Dan Greenawalt Interview, Forza 3
Written Sunday, September 27, 2009 By Dan WebbView author's profile
Last week we headed into London to check out the final build of Forza 3 and while we were there, we got chance to hustle Turn 10's Game Director, Dan Greenawalt, into a corner and bombard him with questions on everything Forza related. We talk accessibility, whether Forza is the true driving simulator, getting racers hooked and we even touch on Natal.
I’ve got to ask, how do you get from a background of mixed martial arts and religion into developing a racing game?
You trip and stumble and find yourself there. I’ve had a lot of people that want to get into game development ask me, “well, how did you do it?” and I’m like, “don’t even ask.” Surprisingly it actually does help, because I was a teacher with mixed martial arts and part of being a teacher is bringing the best out of different people, and that actually helps being a leader on such a diverse and creative team, because I can’t just dictate. What I have to do is learn how they learn, pull out of them greatness and that’s very much like being a teacher. But also trying to make a game approaching the design of the game from a perspective where there is diversity in the world.
Just like religion, people are passionate about it and I have to respect that no matter which side I come from. That actually helped me, because I’m not trying to make a game that’s just for this kind of racer, that kind of racer. There’s some games that are like, “yeah we made it for this.” Actually, it’s about car passion, so I made it for this type of gamer, all the way to that type of gamer and I treat everyone in between with the same amount of respect.
What would you have said the main aim was when creating Forza 3? What did you really want to bring out with iteration?
We’ve divided our team into sub teams and they’re lead by creative juggernauts. If I was just this overarch on top of all the other teams, having to make every single decision it’d be a huge chokepoint for such an enormous team. So instead we’ve empowered sub teams, and me as the holding division, my job is more to set challenges and they go and blow way out of the realm of what I thought possible. So we had a challenge; make physics that aren’t capable by any other development team. Be on the cutting edge of physics in ways that only a professional F1 race team can invest in. Do that. And that required partnerships... partnering with F1, partnering with tire manufacturers.
We wanted to do things with community; so let’s look at Facebook, look at ebay, let’s look at how communities work, and not just make a new feature for racing, but make a new feature for entertainment gaming. The storefront and the things that my team did there were fantastic. It’s kind of a give and take. I’m saying let’s go this direction, they come up with great ideas and start prototyping, then we say, “that’s great... that’s not so cool... let’s work on it.”
But then also, it’s all about car passion, so we needed the graphics that look fantastic to get people absorbed into the game. And then also, have a game that anyone could play. So we have this simulator as a core that is untouchable. I’m really very proud of the engine that we’ve made. It’s really, really good. And then put layers of assists on top of it, so that no matter what layer you enter at, you can find fun, exciting, challenging racing. Even if you’re a 6 year old, you can use auto brake. So there are several kind of crowning achievements depending on how you come at this game. I think if you go one level higher, just that the fact that all of this is in one game... cutting edge physics, cutting edge approachability, cutting edge community features, beautiful graphics and then the amount of content. All in one package. My team was driven to make this game. This has been kind of our driving passion, even since 2002, to deliver this kind of comprehensive experience.
Do you think the sheer amount of content is going to be overwhelming?
I think in Forza 2 it actually was because we didn’t give them a guiding path. That was another one of the challenges I put to the team, we called it the “yellow brick road.” I want a yellow brick road where players can just hit A, A, A, A, A, A, A and always have great racing that feels totally customised to them and their car passion, and that they’d never even know it’s happening. They’d never know that different events are coming in, and different cars... everything is happening. You actually feel like you’re playing a very linear game if you just hit A, A, A, but at any point you can jump off of it, buy any car, manage any upgrade, choose any event, go online, do different race rules and that’s where you can get into some trouble right? You’re off the yellow brick road and you never know when the flying monkeys are going to come after you. But also, that’s where you can find some true shining moments that are like a discovery, where you’re exploring this really cool place.
That was a big thing to cure, because in Forza 2 I actually thought we did lose people because they’d just go, “I don’t know what car I want,” “gosh, there’s so many events, I don’t know what to do next.” Now the game just says, “here mate, here’s an awesome time, just do it.”
Would you say that Forza 3 offered the most realistic driving experience ever? And do you think there is anything that you could add to the engine in the future to make it more realistic?
I play a lot of racing games, including PC racing games and I have not seen anything that is even within years of what we’re delivering here. Part of that actually meant visiting McLaren and seeing the simulator that they train on. I’ve seen other race teams as well and some of their simulators. We were kind of able to learn from each of them and incorporate a lot of that. So I think it would be hard for someone to match that.
