and variety in attack patterns. The attack patterns are easy to read but needs some time to get used to in order to successfully predict and avoid the next attack. Cuphead poses a challenge for many which keeps it engaging and interesting to play.

Ultimate Chicken Horse 🏆🐔🐴


Ultimate Chicken Horse is a multiplayer party platformer developed and published by Clever Endeavour Games. In this game, players assume the role of one of many farm animals, and their goal is to score points by building a platform level one piece at a time, and race each other to a red flag at the end of the level.

There are many different objects for players to place in the platform level, ranging from simple blocks to deadly traps. While these objects are meant to challenge their opponents, players must also ensure that they themselves are able to maneuver about their own constructs.

Personally, I found this game to be very entertaining because the placement and orientation of the objects provided to the players can generate many interesting challenges and dimensions to the game. Oftentimes, players are “forced” to cooperate in the way they place their objects, in order for the level to be clearable (even if it is ridiculously difficult to achieve). Also, it’s just funny to see your friends go hysterical when they die to the nonsensical levels created by everyone.

Let’s take a look at 4 of the lenses that can be found in Ultimate Chicken Horse.

The Lens of Goals

The score board shown at the end of every round.

The primary goal of Ultimate Chicken Horse is very clear and simple: the player must score the most number of points against all other players. Points can be earned through several means, usually by reaching the red flag or successfully causing other players to succumb to a trap. A player wins when he either reaches the set number of points, or have the most number of points at the end of the game.

Unless everyone keeps dying (not to any traps) and never makes it to the red flag, it is always possible for a player to win the game. Winning in this game gives the player a sense of accomplishment, especially so when the level is seemingly ridiculous or near impossible to be cleared. Which brings us to the next lens…

The Lens of Obstacle

With friends like these, what could possibly go wrong…?

With an array of deadly traps and annoyances, there are many objects which can make the primary goal difficult to achieve. What’s worse is that these objects are placed by other players (uh, friendswho are out to make your life a living hell. As the game progresses, more and more objects are introduced to the level and oftentimes this result in a messy and dangerous landscape. Even your own objects can cause problems to yourself!

Nevertheless, it is almost always possible for players to find a solution to reach their goal, be it through using bombs to clear hazards or discovering alternative paths to the red flag. And this leads us to the next lens…

The Lens of Problem Solving

Players can take advantages of the objects given to them to solve problems they face.

As expected, allowing all players to add objects to the level generates a flurry of problems for one to solve. In general, one would ask: “How on earth am I going to get to the goal with so many things in my way?

The very same objects that cause these problems can actually help players solve these problems. With strategic placing and a bit of lateral thinking, players can manipulate an object selected at the start of every round in order to solve problems they encounter.

Now, on to our final lens…

The Lens of Friendship

Wow, really? Would a game that allows us to make friends go through so much hardship just to reach a red flag actually help keep friendships?

Having played Ultimate Chicken Horse for hours end with my friends in the same room, I can safely assure you that this is a game that makes you want to play it with your friends. There’s always so much to laugh and talk about together, like how we keep dying to the same obstacles, or how did someone manage to make it through so many traps to the red flag. Everyone goes through the same level and the shenanigans created in it, and this common experience helps players maintain their friendships.


The idea behind Ultimate Chicken Horse is really simple, but it’s so wonderfully made and it really compels you to play it with friends. If you’re not convinced, go and watch some Let’s Plays on YouTube and watch how much fun people are having with their friends when they suffer play. 😃

Street Fighter V

Street Fighter V is a 2.5D fighting game developed by Capcom as their latest installation of the Street Fighter franchise. It was “released” in 16th February of 2016 but I wouldn’t call the lack of content and game modes a proper release. Despite an underwhelming start, the release of Arcade Edition exactly 2 years from its initial release date makes the game feel like a complete package.

New to Street Fighter V is a spanking new V-System that gives every fighter a unique ability, a default character roster of 16 where you get to unlock up to 28 characters with an in game currency, and more surprisingly, updates and releases of new version will also be free to existing game owners unlike older installations of Street Fighter.

