Forza Director Says Racing Games Have "Only Scratched the Surface" of the Genre
Q&A: We talk with Turn 10 creative director Dan Greenawalt about Forza Horizon 2's launch and the future of the brand.
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On the heels of Forza Horizon 2's release and as we look ahead to the inevitable Forza Motorsport 6, Turn 10 Studios creative director Dan Greenawalt is optimistic about the future of the racing genre overall. "I believe we've only scratched the surface of what is possible in the genre," Greenawalt tells me as part of a wide-ranging interview about the state of the Forza racing brand.
Our conversation covers the launch of Forza Horizon 2 and whether or not we'll ever see microtransactions come to the game, why feedback is so critically important for Turn 10, and what the power of the Xbox One and its connected nature means for the future of Forza. Greenawalt also discusses what's keeping Forza from launching on PC and what he thinks is the "essence" of Forza.
You can read the full interview below.
Since Forza Horizon 2's launch, what specific pieces of feedback are you hearing from players?
The response to Forza Horizon 2 has been remarkable. Fans and critics alike have really responded to the game's mix of action-packed driving and open-road freedom. In addition, it's great to see how much fun players are having online with new features like Online Freeroam and Online Road Trips. Of course, while we're proud of the positive feedback we've heard from players, we've also been careful to keep track of the few issues that some players have been reporting to us with the game, and we continue to address these issues as quickly as possible.
Have you been surprised by any of the play patterns that you've seen so far? What has stuck out to you as particularly noteworthy in terms of a data point or piece of feedback?
Since the launch of the game, we've seen more than 18 million races online and players have racked up more than 75 million miles just in racing (that doesn't even count the miles just exploring the world). These numbers, frankly, blow us away and it's awesome to see how much fun players are having.
Beyond the data that we're seeing, it's great to hear the anecdotal stories from players in the game of things that have happened to them, whether in races against Drivatar opponents, or when playing with their friends online. We designed Forza Horizon 2 to be a social racing experience [and] it's great to see people enjoying the game in those ways.
What is the significance of the Forza Horizon 2 launch for Turn 10 as a studio?
This is the second first-party racing game for the Xbox One since the launch of the system, and that's something we're enormously proud of. We truly believe in the racing genre as a way to bring gamers and car enthusiasts together with experiences that the whole family can enjoy. Like the original Forza Horizon, Horizon 2 is also a unique expression of the Forza franchise, one that has its own individual point of view and a game that heads in some fantastic, innovative new directions, without losing those essential qualities that make it 'Forza.' Finally Forza Horizon 2 is another showcase for the power of the Xbox One. Many of the features found in Forza Horizon 2 could only be achieved on this console and through its connection to Xbox Live. It's great to see those features brought to life in a way that builds a stronger and more passionate community.
Forza Horizon has now spanned two successful launches; is it safe to say you see Horizon as a franchise with future installments now more of question of when than if?
Having a great partner like Playground Games allows us to give our players more Forza experiences to enjoy and the Forza Horizon series has been very successful in that regard. We don't currently have any announcements around any future projects.
Turn 10 caught quite a bit of flak over its use of microtransactions in Forza 5. What did you learn from that experience and how did you apply those lessons to Horizon 2? Are microtransactions going to come to Horizon 2 in the future?
"Feedback is a crucial part of the Forza design philosophy"
Within months after the release of Forza Motorsport 5, the in-game economy and progression was completely rebalanced based on the feedback from our community. Forza Horizon 2 was designed, tuned, and play-tested from the ground-up both on that knowledge and without Tokens. That said, Forza is known for its diverse audience and some players appreciate using Tokens as a way of gaining immediate access to content that may take many hours to acquire in the normal course of play. We will continue to monitor the game economy in Forza Horizon 2 to ensure it is balanced and fun, and we will consider offering Tokens as a matter of player choice in a future update. As always, we are dedicated to creating open-ended, evolving experiences that are built with and for our fans.
Forza is a super popular series with a wide user base. How do you balance listening to feedback with staying true to your original ideas?
Feedback is a crucial part of the Forza design philosophy. We thrive on the feedback we receive, and that feedback comes from a variety of different places: internally here within Turn 10 and from the larger Microsoft organization, from our partners like Playground Games, and from the gaming community. Feedback from the wider gamer world, and especially the passionate Forza community, is hugely valuable to us--it gives the most immediate feedback as to what works (and, indeed, what's not working) in the games we make.
While we definitely have a vision for every game we create, once the game is let loose in the world you never know where it will go. For example, in the early Forza games, we had no idea our community would respond so well to our livery editor tools. Back then, we created a powerful customization tool that we figured a small percentage of fans would use to put racing stripes on their car and leave it at that. To our surprise, our incredibly talented fans were creating these amazing works of art--painting lifelike portraits of Bruce Lee and Audrey Hepburn and other celebrities--on the sides of their cars. It blew us away and continues to do so with each new game we make.