Is there more to do? Of course there will be, because... this is actually the secret. I think that most people, and most game developers, think of physics as, “yeah, physics, it was put forward by the universe and that’s just the way it is.” And while that’s probably true, we don’t know everything about physics yet. There’s a reason why we still have PHDs studying physics and there’s a reason why Michelin is still developing new tires. Not because it’s some new model, but actually because they’re learning more about physics every year. More about how the air goes into an engine and goes out an engine. There’s a reason we advance this way. Having that understanding that we don’t know everything yet, thus you have to keep your partnerships and always be developing, or you won’t be cutting edge.
That’s actually a different frame of mind that I think most game companies have. Most of them think, “yeah, we’ll go and read the textbook, it doesn’t matter if it’s a 20 year old textbook, physics are physics, we’ll just implement that.” We’re saying, “we already know that textbook is outdated, shit the textbook from 2 years ago is outdated, we need to be writing a new textbook, and writing it in our game.”
Are there any physics that actually detracted from the experience that you thought, “well, games are fun and this totally ruins the experience, so let’s leave this out?”
No. We have lift, bump stops that can create a hell of an unbalance in the car, we even simulate the chassis stiffness that I’ve never seen in another game... where, like a Fox Body Mustang just twists under its own torque and it means that the tires can’t stay evenly attached to the road. We even simulate that.
How do you go about getting gamers hooked and keeping them hooked with what is essentially going from one race to the next with no real incentive to keep playing except getting another car and racing another track?
Well first off, it’s from the strength of the team. We’ve got guys who worked at Blizzard, guys who worked on Pokemon and we’re all huge gamers and we’ve got a big tool belt of different things you can do that can get people addicted to games. So at root, this is a car collecting game and we’re actually able to implement features that were kind of inspired by Pokemon.
We have not only your driver level – and you can level multiplayer and single player seamlessly, there’s not like a multiplayer mode credits and a single player mode, it’s all one big merged thing. Kind of similar to the games that blend on the PC, instant spaced MMOs. But then, we also have the cars levelling, a bit like Dark Cloud 2 and some of the JRPGs, and all of those things come together to be giving you a reward system that keeps people addicted.
So you get to that moment where you’ll be like, “so yeah, I’ll just do this race, and then I’m going to turn off for the night because I have to go to bed... I’ve got work tomorrow, I’ve got school tomorrow.” And so, at the end of the race, “oh, my car levelled up.. oh... I’ve got to try that exhaust system because that will make the car sound cool, but I’m not going to drive it, I’m just going to try it.” You put it on, you get into a race and you’re like... "well, I’m halfway through the race I may as well finish." Then after, “oh, they just gifted me an Abarth 500... I’ve got to go to bed... but I’ve got to try the Fiat, that’s a cool car.” And that’s how you get people addicted and that’s how you get them excited about cars. Because you’re introducing them to cars that maybe they’ve not even heard of. And they look at it and go, “wow, that looks like a spaceship. I wonder what the hell that sounds like. I wonder what the cockpit looks like.” Or you see a weird classic car and you’re like, “I think I could probably...” or like an SUV, “I could probably run the AI over and just start a big trundle.” It’s those experiences.
I think if we just focused on racing, like “yeah yeah, it’s a racing game, it’s for racers and you just race... race, race, race.” That’s going to be boring in a heartbeat. It’s about giving people... like a chemistry play set and allowing them to experiment. If it blows up in their face, it’s still fun.
Accessibility seems to be one of the main focuses with Forza 3. Do you think that detracts from the simulation aspect somewhat?
In Grid, you make a mistake, you use it... but you’re not sure if you should use it, shouldn’t use it because it’s all just focused on racing... which is good for them. But for us, you experiment... you practice passes, and what that does is encourage you to turn the difficulty up. When I’m playing Grid I don’t turn the difficulty up because I’m going to go through all of those rewinds and I’m still going to lose. In Forza we’re finding it universally that people turn the difficulty up because they know they can still win. It means that the whole race is entertaining, not just... you always have to be winning because you know you’re going to make a mistake and use up all of your rewinds, and then lose.
But if you just think about, for you and I, playing games on the controller is totally natural. We grew up playing games that way. But for Natasha [Gachnang (the face of Forza 3)], playing with a wheel is totally natural because she grew up racing go-karts. But for my two sons, they play with Hot Wheels... they don’t know how to use a controller yet... that’s so natural and they’re getting excited about cars the way I got excited about cars. So that sort of interface to me shows huge potential because we can create the next breed of, not only gamer, but more importantly car lover. People that can be part of our community, arguing, getting that excitement, that emotion.
Forza 3 is out October 23rd in Europe and October 27th in North America. Check out our E3 hands on here, our GamesCom show floor footage here and the screenshot gallery here. The demo is out on the Xbox Live Marketplace now for Gold Members.