#Forza Monthly May 2019 livestream: The “Concept” Phase
The May 7th Forza Monthly livestream offered an update on this project, providing some insight on the concept phase of development and how the process differs this time compared to previous Forza projects. The discussion begins at the 53 minute mark in the YouTube replay.
On the couch:
Brian Ekberg - Community Manager
Chris Esaki - Creative Director
Scott Lee - Art Director
Back in March, Dan Greenawalt - Creative Director for Turn 10 - was sitting right beside me and he was talking about the future of Forza. One of the things he mentioned was the fact that the Motorsport team at Turn 10 is shifting its resources to the next project. I know there’s a ton of community interest about that. What we’re going to talk about today with Chris and Scott is the concept phase at Turn 10; that process of concept. I’m really pleased to be joined by Scott Lee and Chris Esaki. … Chris, in your mind, what is “concept” and what does that mean for the team?
Turn 10 has a specific process around concept, something that has gone all the way back to the original Forza Motorsport. Something that has been developed and honed over the years. The Horizon process, as part of Turn 10’s family, has been a part of this process as well. The concept phase is a little been different than other concept phases that I know, that Scott and I have been involved with over the years. It’s a Turn 10 thing. Part of that process is boiling the oceans around what we’re trying to think about doing in the future, it’s looking at all sorts of data, it’s talking with community, and coming up with this vision we call “Big Ideas.” Big Ideas are these houses for all these features that we want to do, but it gives it more meaning, it gives it more bite, it gives it more weight to organize these things into these large structures of ‘oh, it’s this huge thing now because they’re all housed in this one bigger idea.’ So that’s part of the concept phase. It’s part solidifying kind of a vision about where we’re going, and then having this artifact around big ideas that houses all the features and the vision about where we’re going.
I think the biggest difference this go is the fact that we’re talking about it in public. This is unprecedented. I’ve been with a lot of different companies in the industry for a very long time, and never, ever, have we engaged the community this early in the process of developing a game. It’s strange but great. I think we want to take this as an opportunity to really make use out of it. How can we make our game better, how can we make our early concepts much more what the community wants via the fact that we’ve exposed it. So I feel like there’s stuff that we haven’t touched on, that I’d love for us to engage the community on. I think it’s a real advantage for us; you know, we might be setting a trend. Who knows, other game companies might begin doing this as well.
For me personally, part of the concept process is you getting to make that dream game you’ve always wanted to make. You know, making the last game better than it was. It’s all these things, but a big part of it really is selling it to our team. It’s a really large team. It’s growing. We’re making a lot of changes in the infrastructure and the team and I think getting everybody on board, getting everybody so excited, and getting everybody to ‘own’ the game is the secret to how we make great games. Which is a big part of the pitch process.
You come from the art side, you come from the design side - this early in the process how are those teams working together?
Very closely at this point. Just taking a step back, we’ve been on this journey for so long, I know we’ve been talking about this next new thing for a couple of years. Since [Scott] started, since I started, we’ve been talking about things we’ve been wanting to do with the franchise. Going back to FM1 even, I think one of the great things is this whole new process hasn’t been just “hey what game do you want to make? Hey this is the game that I want.” Because that’s kind of how we approached it in a lot of ways in the past. This is about going on this journey with everyone in the communities that we have grown over time.
We’ve been spending hundreds and hundreds of hours watching our players on Twitch and Mixer, hearing what they have to say on our forums, on Twitter, and other types of social media, and having these player interviews. We have a new process right now where we’re talking directly to the community, asking what motivates them to play the game, what are things that motivates them to play other games. But also we’ve had the ability to just ask ourselves these questions about “What was your favorite Forza and why? What were the things that came out of that? What were the best moments that you had in a Forza game? Why was that?” And just taking those moments in time that made the franchise special for people and we’re just trying to make that all work. That’s part of this new vision process.
