E3 2013: Forza Motorsport 5 Dan Greenawalt Interview – Talking Drivatar, Next-Gen Visuals and Hundreds of Cars
Written Monday, June 24, 2013 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
In attendance at a swanky E3 party surrounded by luxury cars, Forza Motorsport 5 Game Director Dan Greenawalt is sat contemplating the queue of journalists he's volunteered to give interviews to. Chatting all night when he should really be enjoying the party, it's testament to just how passionate Greenawalt is about the Forza series that's come to be his baby that he's prepared to talk about Xbox One's big launch racer well into the evening.
His voice going hoarse and giving out from the amount of talking he's had to do over the days, Greenawalt is still animated and excited about Forza Motorsport 5, recounting stories of his past as a martial artist and how it applies to his current career as a game developer. We also got the lowdown on what exactly the game's new 'Drivatar' feature is too.
How does developing Forza games compare to competing in martial arts? What does the ubiquitous 'power of the cloud' mean for Forza 5? What of customisation? How daunting is it being a big launch title? Find out all these things and more.
Is it a scary position to be in, being a launch title for a next-gen console and one of the only launch racers for Xbox One?
I can answer that in one word: abso-fucking-lutely. The pressure is tremendous and honestly I don't believe that the team, the individuals of two years ago could have delivered this. It's not just about making a launch title - which is incredibly difficult - it's also about making a full Forza Motorsport 5 as a launch title. Hundreds of cars, all-new physics... We're going to be talking a lot more about it over the summer, but there's all-new innovations we're bringing to [Forza 5] in physics, the new graphics engine, 1080p native, 60-frames per second, all the new things we're doing with lighting, tons of cars on-track, dedicated servers for multiplayer and Drivatar: cloud-powered opponents.
We're bringing a ton of innovation into this game, and so yeah, the pressure is tremendous. Not just to hit launch; we have the process to do that, we have the process to manage that; it's to bring epic innovation at launch. Very few titles have been able to do that, very few consoles have had titles able to do that, and honestly I've never been so excited to be in my career.
It's interesting, I used to compete in martial arts for many years, and the thing I found as I got older was I became both slower and faster. I was physically slower, I could not move as quickly, but I needed to move a lot less because I knew how to move to get out of the way, whereas when I was younger I had to move a lot to not get hit. That's kind of how I feel our team is now, we don't waste energy, we're much more efficient as a team and we're still big; it's a big team, and that's what's allowing us to deal with this pressure is kinda being vets in a sense and really optimising.
Sorry for the long answer, but...
It's ok. Has it been something of a challenge to boost the detail to the Nth degree on the hundreds of car models, given the expectation tied to Xbox One's increased visual fidelity?
It is [a challenge], but that's kind of what we're good at. We've really optimised our process for capturing cars: laser scanning, lots of photographs, we've got new tools for doing that. And while it still takes six months to build a car, which is a huge investment, we've got really good at being able to do that reliably. And the nice thing is this new system with physically-based materials, actually allows us to build cars in a very different way than we have in the past. We now build them in what's called a 'body and white'; we just build the car and then we skin the car with materials. Cars can have as many as like 1500 materials on them.
Everything from leather to little rubber that goes around knobs, turn signal indicators... All of these things are all different materials, but the moment you put the material on [top] it just looks right, because you get the way the light bounces off them is just perfect. And then the paints; having a base paint, metal fleck and having the clear coat over the top with all the little stipple and the kind of orange peel; that all comes out of the shader. So you're getting almost the equivalent of subsurface scattering and the things we talked about with skin and the uncanny valley, we're now getting that with cars.
It's really all about process. Is it hard? It is, but it's one of those things that once you turn it into a process, you learn how to do it more efficiently.
You said that Drivatar offers “cloud-powered opponents.” Can you tell us a bit more about that?
