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Forza 5 Inside Insight at Xbox One Launch Party

Exclusive interview with Forza's Creative Director Dan Greenwalt

Dec 4, 2013 SHARE
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Forza 5 & Xbox One Party Details:

  • 60 fps rate and 1080p quality from the new Xbox One
  • Over 200 cars and no more AI in game
  • New physics engine and redeveloped car tuning section
  • Deadmau5 on the ones and twos at Milk Studios, CA

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Just as the best movies are released during the summer, the best video games are strategically released during the holiday season when many people are confined in their homes. Many of us then seek refuge from boredom in the virtual world. One of the most highly anticipated video games of the year is Forza Motorsports 5 for the brand new Microsoft Xbox One. Both console and the racing simulator just hit the market. We had the chance to get the video game skinny during the exclusive Xbox One release party in Los Angeles, CA.

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Back in June at this year's E3, Dan Greenwalt, Forza's creative director gave us the lowdown on the new Drivatar technology that ditches AI race drones for more human-inspired opponents. Basically, the technology logs each players' driving habits and skills, and recreates those styles for others to play against in both career mode and online. The Drivatar algorithm is fluid and always learning so your unmanned "web" persona improves as you do. More on that in the interview below.

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Even if you haven't played the game yet, the trailers will show you how insane and detailed the graphics are. Forza developers went to great lengths to show the fine points of performance driving like scratches on a rotor or the stitching of an interior. The new graphics engine takes advantage of 60 frames per second rate and 1080p quality produced from the new console.

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We again linked up with Dan Greenwalt, a proper gearhead, the night of the Forza Motorsports 5 launch to gain deep insight on what went into creating the final build of this instantly entertaining race title. From the longstanding partnership with BBC's Top Gear to utilizing new console features such as gas/brake trigger vibration felt before losing traction, we talked about it all before enjoying an intimate set from Deadmau5 while playing the game. As a perfect backdrop to the interview, parked next to us was a beautiful Audi R8 and the amazing McLaren MP4-12C. Here's what Forza's Creative Director had to tell us.

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Explain the cars found in this game.

Dan Greenwalt: There are over 200 cars in the game. They're all built for this generation. So everything was built new. It makes it the largest racing game ever at a launch of a console. Actually by a long shot. Forza Motorsports 2 was a pretty big game, but it shifted a year and a half after the launch of the Xbox 360 and that had 270 cars and 12 environments. 70 of those cars were actually alternate versions of other cars in the game. Now we have over 200 cars that are all unique and 14 tracks.

Now we have over 200 cars that are all unique and 14 tracks.

What did the BBC's Top Gear partnership mean for the game?

DG: The show hosts provide context around the cars with little stories. Richard Hammond picked the American muscle cars to talk about and the hyper cars are hit by Clarkson. They all picked cars that they are passionate about and gave an editorial feeling about them. The game also includes the Top Gear test track and the old Reasonably Priced Car.

Do you have James May talking about the Fiat Panda by chance?

DG: We don't have the Panda in the game, but we do have a ton of diversity. You saw the E21 when you sat down. We have hyper cars like the Huayra. We got the old 1960s Bug Beetle, and a classic Mini. So we have a huge diversity in the car list. In fact it's the most diverse car list we've done so far. But we don't have a Morris Minor or Reliant Robin.

From a visual standpoint, how is this game improved from the past generations?

DG: We're using the Xbox One's power for the improved physics engine, improved AI and new Drivatar technology, and better audio - it's across the board. Graphically it runs at 1080p and at 60 frames per second; it shows off your TV's capability and shows off the Xbox One. But to me, the thing that's more important are the things that make a car look like it was touched by human hands such as the orange peel on the paint, the scratches on the rotors, the millings on the wheels and the stitching. The things that make it look human.

But to me, the thing that's more important are the things that make a car look like it was touched by human hands

How much time did it take to fully recreate each car in the game?

DG: There's no car that can be created in less than six months. And that's if we have CAD data. If we don't it takes even longer.

How many people or teams created all of these cars?