Agreed. And you know, when people think about what we might be thinking about in concept, people might think “oh my god they’re just going to rip everything apart and reinvent,” and a lot of it is exactly what Chris said. It’s about making things a lot better. Fundamentally we are creators and we’re never happy with what we make. And just like the community, I think when the community goes “hey, this could be better. We’d like this.” It’s like it’s never a surprise for us. It is everything we wanted to. Maybe it was running out of time, maybe it was we didn’t have the resources. Whatever the circumstance was. And I feel like we have a bit of a unique opportunity right now to to really focus what we want to do and address the right things at the right time.
I’m certain that this is going to make our game a lot better and our concept a lot better than it’s ever been. It used to be done behind closed doors. It was always nerve wracking. We’d come up with something - this was the old days of development - three years later we’d go, “Hope you like it!” right? And things change, trends change, people’s tastes in your own game changes, and you have very little ability to adapt to this stuff. I feel like us creating this new process, where I want to talk about some of the graphical innovations we want to do, I want to talk about game cameras. I want to talk about all these things that I want better too as a player. For us to get some feedback along the way and mold this? I think this is a real opportunity for us, not just the community.
One of the things we’ve been talking about is how we’re going to change our entire structure of the team and the process of building the game via all this stuff we’ve been trying to pull in via either community feedback or player feedback. So one of the things I’d love to see is a deeper integration with our players actually in our development team. So it’s something we’ve been discussing about how we actually bring people in and sit them down in the team and actually have them working on a development structure in one of our what we call Feature Teams. And co-developing what works for them, and and helping them see it. So we actually have this immediate response from our player base from is this working to “how does this help me, how does that not help me.” So instead of holding this close to our vest and three years later going “what do you think?” this is an immediate response of “yes this is working” so we’re constantly moving things in the direction toward where everyone understands this is the right thing to do for our players.
You know, all this stuff makes absolute sense, doesn’t it. You go, “Okay, why didn’t you do this before?” Well, you know, infrastructure wise, I think we had some difficulty with regard to being able to iterate on our game. So we’re investing very heavily on building a team that’s bigger, better than it was before. We are building a lot of framework, technically - in our engine, in our pipelines - so that we’re able to create and then recreate without having to throw everything away.
It is a big investment. I gotta say, kudos to the leadership of the studio. Shout out to the bosses here. Honestly, they’ve been 100% on board with these massive changes that we’re doing infrastructure wise, both to the team and to our pipelines. It’s a big investment. And they’re hedging their bets on us being able to create under that framework and then being able to actually take feedback meaningfully and do something about it. This is probably the biggest change that we’ve ever had in the studio.
Something you said earlier Chris is the fact that just yesterday you were pitching the big ideas to the studio. So we’re right in the middle of this process right now. And there’s that aspect of we want the community with us but we want the whole team with along with us. That feels different to me.
It’s certainly different. I know the feedback we’ve gotten over the last couple months about this process, it’s both inspiring and it’s just something that is bringing a ton of energy and momentum.
But at the same time there’s a lot of hesitancy. It’s tough, right? We have over the years built this thing, this muscle memory, this pattern of how we build the game. And we’re just doing it completely different. And that’s kind of scary.
It’s scary, it’s getting real, and we’re getting real questions from our team. And honestly I can be more happier about it. Getting the tough questions as to why are we doing this, how are we doing this, and all this stuff, is what we need. You know, we need to get off our seats and start doing this. I talked a little bit about adding talent to the studio. Right now our team is bigger than it’s ever been in our history. And again we’ve gotten a lot of support from the studio to build the kind of team that we need to make this ambitious project. And I’m going to do some name dropping. Just on my art team alone we have veterans and leads from Grand Theft Auto V, Read Dead 2, Assassin’s Creed, Madden, Battlefront 2… You can imagine what they bring with them. And it’s not just their technical expertise, but they have, you know, more efficient work flows, they’ve done this before. They hated doing it this way and they’d like to fix it, and they’re bringing great practices with them, they’re bringing their creativity with them.
And they’re bringing their very strong opinions as Forza fans with them. Which I love. I came in to the studio a couple years ago as a fan of the game, never having worked on a racing game. But knowing what I really really wanted from the game. And I feel like we need that. Our development process is kind of coming from a fan’s perspective as well, which is I think a really cool thing.
