Microsoft gave gamers an extended look at the implementation of rain in Forza Motorsport 6 with an all-new trailer at Gamescom ahead of its September 15 launch. Unlike the E3 trailer, which focused on the raw thrill of racing, this trailer gets into the nitty-gritty of bringing something as complex as water falling from the sky into a simulation with 24 cars on track, all running at 1080p, 60 frames per second. I had a chance to speak with Ryan Cooper, executive producer at Turn 10 Studios, about the challenges that faced the development team.

 

Tension

When discussing a game, any game, it’s easy to get lost in technical jargon and forget what the ultimate goal is, what the player is supposed to feel. There’s no confusion here – that feeling is tension, says Cooper. From the first time the car fishtails from taking a corner too fast, to that heart-stopping lurch as the car hydroplanes over the tarmac, racing in the rain removes that most fundamental assumption: grip. Not the driver’s grip on the steering wheel, or the player’s grip on the controller, but the tires’ grip on the road.

And it has to be communicated to the player without placing them physically in a car.

Sensation

Whether you’re in the cockpit view or using the chase cam, you see the rain, be it individual droplets on the windshield, the shimmering road surface or the slick puddles that threaten to send your car into an uncontrolled glide. In the moments before the race starts, you hear the rain, coming down in a gentle shower, each drop bouncing off your car chassis, be it steel or carbon fibre, and you’ll hear the difference. You’ll hear the white noise fry as the tires send water spraying into the wheelwell. You’ll hear that full-bodied woosh as water washes against the undercarriage. You’ll feel – in your hand, in the tips of your fingers – the rumble of the engine, the friction of rubber against asphalt, now muddied by rain, fighting for traction, until it all breaks – you’re skimming across the surface of the water, heading straight for the grass, the tire wall or another vehicle.

And that’s just scratching the surface.

Simulation

Rain has been a long time coming, and it’s not hard to see why. Around the time Forza 5 was released, the studio estimated that it’d take nine months to process a single track for rain (a figure I couldn’t get Cooper to confirm). It sounds like an insane amount of time, but I’d believe it, given the team’s obsession with detail, stuff that sometimes boils down to a single and entirely missable bullet point. For example, “3D puddles” means that the puddles have depth, yes, but it also means that they scanned – with lasers, at sub-centimetre precision – the entire Nürburgring, while it was wet and then recreated it in the game. And they did this for every track they wanted players to experience in the rain.

What about traction? That’s another system, which simulates over 140 surface types, to which they had to expand with “wet” and “dry” values. They’ve even added a porosity value to each surface to represent just how “wet” it can get. After all, slick pavement is quite different from soggy grass.

Think that’s being particular? According to Cooper, the team refined the handling system by modelling the deformation of tire walls.

Presentation

How do the developer know when they’ve got it right? The Turn 10 team works closely with a variety of manufacturers for the cars, but it also invites professional racecar drivers to give their feedback. The team itself – programmers, engineers and artists – takes trips down to the racetrack for what Cooper calls “experience training”, because despite all of the expert consultation, there’s nothing quite like feeling the g-forces firsthand. All of this translates into a game that doesn’t just perform correctly, but also feels right.

Claustrophobia

Don’t think that’s the only new thing in Forza Motorsport 6, we haven’t even gotten to the nighttime driving. In case you were wondering, the key word here is “claustrophobia”. Aside from the psychological effect of the darkness pressing in on all sides with only your headlights cutting a visible swath ahead of you, there’s also the fact that you can’t see further than the curve ahead. Without memorizing the course – which you may well do over the course of gameplay – you’re reliant on the taillights of those ahead of you, and the occasional overhead light, to make sure you’re tracking true on the cooling tarmac.

Grandeur

There are, of course, tracks which are fully lit, bathing the competitors with stadium lights. It’s here where you’ll find lights playing across sheet metal as they speed under the glowing bulbs. Unlike in daytime, the cars face no competition from sun-drenched (or rain-soaked) scenery and show off their true colours to dazzling effect.

Consistency

While other games opt for dynamic simulation of time-of-day and weather, Forza 6 chose to only feature rain (and night) on specific tracks with specific conditions. This decision goes back to the philosophy of focusing on player experience. Dynamic systems offer great variety, but by that same token, lack consistency. The same race with the same drivers can see a vastly different outcome purely by chance – if the track stayed dry the entire time, or if it started to rain just as the leader was in a series of difficult turns. Though interesting, it doesn’t provide players with a solid grasp on how to react to adverse track conditions. Without offering a consistent setup, it’s hard for players to practice good technique.

Competition

And you’ll want to be honing your skills, because a new multiplayer league system is being introduced based on skill and temperament. Prefer to take a clean line through the corner, every corner? You’ll be placed with like-minded individuals. Play a little rough-and-tumble? You’ll face off with others who are ready to throw down. The Drivatar system introduced in Forza 5, and also present in Forza Horizon 2, makes its return here not only to populate races with offline drivers, but also to serve as an advanced matchmaking system.

Discovery

If you’re looking for a more guided experience, there’s plenty to sink your teeth into with the Stories of Motorsport career mode, which Cooper estimates to be more than 70 hours worth of gameplay. (That’s more than many role-playing games at the moment.) The campaign moves through the history of motorsports, with showcase events featuring professional racers and other personalities.

 

With over 450 licensed vehicles – all viewable in glossy, high-resolution Forzavista mode – and 26 locations – including Le Mans and the aforementioned Nürburgring – and 70 hours of single-player gameplay and robust multiplayer support, Forza Motorsport 6 is going to be massive. Really, it defies hyperbole. If you have even a passing interest in cars or motorsports, you’ll want to give this one a spin around the track when it drops on September 15.