- Apr 9, 2014
We go behind the scenes at Turn 10 to see how Forza Motorsport 5 racetracks are made [w/video]
The Process Behind The New Long Beach Track, And All The Rest
Today the world of Forza Motorsport 5 gets a good deal richer, with Turn 10 Studios announcing the arrival of the famed road course at Long Beach to the game's roster. As was the case when the studio unveiled Road America back in February, Long Beach will be a free piece of downloadable content for game owners. The new circuit will be hitting Xbox One as of April 10. There's also a new car pack coming at the same time, the contents of which you see in the gallery above (and detailed below in the press release).
The digital model includes every element rendered in "sub-centimeter accuracy."
With the Long Beach debut as a backdrop, we had a chance to pick the brains of the folks at Turn 10, including Creative Director Dan Greenawalt, about the process behind the creation of these true-to-life tracks for the next generation of gaming consoles.
The first step for building a FM5 track of a real-life venue, as you may have already heard, involves laser scanning everything: from the surface of the circuit itself, to the surrounding buildings and even vegetation. The resulting digital model includes every element rendered in "sub-centimeter accuracy," according to Greenawalt. For a track like Long Beach, the laser scanning means functional elements like the curbing are true to life, as well as details like the exact angles of the palm trees that line the track, and appearance of the shadows they cast at roughly 150 miles per hour.
Tens of thousands of photographs and 360-degree video footage is also used as reference material for artists; the team captures some 1.4 billion data points for each track made. We don't have much context for that number, but it seems like a big one.
Once all of the reference material is complied and organized, the process of integrating all the data into the Forza engine begins. An outline is mapped and tested, starting grid locations are added and the whole shooting match is added to a database to become part of the "official Forza daily build."
Getting to a roughed out track used to take several months, says Greenawalt, but the laser scanning process has added a great deal of efficiency. Though the director is rather cagey about giving up specifics on time to build and manpower required, he does point out that the faster track to a rough track means Turn 10 can focus on "polishing and testing tracks to hit our quality bar."
Further stages of the build include adding in "objects" and assigning properties to surface-based materials. For FM5, the objects that make up each track have increased by 200 percent in this generation, and there are six times as many materials in evidence, making up the landscape. Eventually licensed elements are added, extensive bug testing and gameplay refining is completed and the track is more or less ready for the hot little hands of gamers like you and I.
Don't expect Long Beach to be the last track released for Forza Motorsport 5, either.
Don't expect Long Beach to be the last track released for Forza Motorsport 5, either. While Greenawalt didn't spill anything to us in terms of upcoming DLC (nor take our bait when asked about the feasibility of bringing the Nürburgring to the game), he did state that Turn 10 is "not done yet" where future content is concerned. We want the Nordschleife, Dan... get those Leica Scanmasters on the first thing smoking to Germany.
That being said, getting to put power to pavement at one of America's best-known road racing venues is likely to prove happily diverting, as well. Microsoft had 2011 Indy Lights Champion Josef Newgarden in the house to demo and test Long Beach on FM5, and he seems to have come away pretty impressed. We got a chance to ask the driver a few questions about Forza and Long Beach, which you can see in the video interview, below.
While you're down there, don't miss the official video trailer for the Long Beach track, our full Q&A with Dan Greenawalt, and the slightly more technical walk-through of the track-creation process from the guys at Turn 10.
AB: Can you describe the equipment used to scan a track? How big is the onsite crew?
DG: During the development of Forza Motorsport 5, we used laser scanning technology to digitally model the tracks for use in the game. This state-of-the-art technique allows us unprecedented accuracy in our circuit models – we can capture everything from road surfaces to the surrounding environment with sub-centimeter accuracy. It also lets us increase the efficiency of our track creation process, bringing stunning tracks like Long Beach to life in Forza Motorsport 5 with the kind of precision that really accentuates the circuit's challenge and character.
We worked with a company called SmartGeoMetrics to laser scan our tracks for Forza 5. During our reference trip to Prague, for example, we brought a team of artists from Turn 10 as well as two SmartGeoMetrics employees, who set up and operate the Leica Scanmaster machine that performed the scanning itself.
The accuracy of this technology is stunning. With laser-scanning, every conceivable surface and angle is captured in living detail. A great example is the line of palm trees that line the track at Long Beach. When scanning the track last year, our team was able to capture not just all of the surrounding buildings, but the exact angles of each of these palm trees. Essentially, as you drive Long Beach in Forza 5, you are seeing exactly what a real race driver would see on race day, from the shadows of buildings that fall across the track to the way the light filters through the palms as you speed past at 150 mph.
AB: From start to finish, how long does it take to create a new track for Forza 5?
