The Man Behind The Forza Series Explains Why Forza Horizon ExistsS

My Corrado isn't fast, but it's mine. If I drive it right, If I cross the yellows to straighten the road out and keep my speed up, it feels quicker than it really is. I need to be mindful of oncoming traffic but when I turn he music up and let it rip I manage to beat the faster cars.

Some day, I'm going to win enough street races, earn enough street cred, and save enough cash to buy the car I want. A 911 turbo with full upgrades and the boost jacked to 11. But until then I'll keep racing my Corrado and hope for the best. 



Welcome to Forza Horizon. The game is fun. The press trip I went on for it was kind of terrible, but the experience gave me a chance to ask the game's creator to find out why, in the words of a few angry hard-core sim players, "HE IS RUINING EVERYTHING WE LOVE!"

You've read a lot about the game by now, especially here on Jalopnik. You've probably focused a lot on the physics engine or the downloadable content or multiplayer modes, but the real gem is the single player mode and the fully modeled world. It's amazing. I normally hate single player mode in racing games but Horizon is different. The world feels real. Everything you can see in the distance is real and if you drive long enough you reach those neighborhoods.

I was playing for hours before I found another downtown area that I didn't even know existed. It was after I located the street racers so I started engaging one car after another in furious races through the buildings. The only reason you know it's not real is there are no flashing lights trying to pull you over. 
 


But everything else feels real. Cars cut you off and randomly throw on their turn signals and nail you as you try to pass in the oncoming lanes. You can switch between three radio stations cranking out real music that you would listen to on your own car radio. The in-car view is eerily accurate. Especially at night when your headlights only reach so far and oncoming traffic turns from a faint glow to blinding headlights in no time.

The Man Behind The Forza Series Explains Why Forza Horizon ExistsS

I slipped up once and ended up on a golf course. I assumed the guardrail would stop me but it merely explodes into splinters as I crash through it. Normally most driving games would automatically kick you back onto the road. But not Horizon. Horizon lets you keep driving. I missed the oncoming car but now I'm bouncing across the fairway in triple digit speed trying to avoid the sand traps while I looked for the road I just left. 



Sure, there's a bit of arcade-like driving in there, but there is something special about Horizon. So special I would rather play the game inside than drive real cars outside.

Here's the Full Disclosure part. The PR people representing the game flew me to Bondurant Racing School for a Forza Horizon press trip but the driving events were kind of weak. Like autocrossing a Camaro over a 28-second course in mostly first gear, without being able to disable traction control.

We did race from a standing stop thru a three-cone slalom and back again to the start box. I like any competition in a car but I got bored after a few runs and eventually asked if I could just go back inside and play Horizon some more.

Seriously. For once in my life I would rather be playing the game than driving a real car, a reflection of both how good the game is and how tired I am of the video game press trips Matt keeps trying to send me on.

At least it gave me a chance to think up some questions for Forza's creative master and former martial arts teacher Dan Greenawalt.

The Man Behind The Forza Series Explains Why Forza Horizon ExistsS

Bill Caswell: Dan, A lot us know the Forza story but for those don't, could you give us your background, how Turn 10 was created and goal for the Forza franchise?

Dan Greenawalt: I have an atypical background for the tech industry. I studied comparative Religion in college. After college, I taught martial arts for many years. I started working at Microsoft Game Studios to pay the bills and fill time between the morning and evening classes I was teaching. I was a lifelong gamer, but never thought of it as a career. After working in games for a year, I found the work invigorating. I worked on several sports and racing games for PC and console. Eventually, I stopped teaching and made games development my primary passion. In 2002, a small group of us pitched a new racing game for the original Xbox. To my surprise, we got the green light build a prototype, a team and eventually a product. Forza Motorsport was born.

With the original Forza Motorsport, we were trying to figure out what we as a development studio were about and what we wanted to say with our game. Over the years, we've continually refined our goals and our processes to try and improve our quality and make the best games possible. However, even from the beginning, we had a lofty franchise vision. We wanted to make car/game experiences that ignited new passions for gaming and cars or fueled the passion players already had.

We've always had a few central precepts that are at the heart of all Forza games. First, the car is the star. Our studio is made of car lovers of every stripe and we want that passion to shine through in the way we portray our cars in the game. For that reason, we put a heavy emphasis on the individuality of every car in the game – it's driving "personality", if you will. Second, our over-arching goal for Forza has been to turn car lovers into gamers and gamers into car lovers. We want to spread the passion we feel for cars to as many people as possible, to introduce folks to an experience that hopefully sparks a love of car passion for years to come.

The Man Behind The Forza Series Explains Why Forza Horizon ExistsS

Why was Horizon made? (The die hard track guys, the ones that only care about the legendary Forza physics engine are concerned that Horizon is the future of the Forza franchise as they enjoy the technical nature of the game such as the race track modeling. This is chance to address their concerns)

Forza Horizon was created for the same reason we've made all of our games: to spread the word of car culture and give players a chance to have a great time driving the best cars in the world. Of course, Forza Horizon is a new expression of the Forza franchise – it's an open world game, it's got a narrative with speaking characters, it has this incredible music and car festival that serves as the centerpiece of the game, it's got a dynamic day/night cycle, and so on. That said, at its core, this is a Forza game through and through. The same Forza physics that have powered the Forza Motorsport games underpin the driving in Forza Horizon. This means that all the cars in the game have their own feel and handling that makes them feel like individual entities.

