I recently got the chance to go hands-on with upcoming Forza Motorsport at a special preview event in Los Angeles, where on top of spending decent time with the game itself I got the chance to talk to the co-founder and creative director of the Forza Racing Franchise, Dan Greenawalt, on what players can expect from the series after a long hiatus.
Here’s how it went:
Forza Motorsport has been quite absent from the scene, what is the team doing to bring racing fans back to the series again?
I think for me, Forza Motorsport and Forza in general start with that vision of trying to build that car community. Trying to help people fall in love with cars. The very foundation of the team from day one, was about taking car lovers and turning them into gamers and turning gamers into car lovers. It was kind of an easy thing to say but as the game evolves over time, we’ve done more and more features to bring them in.
So in the new Forza Motorsport, the thing I’m most excited about is all that investment we did to create that passion for cars. And you can see it in everything you play. Did we do huge advancements in physics? We did. There’s more advancement in physics in this Forza Motorsport than the previous titles combined. The most exciting thing about that is that we have 500 cars that have technologies that are so variable and so different; almost no simulator in the world can simulate these differences and certainly not to this level of accuracy. You can put on, old bias-ply tires in our engine, and you can put all these different types of suspensions, body-widths etc. – all of those things to recreate all the different technologies that go into cars.
So, that allows you to fall in love with the 10 cars that speak to you as you push them to your limits because this game is about skill and competition – all of those subtleties really come out. We believe that’s going to build that feeling of ‘oh, I get this car. I love this car’. I’ve done time with it and seen it progress. And it’s also about taking in the skill, it’s not just hitting A, A, A – it’s like you really have to build your skill up. Yeah, we had improvements in the physics, the graphics, the AI… all of these things but the goal is, you find the 10 cars you fall in love with and they’re different to mine.
Now, if you’ve decided to get competitive; rivals mode, time attack, multiplayer etc. well that’s great but even if you don’t and just fall in love with the 10 cars, you can talk to people like me like what you love this and that – I love that community aspect of it.
In terms of physics, what sparked the decision to overhaul and rebuild the physics – was it based on community feedback or was there a different vision for the game?
The reason we have the 500 cars we do, the reason we have the 20 tracks we do, is towards this vision of helping players fall in love. And, with the 500 cars we have painted a picture of diversity and technology, that I mean, there’s just no collection of 500 cars that do quite so much like hybrid systems, electric systems, like turbo, V8 and all that plus all the tyre technologies. So, I say all that and go, imagine here’s the complexity set. You want to do a diversity of cars like we have a 1960s hatchback, modern cars or something. You have to do all these different technologies.
To help people fall in love with cars, you need to have all the little pieces of subtleties to come through and we believe all the subtleties are all there if your maths is correct. So for us, we don’t tune for the stuff to feel right, we’ve invested in the simulation so it just feels right. The maths is true. So when you have an all-wheel-drive car vs. a front-wheel-drive car, they drive differently immediately. You put a different suspension on, they drive differently naturally. So all the investment in physics is towards falling in love with cars.
In terms of the lineup of cars and tracks, you’ve announced that you’re going to have 20 tracks on release (which is less than the previous titles) – how do you manage community expectations for that?
Well, first of all, you’re using the word expectations which is perfect. We’re trying to be exceptionally transparent with everyone. This is what we’ve built, this is what we have, you’re playing it, we’re doing previews, we’re getting all this stuff out so everyone knows what we’ve built and what our vision is.
We chose these cars and these tracks because it’s going to allow us to create this journey. You start off with this group of cars, and you learn them. You don’t start by immediately upgrading them. You start learning and work your way through it, and you go through tracks that really fit in this world with real-time weather and time of day. The tracks have a ton of diversity in both their graphics but also the way the corners move and ungulate. So we’re taking people on a journey where they have a lot of control in where they go but we’re still heading to a place where you fall in love with the car – so that’s why we chose the tracks we have.
Also, we’ve built a racing platform: we’re going to be adding free tracks, and free cars into this game. We’ve already announced we’re adding the Nordschleife, which is a pretty long lap so it’s always difficult to integrate it into our career and featured multiplayer but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to build it but we want to build it accurately. This is a Gen 9 visual showcase, we’re remastering, and we’re rebuilding all the content in our game. So we want these tracks to be accurate, modern, up-to-date to showcase all of that physics and we’re going to be adding tracks to add to the diversity to fall in love with cars.
Visually, Forza has always been pushing the envelope in the graphics department but let’s talk about audio. What improvements can we expect to hear in this latest title?
Huge improvements. Well, first off, there’s a number of voices. It’s all integrated into the same physics technology I was talking about. That we are able to put all of these different myriad of components that build up a car, so what you’re hearing in the car is going to be all the different intakes and exhausts, and timing, cam and all of that – that we can put together as different voices in the car, as well as the mix so depending on where your camera position is and how that changes the mix. More voices in the AI around you as well, you can hear the subtleties in the cars around you and we add all of the Atmos [support] as well.
You can see how that works though, you have all the physics in the right place. You can attach all the correct audio and voices to the components and that makes the car sound just right. Instead of trying to hand tune ‘oh a car sounds like that, let’s try to make it sound like that.’ A car is a collection of technologies. You record each piece of technology and you assemble to form that car.
