Feature

Afterwords – Forza Horizon 2

by Matthew Kato on Oct 31, 2014 at 12:13 PM

Forza Horizon 2 wasn't just more of the same from the racer, it was developer Playground Games expanding the game's entire open world as well as its first foray on a new platform. We talked with Ralph Fulton, creative director at Playground Games and Alan Hartman, director at Turn 10 Studios (developer of Forza Motorsports and overseer of the brand) about the many challenges of this large undertaking.

FH 2 lets players explore more of its world than the first game. What were the technical challenges of having a larger, more accessible world? Did the game's open world affect where events were placed and how players would access the content?
RALPH FULTON (creative director, Playground Games): In addition to the vastly increased fidelity of assets on Xbox One (we generally saw a 10x increase in the size and complexity of objects and textures over last generation games), our world is roughly three times larger than the original Horizon's in terms of driveable area. This has a profound knock-on in virtually every area of the project – the amount of artwork that was created, the stress placed on the streaming system, the amount of test coverage required, and so on. Being an open-world game, and allowing the player to explore practically everywhere in the environment, means that you can drive right up to pretty much everything you can see, so everything needs collision data and has to look good up close. The new openness of Horizon 2 also requires a far greater level of visual storytelling from the art team – everything needs to make sense in context.

However, this extra effort was totally worth it as it afforded players an additional sense of freedom, and offered lots of new gameplay opportunities. One example is our Cross Country events, which are new to Horizon 2. Cross Country was an event which was created quite organically during the development of the game – as our world came together, and as we discovered how much fun it was to barrel across fields and through forests, we realized that this experience could become an entirely new event and they've proved very popular with fans of the game. It's an event which is completely different to anything we've done in Forza before, and it was made possible by the work we did to create a truly open world.

FH 2 drops the horizon outposts of the first FH, thus providing less of a breadcrumb path for players. What was the thinking behind this decision?
RF: Although we don't call them "Horizon Outposts" in the game, the Horizon Hubs which you'll find at each of the Road Trip destinations perform the same function as far as the player is concerned and we designed them to serve the Road Trip structure that both the solo game and the online game use. You can do virtually everything you could do at an Outpost in Horizon 1 at a Hub in Horizon 2 – you can change cars, access the Garage for painting and upgrading, and purchase cars from the Autoshow. The PR Stunts gameplay from the original game has actually been significantly expanded and incorporated into our new Bucket List feature, and we've been blown away by the way people have responded to this feature in Horizon 2. Fans have really enjoyed finding Bucket List cars around the world and attempting the challenges we've set for each of them, and this way of presenting them has allowed us to be much more creative in the way we combine cars with specific challenges, weather conditions, and music to create really memorable experiences. 

Up to this point the Forza Horizon series has alternated with the Forza Motorsport series. How tied is Horizon's release schedule to the main Forza series? Is Turn 10 considering any other Forza series?
ALAN HARTMAN (director, Turn 10 Studios): For a long time now, we've been looking at ways to expand the Forza franchise. We have built a passionate community of fans who follow us very closely. We have lots of people who play our games. But the simple fact is: Making Forza games at the level of quality we want (and that our fans expect) is a time-consuming process.

So when it came time to discuss expanding the Forza universe, the next logical question became: Who do we work with? Who had that special combination of technical expertise, world-class talent, and a true love for the racing space? Once we landed on our partners at Playground Games, we were able to create this cadence that has served us very well. Starting with Forza Motorsport 4, we've released four high-quality Forza games and a continuous stream of monthly content over a span of three years, and we've built two first-party racing games on the Xbox One since release. That's something we are tremendously proud of. In the midst of that, we've been able to do cool things like our partnership with Top Gear and our recently released Forza Hub app on Xbox One, as well as other projects that we aren't quite ready to talk about it yet. In the years ahead, I think fans are going to see the breadth and depth of the Forza universe only grow.

Did you consider local split screen multiplayer? Could it be added to the series in the future?
RF: Split-screen multiplayer is something we've looked at on both Horizon titles but, unfortunately, the reality is that it's something which is very difficult to achieve in an open-world setting. Our streaming technology is incredibly complex – the nature of Horizon gameplay is that you can drive in any direction at speeds of up to 270MPH+ and we need to be able to stream our world in faster than that in order to keep up. In order to allow two players to simultaneously travel that fast in separate areas of the world, the quality of the experience would have to be compromised to a degree we are not comfortable with, and which we know our fans wouldn't be happy with.

What's your schedule for adding Bucket Lists to the game?
RF: We're actually working on a new Bucket List in the studio as we speak, and fans should see it added to their game in the very near future. We designed the Bucket List to be extensible because one of the many benefits of Xbox One is that we are able to add new content to the game more easily than we could last generation. Bucket List is perfect for this as it's a great way of giving our players new challenges and experiences post-launch, and it's something we're adding completely free of charge. The theme of the new Bucket List is "Beat us at our own game," and we've thrown down the gauntlet to our designers to create some really fiendish challenges which will test the driving skills which our players have been honing since the game came out.

What kind of features or innovations from Forza Horizon 2 might we see make their way into the Forza Motorsport series?
AH: We don't have any specific projects to announce now. That said, there's so much that is going on that is interesting in Forza Horizon 2, and it's been wonderful to see how the technology and features have been shared between Forza Motorsport 5 and Forza Horizon 2. Drivatar technology is a great example – bringing Drivatars trained in Forza 5 into Horizon 2 and having them take to the open roads so naturally. I think we've only scratched the surface of what is possible for online play too – the "instantly online" nature of multiplayer in Forza Horizon 2 has been really interesting, and I think it's something that other game makers will explore in the future.

