It’s almost approaching a full month since the launch of Forza Horizon 4, the shared open-world racing game from British developer Playground Games. However, the launch date was certainly only the beginning for this game, as every week, new content, events, and challenges have been introduced with each seasonal change, and this week, the eagerly-awaited Route Creator finally made its debut in Forza Horizon 4 with a brand-new Horizon Story to complete.
At the Forza Horizon 4 Goodwood launch celebration, I had the chance to catch up with Ralph Fulton, Creative Director of Playground Games to discuss the launch of the game and its post-release support, as well as the team’s decision to take the Horizon Festival to Britain, the driving factor behind its shared open-world experience, and how Playground Games aims to keep the game fresh and alive with weekly content expansions and by remixing the beloved Showcase events in Forza Horizon 4 so they can be replayed and enjoyed over and over again in the future.
You could easily see the delight on Fulton’s face, however. It was the day after reviews for Forza Horizon 4 hit the internet – and they were extremely positive. Critics adored the latest installment into the Forza franchise, praising its execution of a shared open-world, as well as its take on beautiful, historic Britain. After two years of hard work, Forza Horizon 4 had earned a 92 on Metacritic – making it the highest-rated Xbox One console exclusive yet, and one of the best-reviewed titles of 2018.
“I’m pretty delighted, yeah, absolutely. It’s kind of a… You work on something for nearly two years, and not just you, like hundreds of people have worked on Forza Horizon 4 and gave their all to it,” Fulton tells me. “You know, they really poured their heart and soul into it, so, you do your best work and you make the best decisions you can, and you trust in the team. Even then when you send out review codes, you don’t really know what you’re gonna get back.”
“I had a sense from playing the game in the weeks running up to that point that we made something special, and I think it was that period that really got me thinking that we made something better even than Horizon 3,” he continues. “But you never know, so having that, having the reviews come back in, and probably even more importantly hearing feedback from fans, from gamers that this is a game that they are excited for and looking forward to, it makes it all worthwhile.”
It wasn’t just the reviews that made Fulton happy, however. It was also everything that surrounded us. We were inside an exquisite parlor room inside the tranquil Goodwood House. Inside the main hall were several hands-on Xbox One X stations where attendees could enjoy the competitive-inspired Team Adventure mode and Horizon Life freedom. Another room nearby had multiple simulation setups where you could play Forza Horizon 4 with a Fanatec force-feedback wheel – including one which boasted a hydraulics system. Microsoft had even made a dedicated creation room for influencers where they could capture gameplay of Forza Horizon 4 and live stream it directly onto Mixer, Twitch, and YouTube.
However, it wasn’t just what was happening on the inside – what was taking place outside on the grounds of the Goodwood Estate was even more spectacular. The entire area had been transformed into a Horizon Festival. McLaren supercars and James Bond classics were seen parked around the ever-so-famous house, whilst the surrounding countryside played host to numerous Forza Horizon 4-inspired activities, including a seasonal rally experience, a Ford Raptor versus Hovercraft showcase, a hot air balloon ride, country lanes driving in a Land Rover Defender, and a supercar shootout featuring some of McLaren’s latest and greatest automobiles. It was truly British and acquaint to the Horizon Festival and the perfect way for Microsoft to launch its latest open-world racing game.
“It’s the most spectacular event, I think I’m as blown away by it as you are to be honest, and if you spoke to Aaron, he maybe told you that we don’t do events like this all that often,” Fulton says. “You know, right across Xbox. But it’s the brainchild of the UK team who really wanted to mark the launch of this game in Britain. It’s British-developed, it’s set in Britain. There is a real opportunity to come to somewhere like this, and put on a range of activities, which just reflect why we made the game here. What the game is really and give people the opportunity to meet the developers and play the game and have some fun experiences just ahead of launch.”
“Goodwood especially is relevant to us because way back in 2010 when we were first coming up with the idea of Forza Horizon and specifically, the Horizon Festival, when we tried to explain it to people, we used this shorthand of saying ‘okay right, imagine Glastonbury meets Goodwood Festival of Speed.’ And people were like ‘ohhkay,’ and like you know sometimes they were like ‘that’s still a bit weird.’ You know, but they kinda got that it’s about music, big crowds and cars and you know, sorta crazy car experiences, and stuff like that. So, coming here to celebrate the launch of the fourth game which is set in Britain is just perfect.”
Being the spiritual home of car culture in Britain meant it was no surprise that the Goodwood Estate was surrounded by a vast fleet of supercars. From the latest McLarens and Ferraris to Lamborghinis and Aston Martins, it was a truly wonderful sight to see from both the perspective of a Forza Horizon fan and a supercar enthusiast. It meant I had to ask Ralph about which of the cars he would take, and I certainly agree with his pick of the bunch.
