We recently had a brief chat with Dan Greenawalt, from Turn 10 studios, about what fans of the Forza franchise can expect from Forza 4. Speaking openly about Kinect support, the introduction of Halo’s iconic Warthog and the improvements made since the previous outing, Turn 10′s latest Forza title faces criticism under a microscopic lense like never before.
Dan, as it transpires, is not only a real petrolhead, but enthusiastic to see what the community will do when they get their hands on Forza 4. Here’s how we got on…
The Gaming Liberty: Dan, could you tell us a little about the data import for Forza 4. Was this something you and the Turn 10 team wanted from day one, or is it a logistical nightmare that you fought with?
Dan Greenawalt: That was from day one actually, because Forza 3 was remarkably successful, you know? We have such an incredible community. Many games come out, there’s a buzz about them then the community dies down a little. But with us, we built up a community – yeah it tapered off a little, but now we have hundreds and thousands of players online! When big games come out like Red Dead: Redemption, we’d see our numbers drop, then gradually it would climb back up. So yeah, when you look at all of these people that are so invested in the game – it was a no brainer to carry over items. We thought it would be a good way to reward players for their work and efforts, we love them.
TGL: What exactly can you carry over? Is it just credits and cars? Or specifically a certain amount of credits and specific cars?
DG: Ok well it’s kinda’ like Mass Effect. Mass Effect looked at your previous profile and interpolated what you had in there and what you’d be gifted at the beginning. So based on your level – there was 50 levels in Forza 3, but now we have 150 levels in Forza 4 – we gift you cars into your garage from the beginning. We also look at specific cars you have in your garage such as the LF-A concept car, and if you don’t have it we’ll gift it in. Also, if you’re connected to Xbox Live, we’ll gift you over credits from our server, but that’s based on levels too.
TGL: Everybody wins!
DG: Well that’s the hope! You see the career configures itself around the car you have – so there’s no reason why we wouldn’t start you off in a fast car. But because of the changes to the physics model, we did find that if we gave players the 9o8 from the start, it would take a lot longer to get used to. So the career does have locked events, but like these will be completely unlocked by level 10, maybe level 15 – which is very fast for a game. You’ll be gifted that 9o8, but you can’t use it for like 45 mins say, that said, you’ll be able to use it online, in the rivals mode and you can race it in free mode.
TGL: So what about the partnership with Top Gear? What was the motivation behind it, and where do you think it will take the franchise going forward?
DG: That’s a great question. We could’ve easily licensed the Top Gear Track right? But what we realised early on is that there’s a really strong sense of synergy between their vision and ours; which is about cars. Racing is obviously an important part of cars, but it’s not all about racing. They really want to be car entertainment – and that’s what we’re trying to do as well. We also share a fear for car culture moving forward. I mentioned briefly earlier that kids are getting their driving license later these days - I want people to be excited about cars the way I am. O,k so I’m at one end of the spectrum – but I want to make sure we’re feeding the next generation. Top Gear is in the same boat, and they share the same fears. So we entered into a long-term creative partnership with Top Gear – so we have Jeremy’s voice in Autovista, we have Top Gear bowling..
TGL: We played it and yes, we really enjoyed it!
DG: Fun isn’t it? It’s a good light-hearted break. We also have Top Gear rivals, a Top Gear channel, Top Gear football and more. Our goal isn’t to put Top Gear into places, but we did work with them to integrate Top Gear into the game in ways that felt natural. But where do I see it taking the franchise? Well it’s a great fit for both of us because we speak to different groups of people, and because of this, we can expose different groups of people to different experiences.
It’s kinda like Rugby you know? We’re in a scrum together and we’re gonna’ keep pushing the ball forward.
TGL: Was their ever a point where you felt that by including Kinect support and the Warthog; which seems to be quite gimmicky to be honest – you could experience a backlash from the hardcore fans which might have seen this as an “intrusion” to the Forza spirit?
DG: So here’s what it really comes down to; part of embracing the community means – which we have since the beginning – you have to realise that people have different opinions. And generally the loudest people are the most negative people. It’s one thing to scream on the forums “I’m think this and I’m no going to buy this and I don’t support that”, but it’s another to actually do it. Take for example the Ferarri FF – it’s a shooting-brake car with semi-automatic. You could ask Ferrari “were you worried people would stop buying Ferrari cars because you added the FF to your fleet?” and you know what? They’d simply reply “People don’t want Ferrari because of the FF, they want the brand Ferarri”.
So we’ve got an incredibly diverse game. If you don’t want to play with the Warthog – don’t play it! We also have the best physics you can find around, so if you want a good really good physics game; we’re the game for you. So yes, I do expect people will say it, but I believe in what we’re delivering. Even if you might be disappointed that the game wasn’t made just for you, we’re working towards our vision which is to include the diversity of car culture, the diversity of cars and the diversity of gaming culture. Obviously we love our hardcore fans – we’ve got a lot of racing gamers that love Forza. They’ve been there since the beginning of Forza 4; that’s why we have our community, we listen to them and change parts of Forza because of their feedback. But honestly, they’re part of a larger group.