DG: There are over 400 people working on the game. Many of those are artists and yes, they work in teams that are specialists. So there are multiple people who work on wheels for instance. So it's kind of like a car assembly line. We can do multiple cars at once and we have people who specialize in building engines, building wheels, building taillights, building headlights, things like that.

In terms of what falls off or breaks, has the crash damage changed?

DG: In those terms not so much. Our goal is to do real racing, the type of racing you really want to watch. And what most frequently occurs in real racing is rubbing in differential velocity of say 40-60mph - those are the big shunts. If one car hits another car at a 60mph closing speed that's a fucking big hit. You'll see bumpers fall off on some cars, the taillights/headlights break off, lots of scraping, lots of rubbing, and tin can damage all around the car.

Our goal is to do real racing, the type of racing you really want to watch.

We noticed the controller triggers vibrate when you start losing traction or brake too hard. Is that new to the game?

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DG: Haptics is the study of feedback to a body. You got the five senses. One of the senses is touch; haptic is the audio version of touch. In fact, the best way to think of it is like audio waves. So we had controller chassis rumble, and we were able to use that to give you a pretty good feeling of when the car is vibrating through a corner because it's under steering. It's subtle so that people don't think about it, but it just gives them feedback like audio. The more you have to think about it the less effective it is.

Now we have the ability to do rumble in each individual trigger. There is one for acceleration and one for braking. When you start over accelerating the tires it starts rumbling, giving you that feedback to back off the throttle. And when you start over braking and the tires start locking up, the ABS engages and you feel it on the braking trigger.

What was the process of getting everything to sound right?

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DG: We put over 1,000 cars on the dyno. That's for a couple of reasons. We can't get all of the cars on the dyno or get our hands on all of them to take apart, especially the classics. We can photograph and videotape cars fairly easy though. You can always find a collector that will allow you to photograph even their 22 million dollar Ferrari.

Usually even the classic cars are the collection of similar parts from other cars, even if it's not from the same manufacturer. People in the collector community know that a driveline in said car is the same one used in sometimes a Ford, for example. We can recomposite audio for a car we didn't dyno using a plenum from this car, the intake from that car, the exhaust from there, etc.

We can recomposite audio for a car we didn't dyno using a plenum from this car, the intake from that car, the exhaust from there, etc.
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Whenever we dyno a car for audio we put mics all over the car. The sound is isolated. We can put the exhaust from this racecar, the intake from that one, the sound of a V8 with a certain degree of angle and recreate it. Most of the time we get the real car though.

How much work did you guys put in the physics compared to Horizons or Forza 4?

DG: There are really three things worth mentioning. First, we have more power and used across the entire game to make entire experience next gen. Several systems in the physics run at a faster update rate. The big uses of power were the suspension and the tires. We worked with engineers from Mclaren.

The biggest changes are in standard rigid body car physic systems. You got a swingarm and an approximated camber ratio that do a good job of showing how the tire should move against the swingarm. You can make the swingarm different lengths to approximate a double lay arm suspension or something like that. It's a good system. It's been used for a long time. A lot of great simulators use that system.

We decided to go back to the basics and measure the pieces and physically model the suspension. So if the car has a Mcpherson and this is where the strut is mounted and it has this much angle, and it's got an arm on the bottom, and it's got two linkages and they're offset by this mount - we can recreate it.

We decided to go back to the basics and measure the pieces and physically model the suspension.

How did you approach tire physics?

DG: Our approach to tires in Forza 4 was something nobody ever did before. We measured tires, we got tire measurements from Pirelli, we input that directly into the game and drove the test data. There are other games that are following suit, which is great because it's a really good approach. There's one issue though. That test data is subjected to the test methodology and if the test methodology can't isolate each variable, the variables become munched together. For instance, heat is baked into the tire and with the heat variable you have a tire compound baked into it. You want heat isolated from the compound variable along with wear, camber, gases, and everything else.