“So, we had that conversation yesterday, like we did that exact thing and it was at a point when all the Astons, all the McLarens, you know the fleet like there’s an i8, a Ferrari 458, and a couple of Lambos – like all of that, and Ken Block’s Hoonicorn was here as well,” he tells me. “So, I said yesterday that I would take the DB10, the Aston Martin from Spectre, but actually, I think I would take the McLaren 720S. It’s just amazing and it’s such a lovely car, such a really lovely car to sit in. And, it’s just so ridiculously purple, but like so controllable at the same time. So yeah, I’d go for that one.”
Like Ralph, my favorite of the cars at Goodwood should be no real surprise. I was given the rare opportunity of sitting inside the passenger seat of a McLaren 720S to experience its incredible acceleration and speed down British countryside roads at up to 120mph. Not only did it allow me to feel the adrenaline rush and excitement of a supercar at high-speed, but it also reminded me of how authentically Forza Horizon 4 captures Britain. From the small, acquaint villages and cottages to the winding country roads with flocks of sheep in the fields nearby, it was all quintessential British in the best way possible.
“Just being round here sort of really bring home about why we did the things we did,” Fulton explains to me about Forza Horizon 4’s overall vision and direction. “Like driving down those little back lanes I guess, you call them country lanes, hedgerows on either side, like that’s a big feature of you know British countryside roads. Something we’ve never had before, and you think, so it’s just bushes, it just a hedge, but it changes your visibility, it changes the way you navigate sort of just naturally, it basically turns some roads into like tunnels kind of thing, you know, which makes you just psychology if you want from strain really different experiences, so we had to work out ‘okay, like what happens if you hit the hedge, like you have to go through it, you know.”
“How do we make sure that you don’t hit something the other side? So, we have to make sure anything solid is visible above the hedge line, so that you can still see there’s a big tree there, for example. And then sheep, there’s so many sheep around here, we had to do sheep, so many things,” he continues. “I haven’t seen any drystone walls, that’s more a northern thing, but you know, things that are just quintessentially British, which presented their own little development problems that we had to go crack to deliver Britain.”
It’s no secret that Forza Horizon 4 will continue to evolve and improve in the months and years ahead. Developer Playground Games has a robust slate of post-launch updates and content expansions in the works for Forza Horizon 4. With each passing season, new experiences will light up for players in the form of new cars, events, and challenges – as well as vastly different takes on beautiful, historic Britain, made possible due to the unique differences and quirks of different seasons in the year. This means Forza Horizon 4 is designed to feel fresh, new and exciting when you log into the game every week – but the post-launch plan for the game doesn’t stop there.
“So, there’s loads and loads to unpack here, and you know, I took a stab at it on Inside Xbox,” Fulton says. “So first of all, when the game goes live on Friday for early access people, it will be in the Summer season. You’re in Autumn, it’s gonna reset back to Summer – so basically to the start of the Summer that you played last week, and we’ll go through Summer and Autumn with everyone. The reason for that is we don’t want people to have been watching streams as they have been since the streaming embargo lifted, seeing stuff which they will never see. Well, you know, you can see content, events, which are specific to those seasons.”
“So basically, we’re just replaying those two seasons again for everyone,” he adds. “And then obviously, we’ll go into Winter, we’ll go into Spring, and that’s the first four seasons or year of Horizon – and within that they are seasonal events every week, they are Forzathon challenges daily and weekly, every week, there’s a new refresh in Forzathon Shop stock every week, so there’s tons and tons of new stuff to do with each season – specific to that season.”
Recently, the team at Playground Games pushed out its first major post-launch update for Forza Horizon 4 – officially dubbed as the Route Creator update. This feature allows aspiring route designers to create custom courses of up to 40-miles in length from any Asphalt, Dirt or Cross-Country event starting location. Players can simply drive their car to draw a custom route, and place checkpoints wherever they desire. You can also rewind should you need to change the direction of a route, perfect its racing line or remove an unwanted checkpoint.
“At the end of Spring, we’re gonna bring the first really big update to the game We’re calling it the Route Creator update because the Route Creator is incorporated in that, we did a bit of a walkthrough of how you create a route and race a route with that tool on Inside Xbox as well,” he explains. “But it’s also coming with a new Horizon Story, it’s coming with new clothing options as well, some of them are Halloween-themed, some of them not, and then this same amount of events, championships – a trial per week, two cars for Car Pass owners per week, all the Forzathon stuff as well, which basically means, every single season change you’re getting new stuff within the game. Every four seasons is a year, you’re getting entirely new features and content and what have you.”
