Yesterday, we sat down via the magic of telephone with Dan Greenawalt, Forza Motorsport 2's Game Director. We yammered for a quite a while about the trials and tribulations of game design; while I'm not much of a gamer myself, my inner designer's fascinated by what goes into putting together such a large-scale, detailed production like Forza, where the goal is to get the cars and tracks as true to life as possible while offering up an immersive gaming experience that moves units. On the 26th of this month, Forza's dropping a 14th track for the game — Japan's Twin Ring Motegi, a facility that's hosted everything from NASCAR to MotoGP and offers up four track configurations. More about Greenawalt's mission after the jump.
As somebody who rarely sits down with a controller (my newest game system is an O.G. NES) but loves cars and has spent his life obsessing over cars and his adult life futzing professionally with graphics on computers, I was interested in what drove Greenawalt and his team at Turn 10 to come up with the things they do. Forza 2 focuses on two things: realism in the reproduction of the tracks and the car and fostering creativity among the player community, something Greenawalt is adamant about. Hell, some players have even come up with versions of Michael Ross' Polizei Bentley Continental GT.
I asked Greenawalt why while there was such an effort placed on car-customization in the game, while the tracks tended to lag. He replied that it takes about three months to build a track; that they've tried outsourcing and adding people to the teams assigned and that no matter what they do, they can't seem to cut the time down. While they've got head-starts on tracks all over the world, actually putting the touches on the facilities to make them seem real means renting the facility for about half a week and hiring a helicopter. Plus, working in HD presents its own series of challenges; the pixel and poly counts require heavy-duty rendering; one of the reason that Turn Ten has shied away from adding in an in-game track-building application.
Another is that by adding in such an app, it would restrict the developers to using that same application as well, and as Greenawalt noted, Turn Ten isn't necessarily in the business of building an engine to sell. Instead, he wants to offer up the fanboy experience. Outside of well-heeled folks and broke-dick journos with connections, who gets to drive the world's premier tracks? That's an ethos that seems to inform everything that Greenawalt does when considering the game. As a fanboy himself, he wants to offer up a mass-market product that fanboys can adjust to their taste. The ins and out of producing something like this are frankly insane, with all of the vehicle licensing involved, not to mention the time taken to map the track as accurately as possible.
At Laguna Seca last weekend, Forza 2-sponsored driver Jaime Melo popped off a 1:25 lap on the Xbox 360. And in an inverse-Clarkson, he went out onto the track and pulled down a 1:22, setting a record in the process. That's the kind of accuracy Greenawalt strives for. Meanwhile, we're still waiting for them to add a Citroën SM to the mix. C'mon gents, chop-chop!