Forza Motorsport: A Love Letter to Sim Racing

The Racing Sim 6 Years in the Making

Forza Motorsport: A Love Letter to Sim Racing

This summer has been packed with new game announcements, trailers and previews, and this includes Forza Motorsport, coming to Xbox and PC on October 10, 2023. This will be the eighth edition of the game, which originated back in 2005 for the original Xbox.

A lot has changed since 2005, but we haven’t seen a new version of Forza Motorsport since 2017.  Six years later, the next-gen capabilities of the Xbox Series X and the power behind modern-day PCs, paired with technology like ray tracing, promise to make Forza Motorsport (2023) a stunning racing sim to behold.

Right after the Xbox Games Showcase and Starfield Direct that followed Summer Game Fest, CGMagazine was incredibly lucky to sit in on a hands-off preview session for the upcoming Forza Motorsport. Through the preview, we were lucky enough to chat with the General Manager for Forza Motorsport, Dan Greenwald, and Creative Director, Chris Esaki

YouTube video

This preview included a group Q&A, where Chris Esaki gave us an introduction to the new Forza Motorsport, including some new modes and features.

Chris Esaki: A little context around Forza. Forza, as a franchise, has always been about falling in love with cars. Forza Motorsport has been doing that through the thrill and intensity of competition. There are three major themes for us. The first thing is about getting into a car, getting to know it, building that relationship with it, and levelling up your car—mastery of it.

The second is taking that car mastery and building that car into a track dominator that you’ve always wanted. And the third is taking that track dominator to the track, competing with it and winning. And we believe these are the three major ingredients that will help you fall in love with cars in the new Forza Motorsport.

But that also represents our entirely new core gameplay loop, which is all about level, build, dominate, and the best way to actually see that level of build dominate core loop is in our new career mode. The Builder’s Cup. We have a whole new rhythm of racing. What we wanted to do is really allow you to explore the car and really understand it. And so we have a whole new flow for every event in the Builder’s Cup.

Forza Motorsport: A Love Letter To Sim Racing

Each event includes an open practice session where you get to know the car, a new challenge, the grid moment where you get to dial in the level of racing challenge, you’re looking for and, of course, the race.

So one of the cool things about our new career mode is that we wanted it to be fresh. Always changing. Always evolving. Why? Because car manufacturers are releasing cars all the time. Car culture is changing all the time. We wanted our career mode to reflect that ever-changing landscape of cars and car culture. We’ll be launching new cars and now new tracks directly into this career mode and all that for free.

The career mode will constantly be evolving, changing and shifting with cars and car culture. Each of these racing series represents a cool automotive story. These cars belong together. In Built for Sport, the cars, they belong together because a lot of the manufacturers potentially even built those cars to compete with not just each other on the track but also on the road and in the market.

Are the ray tracing and reflections in Forza Motorsport all in real-time, or are they going to be baked into the game?

Dan Greenwald: Oh, it’s in real-time. There are six core ray tracing technologies. Some have to do with reflection. Some have to do with shadows. Some have to do with lighting. Ray tracing is a big part of next-gen. The goal, as a developer, is to actually have people not think about the technology. We want things to just look amazing.

So when you look at this scene, actually those little alcoves in there, they’re dark because of ray tracing. That’s to do with the shadows. The way that light is bouncing around and reflecting the light itself is reflecting on the window and adding colour that’s ray tracing. We’ve got reflections coming off the car, and on the floor, that’s ray tracing. So, there’s ray tracing happening in real-time. And also, you saw that video where there were videos reflecting in the cars that looked amazing. That was us just showing off ray tracing.

As far as when you get to other parts of the game, other consoles, on PC, things like that, there’s a whole host of technologies that we turn on and turn off to give the best possible visual feel. And again, our hope is that a lot of this just disappears and that people’s jaws drop. They say that looks real. They have a great experience, and they don’t think about the piece that goes into it. But yes. Real-time ray tracing.

Forza Motorsport: A Love Letter To Sim Racing

Sometimes less is more. And the latest driving games, they can give you too many cars too early. It’s good when it is an arcade game like Forza Horizon. At what pace do you think players are going to unlock new cars through Forza Motorsport?

