The Forza Motorsport series is known for its dedication to realistic physics and simulation-style race driving. Forza Horizon, released this week to Xbox 360, represents a considerable departure from the formula established by the first four entries to the franchise. Featuring an open world with hundreds of miles of road to explore and race upon, and challenges which measure style as well as speed, it's markedly different but still undeniably Forza.
Turn 10 wanted to do more than make another game about racing, fun as that can be. Their goal was to create a game which was about the fun and freedom of driving cars; A game that would, in the words of Creative Director Dan Greenawalt, "turn gamers into car lovers and car lovers into gamers."
Simulation was a means to this end, but it's certainly not the only path. Horizon is built on the same physics as Forza, but the motivation is different. In traditional Forza, the goal is to shave seconds off your time, while Horizon's focus is about the experience of driving the car as an exercise in enjoyment, bringing together music and driving, to create a road trip atmosphere.
"Motorsport has a set candor," said Greenawalt in a recent conversation with Destructoid. "We have some very big ticket features which are expected for the genre. We prided ourselves on doing a lot of innovation in [Forza 4] because we established some of those core features. Horizon had no expectations.
"We needed to develop a vision and features which fulfill that vision," he continued. "We went to the [Playground Games] guys hoping that would bring new things to the franchise. The concept they brought was 'summer music festival,' which lead to the open road, and building relationships with cars."
Centering the game around the fictional Horizon Summer Festival provided ample opportunities to get creative. Drawing inspiration from open-world titles such as Red Dead Redemption and Assassin's Creed, the environment (based primarily on the US state of Colorado) is designed to evoke a sense that there's a new adventure around every corner and give freedom to the player to explore that.
It's not just the roads which offer opportunities for fun, but the spaces in between also, particularly when combined with the variety of modes found in the Playground Games. "Parts of the world have guard rails, but there are lots of open areas and when those are the arenas for playing these modes, it's a totally different feel to [Forza 4]," Greenawalt remarked. "We do that all the time here in the studio where we're playing 'Cat-and-Mouse.' I think players are going to respond really well to that."
Social engagement was clearly a focus, as well, and Greenawalt anticipates that Horizon's Facebook integration and photo sharing features will be a big hit within the game's community in the coming months as players begin flooding their networks with pics of their sweet digital rides.
Turn 10 is hoping that the concept of the Horizon Summer Festival instills in players the idea they are on an journey centered around the joy of driving. It's all about bringing together car lovers of all stripes, using the road trip to create a personal connection. "When going on a road trip with your friends," Greenwalt pointed out, "that car becomes one of your friends."