DG: From sourcing to rough layout and eventually the final polished product, building a track at such an intense level of detail requires a team of talented artists and lots of time and testing. For Forza Motorsport 5, the complexity and scale of the content we are creating on Xbox One means that we have had to develop new techniques and technologies that allow us to streamline our track production process. As a result, we have been able to build a track at the stunning quality of Long Beach without sacrificing any of the visual quality that Forza players have come to expect, while still managing a reasonable production timeframe.
AB: What would the timeline for a very long track – oh, say the Nürburgring Nordschleife – look like?
DG: There are lots of factors that contribute to a track's complexity, including size, lighting, the complexity of the track's surroundings such as vegetation, architecture, etc. We have a number of very long tracks in Forza 5, including circuits like Le Mans (8.48 miles), Spa-Francorchamps (4.35 miles), and Road America (4.05 miles) and each provides its own unique mix of challenge. Each of these tracks has been created with the same extreme attention to detail in the lighting and materials that make them so beautiful look at and so exciting to drive. In essence, it's not necessarily just the size of the track – it's in making sure that each circuit meets the extremely high standards that we set for all of our content before we release it to the world.
AB: How is the scanning/track creation process is different now than it might have been in previous iterations of the game?
DG: The track creation process has evolved dramatically over the years. Compared to how we built tracks for the original Forza Motorsport on Xbox – where track sourcing was essentially done with photographs, hand levels, and a good deal of intuition – the experience couldn't be more different. Yes, we still use photographs as reference but, in addition to the aforementioned laser-scanning techniques, we also use techniques such as recording locations using 360-degree cameras. For example, when visiting Long Beach, our sourcing team used a "Ladybug" camera (as it's known) mounted to the top of their car and drove all around the track, recording footage the entire time. This footage proved to be invaluable to our track team artists at home, who could pull up the footage at will and gain unprecedented, full-view reference to any location on the track.
All of this technology has helped dramatically decrease the time it takes for us to get the basic bare bones of a track up and running. "Roughing" out a track used to take several months – with laser scanning, we have essentially done away with that step – as the data we get from scanning has replaced what our artists would rough out. Naturally, we still take our time with polishing and testing tracks to hit our quality bar, but it's great to see how use of these technologies has made us better and more efficient at our jobs.
AB: What's the rationale for the mix of fictional to real-life race tracks in the current game?
DG: Ever since the original Forza Motorsport on Xbox, we've always created a mixture of fictional and real-life race tracks. We love bringing world-class racing circuits like Spa-Francorchamps and Bathurst to life in our game. We also love showcasing the creativity of our studio, as well as the power of our graphics engine running on Xbox One running at 1080p and 60 frames per second, and these showcase tracks allow us to stretch these creative muscles and build tracks that are visually stunning and lots of fun to drive. For Forza Motorsport 5, we knew we wanted another city circuit – but didn't want to go the obvious route of a huge metropolitan area like New York or Chicago. In the end we settled on Prague, a city that most people have heard of but perhaps aren't that familiar with.
Prague is a fantastic city to visit, with some amazing scenery and unique architecture that brings to mind old Europe while still feeling modern and exciting. While the Forza 5 version of Prague is based on the real city, we've taken some liberties with its layout in the game, all in the service of creating a fast and fun track to drive, with plenty of amazing visual moments that take your breath away. In short, our goal for Prague – and for all our fictional tracks – is to create something that you want to return to again and again, and show off to your friends while you're at it.
AB: Can we continue to expect a regular cadence of DLC tracks as Forza 5 lives on?
Since the release of Forza Motorsport 5 in November, we've had a steady stream of content added to the game. This includes big initiatives like our recent economy improvements, adding community-requested features such as the ability to save replays of races, as well as our normal monthly cadence of DLC car packs. Recently we also added the ability for players to automatically add any DLC cars they have purchased to their Forza 5 garage at no additional in-game charge – an improvement which has proven to be enormously popular with the Forza community.
Long Beach is actually our second track release for Forza 5 – in February we launched Road America which, like Long Beach, was a free add-on for all players. As with Road America, Long Beach has been fully integrated into the Forza Motorsport 5 experience. Players can find new Long Beach events in Career mode, in the online multiplayer hoppers, and in Rivals mode. I don't have any announcements to make today about specific future content but I will say that we're not done yet.
Step-By-Step Walkthrough of Turn 10 Track Building Process
These are the general processes (with some added background on data) the Turn 10 Studios team follows.
1. Pre-Production: Source Track
- Reference track: Gather on average tens of thousands of photographs for location and color reference, laser scan proposed track route and surrounding area
-- Team captures more than 1.4 billion data points per track, resulting in sub-centimeter positional accuracy for unique surfaces, routes, and surrounding environments.
