Exclusive Interview - Forza Motorsport 4 Lead Design Bill Giese on cars, Kinect, the future of racing, and funny hats

Exclusive: We travelled to Microsoft HQ in Seattle to witness the making of Forza Motorsport 4, where we bumped into Bill Giese, lead design on the game to talk all things Forza 4 and how Microsoft Kinect will be used. He says “we’re not trying to make the best racing game.” Say what? All will be clear, after the break.

Why Microsoft Kinect and Forza Motorsport 4 make for the perfect marriage…

If you’re out on the streets, a public place and an exotic car or something special drives by, you see everyone look. They’re like “what is that?” There’s an inherent reaction when these cars go by.

I think with Kinect especially we’re able to take some of that head-turning that you get and bring it to more people. At the end of the day we’ll still have a great racing game with all the great content, we still build giant core experiences but there’s more people than just core people that like cars.

Why Kinect..?

They [Microsoft] did the ball demo, there was a bunch of basic demos that came out and it was more about, we weren’t necessarily trying to think about Forza 4 and what Kinect meant for Forza 4. It was more of what Kinect would do for our studio and what could we develop with Kinect. I talked a little bit about UI (user interface). Can you navigate 3D space with Kinect? What does that look like?

That Kinect-inspired eureka moment…

We wanted to see three-dimensionality. We wanted to break through the screen. And then from there in a six month period it started to click. Wow! We can do a lot with this. This is crazy.

Quickly, we grabbed one of the car guys. [as if to ask a question] “Can you just break of the doors and just have ‘em […] we just want to see what it looks like to open a door. “Wow that’s really cool, OK break off the top.” So we had this car that’s all beat up – we’re ripping parts off and polygons off it to do so, and that slowly turned into ‘Wow this could be really special’ and something we could tie into our franchise.

What else can be done with Kinect that hasn’t already been done?

I think Kinect is an uncharted territory and a lot of people are learning what you can do with it.

We got to go to E3 and we got to see what Ubisoft was doing with their fitness game, and what Dance Central was about and [Giese recounts]…wow I never even thought of that. I think that’s going to continue. And I hope that some of the stuff that we show will push other developers to do the same thing.

We had a lot of ideas around customisation, of customising the car via Kinect being able to paint, and do this stuff. I think there’s still stuff there that we can look at, but right now I think when we talk about who we’re building it for, I think our ideas are basically, as of today, they’re state of the art.

I think there’s going to be a lot more that comes out of the heat map, so the camera can pick out joints of my skeleton but it’s also projecting points so that we can project depth, and that’s what we’re kind of doing with our head-tracking. I think there’s going to be a lot more that comes out of that with facial recognition and how that works.

We haven’t figured out a way to use that yet but I think that a lot more games will and I’m excited to see what they come up with.

Do you think motion control in “hardcore”racers will be an ongoing trend?

I definitely do. I’m going to go back to head-tracking. That’s been around for years, but it’s been for guys that are setting it up on the PC, and they’ve got their funny looking hats. It’s been around forever.

It’s just something they really want to use. And there’s cultures like that not just with racing games, with flight sims, with other types of things, these hobbyists that want to build these experiences that are as immersive as possible. I can definitely see this as something that other racing titles should pick up. Again, we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, but, it’s something that’s logical and it just works.

What about the accusation that motion control is a fad that doesn’t enhance the gameplay experience?

When we went to E3 people were scared, they were like wait a sec’ “whoa-whoa-whoa I don’t want to drive with”…we’re not building this to replace anything that you do. We’re inviting more people.

I think that’s hard for core audiences. If you had a band that’s up-and-coming, and the second that their hit single gets picked up they start doing more bigger venues. This loyal group is like “well I’ve been through when they were at smaller bars and they’ve sold out and they’re not real anymore.” No, they’re inviting more people and I think that’s the same thing we do, when we build experiences like this. We build Forza 4 by itself, and then we build the second portion that allows more people to play it.

My kids, they still play the Wii. They love the Wii. I don’t think that it’s a fad to them. Think of some people as early adopters, they get the newest software, piece of hardware, new technology and they get tired and more on, but I really think for are people who do enjoy it and, I think Kinect sold like 10 million units, and I really don’t think it’s a fad. Again I really think it depends on the player.

Can you use Kinect for the showroom, but then use a joypad for the racing?

Yeah, when you launch our game we’ve designed out this scenario so that at the very beginning of the splash screen, if you want to use the Kinect as the showroom, you can. Just wave in, you’re going to be able to experience the showroom, do split-screen, Hot Lap, a bunch of the mini fun stuff, but it’s still plugged in on that splash screen if you hit A on the controller you’re going to be able to do the showroom and foreplay and all that other stuff with the controller. We’re just allowing you to do one path with Kinect, and then do that same path with the controller.

Can Kinect control be used across all modes in the game.

We’ve specialised it to things that matter to the users that care. Casual players, they’re not going to paint, they’re not going to sit and tune cars all night, they’re not going to battle in the Auction House, we’ve tailored those experiences to the controller because traditionally, that’s what the hardcore players like to play. The casual guys, they’re like “I like cars, I wanna race I wanna bang up cars”. Great, you can do that, you can totally do that. Things like the head-tracking, the voice, that’s on regardless of where you go with the controller, so you don’t have to choose anything – it’s just on and working when Kinect is plugged in.

Check out the rest of our UK online exclusive Forza Motorsport 4 coverage here.

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