Forza Horizon Interview – Design Director Ralph Fulton

WhatCulture talks to Ralph Fulton, Design Director on Forza Horizon.

Forza Horizon is a pretty big departure in style from previous Forza titles. Gone are the sterile racetracks with the focus on tenths on a second in your lap time and in there place we find a game designed around driving your car too fast, with the music too loud, just for the fun of driving. I was recently lucky enough to be able to chat with Ralph Fulton, Design Director for Forza Horizon at Playground Games, to get an insight into the game. We discussed keeping the authenticity of the cars, Rob Da Bank's involvement with the soundtrack, Day One DLC and more. Laura: For those who don't know you could you introduce yourself? Ralph: Yeah, my name is Ralph Fulton and I'm the Design Director on Forza Horizon. Laura: And what makes Horizon different to Previous Forza titles?Ralph: The main difference with this game I guess is the Setup. Previous Forza games have pretty much been about track based racing and they did a great job of replicating that experience, but what we're trying to do with Forza Horizon is to bring you a different experience around those same cars. What we've gone for is a pretty universal theme, we've all driven a car, maybe turned the music up too loud and that's really the core experience of Forza Horizon. We've taken it away from the Race track and out onto the open road. Laura: And while its a big departure taking it off the race tracks and onto the open road, it certainly seems to have kept the authenticity of the different cars and how they handle. How has the team gone about maintaining that while turning it into a more action packed game?Ralph: Yeah your absolutely right and authenticity is a word we use probably much more than we should, but we always come back to it because its a core proponent of the Forza DNA. We've done it in a couple of ways really, Firstly we were lucky enough to use the Turn Ten Forza Motorsport codebase for Horizon so we started with that. Doing that meant the physics system, the way the cars handle and the way they react to the road is exactly the same. It's so €œbest in class€ that it would have been dumb for us to mess with that. Authenticity goes right the way through the project. We're setting it in Colorado so we sent a team of guys out there for six weeks last year. They took thousands and thousands of photographs and hundreds of hours of video and the same amount of work goes into the soundtrack. I could have picked the music and I'm sure I would love my music and a lot of devs do that but we knew that if we were going to live up to that authenticity ideal of Forza then when we were going to create the festival and the soundtrack we needed someone who did this for a living and was totally tuned into music. We got Rob Da Bank and he helped us build the festival and created this amazing soundtrack. Because of his expertise he was able to pick tracks which at the time we had never heard of but now are suddenly breaking and in the charts. Its only because of his expertise that we were able to create that really central soundtrack. Laura: I've got a couple of questions about the soundtrack. Firstly, how early was Rob Da Bank involved in working on the soundtrack and is it dynamic or scripted based on your current objective? Ralph: To your first question, I first spoke to Rob in March 2011 so that's 19 months ago and our relationship sort of started at that point really. His first job really was coming in and answering questions on €œhow do you build a festival? Where do you get tents?€ and stuff like that. We wanted to make sure that when we built our festival in the game that we were following the same real world rules that he did. From last summer he's been involved in what our soundtrack would be, what our radio station selection would be and their identity, then he really started filling out all the tracks. He's been doing that from last summer through until about June this year. If I, or if we, had done it we would have picked songs that were out of the time but because Rob's got his ear to the ground and he's got so many contacts he was able to do what he does every year with Bestival and say €œthis band are gonna be hot this summer but nobody's heard of them yet so we've gotta get a track in€ and lo and behold, one such track was by Sam and The Wombats and suddenly its UK number one just the other week and its like €œwow, how did you see that coming 9 months out?€ To your second question, when you're free roaming and just driving around the world you can pick a radio station and it will play and just cycle through different tracks. Its not just about the music too, its about the DJ's who will give you feedback about what's happening at the festival or even what you are currently doing there and that's always really cool, hearing people talk about you. If you go into a race, most of the time, we think €œhow long is this race? What's the race about?