During the madness of E3 at the beginning of June, we here at COG got a chance to sit-down one-on-one with Playground Games and their upcoming racer Forza Horizon 2. Martin Connor, Lead Designer, took the time to sit with me and talk about their newly unveiled game.
Playground Games was set up to create the best racing games in the world and they felt that Turn 10 was the perfect partner given their heritage in the Forza series since the original Xbox. Together Playground Games works together with Turn 10 using the same tech-base, pooling their creativity and ideas and sharing their knowledge and experience back and forth. Martin states that this allows both studios to push harder and innovate more than if they worked on their own. Forza Horizon 2 is a different experience in the world of the Forza universe with different themes and a different take on car culture. As it was put to me, “Ignite car passion in gamers and gaming passion in car lovers”, that is a theme that resonates throughout.
Two years ago Playground Games was at E3 unveiling the original Forza Horizon, and it was a game that was a festival of music, cars, and action packed fun on the open road. Once the game was released Playground Games was amazed by how it was received as the gamers “got it”. Players and journalists alike were heard using the same words when describing it that the studio actually used when initially “pitching” the game. These words are actually plastered along the walls of the studio: Beauty, Fun, and Freedom…the DNA of Horizon. For Forza Horizon 2, these ideals continue. Martin stated there is next-gen ‘beauty’, action packed ‘fun’, ‘freedom’ to explore (an underpinning of the game), and something new for this next instalment of the franchise, a seamless online experience that actually brings the community together, simply put as “seamlessly connected”.
The first aspect is beauty. “Horizon beauty is colourful, exotic, uplifting, and almost seductive” Martin said. The first step to achieve this, and to get a really good start, is choose a very exotic location. For Forza Horizon 2 that location is Southern Europe. It has stunning and expansive vistas as well as enticing rolling landscapes that gives Playground Games diversity. Famous and iconic locations like Nice, Cote d’Azure, as well as historic and medieval towns like Sancha Manjano (sp?) and Tuscany. To really communicate this beauty, these “picture postcard” locations are all rendered in native 1080p, 30fps. But for Playground Games, the next-gen beauty is not just in texture resolution or poly-counts, but it is it light, the way it moves through the atmosphere. As Martin said, “…the way the light bounces, the way it finds every surface, every material differently in our world”.
Playground games believes the advantage that they have in collaborating with Turn 10 is that that the existing Forza engine is one that was rebuilt for the Xbox One and it allows for such technology as image based lighting and physically modelled materials. For Playground Games the challenge was taking these technologies and scaling them across a massive and open world. Not only that, but the visuals have to work dynamically as they render any time of day and any type of weather. In regards to the latter, Playground is very proud of as they are introducing dynamic weather to the Forza franchise for the very first time.
The Xbox One’s power allows Playground Games to create the technologies with an emphasis on realistic simulation without faking anything. They actually simulate the earth’s atmosphere and the particles within it, so the lighting model allows for the colour of the sky to be spot on so “no matter where you are in the world, no matter what the weather condition, no matter what time of day it is…” it is meant to look realistic. They even simulate the way puddles form, so first you’ll see the water fill the cracks and the crevices on the road then cover the road itself and reflect the real world objects like buildings, cars and even people. These dynamics continue to change the world that you play in.
Along with beauty, Forza Horizon 2 brings back the fun and freedom. These two aspects are almost one in the same, hence why I am using them together. As with the initial Forza Horizon, you can pretty much go anywhere in this game. Feel like heading off the beaten path, go ahead, turn off the road and cut through a vineyard or hay field. Want to take a shortcut, look for those paths that go off the main road, but are still legitimate paths. There is a lot to explore in Forza Horizon 2, and the game is much larger than the original. You’ll be amazed to see how much there is and how many places you can actually go. You’ll end up spending A LOT of time just cruising around checking things out, looking for secrets areas, secret paths, or the best route from A to B. And yes, barn finds are back too, but this time around they introduce cars totally new to the Forza franchise. Fans of the original will see there is so much for them to do, whereas newbies to the series will experience something they most likely haven’t had the chance to do in a console racing game in the past.
Something that was discussed during my interview was “The Bucket List”. I am sure everyone knows what a bucket list is, but in Forza Horizon 2 this is a gameplay feature. It runs along the same lines of a series of challenges, but they are things that you can do in the game that you never really thought you could do. The dev-team started to try things on their own, wondering if they could do certain things, then they actually applied these “experimentations” to the gameplay features. Once you complete them you will be rewarded in various manners. Playground Games plans to keep this “Bucket List” an open dynamic within the game too, and my understanding is that it will change or be added too throughout the life of the game. It will be interesting to see what they offer up in this area, as they didn’t show it, just talked about it during my time with the team.
Finally, the new aspect of the Forza Horizon “mantra” is the seamless online experience. With a press of a button you can head from playing offline to playing online. And what an experience Playground Games has in store. There is no going to any lobbies, or going to a separate menu to launch your online experience, you just hit a button and all of a sudden you are there. One of the neat features is the car club feature. These car clubs can be as few as you want, or as large as you want, up to 1000 members. During the interview I was shown a neat feature where you can head on over to a meeting spot where you can check out other players who are online and hanging out there too. You can view their cars, their setups, and even their custom liveries. Should something catch your eye, such as a particular set-up or livery, with a press of a button you can download it to your own Forza Horizon 2 catalog on your own Xbox One for future use. This is pretty cool as it takes the monotony out of going into a menu and “shopping” for something you like. Plus it’s more social too as you can chat with other people while you are hanging out mingling with other car buffs in this area.
During my interview I was not shown any other online experiences, as they didn’t want to show everything during E3 as there is much more time for them to release what fans are going to experience, including online. But fans will be happy to know that many of the original online game modes from the original will return. I was ensured though that racing online would continue to work seamlessly and fans will be happy with this aspect.
As my time wrapped up there was one thing I was absolutely sure with, the passion and love that Playground Games has for Forza Horizon 2 is huge. They have listened to their fans, they don’t take criticism lightly, and they want all those who play their game enjoy the world of cars. I for one can’t wait to see more about this game, as the tidbit I played, and all that I talked about, has me really excited for Forza Horizon 2’s eventual release.