Playground Games Design Director Ralph Fulton on Forza: Horizon
GAME NAME: Forza: Horizon
DEVELOPER(S): Turn 10, Playground Games
PLATFORM(S): Xbox 360
RELEASE DATE(S): 23 October 2012
A few days ago we were fortunate enough to have a chat with Ralph Fulton, Design Director at Playground Games, all about the upcoming Forza: Horizon. We discussed everything from car lists to customisation, the open-world of Colorado and even physics.
Stevivor: This is the first time a developer other than Turn 10 have been involved in the development of a Forza game. What was the inspiration behind Forza Horizon and what were you going for with this game?
Ralph: You’re absolutely right, Playground Games is new to the Forza series. We first met the guys from Turn 10 at E3 in 2010, shortly after we set the studio up. The idea there was, well, the guys at Turn 10 have spent almost a decade making Forza Motorsport games and they’ve done incredibly well with that, but I think Dan [Greenawalt] always wants more, he wants to reach more people with his vision. He thought that the best way to do that was continuing to do Forza Motorsport but to have another Forza title that expresses that core vision of getting people excited about cars in a different way. That’s what he spoke to us about, that’s what he challenged us to come back to him and pitch, and that’s exactly what we did. The angle we took was to really bring the experiences that Forza hasn’t previously offered players. We all know what Forza Motorsport does brilliantly – it’s all about circuit racing, precision and mastery, with hot laps and shaving seconds off your time and there are a bunch of features in Forza Motorsport that go to support that core experience but really, that’s what it’s about.
We looked at it with the point of view that not everybody gets the opportunity to drive a car on a [race] track, particularly a performance car. I also think, and this is important, from speaking with people over the last six months about this game, that not everybody is totally turned on by circuit racing (lots of people are and that’s why Forza Motorsport has done so well), but lots of people don’t really get it, it’s not for them. We looked at it from the point of view of what new experiences can we bring and the universal car experience that we can all share and talk about, is that act of taking a car onto the open road, turning the music up and just seeing where you drive. That is something we can relate to and that’s really the central core ingredient of Forza: Horizon. We said, let’s take Forza cars and everything they mean – how they look, how they sound, how they feel and take them away from the racetrack and onto the open road. That, in essence, is Forza: Horizon.
Stevivor: Will Horizon have the same sized car list as previous Forza titles and what was the selection process behind which cars were included in the game?
Ralph: Great question. I think we are still in the middle of releasing exactly what our car list is and how big it is. I think I can tell you that it’s pretty obvious that we don’t have as big of a car list as Forza Motorsport, simply because there are lots of cars in the Forza car list that we didn’t think we’d have a need for. For your second question, the lens we applied to cars to see if they made it into Horizon was to look at the Horizon festival which is at the centre of the game - a huge Summer music festival/automotive event that you can take your cars to, to show off and race. We asked ourselves, “does the car make sense being taken to Horizon – is this a car you’d be so proud of that you’d take it to the Horizon festival to show it off?”. Immediately there are some S-Class cars and some E-class cars in Forza Motorsport that really don’t pass that test – some of the much lower-end cars don’t make sense, they aren’t a car you would drive all the way to Colorado to show it off. Also, right at the top end of the scale, there are pure track cars, not road-legal cars (such as the LMP class prototypes) for example, which don’t make sense in Colorado itself – you wouldn’t take these cars out on the open-road. That I guess limits the cars that make sense within Horizon, and within that revised spectrum, what’ve we’ve really looked to do is broaden it – our game is open-world Colorado, which means amazing driving roads, it also means amazing off-road sections. So suddenly there’s a bunch of cars, for example your classic rally cars, you’re off-roaders (4X4s), which suddenly made more sense in our game than they’ve ever made before. We’ve tried to double-down on those cars within the game because suddenly, the diversity of terrain in Horizon means that they just come alive.
Stevivor: Customisation has always been a strong feature in past Forza Motorsport titles. How has it been implemented in Forza: Horizon?
Ralph: To begin with, the Paint Editor and the Livery Editor that has been in past Forza Motorsport titles has been brought across to this game. Part of the Horizon Festival is a big paint shop where you can go in and paint your car – it kind of works the same way that it did in previous Forza titles. If you’re not much of a painter (as I am), you can also buy and share vinyl groups and liveries with other Horizon users via the Storefront. The other big element of customisation in Horizon is the upgrade system, which we’ve also brought across from Forza because I think the Forza system is second-to-none. In terms of how you can take a car in and upgrade it, in terms of cosmetics, you can add bodykits, spoilers, rims and all that sort of thing, or also just performance as well.
A key to Horizon is that you can take a car, you can upgrade it and you can really take it through the career progression - the cars aren’t as disposable as they are in some other [racing] games. Say for example you fall in love with a Ford Focus – you can take that car, upgrade it and take it with you as you progress through the game – you can even engine-swap it with a Ford GT! Suddenly the car can be classes above its original class and you’ve been able to drive it in all the events you’ve participated in. Those are the two unique features and elements of customisation that we’ve brought across in Forza, because those are really key to the franchise.
Stevivor: The map in Forza: Horizon is nothing short of enormous. Are games able to drive all over the map or will this be restricted to the roads and off-road tracks?
