Forza Horizon 3 is out very soon and we met with Playground Games in London to have a little chat with Creative Director Ralph Fulton about the game, the cars and the Australian setting.
GR: What do you think it is about the Forza Horizon series in particular that appeals to players that may not be fans of racing in general?
RF: Yeah, so I hear that, I've always heard that, racing first with Horizon, and honestly I love hearing people say "I'm not really into racing games, but I love Horizon", because I think you're right that that is part of the central appeal, but I think it's also about the element of fun which Horizon embodies, really. And that's something we've kind of grown into going from 1 to 2 and 2 to 3, and I think as a team we've gotten much more comfortable with the fact that we are the fun game. You know I think the Forza Motorsport guys, they would say "we are the serious simulation" and that's a badge of honour for them. For us I think the badge of honour is "we're just about having fun in cars", and the challenge, and I guess the privilege, is to find new and entertaining ways to give that to our players.
GR: Why did you decide on Australia as the setting?
RF: So that's a good question, a lot of people ask that. The process is the same for every game. Horizon is a very portable concept you know, it could go anywhere, so we have the whole world to choose from at the start of every game. I guess what helps us now then is what we're thinking about that we want to give to our players with the particular game in question. For this one we really wanted to give our players a very diverse world, so when we looked at that short list of locations, we were looking at which location could give us the breadth of beauty and scenery and environments and driving experiences, and Australia, because it's so vast, has all that. You can be in the Outback, but then we can go on a drive into the city, we have the beach, you can drive through the rainforest, it's incredibly diverse, it throws up lots of really cool driving experiences I've never had before in Forza, or any racing game if I'm honest, and that's why we chose Australia.
GR: What were the biggest challenges about bringing the game to Australia?
RF: So one of the principal challenges was it's so far away, so that presents some logistical problems because we insist on not just visiting the location, but really spending a lot of time there, we send team members over there, so it being on the other side of the world is an issue, but we overcome that. And the other big issue with Australia is that it is massive, like it's sometimes difficult to comprehend living in the UK how massive it is, like how long it can take to get from location to location, and the world we've created in Horizon is drawn from the whole of Australia, not just one small part of it. We have bits from all over the coast and the centre as well, so logistically, yeah, there's challenges there. But it was worth it, it was worth all that effort to get the world that we've put into the games. It's not just the biggest we've ever created, but it's the most fun and most beautiful world we've ever created as well, and that is the payoff.
GR: How closely do you work with Turn 10?
RF: Very closely, right from the start. I think our relationship is great because both us at Playground and the guys at Turn 10 were developers first and foremost, and that makes it a different relationship to the traditional developer/publisher relationship, which has always been very, very efficient. We speak to them every week in a number of different ways and our teams interact right across the boards, and that has evolved and grown that relationship during the time we have been working together. We think about the same things in the same ways, they know what their game is, we know what our game is, it all fits into what our shared vision of Forza is. I think that has really been the bedrock on which we've built not just this series, but also a fantastic working relationship.
GR: What are the main differences between the PC and Xbox One versions of the game?
RF: I would say the principal differences, so first of all it's a crossplay title and the goal there is that the two player bases can play together, and that necessitates that the game at its most basic level is identical between the two platforms, right, were you to be on different platforms in the same game, that tree has to be in the same place, the road has to be the same, so it's the same world. What we know about PC players, what we are very anxious to make sure we gave them with the PC version, is that we support their peripherals, so mouse and keyboard support, wheel support, those are things that PC players expect and which we are going to give them.
We also know, and this is the big one right, PC players want the ability to configure how their game looks and plays themselves, and that means being able to configure frame-rate, configure resolution (we can go right up to 4K) and it also means having minute control over all the different graphical options which make up the frame of our game, and allowing PC players to decide what they want their game to look like and thus how they want it to play, and that's up to them and their individual specifications how they configure that. But at the basics though, the game, the world, the cars, the way the game plays, the structure of it, those are identical so that you and I can play co-op throughout the same game on different platforms and we wouldn't know.
GR: How do you decide on which cars end up in the game?
RF: It's through a lot of work, through a lot of discussion, a lot of people have input into that. Although we have one person who owns that list, there are many, many inputs into that, and I think it varies from game to game. It's kind of similar to that problem we had about where we set the game, the location, so okay, what are we trying to do with our car list? We're not just trying to make it bigger for bigger's sake, although it's much, much bigger than Horizon 2's, it's not just about adding cars, we want to do things with that increased size as well. So we showed you earlier with the outback, how rugged, that kinda suggested and inspired us to include extreme offroaders and also buggies, which have never been in Forza before, so there is an entirely new class of car that we've added, because the world kinda demands it. We're in Australia, so that demands that we use the sort of Australian domestic car culture, make sure that we are really celebrating their unique car culture in the game as well, so there's a ton of Fords and Holdens, there's a ton of utes, which is sometimes a difficult one for us to grasp, you know in Europe we're not that big into utes as they are, but they are crazy about utes, so they're in the game as well.