Dan Greenwald: It’s not about slow or fast. It’s about back to what Chris said about falling in love with cars. So, when you’re in a game like Forza Motorsport, where the core of the physics is uncompromising—like the very core of our physics is the cutting edge of academics and science. We then add layers to make it a bit easier. When you have that level of fidelity, then a little city car, a hot hatch becomes really fun to drive.

Now, I think when you say slow versus fast, it hides the point. The point is, how do you enjoy a car that is very nuanced, like a front-wheel drive GTI? In fact, a GTI like a Volkswagen is pretty fast, but in a lot of games, you would jump straight to the Corvette, you would jump straight to the Ferrari FXX, and you’d lose the nuance of those cars.

This career mode, in particular, is built so that you start in those cars and experience them. We kind of encourage you to learn some of those assists off, feel those tires, heat up, and feel the weight move around on this car rather than jumping straight into something like this, an LMP car. And honestly, it’s too fast for most players. So directly answering your question on that scale, it’s on the slower side. But I don’t think of it as slow versus fast. I think of it as appreciating and following each car.

Chris Esaki: Dan touched on it again. Everything here has really been about falling in love with cars. And so, the career mode is actually specifically designed to allow you to experience that car, the stock car, right off the showroom floor.

To see how it feels and spend a lot of time with just that car and have fun with it and understand, “Oh, I’m going to put this part, that part, and just those couple things.” And it completely changes the feel of the car. You go to the next track, and the same thing happens over and over again.

By the end of it, you’re like, “Wow, I can’t believe this amazing car experience that I’ve had with this just one car over this, this, this entire series.” And then you get to the next series. This isn’t about car to car to car, to car, to car. It’s not about that. Because that doesn’t allow you to understand and really feel the depths of the simulation that we have that are playing out per car basis. Every car feels different.

Forza Motorsport: A Love Letter To Sim Racing

So what you’re saying is there’s replay value in Forza Motorsport.

Chris Esaki: Incredible replay value. So a quick plug for the amount of content that we’re releasing on launch. There are over 50 hours of gameplay in just the career mode as is if you play with one car. I personally have played with multiple cars in the same series over and over and over again because every car is like, “Oh my God, this feels totally different than this other car just driving.”

And then you’re like, “Oh, well, if I only put this upgrade onto it,” or “I can’t wait till I unlock this, so then I could just get it to break just a little bit better or take that turn a little bit better.” It’s dialling in that exact level of car mastery or car communication that you want. So it’s super replayable.

Dan Greenwald: Just to dovetail off something Chris was saying, this career was built from the very beginning to integrate new cars and new tracks in a way that it doesn’t even feel new if you’re a new player. It feels like it’s always been there. And then that adds to the replay value as well.

With that being said, you’re talking about all the differences between the different cars. What is the team doing to prevent there from being one ultimate car or one ultimate setup in Forza Motorsport?

Dan Greenwald: That’s a great question. So, for Forza Motorsport, from the very beginning, we’ve had this PI System, a Performance Index System, and actually, as you upgrade the car, the Performance Index of the car goes up. It was actually groundbreaking back in the day. I worked on Project Gotham Racing, Midtown Madness, Monster Truck Madness, Motocross Madness—all the madnesses. And they didn’t have that.

So we had to hand tune cars, and you had to kind of guesstimate, is this car fast or slow? Hard or easy? It was kind of a call made by the designer. The PI System allowed us to level set that. It’s a simulation on an unreal track that approximates all the tracks, and it gives the car a score on how fast that car should be if you’re an average driver. And over the years, we’ve improved that system.

We’ve been able to run it through greater numbers of tracks and optimizers. So that PI is really level. So when you see a car that is a PI score of 350, you’ve got another car that’s 350, but one’s doing it with 800 horsepower, and the other is doing it really lightweight and a lot of tires. You’re going to see on the track that their rough lap times, if you’re an equivalent driver, would be about the same, but one would be just pulling down the straightaways, and the other would be taking it in the corner.

So that means the system self-balances. When you go into an event, it says this thing is limited to only 400 PI cars. Everything that’s built up on top of PI is pretty much in the same place.

