But the pressure to live up to Turn 10 Studio’s impeccable standards pushed the studio further than any one of their former projects to date.
GamerZines sat down with Playground Games’ design director Ralph Fulton to get the scoop on who approached who with Horizon, making the most of Kinect, and just whether or not Horizon will be Playground’s last Forza game.
GamerZines: Who approached who with Forza Horizon?
Ralph Fulton: It was more organic than that. It started out, as these things often do, with relationship building. We make racing games, Turn 10 makes racing games, it was E3 2010 when we had a dinner set up through mutual friends and had a chat “what do you think about racing games?”, “What’s your views of car culture?” and we found we shared a lot of values. Horizon grew out of that and it grew out of Dan Greenawalt’s vision for the Forza franchise and his desire to bring new experiences to it.
We went away and thought about what he’d been saying and we went back to the guys at Turn 10 and pitched Forza Horizon, which was the name from that very first presentation, and a lot of what we pitched is here today.
GZ: So what was in that pitch that hasn’t made it into the final game?
RF: Tons. Tons and tons of stuff. They weren’t bad ideas it’s just the process of game development. You start really big and have everything under the sun and really A lot of the skill and craft of game development is working out which features are aligning to support your overall goals are which ones, which are awesome and everyone’s really excited about them, aren’t and you have to pair away with those.
GZ: Forza Horizon is Playground’s first game. Was the a desire for Playground to prove itself with this game?
RF: Absolutely and for a number of reasons. We set Playground up and a lot of people said we were crazy. We set up in the midst of a recession and a backdrop of other studios going out of business and we’ve taken on a lot of people too. We’ve got a big family back at Playground, about 100 people on-site. We want Forza Horizon to be our calling card. It’s what we’ve worked hard on for the past two and a half years. We’ve poured a lot of effort and our heart and soul into it.
GZ: Was there any pressure from Turn10?
RF: They have an unrivalled tracked record creating 90+ rated games so there’s definitely a pressure there to live up to the standard they set.
GZ: What made you decide to take a traditionally purist racer and go off-road and to the Horizon festival?
RF: Our challenge was to take Forza in a new direction and that for us meant new experiences. How can we get players excited about cars and indulge their car passion. The first Forza Motorsport is about by design a really serious game. It’s about track racing and track based motorsport and has all the features we’ve come to associate with Forza.
We needed to find something that exciting us but allowed players to get excited about cars and build relationships with cars. For us, the one huge and almost universal car experience that Forza didn’t encompass was taking that car out onto the open road and that’s what Horizon delivers.
GZ: How involved has Turn 10 Studios been involved in Horizon?
RF: They’ve been hugely involved. They’ve functioned as a publisher for us but they’re developers as well. That’s what unique about our relationship. We talk the same language and understand the development process.
We’ve also been using a lot of their technology which has been fantastic for our development process. It means we don’t have to worry about a building a physics engine because there’s one already there that’s been prove time and time again and is acknowledged as the best in the industry. It would be mental to throw that away and start our own. And it’s their technology so they understand it, they wrote it so we were talking to them about “what’s the best way to do this?”
GZ: Past Forza games have shipped on multiple discs with mandatory installs. Is that the case with Horizon?
RF: No, it’s a one-disc game. That’s something we’ve always had front and centre. We wanted it to be a one-disc title and a different experience and fulfil different things. Forza has always had a huge car list and really the full spectrum of the automotive world. That didn’t really fit our game.
Some of the F-class cars and E-class cars from Forza Motorsport 4, they’re not the sorts of cars you’d take to the Forza Horizon festival to show off so they went. Some of the track racing cars, again, don’t make a lot of sense in the open road.
We were able to refine our vision in that sense but also, because of the nature of Horizon, we were able to broaden the others. Suddenly a Rally Car doesn’t make a huge amount of sense racing around Silverstone but in Colorado where I can drive where I want, where I have more choice in the type of roads, those cars make more sense than ever have done before.
GZ: How was the research process for Forza Horizon?
RF: We sent a lot of guys over multiple trips to Colorado and by all accounts they had a lot of fun. They did a lot of driving, they covered thousands of miles, they took a lot of photographs, and a lot of video but that was absolutely essential so not only did the guys who went but those who didn’t go had copious amounts of reference material for us to build our version of Colorado.
GZ: How is Kinect integrated into Horizon?
RF: We brainstormed a whole raft of ideas. Kinect, from the point of view of a designer, is a amazing amount of fun. It’s a completely new tool at your disposal. A rule of thumb for a Kinect feature is it has to do something that I can’t do better with a controller.
For Kinect to work it needs to augment that experience. That’s why we settled on the voice-controlled GPS because suddenly it was something I can’t do fast with the controller and it was something we found solved a problem not just with our game but with lots of open-world games.
Once you get over the awkwardness of voice recognition and by that I don’t just mean Kinect I mean any device you have, once you get over the weirdness of talking to a device then the Kinect GPS feature makes huge amounts of sense.
GZ: What would you like to see out of a next-generation Kinect?
RF: “I think what we need to get towards is better resolution in the camera. I know the Fable guys have done a lot of work on getting seated skeletal recognition right and that’s a great advance. I think better gesture recognition is an absolute must for the next Kinect.”
GZ: How helpful as Microsoft been in helping you get the most out of Kinect?
RF: The Turn 10 guys got a hold of Kinect really, really early and as an internal studio they were asked “what can you do with this?” incubate this and tell us what you can do with this. You saw the fruits of that work in Forza Motorsport 4.
They’ve been a tremendous resource for us as we’ve implemented Kinect and there’s lots and lots of people within Microsoft who are really adept at tuning Kinect for language recognition and getting word recognition just right across all the languages we support.
GZ: What can fans expect from the monthly DLC planned for Horizon?
RF: From day one, we’re going to be launching a car park every month. There’s going to be five cars per pack and really just reflecting cool new things in the automotive world. Turn 10 has a content pipeline team who works round the clock researching new things and getting them into a format and get them into the game.
What we’re really excited about is some expansion packs we have coming, the first of which will launch on December 18th and that will really extend the experience you can have in Forza Horizon. We can’t share any details on that now but we’ll talk more about that after launch.
GZ: What’s next for Playground Games?
RF: There’s still stuff to do with Horizon. There’s an Xbox Live demo that’s going to come out. We’re going to be working on the expansion packs and then beyond that some top secret stuff we’re not ready to talk about yet.
GZ: Would you like to work on another Forza in the future?
RF: We’ve loved working with Turn 10. It’s been a brilliant start for our studio, we’re still very young and I think we found a real synergy working with Turn 10 and the Forza franchise but that’s all I’ll say regarding our future with the franchise.
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