Scott’s built this amazing group of ultra-talented guys. One of the things you brought up - pitching the team, bringing them along with the big ideas - even just yesterday. One of the reasons why I know we’re doing the right thing and we’re on the right path here is that the features and big ideas that we’ve been talking about are the things directly that the players have been asking for. Full stop. And after talking to a lot of people I got a bunch of responses over email, and text and whatnot after we ran the studio through the pitch, a lot of the themes were “I’ve been wanting this feature since FM1, FM2 or 3,” fill in the blank. “I wanted the game to do this for the longest time.” “I joined Turn 10 because I wanted the game to be like that.”
So I’m just super super pumped about that. And I know that talking to all the community and our players and know what they value and what they want from the franchise. And we know that because we’ve been talking to them, here, and other places. I know - I know we’re on the right track. I know we’re building the right way.
I’m excited too. The other thing I’m kind of excited about is having this kind of rare opportunity to expose some of these things along the way. Obviously we don’t want to give everything away. But I am obsessed with making the base a lot better than it ever was. Again, we’re never happy with what we do; we want to make it better. And I’m purely talking about the feeling of driving inside the vehicle. All the things that happen: your cameras, how your driver moves, how the car behaves. All these things are so fundamental to our game. And we don’t want to ship the same thing over and over. It has to make generation leaps in terms of technology, in terms of how we want it to feel and sound and all that stuff.
We’re formulating a way of to expose some of these things, how we’re doing things to make it more realistic and all that stuff, along the way. So in the coming months I’d love to bring out some of my crew and go through of the really interesting processes that we’re using right now. Some real bleeding edge technical things, you know, ripped from the movie industry and stuff like that, to bring the thrill of real life racing to the game.
I know I speak for the audience when I ask the question: “When are we going to see something? When are we going to see some information about the next project?” I’ll ask it a different way: What is for you guys coming out of concept, what is the ideal result of concept? What’s the best case scenario for concept going into next steps?
I think I speak for both of us when I say it’s making sure we get funded! One of the biggest things for us, and truthfully this is a big deal: this pitch was entirely about the player experience. Normally we might talk about how we might do some technological thing in the game, how we might leverage some type of new player experience so we can deliver things at a better scale. And there’s a lot of that in the initial pitch for the next experience that we’re normally building. This time we didn’t have any of that. It was all just about the player experience. It’s all about the experience of the game we want to build. That’s a huge deal. For us I think the biggest thing was to make sure that that was landed. That we have this player-first experience led thing we built out. That this is what we want to make. So that was the first thing.
The second thing was making sure that everyone around us - the team, the entire studio, all the way top to bottom - was like, yes, this is awesome, we’re going to make this thing, we’re all in. So I think we’re getting to that place now. And I think the big artifact that comes out of that is “Here’s the feature set. Here’s the big ideas, and here’s the things we’re going to be building over time.” And that’s the game.
You know, game development is very technical and it takes a lot of work and a lot of people. And often you find you collect a bunch of features and things that you need to do, graphical things, things like this. And you kind of corral them and it becomes something. And I gotta tell ya, in my experience, you don’t make special things that way. And I think the approach we’re taking is really… not caring about these things so much. Yes, we’re in the business of making great looking cars, they need to look better. Yes we’re in the business of doing all these things. But really coming from a player standpoint. How does it feel to do this? Is this fun? These are the questions. Real high level, basic questions we’re asking ourselves. And it has to pass that part of the test or otherwise it doesn’t become part of the pitch.
And then things fall in place. Yes - because of this, because this is our pillar, we’re going to need A, B, and C. And I think this is the approach that is really going to sell something to our team that is a vision we don’t have to explain; I believe it and I know what it takes. I know we’re a little hand-wavy right now, but really it’s a fundamentally different approach from how things were done in the past.
I’m just excited to be able to talk about the work this early. Honestly I can’t wait to get some feedback on some of the processes. I’d love for people to see under the hood and see how we make games too. I’m super excited about sharing that stuff with the community.