One of the first things people will notice about Horizon 2 is the gorgeous Lamborghini Huracán. How did your partnership with Lamborghini come about and what can you say about the brand's involvement with the series going forward?
We're lucky to have great relationships with all of our manufacturing partners. With Forza Horizon 2 we were especially pleased to work with Lamborghini. Over the years, we had looked at Lamborghini models as potential Forza cover car candidates but the Huracán had that special combination of stunning beauty and truly impressive performance and technology that made it an obvious choice for Forza Horizon 2.
Lamborghini has also been an amazing partner for us during the lead-up and launch of the game. For the launch of Forza Horizon 2, we held a special event at the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Monica with Lamborghini, where the kids got to design their dream Lamborghini models and we subsequently brought their designs to life in Forza Horizon 2. The local Lamborghini dealership also brought in a bunch of amazing cars for the kids to check out--watching their faces light up when the cars arrived was a really great moment for all of us.
Turn 10 worked on Horizon 2 in a supporting capacity alongside Playground and Sumo, which led development on the Xbox One and Xbox 360 versions, if I understand correctly. How were you able to communicate your overall Forza design philosophies to these studios and make sure they were executed on when you couldn't just walk down the hall and talk to them?
Both Playground Games and Sumo Digital are experienced development studios full of talented people. We had worked with Playground before on the original Forza Horizon and our teams work extremely well together. With Sumo, we looked at their track record of delivering quality games to fans. Working with both groups has been a great experience.
It's true that we aren't geographically close to either Playground or Sumo but, in today's world, that isn't such a big deal. E-mail is everywhere, video conferencing is available, and there's always good old-fashioned phone calls. The larger challenge has been organizing our own internal Turn 10 resources to support Playground and Sumo across engineering, content creation, production, etc. As the shepherds of the Forza franchise, it's been our responsibility to maintain those open lines of communication, to communicate the Forza vision, and to make sure we are providing timely feedback as well as setting realistic timelines so that we could all execute the vision of Forza Horizon 2 on both platforms.
"From our perspective, we've been in the middle of a miniature renaissance in the racing genre over the past year or so and I'm happy that Forza Horizon 2 is part of that"
Horizon 2 was delivered on Xbox 360 and Xbox One, but Xbox One is obviously the more powerful machine. It's often said that concessions need to be made for cross-gen development, and that's why some studios won't do it. But why did you want to launch Horizon 2 on Xbox 360 and what did it take to deliver the game's full vision on that tech?
Bringing Forza Horizon 2 to Xbox 360 was a decision we made early in the development of the game. Forza Horizon was a very popular game for the Xbox 360 and we knew that we would be early enough in the Xbox One lifecycle that not everyone would have the console yet. Developing Forza Horizon 2 for Xbox One meant we could take full advantage of the console's amazing power and capabilities. We went into the process with open eyes, knowing that some features from the Xbox One--like Drivatars, dynamic weather, etc.--simply would not be possible using Xbox 360 tech. That said, it made sense to bring Forza Horizon 2 to Xbox 360 so that those Forza fans could be a part of the experience.
Horizon 2 is going up against the likes of The Crew, Project Cars (Ed. note: this interview was conducted before Project Cars was delayed to 2015), and Driveclub this fall, among others. What gives you confidence that gamers will pick up your game this holiday when they're surveying the shelves at retailers or on Xbox Live?
First of all, I want to say I'm happy to see so many racing games available to consumers. As creators, we don't think of it in terms of 'going up against.' From our perspective, we've been in the middle of a miniature renaissance in the racing genre over the past year or so and I'm happy that Forza Horizon 2 is part of that. And of course, we're proud of the game we have built.
VR is a really interesting space right now and there are rumblings of Microsoft working on its own prototype headset; have you done any Forza tests in VR? Do you think it could work?
We don't currently have any announcements around any future projects.
When people think about racing games, they generally know what they're getting into. How do you go about delivering meaningful innovation with every new game?
There's a reason racing games have endured this long in video games: They provide an experience that most people can readily identify with but can't necessarily recreate in the real world. Cars are expensive, racing even more so, and it's dangerous to boot. But playing a racing game on a console is a safe, fun experience that players can enjoy regardless of how old they are.
I believe we've only scratched the surface of what is possible in the genre. With Forza, there are big tent-pole innovations that we can hang our hats on--features like 'instant online' in Forza Horizon 2--that really feel fresh and new to players, regardless of how much racing game experience they have. But when you drill down for our experienced players, we're able to satisfy their need for evolution with features like our ever-evolving physics and handling model, which has become more complex and sophisticated over time, in line with our ever-evolving understanding of vehicle dynamics, tire technology, and so on.
