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Forza Horizon 4’s Britain setting wasn’t the developer’s first choice

‘If you’re a rock guy, it’s really neat’

Forza Horizon 4 - classic British cars Playground Games/Microsoft Studios
Chris Plante co-founded Polygon in 2012 and is now editor-in-chief. He co-hosts The Besties, is a board member of the Frida Cinema, and created NYU’s first games journalism course.

At yesterday’s Xbox E3 2018 event, Playground Games revealed that Forza Horizon 4 will be set in Great Britain. The setting marks a new direction for the series, which favored popular vacation areas (the Rockies of Colorado) and warm climates (Australia). Britain is a bit rainier — not quite as boldly colorful as previous settings.

We spoke with Turn 10 Studios design director Jon Knoles about why Britain was selected above other settings, even though it isn’t the most obvious pick. Here’s Knoles:

Jon Knoles: “Honestly, a lot of us thought the same thing. Britain wasn’t the first choice. We’ve had lots of places we’ve always been thinking about. Playground got thinking about how they could really change things this time. What did they need to do to keep this world fresh and keep it alive and keep people playing?

“Seasons was the answer. And so seasons from the beginning was the holy grail, the thing we were trying to achieve. And it’s really hard, which is why it has not been done in a racing or driving game with an open world — to have changing seasons. I think there’s a couple other open world games in Korea or some place that have done that, but it’s unusual. Because it’s really hard.

“Britain had always been in the list of places to do. Because you know, it’s come up a lot. Suddenly, it felt really natural. It’s a seasonal place. Britain has falls that are very fall-like with lots of colors. They have really wet, flowery springs. They have dry, hot summers, believe it or not. When you get to winter, it does get pretty cold.

“If you hit the mountains of the lake country or Scotland, you get incredible vistas of snow and you get frozen lakes. I mean, there’s all kinds of amazing stuff. So I think it was kind of a discovery for a lot of us who don’t live in Britain to discover that. Oh my god, it’s a little more diverse than we thought it was. And geologically, I guess, if you’re into rocks, it’s apparently one of the most diverse places on Earth. Because it kind of straddles a couple of continents, and it has rocks that are really old and rocks that are really new, and so if you’re a rock guy, it’s really neat.

“There’s some amazing rock formations in the game, which of course you could launch your car off of. And there’s a danger sign right at the top and Edinburgh, of Scotland. There’s this beautiful old historic city. It’s just — it’s great to do something very different.

“The other thing that’s a surprise about Britain is how vertical it is. We don’t think of, like, the Swiss Alps or the Rockies like we had with the first game, which was set in Colorado. But this is our most vertical world ever. [Forza Horizon 3 add-on] Blizzard Mountain was a big experiment to see how vertical we could go. Now we’ve got all of that and more, because there is a lot of verticality throughout — especially the northwest parts of the map, which are the lake country, and going up into Scotland.

“We got all of that, plus the beaches. Which, the beaches are different. They’re not as sunny as [Forza Horizon 3’s Australia] ... but you know, every season brings something new and that’s the coolest thing about it. The world is always changing. There’s lots of games where you go to this part of the map and it’s always summer, right? Then you go to the volcano area and it’s always lava. I mean, I worked on lots of Star Wars games, so I’m used to the snow planet, the lava planet, the jungle planet. The whole world transforms every week now. I mean, it’s gonna be amazing.”