Forza Motorsport: A Love Letter To Sim Racing

When it comes to playing Forza Motorsport with your friends or even the AI, is it going to be a skill-based matchmaking situation?

Dan Greenwald: There’s a little bit of both on that. When we get into multiplayer later in the summer, we’re going to be talking about how people are looking at skill ratings as well as safety ratings and things like that to make really fair, fast multiplayer.

But the assists make people pretty successful, so we never compromise on the core physics, but we add things like the driving line and rewind and traction control, stability management, all of these things to make people more successful. And that, actually, I find is the best way to balance between players.

Rather than saying, you take a fast car, and I take a slow car, and you take a super-fast car, instead, it’s like, “Hey, why don’t I turn off traction control and why don’t you turn off stability manager ABS?”

So you want Forza Motorsport players to kind of level themselves out rather than the system doing it for you.

Chris Esaki: And if I may, we actually haven’t had this question before, but I think this is one of the magical moments that we’ve unlocked with our career mode that we haven’t really got to talk a little bit about. But I think people will discover this. You can dial in whatever kind of racing challenge you want. You saw some of that in the actual menus. But more importantly, you don’t have to upgrade your car.

If you want to replay the game, replay the same racing series that you just went through, and you’re like, “I’m just going to add myself an additional challenge, and I want to do a specific challenge run, or I don’t upgrade my car, or I limit myself to certain upgrades,” right? You can start imagining that maybe content creators or even just your friends are going to get together and like, “Hey, guess what? We’re only going to use these upgrades” or “We’re only going to do with these cars tonight with no upgrades,” and that sort of thing.

It starts to open up, and we’ve never really had a career mode that really allows that type of insane replayability all over the place. So, we’re really excited about that.

Forza Motorsport: A Love Letter To Sim Racing

I know there’s a lot of accessibility in Forza Motorsport for the blind driving assists and that kind of thing, but there’s not been much talk of the menus or the narration for that. My question is, if we take the idea that there is going to be full menu narration, will that include things like text for your cars so that you know what your car looks like?

Chris Esaki: That is a fantastic suggestion. I absolutely love that. Right now, the entire game has incredible amounts of narration through it, whether it’s just the menus, text-to-speech, speech-to-text, that sort of thing, descriptive text for some of the actual cinematics and that sort of thing. But that specific level of, “Hey, my friends have customized it this way.” I would love to get the descriptions there. That is a fantastic thing that we will take back.

The reason I ask this question is because I have children. And though this isn’t a child’s game, they will not stay away from it. So, I am curious if it was something that brand-new racers could get into.

Chris Esaki: We have incredible assists. We actually have, for the very first time, a one-button mode or a one-input mode. So no matter what your skill level, you can say, I just want a break, or I just want to turn, or I just want to use the accelerator. But everything else is controlled by the AI.

So, even if you just start there and you’re like, Oh, I’m just going to learn how to break, or I’m just going to learn how to accelerate, you can just do that and jump into the game and have a lot of practice.

To kind of master one skill at a time.

Chris Esaki: So you can play it no matter what your skill level. And then, of course, once you start unlocking that, you can change your assists.

So I Might be able to beat my kid. Is that what you’re saying?

Chris Esaki:  Yes!

Forza Motorsport: A Love Letter To Sim Racing

All right. Is Forza Motorsport going to have racing-wheel support?

Chris Esaki: Yes! And we’ll get into all of that support because we have some good news there.

The pieces you put into your car, will those be real brands?

Chris Esaki: There’ll be a mix of things. Right now, we have a lot of specific manufacturers in certain areas of the game but not in others. So it’s a mixed bag.

Car Mastery. Is that also available in multiplayer? Does that work that way? 

Chris Esaki: Yes. So, during the race as well. I forgot to mention that your car is levelling up in the race as well.

Clearly, Forza Motorsport is a love letter to car enthusiasts everywhere, from the game’s creators right to your screen. Forza Motorsport launches on October 10, 2023, for Xbox, PC and it will be available day one on Game Pass. You can also pre-order the game here.

Dayna Eileen
Dayna Eileen

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