When I first visited Turn 10 Studios a few months back, the place was on lockdown as they marched towards the release of Forza Motorsport 4. That launch isn’t far away so I’m dedicating a few posts over the next few Friday’s to the work of Turn 10 and what goes in to making a game like Forza Motorsport 4.
Basically, what goes in to the making of Forza is blood, sweat, tears and passion. Having spent some time with folks like content director John Wendl and creative director Dan Greenawalt, who have been at Turn 10 from the start, I soon realized that this is a team made up of motorsport and gaming fanatics. As they lead me in to their locked-down workspace, it was clear I was in a place that petrol heads’ dream of. The walls are decorated with huge images (generally in game shots) of some of the world’s most exotic cars. Coffee tables are stacked high with copies of Car and Driver, Evo, Top Gear and Car magazine. Every desk has at least one Xbox 360 and most have a driving wheel connected – some desks have full bucket seats alongside them and the signs of motorsport are everywhere. Between John and Dan’s desk sits a signed tire from an F1 race car. In short, as a car fanatic I could happily work here – and they wouldn’t even have to pay me.
The story of Turn 10 (a subdivision of Microsoft Studios) started with the original Xbox and the desire to build a game on that platform that would rival Gran Turismo – at the time, the reigning champ of car games on the Sony PlayStation. I personally remember playing GT with my brother on the original PS and it was an amazing game so the team had a big challenge on their hands. After 3 years in development, the original Forza Motorsport hit the shelves in in May of 2005 and was warmly received. It boasted some amazing graphics on the original Xbox with 200+ cars and realistic car damage. I fondly remember firing up the Ferrari Enzo and the McLaren F1 GTR.
From chatting to John, it was a long haul to get that game out of the door and the team learned a lot. Despite the long haul, the team immediately began working on a sequel – Forza Motorsport 2 – that would take advantage of the horsepower offered by Xbox 360 console. Forza 2 was released in May of 2007, and brought community to the fore with an online auction house and the ability to paint, tune and sell your creations. It also saw the release of the Xbox 360 Wireless Racing Wheel, which provided force feedback, floor-mounted accelerator and brake pedals. Forza 2 also brought 720p definition support via Xbox 360 and made 349 cars available, up from, 231 in the original game. Quite a stable of cars and the track count was rising too – with Road Atlanta, Silverstone, Laguna Seca, Tsukuba, Road America, and the legendary Nürburgring Nordschleife already included and tracks like Mugello and Suzuka being added. Forza 2’s online capability was further enhanced with the launch of downloadable content, which began in 2007 with a free Nissan car pack. This capability has become known as DLC in the community and new cars suggested are regularly debated, discussed, voted upon and then added to the game.
The march continued and, towards the end of 2007, the team began developing the next Forza installment. As you would expect, expectations both from the growing fan base as well as from the team itself, were huge. Forza Motorsport 3 featured improved graphics, more accurate driving physics and new user-generated content, as well as new features like an in-car driving view. That game landed in October 2009 (right around my birthday as it happens) and the cover was graced by the Audi R8. That car also served as the intro car that you drove when first entering the game and the the new single player season took you through a ton of tracks with a favorite of mine, Circuit de la Sarthe (aka Le Mans) added. This game was hugely well received with an overall average score of 92 on Metacritic. It remains, for me and many others, an addictive game that is continually refreshed with downloadable content – most recently the amazing 1957 Ferrari 250 California.
And now Forza Motorsport 4 is on the horizon, using the 2010 Ferrari 458 Italia as its hero car. As I met with the team and talked about how they moved on from Forza 3, I got the sense that it was tough. They had set themselves a very high bar with Forza 3, including an ambitious DLC plan that kept the game fresh for months after it was released. What I hope to show you over the next few weeks is a look at what and who makes this game possible. The team took a totally new look at the visual side of the game – as I mentioned previously, the walls of Turn 10 are chock-full of images from Forza 4 and, honestly, the realism of every image is incredible. I resisted licking the walls.
I also want to show you some of passion that goes in to creating new tracks, the ongoing development of the physics engine – in many ways the heart of the game, as it determines how vehicles handle. That heart is complemented by amazing detail in the tracks and cars whose detail can defy belief so I’ll show you how the team makes that happen.
The story of Turn 10 is one of an amazing culture within Microsoft – a studio with a startup feel that began with a dream and now owns a blockbuster. But they still feel like a small, nimble team – they’re about 70 full-time employees, rising to 400 including contractors as the production effort rises during the game. In fact there is an amazing story behind the ecosystem of partners that Forza has helped to build.
Finally, some of the roles at Turn 10 are amazing: Testing cars, licensing cars, searching specs, photographing cars, designing cars, capturing sound (through the full rev range of an engine), traveling to some of the best race tracks in the world – as well as building entirely new tracks from scratch, and letting you virtually sit in some of the most exotics cars ever. Oh, and the small matter of Kinect has been introduced – with head tracking and more.
That’s all for now but come back next Friday for part 2 of this series of stories and starting on October 11, you’ll be able to enjoy Forza Motorsport 4.
[update] be sure to check out the Forza Motorsport – Turn 10 Studios Game Page on Facebook