Was the omission of DLC from the Xbox 360 version of the game planned from the beginning, or something that changed along the way?
AH: We looked long and hard at whether to bring a monthly cadence of DLC to the Xbox 360, in the end it comes down to bringing the most value to our community. The cars in the two platforms are built differently and we were able to bring a more diverse car list to the Xbox One because of the power of the box. By focusing our efforts on the current generation we can bring more new cars to our fans than we would have been able to if we had split the effort across the two consoles.

Have you considered DLC that goes beyond new cars?
AH: We have a history of supporting Forza games with DLC add-ons, whether that means new cars, new tracks such as Long Beach in Forza Motorsport 5, and two expansions for the original Forza Horizon. We have already announced our first car pack for Forza Horizon 2 on Xbox One – the Mobil 1 Car Pack, which was released at the beginning of October, and we'll be continuing to support Forza Horizon 2 with DLC Car Packs well into 2015. Beyond that, we don't have any additional projects to announce at this time.

What kind of player data have you received that demonstrates how people are playing the game? Any interesting examples?
AH: We've been really pleased to see how popular Clubs are in Forza Horizon 2. We've got more than seven clubs that have racked up more than one billion XP in the game. For us it's validation that players really enjoy playing together in our world. We went in to Horizon 2 with the goal of creating the most socially connected racing game we could and seeing so many fans take to the features we've built is a real validation for our approach.

RF: I've been really excited to see the way players have embraced the Car Meets feature. This was something which we really believed would be popular when we designed it but it's a really innovative social feature which hasn't been done before and, as such, you never really know how it will be used by players until they have it in their hands. There's a great combination of things you can do in a Car Meet – chatting to other players, partying up for online sessions, sharing content, setting up Showdown races – so you never know what you'll end up doing when you go into one. I really enjoy hitting the Car Meet up near the airfield and drag racing in my souped-up Willy's Jeep!  

Can you talk about the decision to not allow players on the Xbox 360 version of the game to free roam online with random players?
AH: This decision was guided both by technology and by design. Due to technical limitations, we knew we wouldn't be able to support moving seamlessly in and out of race events when playing Online Free Roam mode like you can on Xbox One. We made the conscious decision to not allow online Free Roam with random opponents to push players to the more guided Online Road Trip feature, which is better suited to random players racing together.

What was the team's thinking behind the decision to not include traditional race- or location-based multiplayer lobbies?
RF: Online multiplayer was something we really wanted to improve in Horizon 2, and that necessitated a real "back to the drawing board" approach. At the start of the project we thought hard about the experience we wanted our players to have, and something which runs through the whole game's design is the idea that we never want you to stop driving; we always want to keep you in the world, having fun. You can see that in the design for ANNA as well – she's there to help you out so you don't have to pause and go to the map if you don't want to. So with online, and specifically with the process of getting into online from the solo game, we challenged ourselves to come up with a way which allowed you to access multiplayer instantly, in a way which didn't interrupt your gameplay experience. Having traditional lobbies wouldn't have achieved that – lobbies take you out of the game and make you wait, and for some people that's a reason not to try online in the first place. I think the seamless transition into online which we created is one of the reasons why so many more people are playing online in Horizon 2, and the feedback we've had on this feature has been amazingly positive.

Given the game's varied roster of cars, how did you balance all of them amongst each other as well as when players may get them?
RF: Yeah, we were really pleased to get such a large and varied car list into the game. Having more than 200 cars at launch allowed us real variety in the list as well as to get some often-overlooked classics. The original Ford Capri and the VW Camper Van are two of the cars I've spent most time in while playing at home. As you'd expect in a Forza game, we have a PI classification system which shows you the performance of each car, but because we have such in-depth upgrade and tuning options, we felt that grouping cars by their PI would be restrictive. If I take my Camper Van and upgrade it with a new engine, I don't want to suddenly find that I can't enter it in a championship because it's over-powered. So for Championships, we group cars into types or sub-types (like "Modern Supercars" or "Group B Monsters") and allow you to upgrade your car however you see fit – the game selects cars which match your performance rather than forcing you to modify your car just to enter an event. This is all part of a design philosophy to give the player maximum freedom and choice, and that extends to making all cars available from the start of the game. None of our cars are gated by progression and everyone's playthrough will be different, based on the individual cars which speak to them personally as they choose how to continue their Road Trip.

In your opinion, what's the hardest Bucketlist challenge? The most fun?
RF: We built the Bucket List challenges to cover a bunch of different skill levels and activities. In my experience, and certainly based on the feedback I've had on Twitter, the toughest event has you driving a Lancia Delta S4 at night through a forest towards the festival. You start at the top of the hill near these Acropolis-like ruins and you basically have to bomb through the trees at top speed. The only way to finish it is to ignore the roads completely and take your chances with the trees (and the darkness). It's an incredible challenge.

But I think my favorite Bucket List challenge is called "Outrun the Sun," and it's an homage to a classic road trip game from the past. You take control of a Ferrari F40 on a beautiful coastal road and are challenged to get to your destination before the sun sets, all set to a synthy, 80s-inspired music track by Todd Terje. It's one of my favorite moments in the game.