Interviews// Forza Horizon

Posted 18 Sep 2012 14:13 by
Forza Horizon marks a brave new departure from the clean, clinical and elegant approach of its Motorsport predecessors. Horizon is about dirt, it's about fun, it's about festival parties. And, as a result, the game is much more approachable for those who simply want to race with their friends.

It's a deliberate design approach that comes from a collaboration between series creators Turn 10 and UK studio Playground Games. I spoke to Turn 10's creative director Dan Greenawalt about what this direction means for the Forza series and what inspired it all. The answer might surprise you...

SPOnG: You guys are working with Playground Games in the UK to create Forza Horizon. What kind of visual expression or design elements did they bring to the table?

Dan Greenawalt: I think on the design side and on the tech side they really contributed. They basically started with the Forza 4 engine - the AI, graphics, physics, all the different engine parts - and worked with us on the same core vision. Their expressions started from the very beginning of development, with this idea of a summer music festival. That led to our open world design, then the emergent gameplay.

All of the decisions you see throughout the game, the day/night cycle and what impact that has had on the tech... it all kind of rolled out from that base direction. The day and night cycle in particular came from us working from the same IBL (Image Based Lighting) and HDR light maps that we had in Forza 4, but then we began focusing on the Ďgolden hourí. That part of the summer day where the sunís really low and you get these yellow and pink hues... that changes some of the visual language of the game.

But, the intention was not to change the visual language specifically - the intention was to support that kind of summer festival feeling. The changes we made to the visual design really reflected that.

[b]SPOnG: Itís obviously an interesting departure from previous Forza games. Was this a natural progression for you guys, or was it born out of a desire that Forza needed to change?

Dan Greenawalt: Well, I donít know if itís really about change. I think itís about expanding. Our ambitions are so great, that we really want to make a difference in gaming culture and car culture. We had expressed that vision in a very singular fashion in the Motorsports side of things. And we didnít go in this direction because we felt Motorsport was too limiting - in fact, weíre still just scratching the surface on the ideas that we have as a team and the things that weíd like to do. It was because we believed we can get even more people into this core vision - gamers-to-car-lovers and car-lovers-to-gamers - if we change the primary gaming motivation.

Itís not about a dramatic change from having simulation physics to being accessible, because thatís not the primary motivation. The primary motivation is hot-lapping on a licensed track versus exploring an open world. So I donít know if it felt like the franchise had to change, rather that we felt like we were ready to blow up.

SPOnG: The Forza Motorsport line of games always been seen as more serious. The message with Horizon is fun, social, interactivity. The feeling of a festival. How will you think fans will take that expansion in theme and approach?

Dan Greenawalt: You know, the great thing about the Motorsport franchise we built so far is that we have an incredibly diverse fanbase. We obviously have demographic information, and we are actually one of the most diverse game franchises within the Microsoft Game Studios family. We have a spread of older, male, female and young demographic... weíre not really skewing in any one place.

The reason thatís relevant is that when you say Ďthe core Forza Motorsport playerí... you gotta really ask who youíre talking about. Itís not 90% this, and 10% that. No, itís like a 50-50 split across all of these different groups we have. There are people that spend all their time painting; when you look at our online component we have half of our players doing Playground games, and half of them doing circuit racing.

That surprises people, because you think with a game like this itís all about the Nurburgring so all those guys must be simulation junkies. Well, it turns out theyíre not. And thatís why our sales have been so great. Because honestly, if it was just selling to that group... itís not that big a group as when you start really tapping into that car culture and gaming culture as a larger entity.

SPOnG: There are obviously highlights of games like Burnout Paradise here. Would you say games like that had an impact on you guys in terms of inspiration?

Dan Greenawalt: No, I think honestly that all came from the top down, regarding our vision. We thought about the vision, which led to the festival, which then led to the open world approach. In terms of design, when you start thinking about a summer festival, the colours you think about are reds and oranges. Flyers look like pinks and yellows, right?

Honestly, itís much easier to see our inspiration than you might think. The worst place to look for inspiration is in your own genre. Forza Motorsport has had famous inspiration from Pokťmon and World of Warcraft, and a lot of other genres. So there were games that influenced Forza Horizon, but they werenít racing games. Truth is, our inspiration for the game itself came from some of the great open world games like Red Dead Redemption, Assassinís Creed, Skyrim... that is what actually inspires a lot of our gameplay, but the artistic style came purely from our own vision.

SPOnG: Iím curious to know what the Pokťmon connection is.