“And that’s basically a statement of intent from us to say, ‘this is how it’s going to be for Horizon 4.’ You know, and we want you to play the game,” he adds. “We want you to play the game every week, we want you to for weeks and months and years to come. And we’re gonna make it worth your while by continuing to update and enhance the game free for everyone.”
That Horizon Story being referred to by Fulton is the ‘British Racing Green’ storyline, which explores a century of cars built on the Great British Isles. It’s accessible to everyone for free in the village of Broadway once you’ve hit Level 50. Playground Games will continue to introduce new storylines into Forza Horizon 4 that explore different aspects of car culture, as well as the wide variety of vehicles that are present in the game – including more quirky ones, such as the Austin FX4 London Taxi.
Keen-eyed players should remember the buzz from E3 2018 in June surrounding the possibility of owning a taxi business in Forza Horizon 4 and the ability to pick up pedestrians and drop them off at designated locations. Inspired by Crazy Taxi, these fares would be yet another way of earning credits in the game while allowing you to explore one of the more peculiar British cars in Forza Horizon 4. However, when the game launched on October 2nd, none of this was to be seen – but it isn’t too far away either. I asked Fulton about the hyped-up business, which made a lot of headlines at E3, and he revealed that’ll be coming sometime in the future.
“Ahaha, yes. Quite observant,” he says to me as I ask about the taxi firm. “So that will be a story which I think we will bring in the future. Yeah, absolutely. In much the same way that the British Racing Green story is coming with Update 1, we will endeavour to bring lots more Horizon Stories, of which the taxi business will be among.”
With additional Horizon Stories and businesses to be added in the future, as well as all those new cars, events and challenges with every seasonal change, they’ll always be a recurring cycle of new content for players to check out and become engaged with – but as you likely suspect, that certainly isn’t everything. Playground Games will also remix the beloved Showcase events in Forza Horizon 4 in the future, allowing players to experience them in different seasons and other vehicles with unique weather conditions and an adjusted time-of-day, as well as an alternative music selection from the soundtrack – keeping the spirit of these events alive, whilst allowing them to feel fresh, different and enticing to replay.
“So, the idea is – Showcases are this really cool thing in the game, they are something we invest so heavily in, they are unbelievably expensive to make in terms of development time, they take months and months and months to build,” Fulton explains. “For something which you go through in five minutes, you go ‘oh that was cool.’ But you know, they’re a big Horizon thing – they’re kinda a signature feature for us, and I love how it pushes our team to think really creatively.”
“Like, who would’ve thought there would be a Halo Showcase where you race against a Pelican in a Warthog right? What remixes are gonna allow us to do is take the Showcases that are in the game and remix them. Put a different theme on them, put a different time of day, move it out into a different season, change the car you’re in, change the music – and give you the same Showcase but in a slightly different flavour, hopefully in a way that makes you go back and go, ‘oh, that was a cool experience, you know, it was quite different from the original.’”
I complimented Ralph on the Showcase events in Forza Horizon 4, and the amount of effort and the level of detail the team put into them. “They’re great, aren’t they? Really, really good, yeah.” He also offered a suggestion for those looking for a reason to replay Showcase events before they’re remixed. “When you’re waiting for the remixes, you can go to them in Rivals, so there’s actually a specific Rivals tab for Showcases, which is quite a good way to extract more value out of them while you’re trying to refine your time.”
This idea to constantly evolve, refine and enhance the game is brought together and delivered through Horizon Life – the shared open-world experience in Forza Horizon 4, which sees you exploring beautiful, historic Britain with up to 72 players. It’s quite a surreal moment when you meet players and interact with them for the first time. Whether you’re complimenting their ride using the new Quick Chat social feature, drifting together in tandem, completing events and challenges in co-op, or helping each other find Bonus Boards and Barn Finds, the Horizon Life is one area of the game that’s truly special – and whilst Forza Horizon 4 isn’t the first shared open-world game by any means, it’s certainly one of the best takes yet on the concept.
“It dates right back to that sorta first concept and ideation period that we went through for Forza Horizon 4 that we do on every project,” Fulton tells me. “One of the things we do, one of the sorta techniques we have to figure out where we can find new stuff, new experiences, new fun is to go back to our Horizon pillars – fun, freedom, beauty and social, or community, and really go back and you know, what new things could we do under each of these headings that we haven’t done before. And what we always find, we always find new things to do that we can add to the game under each, but we always find the most headroom is under community. Like the sorta social aspects of the game.”
“And that’s something we’ve been investing in from like Horizon 2 and 3, but with 4 it felt like ‘why are we still segregating the solo game from the multiplayer game?’ We kinda ghettoise multiplayer, you know, it’s just a separate area over here and you have to go to it.” he continues. “And that’s a barrier to entry, and it probably means that some people don’t ever go there. We believe that Horizon is better when you play with others, it’s a friendly, social game. I believe that even more now, I believe that to be true now because I’ve seen Horizon Life working.”