Drivatar is like nothing else. I've actually been struggling all week to describe it. Everyone's looking for, “is like ghosts or is it like replays?” No, that's what Rivals is. We have Rivals Mode, and Rivals Mode is great, it's gonna be in Forza Motorsport 5 and that is racing against other people's ghosts and you earn money for beating them, and that's really cool. We have multiplayer, dedicated servers, big matches; again, great racing. But Drivatar is not like AI, it's more like big data, it's more like search. In AI you've got a number of parameters that you can fill in either manually or by using learning, so we had learning in the past, or 'Drivatar 1.0', which was in the original Forza. It was learning AI, but it had a set, finite number of parameters that would fill up through learning. Or you could have a designer train it by filling in numbers on a spreadsheet like a traditional racing game.
This is different, this is big data, so we log a lot of data: where were the other cars when you made the decisions you make? Did you set up a complex pass? [Did you] bank right, dive left? How did you actually set that up? We log all of that and the system doesn't actually need to know anything about it. For example, there's a car in front of me, I'm following up behind him more or less straight away, and it hits its brakes. Well, in race craft we call that 'check braking'. The system doesn't need to know that, the system just needs to see that say of a million people, 300,000 did it and now it learns, 'hey, there's this thing that people do and here's where they tend to do it. These tracks, these cars, and all the other cars are in these positions or not, and they do it against their friends or not against their friends, and it generalises and learns these parameters.
Now every Drivatar can't necessarily do that, so you have to then train your Drivatar to do it. So, it's an ever-evolving system, it's learning race craft. Now it already knows a lot of race craft right now because we've got a lot of people on our team and we're not bad racers, we're racing all the time, and we're also pulling in people all the time to further train it. You just have to imagine millions of people racing for hours every night, and how the system just gets bigger and bigger and bigger and starts learning more and more things, so basically the game at launch is going to be a different game a month later.
Where the rubber meets the road though is the difference in racing. Back at the studio I saw three cars go cleanly three abreast through a [corner]. AI doesn't do that. Show me a game where you've seen cars go three abreast through a corner. It's super rare.
Are you bringing back all of the customisation options to Forza Motorsport 5? The decal editor and all that stuff?
Yep. Absolutely. The biggest change is how we serve it up now, so we've got the new material types, which is cool. You can paint a car all gold or paint it in carbon fibre, that's the cool thing about having these materials, so the paint editor is actually more powerful than it's ever been. But the big thing is we've now made consumption seamless, so every time I buy a new car in the game, we're gonna look at what you chose and generalise.
If you seem to like 4-wheel drive or Audis, or you seem to like cars from the 80s, then we're going to curate the cars you buy. You can choose to buy a different one if you like, and then when you buy that car, we're going to offer up paint schemes, and that'll be the same thing; curating from the best in the world. Then based on your usage we pay out the best painters, so it's no longer about shopping your wares on the storefront or on the auction house, you just naturally put them up and as they gain popularity and get used, you get paid out as a creator. The whole thing is more frictionless, more seamless to make the community a completely integrated experience.
Forza Motorsport 5 seems like a massive undertaking. Where do you go from there in terms of visuals and features?
We've only just begun. I mean honestly this platform is incredibly powerful and I think honestly what you're seeing even with Forza 5 is the vanguard of what the larger group of creators is going to do. What the cloud is capable of is really incredible, and I think people should be challenging us as creators to surprise them.
I think it's unfair to ask customers to think of what the value of something is. I mean really it has no value until the creators come in and give you the value, so some of the value [in Forza 5] is Drivatar, some of the value is curation – curated content – we're learning things about you and we can offer up [content]. That's some of the value we can deliver in Forza Motorsport 5.
Other creators are going to do other things, like Sunset Overdrive is a different, evolving game you can play every day, Dead Rising 3 is doing similar things that way. So it's the same within Forza Motorsport 5; we're bringing a ton of innovation here, but there's actually a ton more to do; things that we're really excited about that I wouldn't even say was things we had to cut. They're things that we don't even know how to do yet. We're basically just getting our hands on all the tools we have as creators, so it's really exciting times.
Forza Motorsport 5 will be racing on to Xbox One at launch in November.