We worked with unbiased Calspan to develop a new style of testing that has never been done before to fully isolate these variables. So what that means is on a car, especially an old car, where the suspension is inferior and it doesn't keep the tire in contact with the road very well you're going to have a lot more variables going to a much wider range than they have ever been on a racing game. If we were only building an Indy game you would just measure it all and simulate.

How did you decide what car gets what tires?

DG: We do the research. Let's say a car comes with a Continental ContiSport. We may have not tested that tire, but we correlated it with a tire we did. So by testing the amount of tires we did, we can usually get really close to the pin. It's just too many variables, especially when you go back 55 years.

As far as upgrading cars, what's possible in this game?

DG: There are some small changes that people who know Forza will appreciate, but we didn't revamp the entire system. We had to redevelop it for the Xbox One. The tuning system carries over as you would expect. You've got the same suspension bump, and rebound damping; you've got sway bars, aero, differentials, all of that. I will say that tuning changes affect the car a lot more now because the new suspension and the new tires.

But upgrade wise, the biggest change is doing away with brand specific engines. So we still have engine swaps, but instead of actually saying BMWs can only get BMW swaps, we built all the engines ourselves. We built them to be iconic. There's a three-liter straight six and it's got a certain sound you might recognize, but it's not branded as this car's engine. There are some differences with the drivetrain as well. In the past you couldn't put an all-wheel drive drivetrain in a car unless that manufacturer made an AWD drivetrain. Now we just built a race AWD system and you can swap that into any car. You don't have to put a Toyota drivetrain into a Toyota car.

Who was this game designed for: hardcore drivers, gamers or both?

DG: Elegant design fits you for who you are and I don't try to change you. We have professional race drivers that play our game, we have kids who play our game, we have women, we have men, we have people from across the board, and I don't want to alienate any of them. So that's why we have an assist system: Rewind, green line, auto brake, auto steer, etc. But we also have simulation steering versus normal steering. We have a small number who play without assists and a small number who play with auto brake and auto steer. Everybody else falls somewhere in the middle. It's a bell curve.

With Drivatar, how do you filter out the bad drivers?

DG: Imagine plotting everybody's lap time on Silverstone versus the number of population with lap times from one minute to twenty. You're going to have a bell curve where there is a small number of five year old kids. Then we've got professional drivers, the race teams that use our game for practice. Most of us fall in the bell curve. So we have eight difficulty settings and if you think about the bell curve, divide that into eight equal sections of lap times. You'll have a smaller population on the high end, a smaller population on the low end and from there it ramps up and ramps back down.

As you turn the difficulty setting higher and higher you get cleaner guys, because you must be cleaner to drive faster. There are other behaviors we just don't allow the Drivatar to learn like parking on a corner, doing doughnuts, driving backwards and the pit maneuver. It doesn't learn general ass hat behavior, but it will learn to sideswipe and aggressive tendencies.

The key is we don't allow non-friends to do full aggression. Basically everybody you race against is real people's profiles. But when it's a stranger there's a small amount of shackles. However, if they're your friend it's full Monte. They're going to be just like your friend. If your friend drives like an ass hat, they're going to drive like an ass hat. But that leads to the water cooler discussion that makes racing and games fun. When I was pushing for this Drivatar it was partially because I was done with what we all settled for as gamers. That's not good enough.

Basically everybody you race against is real people's profiles.

What is the best way to experience Forza 5?

DG: So when people come up to me and say, 'The ultimate way to experience Forza is through the wheel.' I say, 'No, no, no.' Do you play Halo? Do you drive a car on the track? If you say yes Halo and no on the track. You 100 percent should play with a controller because I guarantee you understand controller and dexterity with two fingers and a thumb better than you understand a car at ten tenths.

My job is to take everybody seriously even those that have no driving confidence. So I want the game to feel spot on for a pro driver as good as we can do it. And with the controller, I want some Halo guy to be like, 'I never really liked cars, but I got this BRZ in-game and it was cool and now instead of getting rid of my old Civic, I'm going to get a BRZ!' And that's real shit that's happening in our community where we've turned people into car guys. That's the vision of the game.

And that's real shit that's happening in our community where we've turned people into car guys. That's the vision of the game.
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