Forza Motorsport Kinect Impressions

[UPDATE] Turn 10 demos Kinect controls at the Microsoft press conference, and we later play it for ourselves to see how it feels.

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Near the end of Microsoft's E3 2010 press conference, the publisher unveiled the latest driving game from the folks at Turn 10 studios. An official name for the product wasn't unveiled, but considering we saw the use of the familiar Forza 3 logo at several points, it might be safe to assume that this is an update of sorts to last year's Forza Motorsport 3. As you might expect from the Microsoft-owned Turn 10 Studios, this version of Forza will feature support for the Kinect motion-sensing system, which was put on display during the demo.

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The two-part demo first started with a drive around the twisting, hilly Fujimi Kaido circuit in Japan. The demo driver held his hands out in front of him to steer, though from the demo video, it wasn't entirely clear how he was controlling acceleration, braking, or gear changing. That said, one cool (and particularly useful) trick that Kinect will allow you to perform is the ability to turn your head. You can look around the interior of the car, check your mirrors, or look into the corners when making a sharp turn. The timed mode demo required the player to pass an endless stream of competitor cars, with the player earning more points as he passed each additional car.

While the first part of the demo focused on the driving, part two was all about the cars--a gorgeous red Ferrari, to be exact. Using Kinect's motion-sensing features, the demoer was able to walk around the car, view it at different angles, and highlight specific aspects, such as the headlights and engine. Later in the demo, the driver-side door opened and the demoer was able to climb into the driver's seat and have a look around. Forza 3 was the first game in the series to have realistic cockpits, and it looks like those art assets are paying off for the Kinect version, based on our look at the detailed cockpit and steering wheel. The demoer could even seemingly interact with the car here--as the presentation ended, the demoer touched the "Engine Start" button and was met with the familiar Ferrari roar of the engine before the screen faded to black.

Of course, there's much more to learn about this Kinect-enhanced version of Forza, which is due for release in 2011. We're primarily curious about the different modes this game will feature, as well as whether it will be a stand-alone product or a title update to Forza 3. For these answers and more, we'll be following the game's progress here at E3 2010 and throughout the rest of the year.

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[UPDATE] After seeing Forza Motorsport's implementation of Kinect during the Microsoft press conference this morning, tonight we had a chance to play it for ourselves as well as chat with Turn 10 creative director Dan Greenawalt. First thing's first: Greenawalt made it clear that we saw today was not a downloadable update or patch for the copy of Forza Motorsport 3 you have sitting on your shelf at home. This is a stand-alone package, complete with visual improvements that you wouldn't see without significant updates to the core game engine. However, what that package entails is still a big question mark: Turn 10 and Microsoft wouldn't say whether this was a sneak peak at Forza 4, Forza 3: Connect Edition, or what have you. Time will tell on that one.

So while we don't know how it's arriving in stores, we do know how it plays. The demo was broken into two halves: what Turn 10 calls the driving experience, and the car experience. The driving experience was a 90 second race down Fujimi Kaido in a cherry red Ferrari 458. With breaking and acceleration set to automatic, our job was to stand in front of the system and hold our hands out as if clutching a steering wheel, and just let our imagination flow. Steering with Kinect proved to be much more accurate than we were expecting. We did quite well in the race, and only managed to smash into a wall once--though we did smash into a Toyota Yaris or two pretty good.

The most delightful surprise of the driving experience was seeing the way the game tracks the movement of your head and shoulders. Leaning side to side twists the interior cockpit view to get a better perspective of your periphery, while moving toward and away from the camera allows you to zoom your view in and out--something that might prove useful when trying to make out a distant turn on an unfamiliar track. Turn 10 seemed proud of the visual improvements they've made to the cockpit view thus far, with a number of shaders added to better reflect the way light and shadows dance around the interior of the car.

After this race, it was on to the car experience. You got the gist of what this mode is all about in our initial update--it's basically a tool to let you use Kinect to walk around a car, look at it from different angles, and basically just use technology to ogle a beautiful car like you'd never be able to in real life. Kinect tracks your movements, including crouching to stare at the headlights, and tiliting your head to quickly pan around to the other side. Raising up your hand produces a number of highlight points to interact with the car. Doing so on the door allows you to open the car up and take a look inside, while highlighting the paintbrush icon lets you paint the car on the fly. However, there are also information icons that trigger a voiceover and slick text overlay giving you history and numbers on a given part of the car. For example, highlighting the engine on the Ferrari 458 reveals that Formula 1 driver Michael Schumacher had a role in designing this vehicle, and other various little factoids.

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This car-viewing mode definitely strikes us as something that existing Forza fans are going to gobble up, while the controller-free driving seems like another gesture to welcome in casual fans of the racing genre. We're looking forward to finding out more about this latest Forza game down the line, so keep an eye out for more coverage.

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