€ and we really picked one of robs tracks as the soundtrack for that race. Laura: How long do you expect the game to take for the average person to complete and how long do you expect people to be coming back to the game for after launch?Ralph: We have two things that we like to call soft completion and hard completion. For soft completion you complete the races, you become horizon champion and that takes about 12-14 hours, our QA guys are super skilled now and can plough through it in about ten and a half. Hard completion is basically after that you've still not done everything. You've not raced all the street races, found all the collectables, explored everything the game has essentially. Doing that takes most players around 25 hours. Because of everything we're doing with rivals mode where every time the game pops up and you decide €œokay I'm gonna go and be racing this guy€ and everything we're doing with the online component as well I think there's easily 40, 50, 60 hours of content for the average gamer and if you want to be super hardcore about it, like many Forza guys are, there's even more. We currently have green disks, which are what we get before the gold disks arrive, and some of the guys playing the game in the studio are playing on their home machines, and grant who was playing for me earlier was telling me on the train down that he just completed the the game and it took him 17 hours and he he knows the game, so it's a big game. Laura: With the length of the game if you're going for hard completion and the lengths your going to to ensure that the games cars don't feel disposable, do you feel that even the first vehicle you get in the game is a viable option for races right up until the end of a hard completion of the game?Ralph: You'll find that it wont be for every race for a couple of reasons. One, because there are just so many events in the game, some of the events are like €œthis is a BMW event or an Audi event so you need to go buy an Audi to enter this event€. Some of them might need you to have a convertible or some other requirements. Broadly speaking, yeah we want you to be able to, if you have a car your in love with like maybe your first car, one you're passionate about and have developed, we want you to be able to keep using it and not suffer for using it at the end of the game, the same way you did at the start. Laura: You've said that you managed to keep the Simulation aspect or the game intact, but it also has a much more pick up and play feel than other Forza games. How do you think people looking for more of an arcade racer will find Horizon compared to those looking for a Simulation?Ralph: The first half of this games action sim equation is that we want it to be pick up and play. We want people to be able to come along and not necessarily be a hardcore sim fan but be able to enjoy just driving around the roads. The way we've done that is by making sure all the assists are on by default, and while we haven't changed any of the actual physics, we have changed some of the parameters around things like traction control. We've made it slightly more forgiving, easier to get into controllable drifts and basically allows you to do things in the world that you would never need to do on a race track, like turn around and go in the opposite direction. I hope that this game is gonna be really accessible for everyone, you can even go in and switch on auto braking and that's the Forza approach, a newcomer or your hardcore sim fan can find as much challenge in. Laura: a lot of people are unhappy about the current trend of day one DLC, complaining that the content should be on the disk at launch rather than, as they see it, being removed to make money. With Forza Horizon having day one DLC, how would you respond to that?Ralph: I guess this is about understanding how game development works. I guess it appears from the outside like we finish a game and burn it straight to disk and release it. In fact we finished making this game and adding content to it about two months ago. It takes a long time to get the game through test, make sure everything is working, and get it through certification. There's always a bit of a lag there that the average consumer never really thinks about. A lot can happen in that time and that's why we do day one DLC because there are things that we missed, new cars we didn't have time to bring in. Turn Ten had a content team who were separate from the game team who are always looking for new cars, getting them into the production pipeline and building them. For those wondering specifically about our Day one DLC, one of the cars will be free. The premium cars are optional and your welcome not to buy them if you don't want them. Every month we will be giving away one free car as DLC which I think is great, I think that's a really awesome thing to do and for the people who want to continue experiencing the new cars its a great way to expand that horizon experience. The same also applies to the December expansion pack as well. Its all optional but if you've enjoyed Horizon and want to extend that experience or expand what Horizon means to you then we can offer you the expansion pack coming in December so you can keep the game and keep experiencing new things in it. Laura: Do you have any last words to add?Ralph: Please buy Horizon (Laughs) Forza Horizon is set for release on 23rd October in the US and on the 26th in the UK. You can check out our early thoughts on the game here.
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Long time JRPG and Nintendo SuperFan, Laura is a passionate gamer who comes to WhatCulture to share her nerdy ramblings with the world.