Interview: Playground Games’ Ralph Fulton talks Forza Horizon 3‘s amazing soundtrack

With Forza Horizon 3 only a matter of weeks away, and the soundtrack announcement fresh in our minds, we had a chance to chat to Playground Games’ Creative Director Ralph Fulton via email about what goes into curating a soundtrack of this size and scope.

The Iris: What goes into crafting a track list for a game like Forza Horizon 3? Is there a set of rules for picking songs (like a good mixtape for instance) or is it more a matter of whether or not it feels like a good fit?

Ralph Fulton: The first thing we do is divide our track list up into radio stations, which is how you interact with music in a Horizon game. In Forza Horizon 3, we wanted to have more variety in musical styles than we’ve ever had before, so we have more radio stations than we’ve had before as a result. Even after three Horizon games, we have no hard and fast rules about how we put together a radio station. When we start thinking about a radio station in the game, we try to think about it like it’s a festival bill in the real world: who are the headliners? Who are the new artists playing the festival for the first time? Who are the classic act reforming for one more gig? We find that a great way of ensuring there’s balance in the track list. It’s important to have some well-known artists on there, I think, but I also love that Horizon games can introduce you to new music you haven’t heard before.

This is a track list that spans multiple genres and decades of music. Was there a person or team in charge or curation?

We work with two amazing music supervisors on the Xbox team in the US – Kyle Hopkins and Maya Halfon – who have worked on all three of the Horizon games. At the start of the project, we sat down to discuss what we wanted to do with music on Horizon 3, defining the types of music we wanted to include and the stations we wanted to create. From there, Kyle and Maya send us lots of music which we audition for the game. The auditioning process at Playground involves a wide range of activities and people, and because Horizon 3 involves so many different styles of music, we use different groups to review different styles of music based on their personal taste. There are many lively discussions during the selection process!

Given its setting, it makes sense that Forza Horizon 3 would sport a strong set of tracks from Australian artists. Can you tell us a little about the local artists you’ve chosen for the soundtrack and why?

When we decided to set the game in Australia, we didn’t do it just for the scenery. We wanted to celebrate many aspects of Aussie life: the landscapes, the roads, the car culture, the people and the music. Australian music, especially electronic music, has been incredibly vibrant over the last decade, so there’s been Aussie bands and artists in both Horizon 1 and 2. In fact, Cut Copy, who are originally from Melbourne, are the only band featured on all three Horizon soundtracks. This time, we also have music from Hilltop Hoods on Horizon Block Party, our new hip hop station, and from Alison Wonderland, a Sydney native, on Horizon Bass Arena. And, of course, the Future Classic station is packed with Aussie artists.

ralph-fulton_playground-games-headshot_june-2016
Playground Games’ Ralph Fulton

How do music labels like Future Classic come to be involved in Forza Horizon 3?

We work with record labels when we think that a partnership can allow us to bring a certain type of music to our players. In Forza Horizon 3, we wanted to give our players access to a much heavier rock station than we’ve ever had before, so we worked with Epitaph Records who have a fantastic roster of hardcore, punk and metal acts. We began working with Future Classic because we wanted a station which delivers the sound of cutting-edge Australian music. Once we’d identified them, we reached out and began discussing what a Future Classic radio station would sound like. There’s more to that than just the music – we create a real radio station with DJs and station idents so you really feel you’re listening to the radio, and we were delighted when one of their artists, Touch Sensitive, agreed to be the in-game DJ. The final Future Classic playlist is brilliant, with ‘Crave You’ by Flight Facilities and ‘Never Be Like You’ by Flume my personal highlights.

At what stage of development does soundtrack curation begin? Do you start throwing together a dream list right away or does it begin further down the line?

We start planning for the soundtrack about 18 months out from launch. At first this is high-level stuff – what is our vision for music on this game? Who would we love to partner with? Our soundtrack deliberately biases towards new music. I’d say more than 80% of the tracks in the list are from this year, so music selection really starts in earnest at the start of the year of launch, and runs right through the summer so that the soundtrack feels as fresh as possible when the game comes out.

Obviously, the game will have its own original music too. Can you tell us a little about that and who composed it?

There’s actually only one original composition in the game, but it’s one I’m really proud of. When we were creating the intro to the game, we really loved ‘Constellations’ by Fred V & Grafix, who appear on the Hospital Records Radio station, as the accompaniment. The track didn’t quite hit the beats we needed it to though, so we got in touch with Fred V & Grafix who agreed to remix the track specifically for our intro sequence. Working with them was a really cool experience and the finished version – ‘Constellations (Forza Horizon 3 VIP)’ – is one of my favourites in the game.

One of my favourite things to do in Forza Horizon 2 was to crank the classical station and take a tricked out Willy’s Jeep for a breakneck drift adventure in a lavender field. Bearing in mind that the soundtrack for Forza Horizon 3 was chosen to carry a particular overall vibe, do you find that the new soundtrack pairs well with certain specific in-game locations the same way?

I love how different combinations of car, scenery and music speak to different people – I think that’s one of the reasons we’ve always felt music was a vital component of the Horizon games. We have a lot of fun with this when we create Bucket List events, in which we pair a specific driving challenge with music to create a moment for the player. In Forza Horizon 3, we’re giving that power to our players as well, as they can use the Blueprint feature to create their own challenges. They can then choose any track in the game as the soundtrack to their challenge before sending it to their friends.

What are your three personal favourite tracks from the soundtrack?

That’s a touch question. As I mentioned before, I really love that an artist like Fred V & Grafix remixed their own track for our game, so ‘Constellations (Forza Horizon 3 VIP)’ is definitely one of them. We love CHVRCHES at Playground, so their latest single ‘Bury It’ is another favourite, and I would also choose ‘Killer’ by Adamski, because I’m old and remember when it first came out!

Alright, fast hypothetical to finish up: The Xbox One now let’s you create your own playlists. You’re putting together your own personal, custom playlist for Forza Horizon 3. What’s on it?

The new custom playlist feature on Xbox One is great, but Forza Horizon 3 actually goes one better. We have a feature called Groove Music Radio which allows you to stream your own personal music collection into the game as an in-game radio station. All you need to do is place your personal music files onto your OneDrive and then point the game at the Groove Music playlist and, hey presto, you’ve curated your own radio station! If you’re a subscriber to the Groove Music streaming service, you can also stream music from that, giving you access to literally millions of tracks. Even if you’re not a subscriber, you’ll be able to activate a free trial from within the game, so everybody should be able to experience the fun of creating your own radio station in Forza Horizon 3!

All the very best for the launch and thank you so much for your time. I’m pumped for the game and cannot wait to get started!

Thanks!

 

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David Smith

David Smith is the games and technology editor at The AU Review. He has previously written for PC World Australia. You can find him on Twitter at @RhunWords.

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