The announcement of the Xbox One X at E3 2017 was inevitable. Almost as inevitable was a 4K outing for Forza, the company’s big-name racing franchise. Forza Motorsport 7 really is a showcase for everything the One X can do, pumping out meticulously modelled vehicles roaring around effectively photorealistic tracks in 4K HDR, all running at an unwavering 60fps.
This is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful racers you will ever see. But while on-screen visuals dazzle, what’s going on under the hood is equally impressive. Despite the sizeable disparity in power, the enhanced specs of the Xbox One X actually helped Forza developer Turn10 get better performance out of the original 2013 model Xbox One. To uncover exactly how though, we need to go back to 2013’s Forza Motorsports 6.
“On the Xbox One, Forza Motorsports 6 ran at a native, constant 1080p and a rock solid 60fps,” Turn10 creative director Dan Greenawalt tells WIRED. “We had a game that was well optimised for that box and was a very pretty game.”
“We took Forza 6’s codebase into DX12 and took that DX12 codebase onto the Xbox One X,” he explains. As a result, for Forza 7, Greenawalt’s team” still had 30 per cent head room to actually further improve the graphical image or whatever else we wanted to do.” The key was ensuring that anyone playing on a 2013 Xbox One or even and Xbox One S wouldn’t be lumped with a sub-par game. Turn10’s drive was to push for extreme graphical fidelity for the One X without sacrificing performance on earlier machines.
“We started looking at the way you do things on PC – draw distance, shadow resolution, texture resolution, anti-aliasing, all of other different features you can turn up,” Greenawalt says. “We started experimenting with which ones were giving us the best image quality possible, but that meant we could not deviate the experience. It looks better, plays better, but there’s no feature difference.”
This is where the optimisation paid off. During the course of optimisation for the new hardware, Turn10 discovered ways to squeeze improved performance out of the older machine.
“The most interesting part was in optimising for Xbox One X, we found features that made the original Xbox One and lower-end PCs look better.” The improvements even allowed the team to drop the minimum specifications for the PC version. “As a result, the Forza Motorsports 7 image quality on the original Xbox One looks dramatically better than Forza 6 – in optimising for the high end, we improved the low end.”
Greenawalt even goes so far as to call the reveal of Forza 7 “history making”, and in many ways he’s got a point. For the first time ever, a real-world racing car, the 2018 Porsche 911 GT2 RS, was revealed not at a dedicated event for petrolheads, but at a video games conference. The super-charged vehicle, and its inclusion in the game, was the centrepiece of Forza 7’s debut.
“We unveiled a car at a game show – that was incredible,” Greenawalt says. “Then this weekend, we’re going to have our [Forza] racers crowned at Le Mans, on the podium, which is a real statement about the importance of esports and gaming infiltrating the world.”
Licensing deals with manufacturers such as Porsche have become increasingly important to developers such as Turn10 in recent years, but Greenawalt says the dynamic between car companies and games studios has shifted – and arguably in the studios’ favour.
“A group of four of us got together many years ago and started Forza, and back then we were licensing cars from manufacturers,” Greenawalt recalls. “The relationship was: ‘Hey we’d like to have your brand and we’ll pay you money for it.’ That has fundamentally changed over the last ten years. Now we have over 4.8 million active players every month, and that’s a low period. If you put yourself in the shoes of a manufacturer, you can get people to engage with your brand with a commercial on linear TV, or you can get them to play with and experience your brand for an hour and then ask for more when they’re done.”
The partnerships with big auto labels isn’t just a glorified ad scheme, though – it benefits the final game that reaches players. With access comes a wealth of data from real-world racing. Turn10 has ended up working with the engineers who record and track reams of data, from race team performance, tire wear and environmental performance, brake heat and downforce. That information is then used to make simulations even more accurate.
“From a creative perspective, what I like is that it builds up a relationship with the engineers,” Greenawalt says. “We have to get the tech specs because we’re a simulator; we have to get every piece of data about the car. The weight of the drive, who made the transmission, everything has to be understood.”
Looking forward, Greenawalt sees Forza Motorsports 7 as a way to introduce players not just to racing games, but to the love of cars at every level.
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“We really were focused on making a game that brings a whole new generation into racing cars and motorsports,” he says.
“We’ve got a vision for the next five years for how we’re going to be doing that with a combination of esports, tremendous games, launching on PC and pushing the format to a much broader spec. When you think about the younger generation, millennials, they’re not going to come to cars the way I did – they need to be brought in a new way. The primary way we’re going to bring them in is by going to them, being on the devices they use, making communities that are unified and making an experience that speaks. That’s modern and cutting edge.”
Source: xbox one – Google News