Lens of Elemental Tetrad


In the case of a fighting game, Street Fighter V does a very good job in making each attack look and sound like it actually hurts your opponent. The overall feel and tempo of the game has been toned down to look less like an anime and more realistic.

Arcade Edition also brought forth an updated UI with bright grandstands and lavish gold hues that makes you feel like you’re playing in the grand finals of EVO at the comfort of your basement, along with an obnoxiously loud BGM that restarts every screen transition.


Street Fighter V’s story mode takes you on every fighter’s story in poorly drawn comic strips that offers cheesy anime cliches and horrible dialogue. Crapcom pls.


There are tons of mechanics that comes with fighting games, but I’ll only talk about the V-System that is unique to Street Fighter V (geddit?).

The V-System is represented by the V-Gauge that has either 2 or 3 bars that players can fill up by performing V-Skills, taking damage, and landing counters, by which they can expend these bars on V-Reversals and V-Triggers.

  • V-Skills are unique special moves that every fighter possess. For example, Ryu gets his classic Parry, and Birdie’s V-Skill lets you litter a banana peel on the ground.
  • Much like V-Skills, V-Triggers are unique to each fighter and they are often used as combo extenders or to turn the tide of battle as a comeback mechanic.
  • V-Reversals allow fighters to perform a counter attack, often as a safe option to stop the opponent’s pressure.

Lens of Skill

In a competitive fighting game, there will no doubt be an element of skill involved in the gameplay. You wouldn’t have a button mashing novice beating a competitive player, but for Street Fighter V, the skill gap was reduced considerably to make the game more accessible to a wider audience. Combos are a lot easier to pull off, and as a consequence, it reduced the diversity and variety of play styles in Street Fighter V across novice and expert players.

In the event where having two hands at your disposal is too much of an advantage, here’s a Street Fighter V combo video played with only one hand:

Lens of Head and Hands

Here’s a theory that ties in very well with this lens, and it categorizes players into 3 archetypes:

  • Brains refers to the scientific player where hitbox and frame data is king, every move is calculated and optimized depending on the situation.
  • Heart applies to the feeling based player who relies on mind games, making reads, and baiting their opponents.
  • Body represents players known for their physical capabilities, where in fighting games refers to their execution and reactions.

In Street Fighter V, the skill ceiling for both mental and physical elements are very high. Hence it feels to me like the game serves as a canvas for players to achieve and strive in these aspects.

Lens of Competition

Street Fighter V is straightforward in the sense that it is 1-versus-1 and the goal is to defeat your opponent. The competitive aspect comes in when your opponent happens to be a human being who is also trying their best to defeat you. With the addition of player ranks and online leaderboards, it definitely brings out the competitiveness within players.

If self-motivation and bragging rights isn’t your cup of tea, then perhaps the prize pool of $380,000 USD as seen in Capcom Cup 2017 should do the trick. This also segues nicely to the next point.

Lens of Economy

What sets Street Fighter V apart is that new content updates such as Arcade Edition will be free for everyone who already owns the game, and with that comes the introduction of Fight Money.

Fight Money is an in-game currency that you can painfully earn through playing the game, and with enough currency, you can get access to unlockables such as maps, titles, color palettes, and new characters. That of course means that you can opt to use real world currency to unlock these items if you do not want to do it the hard way. It feels rather silly not be able to play the entire roster of characters but I suppose it is a necessary compromise in exchange for free content updates.

NieR: Automata

NieR: Automata (PS4 Version)


NieR: Automata is an action role-playing video game developed by PlatinumGames. It was released in Japan in February 2017 and worldwide the following month.

NieR: Automata is set in a war-ravaged Earth where mankind has evacuated the planet whilst waiting for their created “androids” to reclaim the planet for them against invading alien “machines”. Players take on the roles of three androids, a combat model, 2B, a scout model, 9S, and a rogue prototype, A2. The game makes use of the Rashomon effect to tell the full story of the game.

NieR: Automata was directed by series creator Yoko Taro, produced by Yosuke Saito, composed by Keiichi Okabe and Keigo Hoashi, with Akihiko Yoshida in helming character design.