We also do, I love this about Horizon, we get to include cars that other racing games are just never going to look at, because our game's not just about racing and competition, people love to take photos, they love to have fun together in lots of different ways, we get to include cars that other would just never look at. We announced just last week the Reliant Regal supervan, which is like a threewheeler, a very uniquely British car from the seventies. You are never going to find that in another racing game, but I love that it's in ours, and people are going to have a lot of fun driving it. Some really old classics like the Ford Woodie from the fifties, again not going to win many races in that in its stock form, but people love cars in Horizon for more than just their on track performance, which is one of the things that I think is unique to Horizon, and we can celebrate that with our car list.
GR: Are there any cars that you want in the game but can't have, for whatever reasons?
GR: How do you avoid making the same game twice?
RF: Right, that's a great question, no one has asked me that yet. It's certainly something, certainly when you get to three. You get to number three, you become very careful that you are not doing the same things just through muscle memory, and we have to challenge ourselves with every decision we make to make sure that's not the case. There are some things we do in every game, because they are signature things in Horizon, I'm thinking about Showcase Races, I'm thinking about Barn Finds, those are things you only find in Horizon, they are things that fans love, so I think it's our duty to keep doing them, but also with each game to find a way to make them better in some way, so we spend a lot of time working out how to do that, but then we also have to be focusing on what is new, what is attracting new players to our game or rewarding the players that have come through Horizon 1, Horizon 2 to Horizon 3, what's rewarding them for doing that. There are a ton of new features in the game, online co-op is one, we have totally revolutionised our lighting system, so the game just looks better for everyone, we have a ton of features like drift zones, danger sign jumps, the list goes on and on, we showed you drone mode earlier, so we are trying to pile on new stuff that really makes this feel like an entirely new game, while we are improving the which makes Horizon Horizon.
GR: What are the plans for DLC? Will there be anything new like the Fast and Furious standalone?
RF: So, maybe take a step back from that. I think that Forza has a great tradition of supporting its games post launch, I think this game will be no different. I think we have already announced as part of the Ultimate Edition that there is a car pass, and therefore there is going to be monthly car DLC, that's kind of a given with Forza. There is also certainly a large segment of our fans who really value that way to increase the variety of cars within their game, so there will be that. We don't have anything to announce about expansions just yet, but I feel fairly secure in saying that there will be expansions, because I love that opportunity to give players more of what they love, but to change it up in some way that makes it different and fresh, and I think we did that really well in Horizon 2, Storm Island and Fast and Furious were both very different, but new ways to enjoy the game that people were still loving and playing, and I think we'll do something similar.
And the other thing, I guess, is Forzathon, which I showed you earlier. We do a lot of premium DLC, but we also do a lot of free stuff, like additional content updates, free content, which I think we don't often get the credit we deserve for. We are going to continue doing that, and Forzathon is one of the ways we are going to continue to bring not just new gameplay and fun, but actually new content, like the Warthog, like the Silvia S14, to our players because they are crying out for those things, and we want to keep giving them, keep thanking them I guess, for being in the franchise.
GR: How will voice commands work in Forza Horizon 3?
RF: No one asks about Anna! And I love Anna. Anna's like one of my favourite features in this game. A couple of things that you will find with Anna, she will call you by name now, which is cool, it's always interesting to see which name people choose for that particular feature. She still works with Kinect, so you can still say "Anna, do this" or "Anna, show me how do i get fans" or "What should i do next?" the same way as in Horizon 2. She is also a bit more proactive now, so more frequently she will say "Hey, you haven't done this in a while, would you like me to set a route there?". When you return to the game, this is a thing I always found in Horizon 2, when I returned to the game after not playing for maybe a couple of days I was like "Huh, what was I doing?", so now Anna is intelligent enough to go "Oh hi, welcome back. When you left you were doing this, would you like me to set a route?" and you can continue from where you left off. And then also finally, as you'll have seen because we don't have Kinect hooked up here, you can control Anna with the D-pad commands as well, and that's just really to say this works with Kinect, if you have Kinect it will default to that and you can use voice commands, equally if you choose not to use voice commands, or if you don't have Kinect plugged in, you can still control Anna and get the benefit of that feature just using the controller.
GR: Finally, how will the Warthog be like to drive?
RF: Pretty amazing is the honest answer. It's fair to say I imagine we use words like this a lot, but we have genuinely never had a vehicle in the franchise like that before. It's taken quite a lot of work to make sure that the physics are working, to make sure that the suspension, I was saying this at Gamescom, the suspension on the buggies is the longest suspension travel we've ever had, well the Warthog is even longer, so getting that working in a way that I think Forza fans and Halo fans will love has been a challenge, but it's bags of fun, I think it's going to be a great addition to the franchise. And hopefully also some Halo fans are looking at it and going "Hey, I've always wanted to drive that, I've always wanted to sit inside that", we have modelled the interiors as well, you can see it in Forzavista, so I think it's a great addition.
Forza Horizon 3 is out September 27 for PC and Xbox One.