Forza Motorsport 5 taps the Cloud for innovation

Microsoft’s long running racing mixes the power of Cloud computing with high speed racing

The Forza Motorsport series has been at the forefront of innovation in racing games, bringing better graphics and more accurate physics with each new title. With the Xbox One around the corner, Forza is gearing up for its fifth instalment on the next generation platform. In addition to better in-game graphics, vehicle physics and driver AI are also getting a boost.

We caught up with Turn 10 Studios creative director, Dan Greenawalt, to talk about the technological improvements in the gamee.

What’s the theme of Forza Motorsport 5?

Turn 10 Studios creative director, Dan Greenawalt (DG): It’s not a unique theme per game. We do have an “uber-vision” for the franchise to turn gamers into car lovers, and vice versa. Each time we approach a new version we’re looking for new ways to bring that reality to life. Of course, with the power of the Xbox One, that change does not come along that often, in this case once every eight years.

How different is the approach compared to Forza 4?

DG: With this extra power to leverage, we wanted to think about how to bring that to bear. For us, it is about fundamentally changing how people build relationships with cars, and allowing them to play through the game whenever they want. We wanted people to interact with their friends and other people online, even if they are not online. The game represents the cars they drive and how they drive them. It’s also time for AI to go, and we’re trying to lead the way.

What’s planned for Top Gear’s anonymous race driver, The Stig?

DG: We have extended our partnership with Top Gear for Forza 5, with all three hosts featured in it. Including The Stig in the game is an extension of that partnership. In addition to racing against Cloud-powered Drivatars in Forza 5, players also have the ability to race against The Stig’s digital cousin.

Did any elements from 2012’s Forza Horizon carry over to Forza 5?

DG: Horizon went in a different direction, and we wanted it to be a different manifestation of the franchise. It wasn’t intended as a continuation of Motorsport, but the two to run under the same Forza franchise brand. However, it was designed to be a different experience and appeal to different types of gamers. What led us to think about letting you play Forza 5 how you want was partially inspired by the freedom of the open road experience in Horizon. This means players have the option to choose the path in their career and not forcing them to go down a certain way.

How did you get introduced to the Xbox One?

DG: It was a very long process. We were talking to the platform team and we knew there was a new console coming even before we shipped Forza 4 in 2011. So we were talking to them and we had an idea of what kind of processing it would have. We also knew it was going to leverage the Cloud, so we were already thinking about that before there was any development hardware. It is really the power of the Cloud that is the game changer.

Why do you feel the Cloud is such a game changer?

DG: The Xbox One hardware is really powerful, but the ability upload data and crunch it in a massive network of a thousand servers and send it back down is significant, and we’re going to see that move beyond racing games. It would also make a lot of sense in other genres, such as first person shooters or games where you want to play against your friends, and they act as your friend even when they are not online. The ability to leverage the Cloud is the feature we’re most excited about with Xbox One.

Were the car models from Forza 4 carried over or redone?

DG: We build out geometry for the current limitations of the rendering engine at the time. It is a lot more work to build something to a higher level of detail and then scale it back, than what it is to create it to the level of detail that you need. We did build cars in Forza 4 to a high level of detail for Forza’s Vista mode, and in some ways it was an early prototype of what we’re doing today with every car in Forza 5. We knew it was coming, so we wanted to experiment with that level of detail and now we’re bringing that to every car.

Was there any consideration for an Xbox 360 version?

DG: We though about it, but honestly we’re first-party. We’re here to push the boundaries and the game that people buy for Xbox One to play. So we need to be on the cutting edge, doing things in Forza 5 that are just not possible on Xbox 360. It wouldn’t be the same game and leverage the Cloud, or have the graphics and physics that we have. There is so much we’re doing on Xbox One that it would not be Forza 5 on Xbox 360.

Were any other racing types beyond V8 Supercars considered?

DG: We always think about it, and this time we’ve added open wheel. We also have Indy cars and included F1 cars from the Ron Howard film Rush, so you can relive the rivalry between drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda. We also introduced rally into Forza Horizon.

Where do you draw the line in terms of what content is included?

DG: We have to remember that we’re a launch title. We’re bringing a lot of innovation with new content with the launch of a new console, so we have to prioritise. Most games that come out on launch are small, but Forza is known for being big and we needed to bring that this time around as well. In some cases we had to make some tough choices, but we’re happy with the level of innovation we’ve brought into this.

How are cars selected for the game?

DG: It is a somewhat complicated, organic formula. We obviously look at all new cars that come out, as well as look at how often cars get played with in the game and which ones the community asks for. We also have to make sure that in different race modes, that there are enough cars like it to race against to keep it fun. You don’t want a one-off car with no opponents that are similar to race against.

How do you select one car model over another?

DG: Typically they need to be desirable and stand out. In some cases, if an older car attains that classic vintage status we keep it in the game, but sometimes it gets replaced by a new model. If there is a 2010 Ford Focus and the 2013 version comes out and is better, we might drop the earlier model. It does not make a whole lot of sense to have both in the game, as people will want the new one. If you look at the Mustang, some of them are classics and others need to be forgotten. [Laughs] And it’s the same way when we look at each car line now.

Any consideration to include concept cars?

DG: We haven’t really included concept cars to date. We typically want to have cars in the game that are believable and authentic. We do work with manufacturers to bring cars into the game almost in real-time. We were including the McLaren P1 around the time it was being developed, thanks to a partnership we had with the manufacturer. So it was in a concept state when we started, so we were building our in-game assets at the same time they were building the real car.

What is the difference between concepts and real-world cars?

DG: For us, it comes down to the desirability of the cars. Concept cars are basically concepts to test new technology, but rarely do they end up being like that in the real world. We want cars that are real and people aspire to own one day. We often say there are three cars people care about, the first car they ever owned, the one they own right now, and the one they hope to own someday. That is obviously different for everybody, so we try to grab that cross section that will appeal to as many people as possible.

With the DeLorean DMC-12 in Forza 3, how about including the time machine from Back to the Future?

DG: That would be a licensing nightmare. [Laughs] There are a lot of challenges with licensing, but there is certainly talk about that kind of stuff. There may be a time where we could do something like that, but it is a little bit out of our wheelhouse at the moment.

Want to read other video game interviews with key figures from Sony, Microsoft and more? Then check out Good Gear Guide's complete interview archive.

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