Forza Motorsport 4 Interview Part 2 – Dan Greenawalt Contemplates the Future of the Racing Game
Written Tuesday, September 27, 2011 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Here’s the second part of our two-part interview with Turn 10’s Creative Director, Dan Greenawalt, in which we talk about how the developer managed to get all of those lovely cars into Autovista in such staggeringly minute detail, why there#s mp such thing as simulation and arcade racing games, and what the future holds for the racing genre.
Find out why Forza 4 is a bit like World of Warcraft and Pokémon, who Greenawalt gives massive props to for the racing genre as a whole and a whole lot more besides, including more stuff about cars and racing. Obviously.
Looking at Autovista for a moment, you can see that every single detail down to the smallest rivet is accounted for. How time-consuming was it to construct cars to such a high level of detail in the game?
Very. Every car is different. Some are more complex than others, but for the most part we have to have our hands on the car for a couple of days where we're taking photographs, really opening everything up, in some cases removing body panels to get the right shot, and then we build it [in the game] and it's all built by hand. We often get CAD data from the manufacturers, but their CAD data isn't that detailed so we actually have to build those ones. Part of it is also getting all of the animations and movements not only of the doors, but also getting all of the sounds just right. It involves going over the cars with a fine-tooth comb.
As far as the racing genre as a whole is concerned, do you think that there are tough challenges ahead for racing games?
We owe a lot of our success in the racing genre to [Outrun creator] Yu Suzuki. He's a tremendous innovator in racing games and he's kind of the godfather who brought all of this stuff up. There's been a lot of changes in the racing genre since then and there's actually a lot more diversity within the genre these days. I think there's this misunderstanding that there's arcade racing games and there's sim racing games, and I don't think that's true. Our design philosophy on Forza is building the game as a layered system like an onion, and at its core is the most cutting-edge simulation we think it's possible to deliver through partnerships and we really, really work at that. It's a solid 60-frames per second and we add assists to make it easier to drive, but easy doesn't necessarily make it fun.
What makes it fun is the diversity, not only in the car passion it's bringing out, but also in terms of the diversity of things you can do like Top Gear football, but also for the racer, there's hardcore racing. It's got all of that. So, while it's a simulation engine, I think it's an over-simplification to call it a simulation. If you look across the racing genre there are plenty of games that are picking a sub-genre and doing it very, very well. The interesting thing about racing is that it's doing pretty well, and it's been able to not only accelerate with innovation, but we've also garnered a pretty good following, our fans are very loyal and we've got a big community.
I'm not really fearful for the health of the racing genre, although there are some of the niches within the genre that are struggling more than others, and I'm just not an economist, so I don't know exactly why that is. I believe the secret to our success is that the car is the star and yes, it includes racing and yes, it includes cars that you'd find in leagues like Super GT and the RCV8 and so on. But it's not about the Super GT and the RCV8, and it's not even about being a race car driver. It's about cars and you can make it about race cars if you want.
Do you find it difficult to essentially be all things to all car fans then, and as such do you feel pressure to deliver on all fronts in Forza?
It is hard to do, but that's one reason why we empower our team and broke them into groups where they can really work as a unit. They are able to tackle tough challenges without thinking about compromises for other reasons, so they're able to just focus and say, “we're going to make this feature for this customer, this type of player and this type of car passion. In that sense, we don't have to say we can't do this feature over here, because we're doing this feature for this customer and we're able to spread our bets very effectively. But more than anything it allows us to scale.
There are over 350 people working on this title and if it were just me coming with an idea we're supposed to do, I guarantee we do not accelerate. The only way to accelerate is to empower those creative individuals, hire the best talent and in a sense, fracture them out to chase multiple goals. That's actually the hardest challenge in the game. It's not just the innovation, but the whole creative process of creativity, incubating ideas, throwing them away, starting again and honing. If you're singularly focused on a unified vision, that's where it gets more difficult.
Is there anything you can tell us about Forza 4 that perhaps people might not know or be aware of?
I've been on the road for about three weeks and I've had just about every question thrown at me over those three weeks, so I've pretty much covered everything there is to know. There's a lot of stuff in the details, which have been covered, because I'm a detail-oriented person, so I find that fascinating, but that doesn't generally get picked up by people. Our approach in general involved incubating ideas, so what we do next is listen to the forums, we listen to the communities, and not just our own but we also look at other communities. We also look to communities in foreign countries and we use marketing, localisation and PR to gather feedback, and we collect all of that. That tends to be a very skewed view of the world, it's still diverse, but the gamers who are willing to talk and argue on the forums aren't necessarily representative of a large section of gamers. Yet, when we look at the data that's one lens, then we have another lens, which is looking at the data we've collected.
We don't attach Gamertags to the data, it's just data that's come into our servers. What it allows us to see is the incredible breadth across the game, so there might be features that on the forums people say that's not the way to do it, but then we find out that the majority of gamers are actually using it, so then we know we're onto something good. We still do listen to those people, and then the final bit we look at is working on our vision. We look at new ideas we're generating, do off-site sessions, have groups with different chemistry, put people into work groups with different types of creativity to come up with new ideas, and this all goes into a big list, which we use for coming up with the right ideas at the right time.
Some features are just easy to do, and if they're on the list we'll do them. That system is designed to give us maybe five things we really want to do, but we can't possibly do all five, so how do we prioritise these without being blinded by our own North American, Redmond car passion?
Speaking personally – and I'm not just saying this – Forza is a racing sim I can really just pick up and play, which is strange as I'm more of a fan of arcade racers. Why do you think that is?
There are actually a lot of systems that you're playing in Forza and if you deconstruct them to their raw mechanics – this is something we do as an exercise to help understand your tool set as a developer - you're not talking about Mass Effect's addictive gameplay, you're talking about levelling and tech trees, and the economics behind those tech trees. That allows you to extrapolate and you can apply that to other games, so when you look at our levelling system in the game and you're basically looking at a similar levelling system with a tech tree, the when you're looking at our 'Car Affinity System', you're looking at a system originally designed around Pokémon, where you're actually levelling up your characters.
The Auction House is similar to World of Warcraft, so there are a lot of proven things in the game and that's where we find inspiration. We play all of the competition, of course. It's part of my job, but that's not what inspires me. What inspires me are these games that tug at you, and for some reason you cannot put them down. We look at these games and take them apart, to find out why it's affecting me, destroying every system, breaking them all down and writing on the whiteboards to see which components we can adopt, blending new features to create new mechanics in the game.
We have things like badges and titles in the game, which is even more than we have in achievements. We've got 48 achievements, but there are over 400 badges and titles, which is very similar to the kind of thing you see in first-person shooters like Call of Duty, and what that allows you to do is create a Forza gamercard. But the twist is, it's built in with Car Affinity, so you might not realise what cars you love, but you'll be driving say BMWs and you don't know why. The next thing you'll find is you're levelling up your BMW and earning a badge that shows you've put a lot of time into your BMW, and the next thing you know, you're putting a BMW badge up. These are all systems that we've seen in other games that compel behaviour and you can blend them together even though they're not necessarily car mechanics and they're not even racing mechanics, but they are addictive gaming mechanics. And I think it's the hardcore gamer that will feel very at home with this kind of thing.
Forza Motorsport 4 is out on October 11th in North America and October 14th in Europe.