Crowned as the most anticipated game of E3 in 2021, Forza Horizon 5 certainly made a bold impression as it sped onto the stage during the Microsoft & Bethesda showcase. Its setting may have leaked before, but we were still blown away by its varied Mexican setting and beautiful graphics that only seemed possible due to the performance of the Xbox series. After the game’s big reveal, we were able to speak to Creative Director Mike Brown and discuss topics like the setting, the Xbox Series version, and the infamous leak that led to it being prematurely revealed.
Gamereactor: Why was Mexico chosen as the venue and what criteria do you use to choose new countries?
Mike: Our criteria are not the same for every game. I think what we get and don’t get on a particular title will determine our criteria for the next game. This time when we started the process, which was really shortly after Horizon 4 was released, we knew we wanted to do the biggest Horizon yet. We know how our players play, we know that they really love exploring these open worlds, we know that they like to spend a lot of time with friends in these open worlds and make them a bigger space, just, a lot more Excitement and fun.
You don’t get so far on the path to making the largest open world before you realize that if you just give them more of it, there’s no point in doing so, so it has to be the most diverse open world we have have already built. That then limits you to a fairly small list of countries. We loved Mexico because it is like the whole world in one country. And that may not be clear to everyone, but when you look at this there are snow-capped mountains, volcanoes, epic canyons, gorgeous beaches, historic towns and also modern cities. It just has so many types of biomes and ecotypes that allow us to create a really interesting open world that we think people will really enjoy.
Gamereactor: What real-world locations inspired the open world?
Mike: The most important city that you saw on the map is Guanajuato, a really big, beautiful city that is several hundred years old, so one of the cities that is older than cars. Strangely enough, driving a car is really fun. You can find that most of the cities designed over the past 100 years have really straight and flat roads that are great for driving when you need to visit your parents. but not so well suited to continuing in an open world game where it is really supposed to be a little more exciting.
This is the capital that is really inspired and replicating the actual city, but we also have a town called Mulahey which is a traditional rural desert town with vibrant colors and really beautiful architecture. In many other areas of the world, while we’ve been inspired by real-world locations in Mexico, we’ve taken artistic liberty to make them our own and suit our play purposes.
Gamereactor: How does the Mexican climate affect the season system?
Mike: The game has seasons. That was actually a requirement after seasons had become such an important part of our game in Forza Horizon 4. We wanted to make sure that every country we visit next had an interesting depiction of the seasons. I have to admit, when we started we thought Mexico might not work, and it wasn’t until we did additional research that we realized that Mexico has really interesting times of the year.
It’s a big country, but that’s mainly because it has real elevation changes like it has massive mountain ranges and the coasts are obviously at sea level, which means that you have really different seasonalities in different regions of the world. In winter in the mountains it snows and blizzards can occur, but winter is actually the dry season in Mexico. So when you go to the coast it’s 28 degrees, a beautiful sunny day and it never rains. At the same time, in the same open world, you can get out of a blizzard, drive down a hill and go to a scorching beach.
Gamereactor: How can you bring these seasons to life with the Xbox series?
Mike: We have now introduced really cool weather events at certain times of the year. So in the dry season there are dust storms that you saw in our E3 trailer, and during the storm season we also have tropical storms. Both make really good use of the power of the Series X to really boost the atmosphere of the effects. Both are regional too, so you can see the tropical storm coming up the coast and heading towards it. It’s not just about painting yourself all over the map, it’s actually a regional three-dimensional thing that you are driving towards and exploring.
Gamreactor: How has the core driving experience changed in Horizon 5?
Mike: Of course we started from a position where we have a really great physics model and a really great handling system. It’s important to understand that any investments you make there will involve small changes, but something we couldn’t do before was a pretty big overhaul of some of our physics handling systems. We could only do this because we had a three year development cycle this time, so we had a little more leeway to make those investments and get this job done.
We were able to redesign our suspension and braking systems, they are more real now. In terms of suspension, it now handles off-road surfaces better and more at the simulation level, so the suspension behaves much more realistically like a real car. Interestingly, while we’ve improved the simulation, it’s more accessible – the car is more predictable than in our previous games. As for the brakes, we now have a more detailed braking system so when the trigger is pressed there is a lot more movement in the brakes, simulating the braking of the brakes in a more authentic way.
Gamereactor: How does Horizon 5 build on its predecessors with its online mode?
Mike: Horizon 4 became a shared world for the first time and we really tried to make it as welcoming as possible. Because of that, I think people treated her as a social space where they can come and meet her friends, that was great for us and it’s a type of player that we really want to make sure we serve well .
So we have a huge range of social and online features, really low friction, and fun multiplayer activities that you can easily participate in with your friends. Those are things like the pinata pop that we saw on the E3 show. This is an event emerging in the world that you just have to go to and take part in. You don’t have to go through the pause menu or UI or go through a loading screen or anything like that. The whole world is just filled with those little social activities that can show up and give us things to do if only we hang out in the beautiful common world of Mexico.
Gamereactor: How has the takeover by Microsoft affected the development at Playground Games?
Mike: I’ve spoken to some developers who have come to Microsoft in the past few years so I can’t say what I’m going to say now applies to everyone, but it applies to everyone I have spoken to and that is, hardly anything changes. I think Xbox Games Studios somehow know or have learned that when you acquire these studios you are going to get these studios because they have a culture and a way of doing things and people who are attached to a certain way of making games The best way to be successful with these studios is to allow them to do so, and it was absolutely true for us.
I think the most important change is that we now have pretty smooth communication with other studios, which means that if we run into a problem, be it with technology or some kind of systems or tools or even just for a design , can you go to another xbox game studio and say, “hey we know whatever technology you did this, can you tell us how to do it?” Everyone is really warm and welcoming and ready to share their ideas and technology, which is great and which we didn’t have access to.
Gamereactor: Forza Horizon 5 was apparently leaked before it was revealed at E3. What was the internal reaction like when it was found that details were leaked?
Mike: Obviously the gaming industry is very mysterious and we try to keep it all under wraps and the reason for that, especially at E3, is that there’s a real showmanship going on – it’s really exciting to have a big reveal. The fact that a lot of people knew Horizon 5 would be there, and that it would be Mexico, dampens the excitement a bit. On the other hand, there is a lot of fear when you get to E3. We’ve really fallen in love with Mexico over the past few years, but that doesn’t mean everyone else will love Mexico if we want to show it off or play a driving game in Mexico.
But once that leak happened all the comments were “Ah what a great idea, Mexico would be brilliant” and I said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah!” So there was the element that allowed us to almost test Mexico out without us having to announce anything.
If you want to learn more about the Forza Horizon 5 soundtrack, click here, and you can also click this link if you want to learn more about the game’s Expedition Mode. Forza Horizon 5 will be released on November 9, 2021 for PC, Xbox One and Xbox Series