While I’ve never had much interest in real world cars, for some reason, racing video games have always appealed to me; likely because they allow me to drive ridiculous vehicles I’ll never actually own.
Microsoft’s Forza franchise, whether it’s Forza Horizon, or core Forza Motorsport games, has always been the pinnacle of virtual racing for me. This year, rather than boast about polygon counts and vehicle numbers—although there was a bit of that too—Forza 6 is set to feature 450 cars, a 1080p resolution, run at a consistent 60 frames per second, and feature 24 car races (eight more vehicles than Forza 5). Turn10 Studios is changing gears and making an effort to stir up hype for their upcoming title by focusing on driving conditions.
At this year’s Gamescom in Cologne, Germany, Turn10 showed off two features fans have been asking the developer to add to the Forza series for years: rain and night driving—a first for the Forza franchise (other than Forza Horizon 2). It’s a factor that has been part of rival simulation racing series, Gran Turismo, for a number of years now. In true Forza fashion, Turn10 claims they’ve created the most realistic virtual rain ever in Forza 6.
Walking into this interview, I’d heard the buzz surrounding Forza 6’s rain, but thought it was likely just the game’s marketing machine kicking into gear since racing games are often difficult to get people excited about. Well, I was wrong.
“We asked a pro racecar driver what it’s like to drive in the rain; it’s challenging; it’s threatening; it’s scary. You’ve got a car on your left, a car on your right, you’re going 300 km/h and you come up to a puddle. What do you do? Do you break and lose two positions or do you hit somebody? It’s a hard choice and it adds tension,” said Forza’s creative director, Dan Greenawalt, describing his studio’s thought process behind adding rain to Forza 6.
In Forza 6, when rain lands on your vehicle’s window, it pools and slides down the surface. This sounds like standard video game rain, right? Only, in Forza 6, wind effects what direction these tiny droplets of liquid are headed. If you turn left, raindrops will veer to the right hand side of your window. If you take a hairpin right, they’ll fly to the left side, in some cases, shooting off the side of your car. Spray from other vehicles will also obstruct the player’s view considerably during races, creating thick clouds of mist as vehicles drive through large pools of water.
While adding realistic looking rain to the Forza series is undeniably cool, it wouldn’t feel right if it didn’t actually change how the game plays or how your vehicle handles beyond obscuring vision slightly.
Where things start to get more interesting is when it comes to the standing water that forms along Forza 6’s various real world tracks. If a puddle pools on a specific corner of the Nürburgring in real life, it also appears in that same location in-game. Turn10 has painstakingly recreated the location of actual puddles in Forza 6. While this might sound like overkill, Greenawalt claims his development team’s attention to pools of water detail has created an unparalleled level of realistic virtual racing conditions.
“We also added puddles, which sounds kind of silly talking about puddles, but it dramatically changes how you race, especially on a track like the Nürburgring, which has over 500 puddles. We went and did the research. We went to the track, we looked at old footage, to make sure we put the puddles exactly where they are in the real world because it totally changes where you go,” said Greenawalt.
But all this realism wouldn’t mean much if it didn’t fundamentally change the way cars handle in the game. Along with rain that’s so realistic it’s almost ridiculous, in Forza 6, cars hydroplane across water, slow down when driving through deep puddles, and even Drivatars (AI representations of player’s in-game driving tendencies) will behave differently in wet weather conditions.
“The cool part was watching [the Drivatars] actually deal with rain. We build puddles that have hydroplaning based on a real physical simulation. Tires will skid up off the ground based on how wide they are and what’s go on on the track. When we imported the Drivatars from Forza 5 and Forza Horizon 2 they instantly started figuring it out and learning. They started changing their line and avoiding certain puddles,” said Greenawalt.
Greenawalt says AI opponents will also make a lot more mistakes in the rain, just like they likely would in real life.
“We went and researched all these different surface types, 150 of them—like metal and concrete—and we looked at how the pores collect water and how that changes the friction. So rather than rain where it just scales the friction (like in most video games), that just wasn’t good enough for us,” said Greenawalt.
Greenawalt also explained how the studio took a similar approach to night driving when adding the feature to Forza 6. In most driving video games, driving at night feels more like driving during the day, only slightly darker.
In Forza 6, other than the small cone of light your headlights create, the entire track is completely black. Players essentially live and die by how far they can see in front of them, and if you accidentally hit another vehicle and break a headlight, or two headlights (if physical damage is turned on), then the entire road in front of you will be pitch black.
“Similar to rain, we had a vision for night, which is that tension you feel. Most games do nigt as sort of a dark day, just like most games do rain as a low-friction-y day. That just isn’t how we do it at Forza, so we do the research. Our rain is very much the way it really is and night is the same way. When you’re racing at night, your headlights are the only thing keeping you alive and your eyes dilate because the headlights are kind of bright, which means everything outside goes pitch black. It’s not a dark day or a day with stars,” said Greenawalt.
One of many fans’ major complaints about Forza 5 was the game’s lack of weather effects— his has been an issue plaguing the series for years. With Forza 6, Greenawalt and his team have listened to players and implemented an ultra-realistic rain and night driving system in a way few developers ever could.
It’s important to note that weather in Forza 6 is not dynamic and conditions won’t deteriorate over the course of a race. Additionally, only some of the games’ selection of tracks will feature night racing and rain.
Forza 6 is set to be released on September 15th, 2015 for Microsoft’s Xbox One.