Ralph: Honest answer is probably somewhere in-between those two options. We set out to make as open a world as we could, but as we prototyped, we found that there were some things that just weren’t really all that desirable. For example, there are places in Colorado where you could conceivably take a car but honestly, you wouldn’t want to. So we started to barrier-off those locations while still trying to retain that central openness of the world. There are some really diverse road networks, there are miles and miles of off-road tracks, farm tracks and dirt roads and where-ever possible we said, “if we ever wanted to drive across that golf-course for example, well let’s take away those barriers”. Some of our multiplayer modes are set on the golf-course which is hilarious fun when you’re taking a Pagani Zonda and jumping through sand-traps and things like that. Our goal has been to make it as open as possible and in terms of where it’s actually desirable to drive – in places where the player could get stuck, we’ve brought in the barriers but the goal really was to make it as open as possible.
Stevivor: With so many licensed vehicles, how does the team develop the damage model for this game without actually crashing real cars? Are there ever any challenges involved in this part of the development process?
Ralph: *laughs* That’s a good question. The damage is something, obviously, that’s been an evolving thing within car games and the licensing process is key with that. We are fortunate coming with Forza in that the guys at Turn 10 have a strong relationship with all the major car manufacturers – they’ve been working with them for years on multiple versions of Forza and they’ve reached a level of understanding with those organisations which helps them to explain the things we want to do and the things we don’t want to do in the game. That allows us to model car damage in Horizon in a more realistic way. This means increasing the fidelity in scratch-mapping along the car so you get much higher resolution and more realistic scratches in key impact areas of the car and also, as far as geometric deformation and having actual bits of the car falling off through impact. That’s the sort of damage features you’ll see in Forza Horizon and the way we deal with that from a developers perspective is that through this relationship that Turn 10 have built up with the major auto manufacturers over the years and the trust that comes from that - they trust Turn 10 to be faithful to their brands, to be respectful to their brands and in-turn that means we get that leeway to do things which ordinarily they might not.
Stevivor: You’ve been involved in one way or another, with the development of smash hits like DiRT 2, GRID and F1 2010. Was there anything you learned while working on these projects that you carried over when developing this game?
Ralph: I think you can probably identify some of the things we think at Playground are important within racing games. I think you can identify those traits in those games mentioned and I guess also in Forza: Horizon. In this game it was important to us that the festival was a living, breathing festival - it felt real and that to us meant it had to be full of people. People are something you don’t often see in racing games, often they are just excluded or pushed to the side in most games. Certainly in Forza the cars are the stars, but we felt it was really important to bring an aspect of humanity to this Horizon festival. For the player’s progression to be meaningful through it, he has to meet people, he has to speak to people – the guys that organise the festival, the other drivers, so that the game has a sense of personality and that to your question, I think you can see that in GRID, in DiRT 2 and the first F1 . There’s that element of people in the game and making progression meaningful as well, not just the cars.
Stevivor: What sort of race types can we expect to see in Forza: Horizon and does the night/day transition affect which races are available at a particular point in time?
Ralph: We have a real diversity of race types within Horizon. Diversity is word we keep coming back to, to make sure our huge open world is constantly delivering true experiences for you. Just to run through them as a list, the festival organises circuit and point-to-point races and it organises a variety of all of those race types – you’ll also get pure dirt races and mixed surface races (where you alternate between dirt and asphalt). The festival also organises a ‘showcase’ event which are really cool events that go onto the crowds where you might race against a plane or a hot air balloon for example. Finally, we have street races as well – these aren’t part of the festival but rather inevitably start happening when a bunch of kids get together with cool, powerful cars, and start racing them on the streets – you can get involved with that and make money there too.
Stevivor: From what I’ve experienced playing Forza Horizon, the physics seem to be a little different from those we’ve seen in past games from the Forza franchise. Was there anything in particular the team was going for when developing the physics for this game?
Ralph: That’s an interesting point. I guess the first thing to stress is we didn’t develop physics for Forza: Horizon – we were fortunate enough to be able to use the Forza Motorsport 4 code base. We absolutely took their physics system and their handling systems, and put them into Forza Horizon lock-stock. The thing we always say is, that when you have a physics system that is regarded as best-in-class, it would be dumb to mess with that and it would certainly be dumb to throw it away and start again, so we didn’t do that. What do you feel is different?
*I responded* I still felt it was realistic but I also felt it was more accessible, I guess from what I was playing at the EB Expo recently. (Ralph then asked, “were you playing with assists on or off?”) I couldn’t tell because I pretty much just jumped-in and played. I do know though that at one point I was driving without ABS because I felt it when I was trying to go around corners, but when I was driving a Ferrari on another stand I suspect the assists were all on because it was a lot easier to control the car. I didn’t feel like the physics were completely different, just a little more accessible.
Ralph: We actually made two changes that is probably what you are getting at – not to the physics at all though. One was to the camera - the chase camera is slightly lower in Forza: Horizon than it has been in Forza Motorsport, and this gives an increase sense of speed and it also lets you take in more of the world that we spent so much time building. The second is changing some of the parameters of traction control, so that when you have traction control on there is more of an ability to correct drifts than it would be with the original settings and that was something which arose in gameplay testing because we found the different demands of driving in an open world than driving on a racetrack.
Stevivor: What is your favourite car in the game and why?
Ralph: That’s a really good question. I get asked that a lot and I probably have a different answer every time because there are so many of them! *laughs* I’m probably going to have to go back and say the Pagani Zonda R, because it is one of the fastest cars in the game but also because of its aerodynamics that it is so planted. One of the great drives of the game for me, is ignoring the progression, ignoring the races I’m meant to do and just getting into a car like that, putting on my favourite radio station, turning the music on and just driving really, really, really fast, weaving in and out of traffic - that’s a really cool feeling.
Thanks again to Ralph, Playground Games and Microsoft for giving us the opportunity to learn more about one of the most anticipated racing titles of 2012!