- Organize reference material
-- Reference material includes location statistics like surface materials, local architecture, vegetation, etc.
- Track story/workbook created
-- Background for track is discussed, to be included in descriptions for the game. Team sets internal build schedule and estimate delivery cadence.
2. Course Mapped: Fully integrated into Forza engine
- Build track outline, test game play
-- Laser scan composites are added into the game
- Create AI splines
-- Determine and build starting grid location
- Create track in database
-- Track will now become part of the official Forza daily build
3. Rough Build: Memory & performance footprint are tested in-engine
- All objects are placed in their foot printed area
-- The team added more than 200 percent increase in the number of distinct objects that make up the body of a track.
- Forza Surface Based Materials properties assigned
-- "Forza Motorsport 5" tracks have 6x more unique materials than in "Forza Motorsport 4."
4. Refine Build: All rough assets replaced with actual models, textures, & shaders
- Make all elements "shippable"
- Licensing – all real-life elements (track signage, advertising, etc.) approved and signed-off by partners
- Extensive bug testing, refining of materials and play experience
5. Polish Build: Bug fixes, visual polish, & performance optimizations
- Work with Environment Leads to prioritize assets to be polished
- Testing by test leads
6. Final Build Finish and Release: Final updates
- Comprehensive bug sweep, preparation for delivery to customers
Free Update Adds Long Beach Circuit to Forza Motorsport 5
The legendary "Monaco of the West" makes its franchise debut in time for Grand Prix race
Starting April 10, the famed Long Beach circuit is coming to Forza Motorsport 5! Available for free as part of the latest Forza Motorsport 5 content update, Long Beach is a brand new track to the Forza Motorsport series, delivering tight turns and blindingly quick straights, all surrounded by the sun-drenched beauty of southern California. Long Beach in Forza Motorsport 5 is packed with stunning detail, with the entire track and surrounding area recreated with obsessive precision through laser scanning, thousands of photos, and hours of video. From the angles of each unique palm tree along Shoreline Drive to every nuance of the track's surface, this circuit is a racing experience unlike any other.
The full eleven-turn, 1.97-mile course, home to this weekend's 40th running of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, is included, as well as two alternate ribbons: the slightly shorter East Loop and the half-mile West Loop, both of which are perfect for drifting or pushing your technical driving skills to their limits.
Like all track add-on content for Forza Motorsport 5, Long Beach has been fully integrated into every mode of the game. Once you download the content update, the Long Beach circuit becomes part of your Forza 5 world. You'll find brand new events in Career mode, new Rivals and multiplayer lobbies to challenge your friends, and more. Download the latest update for Forza Motorsport 5 and experience this world-class track for the very first time in the Forza Motorsport series!
History of Long Beach
In April 1974, Christopher Pook, a local Long Beach travel agent and fan of racing, brought international attention to Long Beach by putting the sunny ocean-side city on the racing map.
With the help of 1969 Indianapolis 500 winner Mario Andretti, Pook arranged a Formula 5000 race as a test of the track's setup. Long Beach went on to host the Formula One Grand Prix during one of the greatest racing eras in history. Drivers like James Hunt, who once had a spectacular lap one crash at the circuit, immediately gave Long Beach international reverence as the "Monaco of the West." In 1977, Andretti out-dueled Niki Lauda at Long Beach and become the first American to win a Formula One grand prix in the U.S.
Home to the annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, the circuit hosts series such as the Verizon IndyCar Series, TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, Indy Lights, Pirelli World Challenge, Formula Drift, and more. Over the years, the skyline of Long Beach has transformed from small, nondescript buildings to state-of-the-art high rises and upscale condominiums. Despite these changes, the track has mostly remained the same. Naturally, the street surfaces have improved, but the hairpin just before the high speed run down Shoreline Drive, which leads to the infamous Turn 2 around the fountain, is as challenging as ever. Long Beach is an American racing icon and always provides for exciting racing no matter what breed of cars are competing.
Need some new rides to go with that new track? The Long Beach Booster Pack features five amazing cars to add to your collection, including the 1977 Ford Coyote Gilmore77, the 1974 Lancia Stratos HF Stradale, the 1956 Jaguar D-Type, the 1998 Mercedes-Benz AMG Mercedes CLK GTR, and the 1971 Ferrari #2 Ferrari Automobili 312 P. This five-car pack will be available at no additional charge to Forza Motorsport 5 Car Pass owners. The Forza Motorsport Car Pass includes the six monthly DLC packs that Car Pass owners will receive through May 2014 as well as the five-car Road America Booster Packs and the five-car Long Beach Booster Pack.