Forza Horizon 4 Dev Interview: Recreating UK Weather & The “Arcade/Sim” Spectrum

Less than a week remains until the release of Forza Horizon 4. Before the game releases on October 2, Ultimate Edition owners will have first crack at the game. When, you ask? This Friday, and for some the fated day can’t arrive soon enough.

We’ve spent our fair share of time with the full game leading up to release. Spoiler alert: this is, without question, the best Horizon yet. Read our Horizon 4 review and see for yourself, but be warned: it isn’t going to make the wait any easier.

GTPlanet’s own Kyle Patrick is on the ground at the Forza Horizon 4 launch event at Goodwood in the UK this week, and yesterday he sat down to talk with Playground Games’ leader Ralph Fulton and Art Director Ben Penrose.

Here’s the transcript of their chat where they go in-depth about how they brought the game’s world to life:

GTPlanet: What were some of the unique challenges that the team encountered with weather research in the UK?

Ben Penrose: It’s so difficult to find a place incredibly isolated. In Britain everywhere is in pretty close proximity to some major city or town. So one of the biggest challenges was finding a place that was isolated enough that it wouldn’t have all of that nighttime sky light pollution. The other huge challenge was the seasonality aspect as well.

We weren’t just capturing data during the sunrise like we did in Australia, it’s something we did in every single season throughout the entire year. It was four times the amount of work, and it was also work that had to be undertaken at less agreeable times of the year to be outside taking photography.

The British winter we had during the development of this game was particularly harsh, it was actually really useful for reference, especially with the amount of snow we had. So you can imagine that for the guy in the field taking all the photography, it was not the most pleasant of experiences.


Ralph Fulton: We’ve actually got some video footage of the audio guys. They went everywhere every season with the little multidirectional ambient mic to record the ambience of all our locales, and we’ve got some footage of them on the Yorkshire moors at night in winter. And they’re miserable, there’s no two ways about it. They are literally having the worst time!

GTP: That’s an aspect that players don’t often think about — it’s easy to get the visuals across with the seasons changing, but can you tell us more about the audio side of things?

Ralph: Yeah! Getting seasonal audio, the first thing you go to is like different surface types, different surface coverings you have in different seasons. Like Ben said, we had like a classic British year in terms of the seasons, in terms of the weather.

The summer was as good as any summer in my lifetime. It was kind of the summer we wanted to capture in the game anyway so it was great we had all this reference. The winter was one of the worst in 20 years or something like that. We had this storm called the beast from the east that came from the east obviously…

Ben: …Or the best, depending on your point of view.

Ralph: (laughs) yeah absolutely. Best for reference purposes, worse for like, living in. So that was great, getting references of tires on snow, tires on deep mud, we can go out and do that. But the guys, like I hinted, were really keen on recording ambience for each of our ecotypes and each of our seasons.

I was kind of skeptical, like “moors are going to sound the same in winter as they do in autumn”. And it turns out again, totally wrong, there’s really massive differences in the ambient side of these different places based on season.

If you pull over, switch off the radio, and listen, you get a real sense of the place you’re in just from hearing the ambient audio. Whether it’s in the moors, or whether it’s Edinburgh. They went up and set up in Edinburgh for each of the seasons and got very different soundscapes which now are basically realized throughout the game.

GTP: It does add to the immersion, even just parking on the side of the road. Another question besides the graphics side, and you’ve covered the sound: how did this weather system affect the physics department?

Ralph: Next time you’re playing the game, if you haven’t noticed it already, if you pause the game, in the top left corner there’s a weather widget with temperature as well. That temperature is actually real — whenever we went out, when we did the sky capture right through the year, we also had a thermometer out there.

We kept detailed logs of the days that we captured skies, we had a light probe so we knew exactly what the light intensity was, and we had a thermometer to tell us what the temperature was. And that’s the temperature you see in the widget.

How that affects physics is that for the first time in Horizon we’ve brought in the concept of surface temperature and conductivity for every surface type in the game. So if you think about all the surface types you imagine are in the game, and then multiply that by about 50, that’s kinda how many there are. And each now has a conductivity setting, which determines how that surface properly conducts heat or energy into your tires, and then that has an effect on your handling.

One of the big advances — it’s really subtle, and it’s not a big problem if you don’t notice it, but it’s cool that it’s happening — is that the ambient temperature and the temperature of the ground is actually changing the temperature of your tires, and thus their handling. Right through a single day.


GTP: Yeah, that Prologue portion of the game, where you go through the four seasons fairly quickly, I tried to drive the same car through all four to get a better idea. There’s a surprisingly large change from say, summer to winter, and trying to keep a Dodge Charger on the road.

