Microsoft's preview event at the Raceway Docklands allowed Eurogamer to get its hands on Forza Motorsport 2. First though, there was an opportunity to sit down with the series Game Director, Dan Greenawalt.
Eurogamer: You mention that you want this game to a wide audience, and turn gamers into car lovers and vice versa. How do you intend to do that? Is there a formal driving tutorial in the game, for example?
Dan Greenawalt: There's not a formal driving tutorial in the game. I believe that the real way you're going to get people to learn is by getting them engaged, getting them excited, getting them passionate about what they're doing. So when I look for inspiration in games I don't look to other racing games, frankly. One of the biggest inspirations for the original Forza Motorsport which has now carried over into Forza Motorsport 2 was Pokémon, just because it's a great game.
So the way we get people learning is we get them hooked. You do the first race and you level up your driver and that gives you a discount on cars, and we give you a car as well and then your car levels up, and it gives you a discount on parts. You're basically always just a few minutes away from some new thing, like levelling this up, or levelling that up, or getting an achievement. And in that way it's much more like an RPG than a standard racing game. Not in the sense of having a story, I just mean that the levelling and XP mechanic is very much like an RPG. So while you're in there you're getting hooked, and you're also getting encouraged. You might try a front-wheel drive race and learn a little bit about front-wheel drive or, try a race that's limited to 200 horsepower and you see that to be successful in this race you should reduce weight because horsepower's limited. So you start learning about cars - that weight is as important or more important than power. And that's how we start teaching people. We tell people to play around. It's a big open sandbox and as you're playing you're very specifically learning little bits of knowledge about cars and racing.
The cars we give players are very specific too. We give people a lot of cars that most people won't have heard of, but that are very cool for one reason or another. One of my favourites is the old Porsche 9146 and we give that fairly early in the career. There were a lot of people in testing who were like, "what is this car?" But then there's a race and they have to use it and they realise the car's pretty cool, and they're learning about cars and getting passionate about them.
Eurogamer: But how do you make sure that the more hardcore racing fans don't feel like they have to plod through the early part of the game just to reach the decent cars?
Dan Greenawalt: Well that's the problem with tutorials, and that's actually the reason we don't have tutorials. Tutorials are like teaching a fish how to swim. You just don't need to do it. In our game, turning off all the assists gives you more money, which allows you to go through the career faster. It actually levels you faster.
Eurogamer: So if you play through the early part of the career without using the assists you'll get through to the later stages quicker?
Dan Greenawalt: Exactly. And it's the same thing online. Maybe I'm really into online racing. I can go and race online and I don't have to do all these single-player events. And it's the same thing: if I turn my assists off I'll get more money online. Or maybe I'm the opposite: I really like single-player but I don't have Live. I can still level up my entire career. That's what I meant about a sandbox. You tell your own story. If you want to just race Porsches you can just race Porsches.
Eurogamer: Can you talk a bit more about online? What are the key improvements you've made to the online modes?
Dan Greenawalt: It's been a very big drive of ours to be at the cutting edge of online. And a lot of it is because it's kind of easy for us. We're really blessed to have Xbox Live. Matchmaking, ranked matches, friend lists, voice - we just have to plug it in and we get it. We don't have to reinvent the wheel. On top of that we have an internal team that works on technology - it's a third-party entirely but it's inside of Microsoft. And they make technology that just plugs into these games. So the leaderboard-qualified tournaments that were in Project Gotham that are also part of Forza; they were made by that team. The Forza Motorsport 2 TV, the Project Gotham 3 TV; they were made by that team. So what that means is that we can just concentrate on innovating online and providing a great experience because we don't have to build the backbone. It's already made for us. So things that we've added online: auction house, Forza Motorsport 2 TV, leaderboard-qualified tournaments, advanced options, the seamless integration between single-player and multiplayer, as well as the photo uploads. Those are all things that you just don't see in other games.
Eurogamer: How successful do you think the auction house is going to be?
Dan Greenawalt: That's a big mystery, right? It's a risk, we're taking a bet. But first off it's a car-collecting game and we force you to make a choice - do you want North America, Asia or Europe? So if I choose North America but I really want a Porsche 911 Turbo... Even if there was no tuning, no customisation, no upgrades, no nothing, just the car-collecting, there'd be reason to go to auction to get a 911. But then when you layer in upgrades - I might have taken a Civic Type R and upgraded it to be kick-ass, and I might be really good at tuning, then I could become famous as a tuner. So that's another reason to go to the auction house, to buy a pre-tuned car. But then if you go to the final step, which is painting, I think it's going to be crazy. You're going to see things online that will blow your mind, because in version 1 that's what happened.
Eurogamer: Indeed, you mentioned people painting the Mona Lisa on the side of their car. Can people resell the same piece of art multiple times?
Dan Greenawalt: We've given players a lot of tools. We've given them some very specific tools and some very powerful tools. For example, I can make a great paintjob for a Civic Type R and I can then save that out and I can sell that Civic and then buy another Civic and I just apply it and sell it and apply it and sell it. But also we consider those paint jobs to be your intellectual property, so you can lock it. If you're a great painter and you don't want someone else to claim your work as theirs, you can lock that paint job, and another person can buy it, they can race it, and they can sell it, but they can't sell it as their own and they can't change it. It's basically your signed painting. The other thing is that we've added all this advanced functionality like copying and pasting and inserting and you can save out layer groups. So you can just stamp these things out. If you've taken the time to create a great piece of art, we empower you with the equivalent of a printing press to mass produce it however you want.
Eurogamer: Finally, what's your favourite aspect of Forza 2?
Dan Greenawalt: As a game designer my favourite part is this Pokémon aspect that's so addictive. As a game designer I'm kind of like a scientist that likes to train rats, so I love to see that working. Not that I see my consumers as rats, but that's the fun of it, to entertain people, and to see that what we've designed has hooked different types of people. I don't design the game for me. I design the game for a broad group, and if you can capture a broad group it's so cool on a personal level. As far as my favourite feature it's probably the physics, because they kick ass and I'm a physics geek so I love that. And the painting area, people are just going to do s*** that you won't expect. You're going to see stuff that's going to blow your mind. It happened in version 1 and now we've given them so much more power. Honestly, it's going to be crazy one month out. I would say I'm most excited by that because I have no idea what the hell they're going to do.
Forza Motorsport 2 is due out on 8th June exclusively for Xbox 360, and our sister site Eurogamer.de happens to have some spiffing new screenshots if you fancy a look.