Dan Greenawalt: So this is... there are a lot of skeletons in my closet [laughs]. Iíve been working on this franchise a long time! With the original Forza Motorsport... one of the first designers I hired actually had worked on Pokťmon for a long time. And I knew that I wanted this car-collecting element to be implemented into the game. What game, especially back in 2002, had inspired collecting more than Pokťmon?

It did collecting using a rarity system - through different coloured versions - with a sense that everything felt very natural. And actually, thereís a really natural sense of rarity in cars. So in Forza 1, the cars had a rarity meter, and you had to pick your region - much like choosing Pokťmon Sapphire or Ruby - and that made certain cars more or less rare in the game. That was directly inspired by Pokťmon.

Since then, weíve evolved it - still looking at Pokťmon and other collecting games, such as card-collecting and the like - and weíve borrowed more from the real world rarity paradigm thatís in car collecting. That is to say that in Forza, it takes time to earn money. In a lot of traditional racing games, you would base the price of your cars on performance. We donít do that, we base them on real-world rarity. When thereís a car like a classic Ferrari, which is like 10 million credits in the game, you might spend 30 hours just to buy it. What that effectively does in a global economy is make it very rare. So weíre borrowing against the real-world rarity paradigm.

SPOnG: Youíre also taking it a bit further in Horizon...

Dan Greenawalt: With barn finds, yeah. Thereís nine barn finds, and each one is hidden. They randomly appear as a rumour in your game and then you have to go seek it out. The random factor is going to change how common the car is in everybodyís individual games. So those nine particular cars will be especially rare, when you look effectively across the millions of people who are going to play the game.

SPOnG: Can you talk a little bit about the multiplayer mode and how youíve designed it? Will you be able to engage in free-roaming co-op with your friends?

Dan Greenawalt: Yeah, you can. But... thatís another really interesting question, because Iíve been asked a lot about free-roaming in this world. Will we have other players free-roaming around with you in real-time? There have been other games that have done that. But what I tend to find is that people keep passing one another and ignoring race requests. Youíre always running into people that are not in the same play state you are in.

So we didnít really want to inherit that baggage. What we did was looked at the telemetry that came out of Forza 4, and we found a very clear pattern in that people tend to be in a switch. Theyíre either in Ďsingle-playerí or Ďmulti-playerí mode. And I donít mean physically, because of course the game is segmented that way. I mean in how theyíre playing - the paths they use to play show a very clear intent. People get into a mindset of ĎIím going to play single-player for a whileí, a friend came online ĎIím not going to do multiplayerí. They donít randomly flutter between the two.

So what we did was put multiplayer into the pause menu. Itís in Race Central, itís in the world... itís also in the splash screen from the very beginning. The goal is to make multiplayer always accessible to get to wherever you are. When one of your friends comes online, you can simply and quickly get into a race together. From there you decide whether you want to free-roam together and open up the map to other friends too. But this way, youíre not getting random strangers and friends who happen to be on the same server at the same location at the same time. Weíre being deliberate in this.

SPOnG: You talk about a vision for Horizon in that this is a natural step for the Forza franchise. Is this the shape of things to come? Will you still go back to the Motorsport side of things, or will that now be incorporated into the open-world Horizon approach?

Dan Greenawalt: This is about having two world-class teams executing against the same vision and the same tech, making for an incredibly powerful experience for players. So... we donít really look at our franchise anymore about competition, this or that. All we look at now is our vision and our customers, and how we can get people excited.

Obviously, right now weíre talking about Forza Horizon with Playground Games. Whatís up next? Itís going to be Turn 10. Whatís up next for Turn 10? I canít tell you - but I can tell you that weíre very busy. What weíre really looking for now is how well this game will be received. Weíre all very proud of this game, I think it plays great, people are having a great time, but itís not out yet. So we donít know how well people are going to respond to it.

Regardless of how they respond to Horizon, we feel extremely blessed to have this partner in Playground Games. Theyíre bringing new ideas, new code, new tech. Itís nothing but good news for customers and the racing genre in general.

SPOnG: Is there no turning back now that youíve jumped into open world? Or is this a one-off collaboration project?

Dan Greenawalt: No, this is a long-term partnership. Playground Games, Turn 10... weíve put a ring on it.

SPOnG: Thank you very much for your time.

Dan Greenawalt: Thank you.

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forza 19 Sep 2012 12:13
yay for the Beardwallt

it's Fortsza Horitson guis ! what's not to love
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