“And, so we went ‘well, okay there are loads of games, not pretending for a second that we thought of shared world games, there are loads of games that have shared world which just put you into a shared world and so you’ll see other people, will basically force people to play together.’ And that started the process which led to Horizon Life, but it also started many, many debates, conversations, arguments about the relative merits of shared-world games. Do you ever want to force people to play with others, even if they are saying they do not want this? We couldn’t really see a way that we could do that like, you know, so we don’t force you, you can opt out, you can go play solo. It’ll be interesting to see the stats on how many people do. I read one review which was, which put it really nicely, they said, the reviewer said, “even though I wasn’t wild about the shared world idea, after playing it for however many hours, I can’t find a single good reason not to play in it.”
“And what you and I have talked about previously is kinda the really beautiful, social, human side to the game it brings when you meet someone,” he adds. “And like you and I have met in the game, we’ve exchanged pleasantries and honked our horns and stuff, and played some Forzathon Live, and what have you. But I’ve met other people that I don’t know, that I don’t recognize their Gamertags, you know, and you get the same thing. Maybe you have too. You’re kinda like, that’s another person. ‘Hi,” and they say ‘Hi!” And maybe then you just drive off in your opposite directions, go about your business. It’s just that little interaction that’s really lovely. And I think that Horizon is a game that can capture that nicer side of almost everything because it’s for everyone, it’s very accessible, it’s very inclusive. And I’m so delighted that we followed this path and stuck with it when we might usually have not.”
It was nearly time to wrap up with Ralph, but before I did – I had to ask to about the future. What’s next for Playground Games, and what’s in store for Forza Horizon 4 in the months and years ahead. The studio was acquired by Microsoft at E3 2018, and it has a brand-new open-world AAA action-RPG in the works, which is being exclusively developed by a standalone team in Leamington Spa. Fulton is also involved with the project, and the team has been hiring many well-known industry names to work on this new action-RPG title, but as you can imagine, he remained tight-lipped about it – especially since the spotlight for this event was naturally on Forza Horizon 4.
“Loads to be excited in the sense that, so number one priority for the Horizon team is that post-launch live support,” he says. “So, we have a live team now who are exceptional, but separate from Horizon team who are just thinking about live, who are currently thinking about all the things we promised last night, making sure they land in time for October 25th. But they’re also thinking about the update after that and the update after that, and making sure that, you know some of them are longer range bets than others that we’re working on, it’s a very different way of working.”
“But that’s number one priority. The other thing that the Horizon team are really looking at is expansions. And we’ll be talking about what our expansions are deeper, when the first one is coming, in due course.”
I mentioned to Fulton that a lot of people were speculating Goodwood as a potential expansion for Forza Horizon 4, considering the launch event was being hosted at this spiritual home of car culture and automotive heritage in Britain – but he was quick to shoot down the idea.
“Yeah, I think they’re just putting 2 and 2 together and getting five,” he amusingly responds with. “Like if we were in another place, central London, they’d be like ‘ohhh Central London expansion.’ Not everywhere I go is an expansion. But yeah, so we’re working on that, and we’ve already said that there will be at least two, but our intent is to do more than that this time. We’ve got some great ideas, that you know, I won’t bore you with…”
This was certainly a good opportunity to follow up with an expansion idea of my own – Ireland. It’s one of the British Isles,; it has almost identical weather conditions to Great Britain to make it a perfect match for seasons and has some of the most beautiful countryside locations and landmarks in the world with spectacular, clear driving roads that would do wonders with the fast, exotic supercars of Forza Horizon 4.
Will it happen – or should it ever materialize? That’s up to Playground Games. I’d love to see their take on my home country and all its natural beauty, but I’m sure they’ve some excellent ideas in-mind – especially since Forza Horizon 4 should have more than two major post-launch expansions, based on Ralph’s comments from earlier. The first two expansions will introduce a new world location, vehicles, and gameplay, and both are included in the Forza Horizon 4 Ultimate Edition. The first is slated to be released this December, whilst the second is expected in the first half of 2019.
“Okay, and again every Irish person says “Irish DLC,” and then they go “Giants Causeway?” and I go “You can’t really drive on the Giant’s Causeway.” Or, well… you probably just couldn’t,” he tells me. “And yeah, the second studio is growing, it is I think revelling in the fact no one knows who they are, no one is looking at what they’re doing, they’re just bonding as a team, they’re doing some great stuff already, but it’ll be a long time before we talk about what they’re doing – and I think they’re enjoying that ability at the moment.”
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