Forza Motorsport 4 Interview Part 1 – Dan Greenawalt Talks Car Passion
Written Monday, September 26, 2011 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Cars. Apparently everyone responds to them on some emotional level, and if you haven’t yet found yourself getting excited about a car, then perhaps you haven’t found the right one yet. That’s what Turn 10’s Creative Director, Dan Greenawalt reckons anyway, a man whose car passion knows no bounds.
Want evidence? Then how about Forza Motorsport 4? What looks to be the most definitive Forza game yet, with more new features than a Hollywood starlet who’s just been under the knife and more cars in the garage than Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Kay combined.
We sat down to chat with Greenawalt at a recent Forza 4 preview event, to talk cars, racing, cars, racing, racing, cars and why you . In part 1 of our two part interview, we cover development challenges, Autovista, Top Gear and more.
What was the main thing that you set out to achieve with Forza Motorsport 4?
The interesting thing is, we've had innovation across the board in Forza 4 and whatever kind of player you are, you're going to find wild innovation for your player type. But the interesting thing about Forza is, we've got such diversity within our community, so we have people who will not play entire features and even vocally say, “oh well, that's just not important.” Then when we look at the data, we see those features are actually being played by a lot of people, they're just not the people on the forums. They're even getting played two years after [the game's release] so these are gamers who don't just play it and then drop out, they keep playing it for like eighteen months.
So, we've got innovation in things like Autovista, there's Kinect innovation, and there's also an all-new lighting engine (IBL), we have new tyre physics for our hardcore drivers and there's new ways of driving, like the Wireless Speed Wheel. Then there's tons of innovation in both the single-player career, as well as throughout the community. Rivals Mode, 16-player multiplayer, Top Gear football... So all across the board we've got new things. It's hard to say what the main thing is, but I think what actually drives us as a team is vision.
Our goal is to turn gamers into car lovers and car lovers into gamers. And if you really think about that, it's honestly a mad goal. There's no way that we can ever achieve that, but that's what's kept me working on this franchise after nearly ten years. I'm still interested in coming into work, because I'm one of those people who doesn't really like to achieve anything, I just want to keep moving. We're not necessarily getting to the top of the mountain, I want that mountain to keep going, because then I feel challenged. I love coming into work and feeling like, “how are we ever going to do this?” You put your head to the grindstone and you really break it open and that to me is what's really rewarding.
What aspect of Forza 4 provided the biggest challenge for the team?
We've actually broken our team out into separate groups that can innovate, incubate ideas and are empowered. We still have to keep an eye squarely on our vision and that's what we're really aiming towards. It allows us to fill those teams with specialists working towards things like physics and AI, or graphical fidelity, multiplayer or community growth, and we feel that with specialists driving towards new features. Each one of those groups had massive challenges, and that was the goal; to give each group a huge challenge, which is the key to having all of these really talented people we've hired. They're not just adding some feature that you saw coming, but we're actually thinking of new ways of doing things and honing those new features.
So, the 16-player multiplayer was very, very challenging. Getting the new Rivals Mode to work in this addictive fashion: very, very challenging. New IBL: challenging. Kinect integration: challenging, but these were all on different teams. It's not like you can take your graphics developer and ask them how we should write our network code. That's not the best way to use these specialists and it's like having a cardiac surgeon perform brain surgery. He's plenty brilliant, but it's just not the right use of resources.
Do you think that you're beginning to reach the ceiling in terms of what you can do with Forza now?
I think we're actually accelerating because with every version, it's not just like we deliver new features. A lot of innovation comes with how you organise the team and how we hire the best people possible and empower them. That's how we accelerate. How clever we are in solving problems is the measurement of what we can do. If you look at the trajectory from Forza 1 to 2 then 3, and the things we brought to the game, like the predictability, the polish, the quality, we have been accelerating, so I don't think we're anywhere near a limit. I think the truth is we'll just keep on accelerating with what we deliver to our fans.
