Forza Horizon is an American game made by British developers, which is the opposite of Forza Motorsport, an American-made series geared toward Europe. But the two properties share the same DNA, according to Turn 10 Studios' Dan Greenawalt.
Forza Horizon represents a "fork" in the long-running Forza franchise, according to creative director Dan Greenawalt of Forza Motorsport developer Turn 10 Studios. There's little crossover between its open-world, open-road racing and the "sophisticated, elegant, buttoned-up" nature of Forza Motorsport.
"It's one of the most interesting things to me about the way this has gone down," Greenawalt told Polygon at a recent demo of Forza Horizon.
Turn 10 is based in Redmond, WA, and Greenawalt said it's something of a tradition for British developers who move there to buy an American-made muscle car — a Camaro, a Charger, a Mustang, a Challenger — as soon as they come to the States. Yet the American studio's games appeal more to Europe: Greenawalt described Forza Motorsport as a franchise with European sensibilities, and one that sells better across the pond.
"We do well in the United States," he said, "but in Europe, it's gangbusters." He believes that has a lot to do with Motorsport's particular version of car culture: the "path of mastery," of shaving tenths of a second off a lap time. But Motorsport's European appeal is also the result of a conscious decision: Turn 10 "always had this thing of making [Motorsport] feel very much like a European auto mag or European car brochure, the way it looked.
"So in many ways, we were an American developer making a very European-feeling game, that still appealed very well in the US."
Forza Horizon, then, flips the equation.
Turn 10 went to a British studio "to get that very Americana feeling" for Horizon. It is being made by Playground Games, a UK-based studio founded in 2009 by former Codemasters developers, but it offers a uniquely American experience. It is set in a fictionalized version of Colorado around the Horizon Festival, which is modeled after multi-day summer music events like Coachella and Bonnaroo.
Playground's founders worked on series like Dirt and Grid. And the company quickly staffed up after its inception, bringing in developers who had lost their jobs at other British racing studios such as Bizarre Creations (Project Gotham Racing, Blur) and Black Rock (Pure, Split/Second). Members of the team spent three weeks in Colorado last summer doing research for Horizon, shooting lots of photos and video, and they brought their observations about American culture into making the game.
"The things they observe about US culture are at one moment incredibly cutting and true about us, because they're kinda viewing from the outside," said Greenawalt. "And sometimes, it seems not quite right."
Horizon is about "coming at people from their associations," whether that's car culture, music culture, or even a love of the outdoors. Greenawalt compared it to young people road-tripping into a music festival and showing off their rides; the Horizon Festival is brimming with that enthusiasm and excitement about both cars and music.
"Tonally, it's gonna feel very different," said Greenawalt about Horizon, but "we wanted to make sure it kept that same DNA" of the previous Forza games: authenticity, social features, and above all, the idea of building a relationship between person and car.
"we wanted to make sure it kept that same DNA" of the previous Forza games
There is some crossover. Even though Horizon is an "action racing" game, it has the same underlying physics and AI as Motorsport. So it can be as accurate of a simulation as Motorsport for hardcore players: all they have to do is turn off the assists. There's no direct importation of cars, though, because Playground has to build vehicles from the ground up to take advantage of Horizon's real-time lighting — as an open-world title, it has a day/night cycle — and changes to damage modeling.
The idea is that Horizon will provide racing fans of all stripes with the "pick-up-and-play accessibility that people associate with arcade, while giving them all the depth they expect of a simulator," said Greenawalt. "Our hope is that anyone — people that are just even remotely car-curious — can jump in."
Forza Horizon and Forza Motorsport offer divergent experiences made by developers separated by an ocean and a continent, but they share the same ethos. "From the beginning, Forza was really about cars, more than racing," said Greenawalt, adding that Turn 10 wanted to build a series "that would tap into that emotional connection that people have with cars." He feels that Playground, in Horizon, has "really captured the American spirit incredibly well."
In the end, said Greenawalt, Motorsport and Horizon "are just two expressions of that same goal: of turning gamers into car lovers and car lovers into gamers."