In anticipation of their open world racing game Forza Horizon 4 being released October 2nd on Xbox One and PC, the good people of Microsoft and Playground Games held an event last week at The Microsoft Lounge in Culver City, California where they gave journalists a chance to play the opening of the game. After doing so, I spent a few moments with Creative Director Ralph Fulton to discuss some of the things I noticed during my drive.
The big thing you added to Forza Horizon 4 is seasons. But can you turn them off? Like if you only wanted to race during the winter, or never wanted to race in the winter, is that an option?
Did you ever debate that idea?
We did. The reason we didn’t do it — and it’s a little contrary to what we do with Forza, in that we’re about player choice, so it did demand a lot of debate — but the reason we didn’t do it is that we want this to be a shared game in every way it can be. And I don’t mean we’re going to force you to play multiplayer. We don’t want to do that. But we want the experience of playing Forza Horizon 4, of living in Horizon — which is how we see the game in the long term — to be shared even if you play it solo. They’re not just games you play on your TV now, they’re things you talk about with your friends and on social media and message boards. And we wanted the passage of time in the game to be something all of our players experience collectively and in a synchronized way so they can talk about. It’s a very British thing, they can talk about the weather and anticipate what’s coming. And not just in terms of the leaves turning brown, but all of the things that change in the game with the seasons.
So what do you say to someone who only wants to play Forza Horizon 4 when it’s summertime? Or doesn’t want to play it when it’s winter?
What I think will render this debate moot is that when people get in and see all the seasons, they will realize they were worried about nothing because all four seasons are fun. We made it our job that every season is the best it can be, that no season precludes you from doing something you want to do in Horizon, and that no season is more difficult than another.
It’s also, I think, somewhat moot because, as you’ve said previously, the seasons change on a weekly basis, so someone could, if they wanted, only play during the summer weeks or stop playing for a week when winter comes.
Yeah, you could. Though I would personally be kind of devastated if anyone took that extreme of an action based on a dislike of any of the seasons in our game. I would feel like we haven’t done our job.
Right, but I can see people not being into playing during winter because the snow and ice make things slippery. Or only wanting to play during winter for those exact reasons.
Yeah, I understand that.
Along with the seasons, the time of day is the same for everyone at the same time as well, right?
Right. If you and I are playing at the same time, but you’re here in Los Angeles and I’m back at the studio in England, and we go to the same place in the game to look at a sunset, we’re both seeing the same sunset.
Does that mean if I always play the game at the same time in the real world, it will always be the same time in the game?
No, no, no, no, no. The game isn’t on a twenty-four-hour clock. Let me clear about that. Everyone is on the same time of day, but our twenty-four-hour cycle in the game is nowhere near a day long.
Speaking of the shared world in Forza Horizon 4, I don’t play well with others. Can I keep everyone, or even just strangers, out of my game?
That sucks, doesn’t it.
Yeah. Can you pause it in Forza Horizon 4?
Of course you can. When we started thinking about having a shared world in Forza Horizon 4, and thought it was the way to go, a ton of people in the studio just suddenly started going, “Yeah, but shared world games suck as this, and they do this wrong, and this is just annoying.” So we put all of those ideas in a bucket and we fixed every single one of them. And not being able to pause, that was one of them.
So, when you play Forza Horizon 4, the only things that don’t pause are time, because time is running for everyone, and what other people are doing, that would be unreasonable.
Then what happens if I’m doing a race with other people in the career mode and the phone rings and I pause the game?
If you pause in the middle of a race, you’ll stop but they’ll keep going.
So you end up losing the race?
Well, yeah. It’s like if you were in a real race and you’ll pulled over to the side of the road.
Though pause works normally if you’re in a race by yourself.
What else did you guys fix about shared world games?
In some shared world games, if you lose your Internet connection, it kicks you out to the main menu. That doesn’t happen in Forza Horizon 4. If your Internet connection goes down, or our servers go down, the game seamlessly transitions you to being in a solo world. You won’t even notice, though you will get a little message telling you.
You don’t need an Internet connection to play Forza Horizon 4?
What happens if your servers go down when I’m in the middle of a race against another person?
That’s a good question. I wonder how we handle that? I don’t honestly know.
Moving on, in the beginning of the game, one of the events you do is you’re a stunt driver for a movie. And it made it sound like there was going to be a bunch of those jobs.
Given that you guys have a history with The Fast And The Furious franchise [Forza Horizon 2 had a stand-alone expansion called Forza Horizon 2 Presents Fast & Furious as a tie-in to the movie Fast & Furious], why didn’t you make it a Fast And The Furious movie?
[laughs] I think you can answer that question on your own.
Something else I noticed is that in the beginning of the game, a bunch of sheep ran in front of my car. Can you crash into them?
Did you try?
Wow, that speaks well of you. I’m sure some of the people downstairs tried. But the sheep are actually designed so you cannot crash into them. Which is, incidentally, much much harder than having sheep you can hit.
Another thing I noticed is that, like the previous Horizon games, if you go into the menu to turn off the music, you can’t, you can only turn it down to 1, and you also have to turn off the radio every time you get in a new car. Why is that? Because I’d want to turn the music off even if Forza Horizon 4 had an all Led Zeppelin soundtrack.
We debate that back and forth every time. The audio guys don’t want you to be able to turn the music off completely from the menu because, they think, you might forget about it and wonder why the radio isn’t working. Especially if you take a break and come back to the game a four months later.
Finally, for many people, Forza Horizon 4 is the game they’re most looking forward to this holiday.
That’s a cool thing to hear.
What game are you most looking forward to?
No one will faint with shock to hear that Red Dead Redemption 2 is the game I’m scheduling time to play. Those guys are just…they’re really good, they have a lot of people who are really good, and they make great games. And I suspect Red Dead will be another one.