Ralph: Yes! Glad you noticed that!

GTP: I’m guessing this is a helpful sort of product of your work on tire temps and atmosphere. I’ve noticed that it’s much harder in FH4 to drive a car off-road than it was in FH3 if it wasn’t designed for it.

Ralph: Yeah you’re absolutely right. That’s something since 2 I think when we got a lot of stick from certain members of our community about driving Lamborghinis off-road. In 3 we didn’t just say “let’s make it harder to drive off-road”, we did work on the range and variety of suspension and tire models.

We’ve done even more work, our systems have become even more granular in 4. I think that’s definitely one thing that’s contributing to what you’re noticing, and it’s absolutely the case that it’s harder to drive off-road in a car that’s not meant for it.

The other thing is that this world is much more undulating and vertical than Australia was. Australia was kind of flat in a lot of senses, so as long as you had some velocity and could keep it in a straight line, that Lamborghini was gonna do alright. But you just don’t have the luxury of that in the Britain map because it’s so up and down, it’s a much hillier map.

I was playing last night with someone, I was doing some Team Adventure, and I just didn’t think about it. I was in a Porsche, and I just had a horrible time, because it took me off-road and I should’ve tuned my car a bit better, but hopefully I made whoever it was feel good about their skills!

GTP: Yeah I’ve done some of those Forzathon Live events at the top of the hour, and being in a car completely not suited to the task at hand. I think that’s a nice side-effect of this weather aspect and also this physics change in general that it will make people explore the car lineup more because you can’t just have one car to do everything.

Ralph: I agree. Let me give you a tip: you can’t do it in Team Adventure, but you can actually order your car from your garage to be delivered to you. It takes 10 seconds or something like that. A good tip is if you realize you’re in the wrong car for a specific leg of Forzathon Live, it actually makes a lot of sense just to get a better car delivered, and then catch up, and then do better as a result.

GTP: Yep, that would make it a lot easier. I was trying to do jumps in a Land Rover and it was not working out.

(All laughs)

GTP: Jumping a little into the past, how much did Blizzard Mountain prepare the team for the task at hand with Horizon 4?

Ben: The honest answer is that it helped us massively with regards to even the fact that we knew how to deal with snow. Winter in this game, as you know now from playing it, is about much more than just snow.

There are certain things that we learned during the course of production on Blizzard Mountain that were really, really useful. But I think the grand addition of what seasons are in this game means that it was a facet. Objectively, there was a huge amount of stuff that we had to research.

GTP: For our readers’ sakes, can you explain how going from season to season might affect approaching Danger Signs or Speed Zones differently?

Ralph: I think the high level thing is that we’ve tried to ensure that while there are obvious differences between seasons, we’ve tried to make sure you can still do and have fun and succeed at all the gameplay in the game at any season. We don’t want you to feel like “oh, it’s spring, therefore Danger Signs are out, I just won’t do those until next week.” You should still be able to go in and have a crack at everything.

That said, I think Speed Zones are probably easiest in summer, or particularly when it’s dry in summer. I think Drift Zones conversely are easier when it’s wet or when it’s icy in winter. And flinging yourself off a big jump is pretty much season agnostic. Some of them have a little thinking in terms of run-up and stuff like that. Generally speaking, some seasons favor certain gameplay, but we’ve tried to make sure you’re not excluded from any gameplay based on the season.

GTP: I’m going back to the part about temperatures and all these different granular systems that you have. Would you say that this means the game, more so than ever before, really straddles the line between what people call “arcade” and “simulation”? How the seasons change that approach?

Ralph: You know what, I think, speaking for myself but also kinda speaking for everyone in the studio, I think we spend next to no time considering where we are on that notional arcade-simulation spectrum. It’s just not a thing we think about or concern ourselves with.

Going back when we first did the first Horizon, we were trying to explain to people what it was. People were like “oh, is it arcade, is it sim, is it somewhere in between?” And we spent a lot of time trying to justify what we were. I think people get what Horizon is now, and I think they get that it’s more than that kind of classification. It’s about having fun in cars with your friends in a massive open world. I just don’t think we need to think about ourselves or try to define ourselves in those terms anymore.

GTP: It’s fun, that’s the important thing?

Ralph: Yeah! If it’s not fun, I’d be really worried. But if they’re saying “oh it’s not a sim” or “it’s not really arcade” I could not care less.

GTP: Awesome. Thank you Ralph and Ben for taking time out of what’s sure to be a busy month.

Ralph: Cheers man, nice speaking to you!

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