Game Console's Damian Seeto had an opportunity to speak with Ben Penrose who is the Art Director for the Xbox One exclusive Forza Horizon 2.
Penrose is visiting New Zealand for the first time ever to attend the Digital Nationz event. He was kind enough to allow us to ask numerous questions about Forza Horizon 2, plus how he feels about New Zealand in general.
How do you find New Zealand and Digital Nationz?
It's my first time in New Zealand, and so far I'm absolutely loving it. It's always been a place I wanted to visit. It's been a good opportunity to come down and visit. It'll be good to go out and explore the rest of the convention and city.
Are there any side-missions beyond the normal racing challenges in Forza Horizon 2?
The way we built up the world of Forza Horizon 2 is that it has all those racing moments. There are circuit races and point-to-points, but we also litter the world with lots of other activities. More specifically, there are bucket list challenges. This was actually developed during the time we were making the game. It was something we just stumbled upon. We started to produce this world and people just started to add things which became the start of the bucket list challenges.. Around the world you will find specific cars, and attached to those cars will be challenges such as reach a certain speed etc.
How does the dynamic weather in Forza Horizon 2 affect people's driving?
The weather totally changes up the way the handling modelling works. This is because all of the cars react to the extra moisture on the road. This adds a real variation to the world as a whole, but it also makes some of racing events really interesting, because you can have that weather happen halfway through a race. It completely changes everything up as it could be sunny, and then wet.
How many new cars are added to the game, and how many are old favorites?
A lot of the cars that you've driven in Forza Motorsport 5 are also here in Forza Horizon 2. There are also some new specifics in this game too. I'm not sure about actual numbers, but generally there are all your favourites from Forza 5 as well as some interesting new cars. One new car to look out for is the Lamborghini Huracan which is new to the franchise. It's great to have an Italian car in a game set in Italy.
Can you customize the look of your driver, and how has customization changed for this game?
You can't customize the look of your character. What we have done is added a full suite of customization for your vehicle in this game. In the first game, you couldn't tune your car. Now, you can tune to your heart's content, and design the body work and do other things.
How big is Forza Horizon 2 compared to the first game?
We did the math. It's about three times bigger than the original game in terms of driveable space. One of the things we really focused on is allowing players to traverse offroad. It really adds to the scale as you can literally drive anywhere. You can smash through somebody's vineyards or cornfields. There will be a lot of unhappy farmers in the world of Forza Horizon 2.
How did it come about that DJ Rob Da Bank is responsible for the soundtrack in the game?
That was before my time. I know DJ Rob Da Bank was in the first game, before I joined the team. I know Playground Games had a relationship with him. It's been one of those relationships that have been successful. It was definitely one of those things we wanted to do again for this sequel.
Going back to racing events, can you explain more about them?
The other thing I didn't mention are the showcase events. These are my personal favourites. You can race against ridiculous things such as a plane or a train. They're the ones that I had a lot fun designing.
So following on, are there drifting events?
You can rack up points by drifting. We wanted people to work up their best drifting skills. There aren't any specific events around drifting, but it's in the background.
In terms of DLC, what can we expect in the future?
At the moment, we're not talking about that stuff yet. We are just concentrating on the launch of Forza Horizon 2.
Is it quite easy to progress in this game?
We spent a lot of time studying, in terms of what gamers like when they progress. We needed to show what felt rewarding for gamers. There are a lot of lessons were learnt from the original game and Forza 5. Based on the reviews that came out, people do feel the balance of progression is successful this time around.
Lastly, tell us all the improvements you've made and what racing fans can expect in Forza Horizon 2?
I can give you a good answer to this. One of the things we did is go back and studied what we did in the first game. We dissected all of the things we thought really worked, and found out what were the cool things and enhanced on them. For me specifically as the Art Director, I wanted to focus on "Horizon Beauty". We looked at the foliage, flowers, poppy fields and other small things you don't really see in other games. A lot of touches like that plus the open-world environment. The location is great as Southern Europe is not a place that get picked a lot in other video games. It was a chance to showcase something different.