What kinds of opportunities does the Xbox One provide for Turn 10 and its racing games that the Xbox 360 didn't? Does the "connected" nature of the Xbox One change how you design games?
Developing for Xbox One has given us the opportunity to think differently not just about Forza, but about our entire genre, and what's possible going forward. Drivatars and 'instant online' are two great examples. With Drivatars, we have been able to reimagine and redefine racing A.I. using disruptive technology--dedicated servers on Xbox Live. We wanted to give players the opportunity to experience what it was like to race against real human opponents, even if they didn't have a huge list of friends on Xbox Live to race online with. With Drivatars in Forza 5, we were able to do that and, in Forza Horizon 2, we're able to take it to the next level by letting Drivatars--many of whom were trained in Forza 5--loose on the open roads of southern Europe.
While the Forza series has always supported online racing, it wasn't until Forza Horizon 2 that we feel like we've been able to make that seamless experience possible. We've really tried to completely blur the lines between online racing and 'offline' play; with a few button presses, you're automatically online with your friends. There are no long waits in lobby rooms, no confusing menus to navigate. You get online and you get to the race. It's one of those features that truly feel magical and 'next-gen' and we are very proud of it.
When you're prototyping new ideas, what's holding you back from taking some of your new ideas and spinning them off into new racing experiences, maybe as new IPs outside of the Forza brand?
There’s nothing holding us back. We're committed to the Forza franchise because we want to be; because we believe in the power of the Forza series to bring together car lovers and gamers all over the world.
"The essence of Forza is the beauty and power of the car and car culture. It's a huge world with infinite facets, and it's one we continue to enjoy exploring"
Why has the Forza franchise typically avoided PC, and do you think this could change, particularly with Microsoft's recent announcement of Windows 10?
More than ten years ago, Turn 10 was originally formed to bring racing games to the original Xbox. As our studio has grown, and the Forza series has grown along with it, we've enjoyed being at the forefront of creating amazing experiences on the Xbox platform. Leading the charge for Xbox One with Forza Motorsport 5 and now with Forza Horizon 2 means we get to create experiment and innovate, working closely with the Xbox platform to really push the racing genre forward. We are excited for Microsoft's announcement of Windows 10, but we don't have anything to announce at this time.
You have been with Microsoft on the Forza team for a long time now. What do you think is the "essence" or the "heart" of Forza, the element that's stayed true throughout the years?
We've got a mission statement for the Forza series, one we talk about a lot: We want to turn car fans into gamers and game fans into car lovers. The wider world of car culture is diverse, vast, fascinating, and ever-evolving. We respect gaming and car culture and see ourselves in service to both. We are always looking at ways we can ignite and fuel car passion using cutting-edge technology and innovative interactive experiences. On Xbox One, that means redoing our physics and graphics engines to incorporate sophisticated open-wheel suspension models and physically based materials in Forza Motorsport 5. In Forza Horizon 2 on Xbox One, it means bringing dynamic weather--a first in the Forza series--and Forward+ lighting to build a more dynamic world. It means bringing new, never-before-seen cars to our game like the Rolls Royce Wraith, Formula E, and Lamborghini Huracán. It means cloud powered Drivatars creating a more social type of solo play.
The essence of Forza is the beauty and power of the car and car culture. It's a huge world with infinite facets, and it's one we continue to enjoy exploring.
We often see racing games at the start of console generations, and Forza 5 was a great example I think of showing off the Xbox One tech. What are your thoughts for how you can carry the franchise forward in this generation? Do you foresee a day when Forza becomes more a "hub" that you support regularly with new content, or is the yearly, disc-based release model still the best fit?
While we don't have any announcements about future products at this time, what I can tell you is that, over the past year or so, we have centralized some services that power the Forza franchise. A great example is our loyalty program, Forza Rewards. Now, players can earn regular monthly in-game rewards in nearly every Forza game out there just for playing Forza games.
Forza Rewards has become an enormously popular service for our most loyal fans and we're always looking at new ways to bring players into that Forza Rewards experience. For example, on the same day we launched Forza Horizon 2, we also released Forza Hub, the official Forza companion app on Xbox One. With Forza Hub, players can get the latest Forza news and community updates, compare their stats and achievements with fellow Forza players, and redeem their monthly Forza Rewards. We're just getting started with Forza Rewards and Forza Hub and we'll have more announcements in the future.
Forza Horizon 2 is available today on Xbox 360 and Xbox One. For more, check out GameSpot's review.