To celebrate the launch of Forza Motorsport 6, we spoke with Turn 10 Studios' Creative Director Dan Greenawalt about how the franchise's latest installment redefines the racing genre.
A popular and critically acclaimed racing game series, the Forza franchise is developed Turn 10 Studios and published by Microsoft Studios for the Xbox, Xbox 360 and Xbox One. Often seen as Microsoft's answer to PlayStation's Gran Turismo series, Turn 10 Studios' goal with the Forza franhise has been to marry technology with experiences that get people passionate about driving in cars.
Celebrating their 10-year anniversary with Forza Motorsport 6, Turn 10's vision is all about embracing the changes and the new aspects of car and gaming culture. While car culture has changed quite a bit over the past decade, gaming culture has changed even more with the rise of streaming, Twitch, and a more digitally connected universe overall. Forza has always been a series to harness the innovation that comes through community, which is really what has spurred the biggest changes in this upcoming generation of gamers.
Surprisingly enough, one of the most intriguing aspects of Forza Motorsport 6 isn't even in the game itself - it's how the game was released. While an Ultimate Edition bundle was also available for previously released Forza Horizon 2, this is the first time fans who purchased the Ultimate Edition were given early access - a feature that allows them to play the full game five days before its "official" release on September 15.
"We wanted to make our ultimate fans feel even more special and excited about the game by getting early access," Turn 10 Studios' Creative Director Dan Greenawalt told us. "The people that are going to get involved in early access are our most core fans, the ones that really love the franchise, so it’s been fun playing online with the rawest and most excited… They’re really fast too, which is awesome. I’ve been having some great racing with people, they’re our 'corest of core' fans - they’re why we make this game."
Forza Motorsport 6 features 26 world-famous locales and 460 cars---all with working cockpits and full damage---all of which can be tuned and painted. Additionally, all the players who have tuned and painted on Horizon 2 or Forza Motorsport 5 can actually import their tunes and paint jobs directly into Forza Motorsport 6. Another feature allows players to share their tunes and paint jobs with the game's global community. When you share a tune or paint job, anyone in the community can then go find it. If they use it, you’re paid in-game credits every day for anybody who downloaded it, anyone who used it, and anyone who liked it.
"Now when you’re looking for a tune, you can either search for the most popular tunes or you can search for specific people that have mades tunes," Dan explained. "For example, Twitch streamer Raceboy77 is a hell of a tuner and is known in the community as one of the best. I usually search for his tunes specifically and put those on my cars."
Another standout feature brand new with Forza Motorsport 6 is wet weather and night racing, all at 1080p resolution and 60 frames per second. Fans have been looking for rain, and nights for that matter, in the Forza Motorsport series for some time now. "We added rain and night into Horizon 2 but it was done in a Horizon way - that means that it was dynamic and beautiful, but it was 30 frames per second and it wasn’t really focused on simulation directly," he said.
"So we knew when we wanted to bring it into 6, we figured the fans really wanted us to do it was because they knew we would do the research. Even though rain and night had been done before, they knew we would bring something new to the genre."
He continued, "That meant doing a lot of homework. We started looking at all the different frictions that are on different wet surfaces and their porosity, which means how many holes or pores are in the surface. So like a curbing for example, with paint on it, has a really low coefficient of friction relative to tarmac or something like that. So we researched 150 different surface types until we got the friction right."
Then they also did a full simulation on puddles. "In racing, if you’re going 200mph, a puddle is deadly serious. We wanted to replicate that fear. So we have a full simulation of standing water and hydroplaning, and then all these different surface types. It makes it very challenging, but also it makes mastery that much more rewarding."
The team at Turn 10 Studios researched where the puddles are on the tracks and then recreated them as 3D models. "In the real world, the water collects in the same place over and over again. It’s where there’s poor drainage or where there’s a low spot on the track. When it’s really heavy it’s going to change your driving line, because you know ‘I shouldn’t drive through that at 150-200mph because it’s going to make the car spin off the track.’ So it really changes how you drive."
While most racing games just reduce friction across the entire track universally, so you’re basically just driving on a slicker version of dry, they didn't want to do a slicker version of dry, they wanted to do "what wet is really like for race car drivers---how they describe it."
With Forza Motorsport 6, Turn 10 Studios also introduced 24-player multiplayer. As is to be expected with online gaming, an increase in players per race meant there were some problems the team needed to address and overcome immediately. The main problem was increased loading times. “Through optimization, and some changes how we did loading and caching, even with 50% more cars on track and more detailed tracks than Forza Motorsport 5, we actually brought the loading times down from what they were on Forza Motorsport 5.”
Another thing you’re looking for in a great 24-player race is you want people to be of similar skill to you. In an effort to solve the seemingly simple yet incredibly difficult problem, Turn 10 Studios has implemented a brand new feature called Leagues. Leagues open up and close down based on the peak hours of your timezone, allowing them to pack more people in a certain time period into multiplayer sessions and ensure they can filter it based on people who are most similar to you in both skill and professionalism.
One of the most impressive aspects of the Forza series has always been the quality of their simulations. This is due in part to the studios' partnerships with the likes of Audi Racing and Ford, who help make their simulations truly commercial grade. "If you love racing and you love physics, you’re going to love Forza," said Dan. "But the bigger one is, if you want to be part of a passionate and vibrant community that’s super creative — taking photographs, painting, tuning, even the way they drift and drive, make replays and videos, or stream on Twitch — Forza is really shocking to people that way."
When asked about the future of the racing genre and the Forza series more specifically, Dan wouldn't/couldn't say much. "What I will say is we have a long road map of things we’d love to try and we don’t know how to do yet; we need a prototype, or we need a concept, or we need technology to catch up, and we need to strike partnerships with someone like Audi… or even someone internally like Xbox to have new technologies developed into the [operating system]. Those are the ways we’re able to bring big innovations into the genre."
Still trying to get something out of him regarding the future of the series and the racing genre in general, I asked the obvious: can we expect to see Forza on a virtual reality platform in the near future? "There's no real news I can say about that right now," he replied. Bummer.
But one would have to assume it’s definitely in the works, right? Think about it, the racing genre works perfectly for VR. Typically, the main issue with virtual reality is you have to sit still and can only move your head and your arms, limiting the immersive sensation VR is designed for in the first place. But in a car, you sit still and can only move your head and your arms anyways. So the only downside would be being forced to drive using cockpit camera if you prefer other camera angles—seeing as it really wouldn’t make sense to play a VR racing game with an overhead view.
All-in-all, I think the future of the racing genre along with the the Forza franchise is safe in the hands of Dan Greenawalt and Turn 10 Studios. Having spent the majority of my weekend enthralled by the beauty and accuracy of the tracks, cars and physics, I can honestly say that if you love racing games you should definitely pick up a copy of Forza 6 - you won't regret it!