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Racing Evolution: Forza 3 And The Changing Driving Sim

September 25, 2009 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

Dan Greenawalt, director of Forza Motorsport 3 at Turn 10 Studios, is passionate not only about cars, but the evolution of the racing genre itself. When Sony and Polyphony Digital's Gran Turismo first hit the market, its tagline -- "the real driving simulator" -- marked a change in the way console gamers interacted with racing games.

Now, as he approaches the launch of  the third installment of the Forza series, Greenawalt forsees the baseline for game design in simulations changing irrevocably. The line between arcade and sim is blurring and shifting, he says, and developers will have to change their mentality to capture a wider audience and stay with the times.

Greenawalt also discusses how profound changes to team structure allowed for a better, more productive environment and a sequel which allowed for all of the meaningful evolution beyond its predecessors.

How has the development been for Forza 3 -- is the team happy to see light at the end of the tunnel? Were there some challenges there that you're glad to put behind you?

Dan Greenawalt: I think in a lot of ways, we went through some crazy growing pains on Forza 2. On Forza 1, we were trying to just build a team sort of from scratch and from the ground up. That was pretty difficult. We slipped a few dates. We made a game we were really proud of, but we were so unpredictable. And then on Forza 2, we tried to shoot for the stars. We felt we had a team, and we're going to really crank it up and see how quickly we could get a great game out, and we slipped again [laughs].

For Forza 3, we actually went back to the drawing board, process-wise, and we said, "You know what?" We looked at SCRUM. We started doing sprints. We broke out our team. Rather than functional groups -- like design versus dev versus art -- we broke them into strike teams that were just there to develop features. And that allowed us to get far more predictable and actually grow a bunch of leaders out of the team.

So, we've been in development for two years, and the funny thing is in that amount of time, we got a lot more done because we had a lot more leadership down in the ranks. And we also came out with a much better game, and we hit our schedule. So, we actually went in front of management about a year ago, and said we were going to go into cert on a specific date, and within one year, we actually hit the date on the day, which I've never done in 12 years of game development.

So, it wasn't just a matter of you having a basis to build off of with the prior Forza games, but rather an overhaul in structure at the studio?

DG: Yeah, I'd say that was actually the biggest contributing factor. And we did have existing tools, but we rebuilt our pipelines from scratch, so we didn't even have that to go off of. We stripped out a huge layer from a rendering engine, which allowed us to rewrite large sections of our rendering engine. The game got a huge overhaul. But honestly, it can't be attributed to anything besides great producer work -- we hired a bunch more of those -- and great leadership from within the team.

How has the development team size grown from Forza 1 on Xbox to Forza 3?

DG: I'll give you a little bit of nitty-gritty here. So, we had, I think about 24 full-time employees on Forza 1. And we then bolstered that staff with probably 70 contract staff that were on for most of the project -- a couple of years. And then we outsourced a lot of our artwork to a group in India and a group in Vietnam. That made it so that all-in, we were probably 200 people, that's my guess.

Then in Forza 2, we got up to about 250. We increased our [full-time] staff, increased our [contract] staff, and increased the number of people in India and Vietnam. And now, for Forza 3, we're just over 300, all-in, with again [contract], [full-time], and a fully-burdened outsource group. And that's been pretty much since the beginning.

We grew immediately, so as soon as we shipped Forza 2, all of the [full-timers] took some time off, the [contract staff] kind of went away for a little bit, we disengaged with our outsourcers, and then within three months, we were back fully-burdened. We were up about 200 people, and 300 within a few months after that.

Was there any kind of fear on your part, as one of the leaders in this studio, that things were just getting too big? Is it just a matter of managing it well?

DG: Well, that was actually why we restructured ourselves so much. You've got two options if you start fearing you're too big. You either need to scale back your ambitions, or you need to come up with a new approach to steering such a large vessel. So, by driving more of the ownership and more of the leadership down into the ranks, we were able to do more "divide and conquer," as well as grow our bench and grow the future leaders of the studio. And you have to grow those next leaders. For me, I need to grow the person that's going to come and take my spot.

Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

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Guillermo Aguilera
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TensionLevel = Punishment * LastSaveTime

Josh Harrison
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As a huge fan of Forza 1 and 2, having logged several hundred hours playing those games, I am very much excited for Forza 3. I played the demo at E3 and got to try out the rewind feature (which I didn't even know existed when I picked up the controller). I was one of the scoreboard leaders, always in search of the 'perfect lap'. It was a great challenge, trying to squeak out a few tenths of a second, hitting the apexes perfectly, exiting the corners with enough speed, every little thing made for a huge challenge and it kept me coming back for more. One of the hardest things about Forza 1 and 2 was searching for this perfect lap and making a tiny mistake and having to finish the lap and start over. Especially with long tracks like nurburgring. I can't tell you how many times I've made a slip up on the last few corners and blew my great time. This rewind feature will be very helpful here. Just hold the select button and it rewinds. I loved the idea in Braid, that was the first place I had seen something like this is and it was very cool seeing it adapted to Forza. I can't wait to play this game!

Carlo Delallana
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Did western games take out your dog and shoot it in front of you Andre? Saying that gimmicks define western games is a really obnoxious statement. I will assume you have never designed or produce a videogame before.

As for the rewind feature I do find it useful to a point but I wonder if the team could have taken it a step further. Mind you the opinion i'm stating is based on the demo but I found that getting out of the rewind state was a bit jarring. I liken it to getting of a skateboard as its traveling downhill. It is abrupt and for the most part what I end up doing is braking immediately after getting out of it.

The rewind functionality could have been implemented as a teaching tool on top of undoing someone's mistakes. Imagine after exiting rewind that you see a ghost of your former decision with all the important information overlayed above it. Your speed, when you decided to turn, how much did you turn, or when you hit the brakes and how hard. This gives me a better context for the decisions I will make after exiting the rewind state and therefore help me become a better driver without having to restart the race.