Monday, 6 October 2014

Forza Horizon 2 - Ben Penrose Q&A

Forza Horizon 2 - Ben Penrose Q&A

Ben Penrose is the Art Director of “Forza Horizon 2” and leads a team of artists and creatives at Playground Games in Leamington Spa, UK. “Forza Horizon 2” uses the next evolution of the best-in-class Forza graphics engine to deliver full day and night cycle with spectacular weather, lighting, and visual effects.

What can you tell us about Forza Horizon 2?  Horizon 2 is an open world racing game set in southern Europe. Specifically in areas based in Northern Tuscany and the South of France. At its foundation, the game runs on the core engine developed for Forza 5 by Turn 10 studios. That means as well as our open world you will enjoy a best in class physics model and incredibly accurate car models.
Ben Penrose, Playground Games

You’re the art director of the project. Have you been involved in other Forza Horizons series – if so, what did you specifically set out to do this time around?
I joined the Playground team during development on the first Forza Horizon title as a concept artist, so I would be interpreting research photos from a location into designs for the games open world. Since then, I worked up to Associate Art Director and am now the studios main Art Director. In this role it was generally my job to define how the game should look and set out a plan for achieving that through the course of its development. It also meant steering the art ship to maintain that course and communicate our art intentions to the rest of the studio.

This time the game’s more Europe based, what was the reasoning behind that decision – and also what were the challenges?
Europe gave us some great driving roads to use as inspiration. As an art director, it also gave me some stunning environments that we could draw from to produce that signature ‘Horizon Beauty’.

The weather’s the big thing in this game – you’ve gone to extraordinary lengths to get it right?
Yes, weather is obviously a big deal to Forza players because this is the first time it has featured in franchise so we really felt like it was something that we had to get right and treat with as much obsessive attention to detail as we do every other aspect of the game. That meant working out the difference between the way a car drives when the road is drying, verses how it drives when the road initially gets wet.

It’s the first time that such a system’s been employed in Forza – how did the team achieve that?
We spent a long time prototyping various solutions until we found something that ticked all those authenticity boxes.

Do you think that was something which could only have been achieved on the Xbox One?
I think to achieve it in the manner that is executed in Horizon 2, it was only possible with a move to the new hardware. Effects like the real-time road reflections are something we wouldn’t have dreamt of doing previously.

How do you rate the next gen consoles – what’s your experiences of them, both as a gamer and as an art director?
I think as with any tech upgrade it allows for a whole new raft of artistic opportunities. I think specifically it allows you to get even closer to a desired vision than you might have been able to before. I think as a gamer it’s difficult to evaluate. Once you work in development, it becomes the real game changer with regards to how you experience games yourself.

You’re based in the Midlands in the UK (near where I went to Uni), is that starting to become a thriving ground for game development now?
I also went to Uni there… how interesting, Birmingham to be exact. I think actually this university’s response to training requirements for students looking to get into the industry is really driving a lot of that uptake in the video game industry in the UK. I think that for some fairly random reasons the Midlands has been the origination point for many studios. I think for that reason, it will always be a thriving development hub in the UK but I also see a lot of growing influence elsewhere, especially towards the capital.

How do you rate the current gaming environment – what have been your favourite games to play in recent years?
I think the shift to the new consoles has been as interesting/exciting as it is always is. I think as it usually happens there will be some huge leaps in all kinds of aspects with regards to the new generation of games. My personal highlight so far has been Wolfenstein and Destiny – that game is so pretty.

As Digital Nationz has shown, there are plenty of gamers out there – what advice would you give to those who want to get involved in the industry?
I think the industry is increasingly multi-faceted and the key to entering the industry is to find which aspect it is that excites you and consume that subject in a way that constantly tailors to your skill set in the way that makes you an exciting candidate to a developer. It might be art, design, engineering, audio - the avenues the vast!

Just finally – give us a secret about Forza Horizon 2 that you’ve told no-one yet….
Ahhhh… unfortunately it’s been reviewed now so it’s all out there. Nice try though. ;)

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