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Forza Horizon 2 dev considered southern European setting for first game

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Forza Horizon 2, the sequel to 2012's Forza Horizon, shifts the setting of the fictional Horizon Festival from Colorado to southern Europe. This open-world offshoot of Turn 10 Studios' Forza Motorsport franchise is focused less on simulating racetrack driving and more on delivering a fun-filled experience that's not nearly as buttoned-up. (Special events in the original Forza Horizon included races against helicopters and planes.) And the change in scenery actually had its roots in the development of the first game.

Playground Games, the studio behind Forza Horizon, is making the Xbox One version of its sequel, while the Xbox 360 version is being handled by Sumo Digital. The Drivatar feature seen in Forza Motorsport 5 — a system in which players could race against computer-controlled cars imbued with AI based their friends' driving habits — will also appear in Forza Horizon 2. According to Ralph Fulton, creative director on Horizon 2 at Playground, Drivatars will work even better in the game than they did in Forza 5 because of the new title's open-world nature.

Fulton presented a live demo to Polygon at E3 2014 in which the player raced against a difficult Drivatar. The person playing the demo managed to win, and Fulton pointed out that the Drivatar sometimes took paths off the main road. In this way, novice players could follow the Drivatars of their more experienced friends to find shortcuts in Horizon 2's open world.

Horizon 2 also builds on the skill points system seen in its predecessor. Players who rack up skill points can now spend them to unlock boosts such as "XP Everywhere," which allows drivers to earn experience for skill points in multiple modes of play.

"In Horizon 2, it's as important to race stylishly as it is to win," said Fulton.

Playground is also introducing new ways to play with friends. People can join Car Meets, online hangouts where they can compare their rides and then drive out together into an online road trip across the region, which is three times larger than the game world in Forza Horizon.

That world, which is roughly geographically accurate, includes regions such as the French Riviera, the Italian Alps, the Amalfi Coast and Tuscany. Asked by Polygon about Horizon 2's new setting, Fulton explained that Playground chose a location for Forza Horizon based on a particular set of criteria.

It turns out that southern France and northern Italy — considered separately — both scored very high, but not as high as Colorado. However, when Playground thought to mesh the regions together, it ticked essentially all of the boxes the studio was looking for, which is why Forza Horizon 2 is set there.

Forza Horizon 2 is set for release Sept. 30.