Interview with Ben Penrose, Art Director for Forza Horizon 3

With Forza Horizon 3‘s release on the horizon, we caught up with Benjamin Penrose, the Art Director at Playground Games, to find out more about the game before its release on Xbox One on 27th September.

1. Since racing games are usually based on the same real world cars, what do you do to make the look of your main characters (ie the cars) unique and distinguishable from other racing games like GT and Mario Kart? Is there a look and feel that is unique to Forza?

I would say that the most distinguishing characteristic with regards to our versions of these real world cars is the level of detail we go into when we replicate them for the game. Forza Vista is a great way for us to show off all the detail we include in our vehicles and it allows players to really get up close to the cars and admire their individual characteristics from the real world. Forza has been known for its awesome Forza Vista feature since its introduction in Forza Motorsport 4. Forza Horizon 3 is the first Horizon title to include the Forza Vista experience.


2. How was your favourite graphical upgrade achieved in this game that most people might not notice otherwise?

We have developed a fantastic global illumination lighting feature for this game. It allows us to accurately model radiance, dynamically, during our time of day cycle. The best example of this is a red car in the real world reflecting light and casting some of its red colour onto nearby objects and surfaces. This is something we can now recreate in our game engine and you’ll notice this most in places like the Outback sections of Forza Horizon 3’s environments. In these environments lots of that orange tone from the soil will bounce on the cars and nearby environment surfaces.


3. Forza Horizon 3 takes place mostly in Australia. How is the art direction like for this iteration of FH3?

When we decided to set the game in Australia we knew we wanted to represent Australia in a way that made the most of its massive visual and environmental diversity. One of the prime challenges for the art direction was deciding how to best include all of that diversity in a way that made sense and transitioned nicely from location to location. We didn’t want anything to feel visually jarring to the player and this was a challenge and goal we kept our sights on all the way through development. It has led us to the really fun, open world environment in Forza Horizon 3 which I can’t wait for people to get a hold of and experience on September 27th.


4. What’s the one keyword to describe the aesthetics of FH3 and why?

Diverse – This was the real keyword for the project when it came to the visuals. You can experience this with over 350 unique vehicles to drive and modify. With so many cars, we also picked a real world location that allowed us to push as many varied visual moments into this game as possible. Secondly, we built a custom process of recording real-world Australian skies as they change and evolve over a 24 hour period and used that to create hundreds of unique visual experiences for the player.


5. If you could choose one car to own in Forza, which one would it be and how does it compare to your current ride?

It would be a Ferrari 458 Italia. I still think it’s the most gorgeous car that Ferrari has ever produced and it sounds amazing. At the moment I drive a 2007 BMW Z4 Coupe and I love it very much! However I would probably agree to the swap if someone wanted to hand over their 458 😉


6. With all-new terrain to handle, what was the greatest challenge for the team? How much is based on the actual terrain and roads in Australia?

The biggest challenge was probably covering all that ground. Australia is a huge country and often the areas we wanted to include were pretty far from one another. Which leads me to the second part of the answer, as everything is 100% inspired by real world parts of Australia. We spend many months on location capturing video and images that will aid us in recreating the game world. We often used laser scanning techniques and photogrammetry methods to allow us to digitally replicate real world features in the game. A good example of an area this was used on for Forza Horizon 3 is on the 12 apostle’s beach which you may have already seen from our E3 coverage or show floor demos.


7. Racing games have covered the realism in cars and locations, and that has become the norm in most car sim titles. What’s next? I don’t want to see the next Forza to take place in country X and offer Y number of car models again. The game previously had an add on from the Fast and Furious series. Can we hope to see more movie cars realised in the game, to as close to reality as possible? Maybe a race of cars driven by James Bond, or cars from TV shows, or maybe a showcase of electric cars, or fantasy cars (DeLorean Time Machine, Tumbler) brought to life within the game?

We are always talking about cool ideas for groups of cars we could include in our games. These discussions will continue in the future too. So while I can’t comment on what will be coming in the future, please stay tuned! In the mean time I hope you enjoy some of the cars we have included in Horizon 3 that are entirely new to Forza. Some of those include the brand new cover car, the Lamborghini Centenario which is an amazing new hyper car from Lamborghini but it also includes some more unexpected vehicles like some of our Class 10 buggies from the likes of Penhall and even a Reliant Robin which is an amazing amount of fun to have a race with your friends in (truly hilarious!).