So while Horizon definitely has its own point of view, there is a great deal of "Forza DNA" running through the game, from the handling to the innovative lighting and graphics, the online multiplayer and user creation tools that have long defined the Forza series for our most hardcore fans. I always like to say that if you've played a Forza game in the past, you'll feel right at home in Horizon and, if you haven't, you've got a lot of fun ahead of you.

What technical aspects of the game have improved over Forza 4? (65 road surface textures, crashes, etc)?

There have been a number of technical achievements with Forza Horizon – not the least of which was the creation of a vast open world for players to enjoy and explore. Creating the fictionalized version of Colorado in Forza Horizon was a tremendous technical challenge for the team at Playground, and it began with two separate reference trips to the state. They travelled all over Colorado to try and capture the essence of the state – no small task when you consider the tremendous geological and environmental variety in Colorado.

The team returned back to the UK with hundreds of hours of video and tens of thousands of reference photographs. Organizing and distilling all of that information into the world you play in the game was a tremendous challenge for the team – it had to feel authentic to the real state of Colorado but we obviously weren't going to be able to create every nook and cranny of the state. Our approach has been to create a sort of "virtual highlight reel" of the state, highlighting the most beautiful areas of the state (Red Rocks, the Rockies, etc.) and giving the player smooth transitions between the different areas of the state.

Lighting was another challenge. Horizon's dynamic lighting system is entirely new to the engine, and in turn required a large number of other features – suddenly, our shadows had to be dynamically cast as well, and our skies had to move and change in real-time. And of course racing at night requires working headlights and illuminated dash inside the cars, so that was another real technical challenge for our lighting team. In all, it was a challenge that the team really grabbed and relished, as it was a great opportunity to bring back night racing (something that hadn't been seen in Forza since the first game) and in a way that had never been experienced by fans before.

The Man Behind The Forza Series Explains Why Forza Horizon ExistsS

The in game music is one of the best gaming soundtracks I've heard (listen to it here). Tell us how that happened and how so many current songs ended up in the game?

We were very lucky to work with BBC Radio DJ Rob da Bank, who curated the soundtrack for Forza Horizon. His influence is felt throughout Horizon, from the selection of the music on Horizon's three distinct radio stations to the creation of the actual Horizon Festival itself. As founder of the UK-based Bestival music festival, Rob has a tremendous amount of experience with the planning and creation of the festival experience and he leant that experience to the Horizon Festival to make sure our music and automotive was as authentic as possible.

Why is there no traffic in multiplayer? Can that be added later? Even if the head to head drops to 4 live people?

It was important for us to have eight players in multiplayer, because we feel that the paramount experience for playing online should be with as many real life competitors as possible. Races are better when you're dicing it out with real people and this is especially true for Forza Horizon's multiplayer playground games like "Cat & Mouse," "Infected," and "King", where strategy, guile, and teamwork count just much as your skill with the sticks.

That said, it is an open world driving game, and having traffic to weave through with your friends in an undeniably fun experience. As mentioned above, many aspects of the engine had to be rewritten or significantly altered to create this game. There are only so many of these "long pole" initiatives that can be developed in a two year period with a new team. Playground was hiring top quality talent continuously for two year.

We couldn't hire any more rapidly without lowering the bar. Synching AI traffic across the network (while maintaining low latency for the players) would have required a major rewrite of our multiplayer code. It's not a matter of adding 6 months, dropping to 4 players or cutting several smaller features. We knew from the onset, that this work was beyond scope for Forza Horizon.

What are your favorite aspects of the game?

It depends on my mood. Sometimes I want to hop in my favorite car, take it online, and try my hand in multiplayer. Each time you level up in multiplayer, you have a chance to win a random car or credit bonus – I love that anticipatory tension you have, wondering what car I might get, or how much extra cash I'll have on hand.

I also love the Showcase events in the game. The easiest way to think about these races are "Top Gear" events come to life. In one, you might be racing against an airplane while driving a big chunk of American Muscle. In another, you're taking on a helicopter in an Italian sports car.

Of course, sometimes, I just want to get in the fastest car in the game and cruise. It's one of the beauties of the open-world nature of Horizon that I can go where I want, when I want, and see what I can discover.

Do you have a favorite neighborhood in the game? One you like to drive or race other drivers in?

Again, it depends on my mood but lately I've been spending a lot of time on the freeways, trying to beat the speed trap camera times of my friends. These speed trap cameras are spread throughout the world and give you a chance to compare your times with your friends via leaderboards. They're incredibly addictive as you try to find the right combination of car, upgrades, and driving line to get the maximum speed possible.

When you play Horizon at home, what car do you drive in the game?

Sometimes, it's all about the right tool for the job. For speed cameras, I'm looking for a car with a lot of raw power (like the Koeniggsegg CCXR or the Hennessey Venom GT). If I'm playing online in a game like "King" or "Infected", I want something quick and maneuverable (the Lotus 2-Eleven springs to mind). For simply cruising around, more often than not I'll grab my real-life car in the game, the 2008 BMW M3.

How do you play the game? Controller or steering wheel? What mode of steering and assists? It's ok to admit you're a full arcade mode kind of guy…

While Horizon works fine with a steering wheel, I generally play it with a controller. Most of the time, the default difficulty settings work fine – the cars have enough give that it's easy to get them into a drift. If I'm looking for some additional challenge, I'll either turn up the AI difficulty in single player or turn off an assist like ABS or TCS to make the cars a bit more responsive and lively.

Photo Credit: Major Nelson, Turn 10