From a racing sim standpoint, there are things like tyre wear, pitstop strategies and fuel as well that have been added to Forza Motorsport. From a casual perspective, are there things you can and can’t turn off? What can people expect?
In the Builder’s Cup, there are three different rulesets. The third ruleset is what I tend to play on which is the Forza Race Regulations that’s part of multiplayer. When you go into the Builder’s Cup, you don’t do qualifying. You don’t really do pitstop strategies because the races are about so long and the reason we don’t do qualifying, is because we want you to do the ‘challenge the grid’ system. What this is meant to do; is push you through the practice system to drive your car to the limits. Really learn how to drive the car, play with upgrades and learn. If that’s as far as you go as a player, that’s awesome. You’re going to fall in love with 10 cars, maybe 20, new cars are going to come out, the career is going to be constantly refreshing with new tracks and new weather events; things that are happening. So if you just stay there, that’s great.
But if you decide that you love this car and start to be competitive, I know the Forza Race Regulations, I’m not gonna smash into people. Take it to Featured Multiplayer. In Featured Multiplayer, you’re going to find more pitstop strategies. So you can see this is like graduating, from one set of skills to upgrading, practising etc. and then you get into a place where there are other people and they’re pretty fast. That’s where new strategies come into place. It’s not all meant to be there at the same time, they all come in layers as you choose it. If you go into Free Play, you can select rule sets as well and turn features on and off there.
In terms of Featured Multiplayer, how do you prevent toxic drivers, is there some sort of player recognition system?
Yes, the Featured Multiplayer has two big systems/innovations introduced. One is Forza Race Regulations which we introduced in Forza Motorsport 7, which has been completely revamped. It’s a machine learning-based system, we are able to take in information on how people play in Forza Motorsport 7 plus the last six years of us play testing this game to really curtail certain types of behaviours. We can make that more or less strict. That’s basically an AI race marshal.
But coming out of the race, you’re going to be increasing your speed rating, so how fast you are as a player and your safety rating. And in a lot of games, especially ours, we optimise towards speed first then safety second. So now we’re optimising for safety first. So if you’re a clean driver, you’ll be with clean drivers however some of those drivers might be slower but that’s part of racing. So that’s the kind of matchmaking that really helps and we also have all sorts of rules with Forza Race Regulations like penalises you, ghosts you, puts you at the back so it starts to curtail that sort of behaviour.
In terms of licencing, how you keep this many cars in the game when it’s something that racing titles have had troubles with in the past?
That’s a great question, and it’s an ever-evolving space. So when I look back at Forza Motorsport 1, a lot of licensors looked at gaming and were like ‘yeah, kids in their parent’s basement’ which was a little bit dismissive and now they saw with the rise of Forza and other racing games, we are creating real car buyers, like they’re developing their love for an M3, and go buy one when they finally have enough money, so that kinda changed our relationship with licensors because now it’s really marketing.
That gives us the ability to give more equal terms on how we discuss things but these games are some of the most licenced games in the world, we’re talking about a massive number of licensors plus all the music and tracks/signage etc. There are just so many brands throughout. That means licensing is a big deal, we always have to be updating our licensing for people. So we have a comprehensive strategy for how we keep in touch with all our licensors for contracts that work for them and us. Our goal is to keep cars and everything in there forever but we have to work with these licensors because it’s theirs, it’s their cars, it’s their IP. We have to respect them as much as they respect us.
With this new entry, you’ve decided to drop the number from the title. In terms of that, is that moving Forza Motorsport into games as a service or a reboot?
Yes and yes and yes? I wouldn’t say games as a service. This is a triple-A game, this is a Generation 9 showcase and it’s going to be a massive launch. So this is a big launch. So it does feel to me as one of the founders of this franchise, as a reboot. Like we’re back to our heart of falling in love with cars, falling in love through skill and competition and we’re doing it in a very modern way. And integrating the upgrades which is such a big part of Forza Motorsport 1 through 4, integrating that in the core loop. It feels like we’re back to our roots in a cool and modern way. So dropping the number makes sense at that point, but yeah our goal is to make a platform that we can add new cars, tracks and events. Does that look like a service? Maybe? but that’s not really our goal. Our goal is community.
One thing I’ve noticed about the cover art and marketing in general. Every Forza Motorsport has one hero cover car for launch. This time, there are two cars. Is this a slight nod to the first cover?
Yeah, the first one – that cover… it was something else.
… I remember that one alright.
So, it wasn’t meant to be a nod to that. So if you go back to our vision of falling in love with cars and it’s competition and speed. Therefore we have these physics, therefore we have these 500 cars and 20 tracks. When you look at the technologies that we have to simulate, that got us interested. So one of the big reasons we have two cars on the cover is that while both GM (Global Motors) represent some really wild technologies. Like the bump start you do in that Cadillac, it uses this electric engine to kickstart the main engine. That’s cool tech so for us when we try and simulate 500 cars including modern hybrids, electrics and all these different things. It pushes our simulation to a place that nobody is looking at. To me yeah those cars are cool, they’ve got cool technology but also showcase the differentials between all these different cars.