Elemental Tetrad – Mechanics

NieR: Automata has a unique game mechanic due to the daring move by the game designers to combine two genres of gameplay, namely “Shoot em up” and “Hack and Slash”. When the game first starts players are introduced to the “Shoot em up” section of the game. Players get a top down view of the protagonist, 2B, in her flight unit as she dodges incoming lasers and takes down enemies with the flight unit’s machine guns.

After a short cutscene, the flight unit transforms allowing for movement and shooting in all directions. This also allows for enemies to engage the players from all four sides of the screen. Up until now, the game is played in 2-Dimensional space.

Finally, when 2B is forced to land, the game transitions into the “Hack and Slash” genre, allowing players to play the game in a 3-Dimensional space, with greater focus on button mashing melee combat and perfectly timed dodges than shooting.

The game transitions smoothly between these two genres throughout, occasionally relying on cutscenes to do so, though more commonly by changing the camera viewing angle.

Elemental Tetrad – Story

The story follows the time-tested formula of the Hero’s Journey, very common in JRPGs such as this one. We are introduced into the world of NieR: Automata and see how the characters change with the events that occur. It is a truly emotional experience… But only for those who complete all the side quests as well. As I went through the story, I could understand what the characters were feeling, but I could not feel them myself. I believe I would have grown closer to the characters had I just been able to locate or complete certain side quests before finishing the game. Particularly, the side quests for 2B and 9S support androids, but most importantly the side quest where 9S marks 2B’s grave.

Elemental Tetrad – Aesthetics

NieR: Automata is beautifully designed, with several environments. From the City Ruins to the Desert to the Forest Castle, each of these are a feast for the eyes. Additionally, these environments are populated with their own fauna, giving the world a life of its own. However, what truly sets the mood in NieR: Automata is the accompanying soundtrack. From the peaceful melodies in safe zones, to the choir chanting during a boss fight, it is easy to hear why The Game Awards 2017 gave it “Best Score/Music”.

Elemental Tetrad – Technology

NieR: Automata does not depend heavily on technology. Perhaps the most difficult “tech” implementation would be the smooth transitioning from the 3D Hack and Slash modes of the game to the 2D Shoot em up modes, especially the modes that do not use cutscenes.

Lens of Surprise

NieR: Automata’s surprises come from the revelations in its story. For newcomers to the JRPG genre, the story is packed full of exciting reveals. For long time players of JRPGs they would have come to expect these plot twists, yet the reveals still deliver astonishment from learning new, and often dark, facts about this universe.

Lens of Fun

NieR: Automata stays fun as it breaks repetitive gameplay through its transitions to and from Hack and Slash and Shoot em up modes. This ensures that while you play the same game trying to achieve the same objective, your style of play constantly changes with the game. Each switch kept me engaged to the game, making me more eager to continue to the end, a problem I have with most other JRPGs that require grinding to attain a higher level to take on the boss.

Lens of Curiosity

NieR: Automata places you immediately into the action of a new world and requires you to process information that’s given without much context. All you know is that you are flying towards an objective, and your mission is to destroy the objective. One of the first things players would subconsciously ask themselves is “what is the objective?”. Personally, my variation of this was “what does the objective look like?” When I was attacked a giant metal arm with a buzz saw like structure for a hand, I assumed that was the objective, but this was not the case. It wouldn’t be until I faced a giant robot with two such arms did I truly know what I was supposed to best. Much like the explorers of the 16th Century, I dug around every nook and cranny of this new world and found places that I would have never found if I had purely followed the story.

Lens of Unification Theme

NieR: Automata’s unifying theme encompasses the philosophical questions of life. The androids and machines were created with the sole purpose of fighting the war on the behalf of humans and aliens, but with the creators gone, what purpose do the creations serve? What separates the androids from the machines, when the machines have learnt to have emotions, or even when it is discovered that androids are made from the core of a machine? The story, side quests, and general setting for the game brilliantly come together to make us question this.

The World Ends with You


The World Ends with You is an action role-playing game originally developed for the Nintendo DS in 2007 by Square Enix and Jupiter. It received generally positive reviews, and has a small cult following. Later on, a mobile port was developed in 2012. More recently, a Switch port has been announced to be released later this year.

