How “Forza Motorsport 5” is Defining New Generation Racing

Dan Greenawalt, creative director, and the team at Turn 10 Studios, are perfectionists. At a recent event, he is surrounded by the raucous roar of gameplay stations and demos, but his attention is solely focused on one attendee as they finish their final lap in “Forza Motorsport 5.”

This is the first time the fan is playing, and Greenawalt is mentally noting when and how they are using driving assists. An improper brake here, an over-steer there – it’s all being added to the running list of mental notes Greenawalt and team have collected over the last month while watching hundreds of fans play the game.  After he’s done, he plans to return to Turn 10 Studios in Redmond, Wash. to share his observations with the development team so additional tuning can take place.

“Forza Motorsport 5” launches on Nov. 22 exclusively on Xbox One, and Greenawalt insists there is still work to be done. “We’re detail oriented people,” he said. “We’re in the throes of polishing in order to make sure the game really shines.”

With “Forza Motorsport 5,” Greenawalt and the team at Turn 10 Studios have poured their expertise into making a true, new generation racing game. That means extensive polishing to iron out the experience and blistering performance at 1080p resolution and 60 frames-per-second. It means ensuring broad accessibility, which Turn 10 is addressing by employing their trademarked driving assists, a revamped progression system that rewards all play styles, a new racing guide line readable by the color blind, and much more.

But according to Greenawalt, new generation racing isn’t just about smooth, photorealistic visuals or fun, accessible gameplay.  It is also about pushing the envelope and harnessing the latest in technology and science to create brand-new experiences that racing fans have never seen before. 

The Next Evolution of Physics

There’s no mistaking Greenawalt’s zeal for science as he discusses the all-new physics engine in “Forza Motorsport 5.” Turn 10 worked with Calspan, one of the world leaders in transportation and aerospace research and development, to make the game more realistic than ever. The focus of all that expertise? Tires.  

As the link between the driver, the car and the road, tires are the essential key to the Forza Motorsport series’ genre-defining physics. Over the years, Greenawalt and Turn 10 have worked with tire companies like Pirelli and Toyo to model tires. For “Forza Motorsport 5,” the team knew they had an opportunity to raise the expectations of simulation fans with an entirely new approach to tire modeling. By partnering with the tire-testing experts at Calspan, Turn 10 now had the ability to answer specific and complex tire performance questions that were only possible to recreate on the Xbox One.

The new physics engine impacts every facet of “Forza Motorsport 5.” The way your tires slip and grip, how the weight shifts affect your car’s handling, the interaction of the tires and the different track surface types – it’s all influenced by lightning fast calculations that occur in the background as you tear around the track. Not everyone will notice, though, admitted Greenawalt. These are subtle but still meaningful touches; shifts that hardcore racing fans have come to expect and novice racers will appreciate for years to come. 

Power in the Cloud

While a complex physics engine requires the raw horsepower of Xbox One, another frontier that “Forza Motorsport 5” is pioneering does not rely on hardware. In fact, according to Greenawalt, the vision Turn 10 had for a new generation of artificial intelligence (AI) was only possible using the power of the cloud on Xbox One.

Turn 10 Studios calls it Drivatar – a new breed of AI born from data aggregated from every “Forza Motorsport 5” racer connected to Xbox Live. Every decision you make in “Forza Motorsport 5,” from the car you choose to how you drive, is seamlessly transferred to the cloud and then converted into a AI-controlled persona – your Drivatar – that is downloaded by other players to race against.  For instance, if you’re an expert driver that isn’t afraid to slip through corners and drive aggressively, the Drivatar that populates other players’ games will race the same exact way.

The cloud creates a giant melting pot of compiled data for developers to harness into creative and gameplay-enhancing features. While the actual amount of data that is downloaded back to your console is miniscule, the in-game ramifications are significant. Drivatar is just an example of the possibilities, and Greenawalt predicts this style of cloud-powered AI will find a home in other genres as well. Imagine a first-person shooter where your computer-controlled enemies replicate the behavior of a rival clan of players, right down to the weapons they use and the combat tactics they employ. 

What It Means to Be a New Generation Racer

According to Greenawalt, developing a cutting-edge racing game in this generation is about resolution and frame rate, as well as subtle details, like shaders, light simulation, and physics. It’s also about creating imperfection to achieve levels of details only found in real life, like small blemishes in a paint job or AI opponents that make distinctly human-errors while driving.  

“Forza Motorsport 5” does all this and more, and at the very beginning of Xbox One’s life cycle no less. As Turn 10 continues to experiment with the hardware, said Greenawalt, there’s no telling what the team will come up with next.  It’s the excitement of the uncertain possibilities that come with pushing technology and science to the limits that captivates Turn 10 Studios and brings them into work each morning.      

“The better we get to know the hardware every year,” said Greenawalt, “the more we’re going to be able to tap the power of it, to do things that surprise and shock people.”

But, for now, Greenawalt’s attention returns back to the “Forza Motorsport 5” demo as another attendee takes their turn behind the steering wheel. The game launches in less than two months, and there’s still work to be done.