One of many developers in Australia for Xbox FanFest and EB Expo over the weekend, Mike Brown is the senior game designer at Playground Games, developer of the recently released Forza Horizon 3. We were able to chat to Mike about the game’s Gold Coast setting, its new features and what’s in store for fans post-launch.
The Iris: Where did the decision to use Surfers Paradise as a major festival location come from? I ask because I never thought I’d see the day where my home town appeared in a video game (it has been a delightfully strange experience by the way, thank you for that)
Mike Brown: There’s two sides to this answer, on the one hand we really wanted to include a super-modern city with visually striking glass skyscrapers, on the other hand we have a constant desire to try and do things that surprise people, and we don’t want to be accused of just doing things by the numbers. Under both of these criteria it was a stand-out candidate.
Also, it’s a really cool name for a city.
TI: Further, how did you choose the locations featured in the game, and how did you get them to fit together so well? The map features some very disparate locations but they flow into one another very well.
MB: We sent a research team out to Australia who spent months driving around the country taking photos of everything they saw. From this, we draw up a list of locations and environments that we think would be great places to drive in or around. The next part is a huge challenge – and achievement for the level designers at Playground Games, who do an incredible job of stitching together all those areas in a way that feels totally natural, but also allows us to introduce things to the player in a specific order that we feel gives the best gameplay experience.
TI: The Forza Horizon series is one of my favourite racing franchises because of its willingness to take itself a little less seriously than some of its genre cousins. What are the key design aspects that the team focuses on when building a racer like FH3?
MB: It’s great to hear that you’ve enjoyed playing Horizon! At Playground we have a number of “Pillars” which help to guide the design of the game. Two of these pillars are “Horizon Fun” and “Horizon Freedom” and both of those have a number of criteria beneath them which define what is and isn’t befitting of a Horizon game. Every feature that we add to the game needs to support and fit into one of these pillars.
TI: Can you talk about the rationale behind making the player the festival showrunner as opposed to a participant as in previous iterations, and about the decision to open up the race creation options for player tweaking?
MB: This started when we took stock at the end of Horizon 2 development, we’d had two games where the player did essentially the same thing – they arrived at the Festival as a rookie and over the course of 15 hours or so they’d go on to become the Horizon Champion. Both of those games were great, but we didn’t really want to tell the same story a third time so we looked at ways of doing something new. And the standout candidate was to turn the story on its head and start at the top instead of being a rookie.
That decision then informed a whole bunch of other features. If they player is the boss then they should choose what music is played at the Festival, right? And they should be able to choose what type of racing takes place and which drivers appear in the races. Once we’d made that decision to make the player the boss a lot of the other features that make Horizon 3 such an empowering experience fell into place.
TI: What’s the one thing in Forza Horizon 3 that you’re most proud of?
MB: Personally, I’m really happy with our suite of characters because I had a major role in casting and developing those characters. I think Keira is a really pleasing game-guide and Warren is a really fun character who adds and authentic Australian voice to the game. We also have a great variety of voices and personalities across the radio stations.
TI: What has the experience of building the game to be compatible with Xbox Play Anywhere been like?
MB: It’s actually been pretty straight-forward, the Universal Windows Platform made the process of supporting Cross Play and Play Anywhere much easier than we’d expected and planned for. I can’t tell you how rare it is in development for something to be easier than you initially plan for.
TI: Can you talk about the game’s post-launch plans and upcoming DLC at all?
MB: I can tell you that we will be releasing monthly car packs for the foreseeable future and will be producing two larger DLC packs, the first of which will be available this holiday season.
We also have a great new feature called Forzathon which adds new challenges every week with the ability to unlock new novelty horns for your car and exclusive cars that you can’t get anywhere else.
Our thanks to Mike for taking the time to chat to us. Forza Horizon 3 is out now on Xbox One and Windows PC via Xbox Play Anywhere. You can follow Mike on Twitter at @FlawlessC0wboy, a handle we approve of 1000%.