Forza Motorsport 4's Creative Director was in Munich to discuss the return of the racing franchise. Christian Gaca - Germany's GR Editor and self-confessed car nut - caught up with him to talk new features, Kinect and Top Gear.
This morning you picked an M3 in the game and said it's your new car. In real life too? Why change from an Audi S4 to a BMW M3? Are you driving BMW for good now?
No no, I don't drive anything for good. I change cars all the time. Besides, I had that Audi to long. Because who I am as a driver, I tend to tune my car. The longer I have the car the more tuning I do on it and the more unreliable it becomes. I had that Audi for almost eight years...
And then it cracked?
It cracked a long time before that. It was very fast but I realised I really should have sold it after three or four years. So I sold and got the BMW. Will keep that for maybe three to five years, tune it, sell it and get something new. My big thing is that I wanna change the way cars feel. The Audi was turbo charged, a V6, all-wheel-drive and front weighted. The M3 is 50-50 weight distribution, naturally asprirated and rear wheel drive.
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Been to the german Autobahn on this trip?
I haven't on this trip, but I have before. I was in a BMW 7-series.
And you drove that by yourself?
No, I didn't.
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Did you do any driving on the Autobahn yourself?
No, I didn't.
You're kidding me?
Not kidding. I know it's a shame. The thing I appreciate about the Autobahn though is the cultural difference it brings to the cars that are made in Germany. All my family drives German cars, pretty much. The Autobahn is very smooth and fast and the cars being developed for it have stiffer suspensions. In the US the higways are so bumpy and the cars are not meant to drive so fast.
Can simulations like Forza change the way people drive their cars - especially in the USA?
We already see the way gaming changes the way people drive cars. We make them faster. Race car drivers use our game to go faster. Stephane Sarrazin from Peugeot had never driven Road Atlanta before so he came to our studio to practice.
But what about regular normal people?
It makes you a faster driver. As you learning to use the edges of traction at the front tires, that makes you faster in the real world.
Does it make you a better drivers too?
Hmm. For example, when people crash, to avoid that, they would need to counter-steer, but most do not know what to do when a car spins out. In any game like Forza that behaviour is like in the real world. So if people learn to recover from a slide in Forza they know how to recover from a slide in the real world.
I played some of the Kinect in Forza 4 and it frankly feels like an added feature. It just feels like a feature for the sake of it? It doesn't feel as if it adds so much to a racing game.
No, that's just not true at all. As a team we were extremely excited to see Kinect. You know, our vision is to turn gamers into car lovers, car lovers into game race drivers. We are always looking into ways to make the racing experience more immersive or to offer different types of experiences. My experience in particular with the headtracking is that generally when people play with it they test it. You are not supposed to test it, you should play it. If you play naturally, most people don't event notice it's switched on.
It's actually a very subtle experience, yes.
And that's the goal. Subtlety is very important, like in any simulator. In a silly game you would just add gimmicky stuff. We integrate stuff very subtly and based on how players actually drive. The same way, depending on what kind of player you are, you could say: "this is added on, that's just another feature" - and that is fine. Different player are different.
But Kinect just doesn't feel added on from our perspective. When I play the game at work, I use headtracking. I don't pay attention to it. It's just on, because it simply works. And Kinect Voice just opens up the game so much to everybody. And Auto Vista is far more compelling with Kinect than with a regular controller. It just feels way better with Kinect.
Was there anything else you thought of using Kinect for?
Of course, we were generating tons of ideas. But you need the right idea at the right time. The right idea at the wrong time is the wrong idea. But ideas are not the most work, making them work is.
Couldn't you just patch stuff into the existing game?
That's just not possible. The all-new lighting engine required us to do all tracks differently. Same goes for the new physics, the new community features - all this requires a brand new title. There is so much innovation all across the game. Auto Vista for instance could be its own game. If you respect gaming culture then you understand that different gamers, avid gamers, access different type of games. Of course there are core gamers, but there is a lot of other gamers out there. And we respect gaming culture and respect car culture. We have a very broad approach without sacrificing either side.
If you could pick one single thing that is way better in Forza 4 in comparison to Forza 3 - which one thing is it?
Most of our features are not actually improvements, they are new features. So it's not that it's better than in Forza 3; it's a new thing. But I guess there are two things. As a player I know that rival mode is gonna be wildly addictive. Gets the most out of the new physics, it use clubs. It's just a binding feature that feels great.
As a creative director I am exited about Auto Vista, because it's so new. People have to play it to really understand it. And depending of what type of player they are, they will form opinions. Some will like and some won't. Some will see it as the future, some as a gimmick. That's how people are. I have respect for other opinions and I am excited to see what that does. It's brand new and everybody wants to put it into a little cubby hole because that is what we always tend to do.
You worked with Top Gear, also and especially on Auto Vista. Did you meet the guys?
No, not yet. Several people from my team did. I meet the creative producer, we had several meetings.
Did you register a proper time on their test track?
Is that something you would want to do?
I have done it in the game. We spend so much time getting the cars and tracks to the most cutting edge simulation. I feel pretty confident that the time I get on the track in the game is faster than in the real life, because I am not afraid. Maybe I would be faster because a have the haptic feeback from my butt, maybe not.