TGL: Because of the diversity of gamers and the options in Forza, is there a way that Turn 10 track the modes people are playing to see, first hand, what’s popular and successful? And if so, why do you think this is benificial?
DG: Well what interests me is that we put in quite a lot of data gathering in Forza 3. It’s not per user, but it’s an aggregate larger meta-data system. But if you read our forums, like we do, you’d think that people are generally simulation racing gamers (that know their cars) and painters. But if you actually look at the split, which shows how people play the game, it’s actually a 50/50 split between people playing cat and mouse, tag, virus and all these play ground games – rather than people playing hardcore games. And the funny thing is; they don’t really talk about it on the forums! So if you were to just run off what the community were saying and follow it…
TGL: You’d think there was no market for it…
DG: Exactly – but the data didn’t say that. The next thing is – it proved to us that we’re getting closer to our overall vision, and that there’s a whole army of people just having fun with cars, and engaging with car entertainment.
TGL: Fans of the franchise felt a little bit frustrated with the AI in Forza 3. What kind of changes have been made for Forza 4?
DG: A lot actually! It has advanced everywhere really. The AI has changed quite a bit you see, since Forza 1, our AI has been based on “Drivatar” technology – which is a learning AI. We don’t script it, which proves to be a double-edge sword. It’s a very nuance AI, but it also does things that we don’t expect.
TGL: It can be very aggressive…
DG: It can be a little. So we have to teach it, like you’d teach an adolescence, but that means it’ll pick up some things you want it to, but it will also pick up some things you don’t want it to. For this version though, we’ve trained it a lot more in passing behaviour. So we’re giving people more room to maneuver, but it’s still aggressive in relation to where it’s car is in comparison to you. This means that if it’s in the lead compared to you – it won’t pay attention to you. Some people say “the AI doesn’t know I’m there” – oh it sees you! We could pull up the debug AI and it’ll say “I know you’re there”.
TGL: Sounds like Forza 4 is heading down the Skynet route.
DG: It’s not gonna’ give you the room because you might overtake it. People may say that’s aggressive – but that’s racing man! That said, what we did do is back off its aggression if it’s not the right. When you have a lead, and you try to close off the door to prevent it from passing – it’ll do the same to you! You have to remember that it cuts both ways.
Now we also made some new changes to the AI difficulty. Each AI driver has a profile which dictates how aggressive they are, but this also lends to the characteristics of the AI drivers. We have various levels of difficulty, and the way we break these down is we trick the AI to think, for example, “Hey, you think you have less break power than you do”. In Forza 3 we had three levels of difficulty, but in Forza 4 we have four. When people complained that the difficulty gap between medium and hard was too great – we listened. So what we did is we moved the hard mode up and slotted the medium in between. But also in the World Tour mode we have 30 different levels of difficulty too. The user can’t select them but they are automatically selected based on how well you do. So if you upgrade your car to the top of A class, the AI will do the same, if you beat the AI by a lot, it’ll get better, next race, a little better and so on.
Our goal is to get the AI right up there with you and it means that, by the time you’re in your 5th race, you’re up against an upgraded AI in similiar cars to you – it turns it into real wheel-to-wheel action all the way. But what’s cool is that it brings the rewind feature into a whole new life. Like, you can turn it off if you want, for those hardcore players, but I’ve found that I’m using it more now. It’s real wheel-to-wheel and everyone is just packed in there. Now this can mean more mistakes of course, but it’s nice to have that feature there if it’s needed.
TGL: Finally Dan, what kind of lessons have the team brought over from Forza 3, or even from the older games that have helped the development of Forza 4?
DG: Loads! To be honest, I think we were flying blind a little between Forza 2 and Forza 3 – in that we were reading the forums, reading reviews, gathering data, playtesting the game and we even did a multi-regional playtest to try bring in data. But that’s not the type of broad international coverage you want. So for Forza 3 we implemeted a data gathering system, which was very robust. The goal was to get real data about real players and what they were playing. It wasn’t applicable or restricted to specifically gold accounts or anything, but it did retrieve data from anyone that was connected to the net. That said, like I said previously, all data gathered was just thrown into a pool and wasn’t tagged with gamertags or anything. This helped us to see what was popular and what modes people favoured. That allowed us to see what features were popular, so we learned a tonne. One thing we reacted to was when fans asked for public lobbies – so we added public lobbies! One thing the forums were also saying was “We don’t like hoppers”, but the data argued against that – hoppers were very popular.
Like I said about the 50/50 split, you’d be amazed at how many those people got hoppers – and that’s all they really wanted. So we really need that data to help us to make informed decisions. We also asked our community which vinyl shapes would be the most powerful to work with for those that paint. They designed a whole bunch of them, which we then sorted through and selected the top 80 and put them into the game. It’s funny you know? The game has changed so much and in so many ways. We just have this process in which we take ideas from the community, from reviews and from the team and more, and we put them under a series of lenses based on data, our vision and so on. We then incubate them, work with them, work with what works and throw away what doesn’t.
TGL: Thanks for your time Dan.
DG: Thank you guys