Microsoft revealed Forza Horizon 4 at the Xbox E3 2018 press event, showing a trailer and gameplay that focused on the games seasons. Set in Britain, the game world will change depending on whether it’s winter, spring, summer or autumn. But how specifically the seasons will change, and how regularly they will shift, was unclear.
We spoke with Turn 10 Studios design director Jon Knoles about how the game will change with each season. Our conversation, naturally, drifted into a conversation about sheep.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Polygon: Walk me through how seasons work in the game. Is everybody experiencing the same thing at once? Like, this is a fall week and next week is a winter week? And also specifically, how does it feel driving each season? I’ve played the demo. Obviously snow feels very different. But I don’t think you would’ve done this unless all four seasons will have a very unique feel.
Jon Knoles: So each season brings its own sort of events and championships and the types of things that the Horizon Festival has always done. They’ll be themed around each season, right? But also, there’s subtle things. I mean, there’s big things you can’t miss, like the lake will freeze over and then you can go to an island that you couldn’t get to before because the lake was too deep. We let you drive through water to a point, right, but you can’t traverse the oceans.
So there’s that, but there’s also really tall fields of grass. They get mowed down and then they have hay bales in the autumn when it’s harvest time. Those are now gameplay obstacles that weren’t there in summer.
There’s lots of things [like this]. If you look really closely, you’ll see that the sheep are really fluffy in the winter time, and in the summer, I think it is, when they get shorn, maybe they get shorn more than once a year, I don’t know, but our sheep are always changing thickness.
Knoles: The wool is always different. And no, you cannot hit them. And people have tried. But they are really adept at dodging cars.
Polygon: How long did it take before somebody tried to hit the sheep?
Knoles: Oh, it was immediate.
Knoles: Well, no, I didn’t wanna hit them. I just wanted to chase them.
Polygon: Sure, sure.
Knoles: So it’s really fun to get in a car and get in a field and chase the sheep and have them do fun things. We’re also an E-rated game, and we don’t wanna hurt any animals. So we took extra pains to make sure they have the greatest vehicle avoidance AI of any creature in the history of video games.
Polygon: Okay, back to the seasons — will it be like a week of winter, a week of spring, and so on?
Knoles: Oh, so that was one of the things that was discussed throughout development. And I thought, man, you know, what if you bought the game later after people started playing it and you jump in and it’s just a whole week of one season, you’re not getting the full experience. So the early part of the game, we always try to ease you into whatever the Horizon Festival has to offer this year.
The demo that you see out there is pretty close to the first 10 minutes of the game. So you get all four seasons like, boom, boom, boom, boom. Couple minutes per season, just a quick magic carpet ride. And then the Horizon Festival officially starts as it always does, in summer. You’ll probably play summer for about an hour. You’ll get to experience all the great things with summer. Then the season will change to autumn, and that’s when you graduate ... oh, I’m sorry. You start in a different ... you could do all four seasons about an hour each.
So you’ll be playing for a few hours before we sort of set you off onto the world clock. The server that is —
Polygon: That has everybody else on it.
Knoles: Determining everybody else’s season. You’ll play with other people earlier than that, but it’ll be probably about a good five hours of play for most people before a week becomes, you know, the entire week is a season. And even then, within that season, there’ll be different weather. You know, even in summer you get the occasional summer showers and things like that. But it will be summer all week for everybody playing the game, and then it’ll flip.
Every week, as the content changes, it’s not just stuff that will change. Thing you do will change. There’s always new stuff to do. There’s a whole team dedicated at Playground to live operations, if you will. Keeping things alive and fun and new and fresh for people long after the game ships. It’s a commitment that they’re gonna deliver on.