We're there ever any compromises you had to make in developing Forza 4, or were you able to do pretty much everything you set out to do?
I think there's a misunderstanding about how innovation and game development works in general. There's kind of this myth about there being a guy with a great idea, then they make that great idea. What I expect of designers, what I expect of myself and what I expect of the whole team creatively, is to throw away most of their work and be comfortable with that, because that is their job. We should be coming up with a thousand ideas by breakfast, not 'I've got one great idea and I'm married to it', but I've got all of these ideas, and they may or may not be the right time. A good idea at the wrong time, is not an idea.
You need the right idea at the right time, and that's based on market forces, that's based on competition and that is based on your vision, appetite in the world, the economy... All of these things make an idea right at the right time, so to answer your question, did we leave anything behind? Absolutely, and I'm overjoyed about it. How you ensure you get the greatest features is by cutting 90% of what you think about, and where the efficiencies come, is in learning when to cut early rather than thinking something is a good idea and getting it into the game just to see [if it's a good idea].
If you think it's an OK idea, then you'd better write a spec, and from that spec, write a technical spec and from that technical spec, let's do some mock-ups. Through those stages, we're cutting huge things out of this and we're not wasting a lot of work of the entire team. But [the work] of the designers? We're wasting a ton of their work, but it's not actually a waste, because it's how we end up getting a ton of innovation.
Was the Top Gear tie-in the perfect example of the right idea at the right time then?
It felt that way, because we were looking at Top Gear – and it's actually is the perfect example of the right idea at the right time – and we thought we could do a licensing deal, license lots of tracks and cars – and that's something we're good at – but as we'd really grown the innovation on the product, the notoriety of the game and things like that, we were able to meet with Top Gear at a different level. Let's not talk about licensing, let's talk about partnership, because we believe that your vision and our vision are actually incredibly well-aligned.
I think at first they were like, “yeah, games are interesting and we've heard of Forza,” but that was kind of it. When we described to them our vision and showed them early prototypes, I think the whole group went, “oh, you mean it. This is real. You're not just making a game and having grand words.” We're trying, which doesn't mean everything's perfect, but we're really trying and what we found is that it's a great blend. They're making car entertainment and create the next generation of petrolheads, which is the same thing we're trying to do. The only wrinkle is that we're also trying to create the next generation of gamer.
Shifting the subject a little bit, in Forza 4 you have Easter eggs including the Halo 4 Warthog. Do you feel that it's perhaps a little bit of a tease to put that in there but then not enable players to drive it?
Well, it certainly wasn't the goal to make it a tease. There are definitive reasons why it isn't drivable. In truth, there's several reasons. Attention to detail and accuracy is extremely important to us and the Warthog doesn't only have 4-wheel drive steering – which other cars in the game do – the degree of 4-wheel drive steering it has is way beyond what any car has in the Forza universe. It also has a very unique suspension architecture and to duplicate that would mean adding a new system just for one car.
Also the centre of mass is really high, as the Warthog is made for Master Chief, who's like 8 or 9 feet tall, and so the scale of that... We've got a Humvee in the game, which is a ridiculously large vehicle and the Warthog dwarves it. It creates weird physical challenges and camera height challenges. But the final nail in the coffin was that we threw away all of our tyre data from Forza 3 and our goal was to get out of the business of making tyres and instead find partnerships like Pirelli that have cutting-edge test facilities and change the game so that testing drives the physics directly. Now, we could have invented fictitious tyres from 2525 that are based upon Nanotube microtechnology and all this stuff, but it would have just been pure fiction. We could have done that, but that's not really what we're all about. We're all about attention to detail. Then of course, everyone's gonna want to shoot the gun too, and as we're trying to create the next generation of car lover and next generation of gamer, making a Mature rated game is not something that we're interested in doing with this franchise.
Check back for part 2 of our two part interview tomorrow. Forza Motorsport 4 is out on October 11th in North America and October 14th in Europe.