You play as Neku, an introverted kid who has recently died and is forced into a game where he needs to accomplish missions in order to gain a second chance at life. You run around Shibuya, Tokyo achieving these objectives, and while doing that you learn more about life and other people along the way, eventually learning to interact with others and appreciate them.

It really drew me in for many reasons. The story, setting, and aesthetics immersed me in the game, and made me want to continue playing until the end. The world was interesting and always had something worth exploring. It was fun to experiment and try out new things, and test the limits of what I was capable of doing.

Gameplay video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MacsjwKETLE


Lens of Elemental Tetrad


The game is done in a very stylistic, cartoonish way. It was made for the DS, which does not have good resolution, so it suits the technology pretty well. Set in Shibuya, Tokyo, the game draws heavily from the fashion of young teens. As such, it feels very unique, as it has an interesting fusion of hip hop, pop, punk, gothic lolita, and anything else which teenagers like. There is even a giant graffiti wall in the game, which has important significance to the main character.


The game has the player running around a fictional Shibuya completing tasks. Many of the tasks are simple such as travelling to a certain location or fighting a certain monster. Fighting is also interesting. Firstly, monsters generally do not engage the player in combat. Usually, it is the player who needs to choose to fight, and then they will enter the fighting part of the game. Secondly, the fighting is done on 2 separate screens, where the player has to control 2 separate characters. Thirdly, the player fights in a variety of ways. Slashing, dragging, poking the screen, blowing into the microphone; depending on the attacks equipped, any action could be an attack.


The game puts the player in control of Neku, a player in the game conducted by the Reapers. Neku has recently died, and this is a chance for those people to gain a second chance at life. Players will have to complete tasks given to them, and will need to survive for seven days to win. However, the monsters which the reapers send to attack are special, and exist in 2 different planes at the same time. As such, Neku needs to team up with another person, which is hard for him as he is an introvert and does not like to interact with others. Throughout the game, the player learns more about this world and how things work here, while Neku learns to trust in other people and accept them for who they are.


The game makes great use of its technology. Being on the Nintendo DS, there are a variety of gimmicks which were available to it. The game makes you fight simultaneous battles, making use of the dual screen nature of the console. In addition, no feature of the DS was left unused: The touch screen, microphone, wi-fi, and even things like sleep mode were used to provide different experiences to the player.

Tying it Together

Neku is forced to learn about others and how they work and gradually accept them into his life. Similarly, we as the player learn more about this world and learn more about how the game works. The technology is introduced bit by bit, and the attacks gradually expand their variety in how to use. We also get thrown in this world and it’s varied and interesting art style, which is created from a clash between many different existing styles. In the end, it gives an experience of learning about others and appreciating them, even though they are different from us.


Lens of Curiosity

The game is set in Shibuya, but it doesn’t allow you to access most of the places. Slowly, the game expands, and you can visit more and more locations which may be familiar to you if you have been there in real life. Even if you haven’t, it is still interesting to see where can I go next. Other than that, there are a huge amount of attack powers in the game, but you can only use 6 at a time. The game encourages you to try out all of them and find some which suit you the best. In addition, using the attack powers will upgrade them, and sometimes they may even evolve into new powers! This is in addition to the game slowly unlocking new equipment with a variety of effects, and new game mechanics to alter the game.


Lens of Freedom

The game gives you an objective to complete, but other than that you are free to explore the area. To make it less daunting, the game starts out with a very limited area where the player can move around in. This slowly expands as the player completes more and more objectives and progresses throughout the game. Even not counting story progression, the player is free to play the game how they want. Free to choose their attack powers, and free to choose their difficulty, and free to choose how many or little fights they want to engage in. The game gives you the space you need to enjoy the game in the way you want to.


Lens of Challenge

The game allows the player to set the challenge at the level they are comfortable with. Firstly, there are difficulty options (easy, medium, hard, extreme). Secondly, the game allows you to fight multiple enemies in a row (normally you automatically heal after each battle, but with this you can forgo that). Thirdly, you can set your player’s level, which determines how much health you start the battle with. In addition to this, you can change your equipment easily and change your attack powers. All of this allows immense variety to the kind of difficulty you can set, so you can play the game however you want.