Forza Horizon Preview [w/video]

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Since Forza Motorsport originally launched in May of 2005, the game has, for the most part, followed the same theme. Using real world driving dynamics, the Forza series has allowed players to experience the world's best cars on the race track, both real and fictitious. Of course, the game has developed quite a bit over the past seven years, with Forza 2, 3 and 4 bringing improved graphics and realism, as well as new cars, new tracks and new features.

Now the Forza franchise is going in a significantly new direction. Forza Horizon, announced officially today at E3 in Los Angeles, represents a significant departure from Turn 10 Studio's previous offerings. Developed in conjunction with Britain's Playground Games, which is responsible for producing games like GRID and DiRT, Horizon leaves the confines of the racetrack and heads out onto the open road.

Ahead of the game's reveal we sat down with Dan Greenawalt, Creative Director for Turn 10 Studios and Ralph Fulton, Design Director at Playground Games, who gave us a better idea of what Horizon is all about, as well as a brief demo of the game. Scroll down to read what we learned about this latest Forza title.

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What exactly is Forza Horizon?

Horizon won't lose any of the real world driving dynamics that players enjoy in Forza Motorsport.

"Our hope really is to be painting more of the car culture map," Greenawalt tells us, after we ask him what he hopes to achieve with Forza Horizon. "It's able to cover multiple genres while still having a lot more soul than you might see in the overall motorsport coverage. You get a lot more of a social or a cultural vibe.

While Turn 10 Studios describes their motorsport title as a driving simulator, they refer to Horizon as an action racing game. It may just be because we're more familiar with the automotive industry than the gaming industry, but that doesn't really give us too much information about what Horizon is really about. Fulton, however, did his best to describe exactly what that means.

"The problem with arcadey games is that the cars all start to feel the same. That doesn't work for Forza."

"Action racing is all about pick-up-and-play fun. This game has been designed so that if you love driving cars fast, if you love smashing through stuff, weaving in and out of traffic, you're going to be able to jump right in and have fun straight away."

Fulton, though, is adamant that Horizon won't lose any of the real world driving dynamics that players enjoy in Forza Motorsport.

"What Horizon brings to the genre is authenticity," he continued. "That's what Forza stands for. In the past there's been a problem with open road driving games in that they can feel a little arcadey. The problem with arcadey games is that the cars all start to feel the same. That doesn't work for Forza. In Forza the car is the star."

The Horizon Festival

Providing the backbone for Forza Horizon is the Horizon Festival. Think of it as a virtual place of gathering for car enthusiasts. "We imagined a festival of speed, of music and of style," Fulton told us. "We imagined a mecca for car lovers. A place that combines a race meet with an auto show with the vibe of a summer music festival. It's a place where you can take your car and take your friends. It's a place where you can go to race or to party, a place where speed and youth culture and music all collide. That's the Horizon Festival."

The Horizon Festival won't just be about hanging out, though. Players can race in festival competitions to further their careers, with events becoming more and more difficult. There's more racing to be done outside the festival, though. Just like in Forza Motorsports, any races can be done in individual mode or in online multiplayer mode.

Forza Horizon

From the track to the open road

The developers turned to the mountain roads of Colorado for inspiration.

For the most part the setting of Forza Motorsport is on the racetrack, whether real world circuits like the Nürburgring or Le Mans or fictitious courses like Maple Valley Raceway. In Forza Horizon, however, Turn 10 Studios has turned its attention to the open road.

"We knew we were going to make an open road game because if the Horizon Festival truly was this mecca for car lovers, then surely it would be surrounded by the world's best driving roads," says Fulton.

Horizon will allow players to drive off-road on more than 65 different surface types.

For inspiration the developers turned to the mountain roads of Colorado where they spent four months taking photos and videos to create the virtual world of Horizon. The roads in the game aren't necessarily exact replicas of the real ones in the Rocky Mountains, and Fulton says some manipulation was necessary to create the best game play. "It's based on Colorado and it's referenced exhaustively, but from there we polish it to make sure that it's a fun driving experience wherever you go."

A fun driving experience doesn't just mean a winding canyon road, though. For the first time Forza is allowing players to drive off-road. In fact, there are more than 65 surface types included in the game. "It's not just about asphalt or dirt," Fulton told us. "There are many nuanced variations of surface types that all lend a slightly different feel to the experience."

Forza Horizon

Other Forza firsts

Off-road racing is one of many new features that will debut in Forza Horizon. For the first time players can race at night, and AI traffic will be joining racers on the open roadways. We hear there will be some special new races as well. Think car vs plane.

We hear there will be some special new races: Think car vs plane.

Kinect will also play a new role in the game in the form of a voice-activated GPS system. Developers found that the game's roads were so expansive that it was easy to get lost or for players to not know where to go next. The GPS system can direct players where to go or guide them to their next race or mission.

Another big new feature is the implementation of skill points, which are awarded for showmanship like drifting and burnouts. "Horizon is all about showing off," Fulton says. "The game is always tracking what you're doing and rewarding you with skill points. Skill points add up to popularity, and at the Horizon Festival popularity is everything. Within Horizon that means greater rewards, better cars and more money, but also opportunities."

Forza Horizon

The cars

The full Forza Horizon car list won't be announced until later this summer, but Fulton gave us a few clues as to the criteria for what vehicles will be included in the game. "We looked at whether the car makes sense within the context of the Horizon Festival," he told us. "Is this a car that someone would love enough and be proud enough to take to the Horizon Festival and to show off and race in? Is it a car that takes advantage of the diverse driving experiences that Colorado offers? If the answers to those questions are yes then we've gone ahead and added it to the game."

This means race cars won't be included while some "character" cars that aren't necessarily the fastest or most powerful did get the nod. We can tell you that the new 2013 SRT Viper will definitely be included (it's the game's cover car), and the 2012 BMW M5 was a part of the demo we experienced. Other cars pictured in the preliminary screenshots are the Nissan 370Z, Nissan Skyline GT-R R34 and Ford GT.

Forza Horizon

Creating a new generation of car enthusiasts

"Our goal is to get drivers to think about games in a new way, and to get gamers to turn into car guys like us."

So why take Forza in a new direction, especially when the original formula is so successful? According to Greenawalt the answer is twofold. "Our goal is to get drivers to think about games in a new way, and to get gamers to turn into car guys like us."

Count us in the first group, as the idea of modifying a car and trimming down lap times on a track is more appealing than hanging out at a festival with friends. The idea of combining cars, music and friends sounds fantastic in real life, but we're unsure still how that translates to the digital world. The Forza franchise hasn't disappointed us in the past, though, so we're more than willing to try out what Horizon has to offer.

Regardless, we think both Greenawalt and Turn 10 Studios are more anxious to convert young gamers into the next generation of car enthusiasts. "We are, as a group, actively worried about replacing ourselves," he admitted to us. "I love cars, but I'm 40. I want my kids to be into Camaros and Mustangs and Supras. I want cars like the Subaru BRZ to come out and ignite a new car lust among the younger generation." We hope he succeeds.

Forza Horizon will be on sale October 23rd with an estimated retail price of $59.99.

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