I didn't know what to expect at the Forza Motorsport 3 demo at E3, and not only because I haven't played the previous two iterations, but because we weren't actually told beforehand that the hush-hush appointment would be the Forza 3 demo. After checking out the game and chatting with one of the lead designers, though, Forza 3 certainly looks to be an impressive piece of work.
The developer immediately set forth the very interesting argument that there is no such thing as "arcade" versus "simulation" racing; he instead chose to put it into three categories: realistic (Gran Turismo), intentionally unrealistic (Burnout) and lazy (he didn't name any). In his opinion, dumbing down the physics to make the game more accessible is the lazy and poor way to do things, especially when there are better ideas available. He immediately went to show three of them by starting up a race.
The first visible thing was that the game painted an optimal racing line for you. He claimed that it would significantly adjust to your car's performance to account for how specific cars accelerate and brake. He also revealed that the easier modes will automatically handle the brakes for you. I was immediately reminded of Kirby's Air Ride, with its one-button, simple control scheme where the focus was on how you handled turns.
Then, he spectacularly crashed and showed that this game didn't have much aversion to showing damage (unless the result would realistically endanger the life of the driver — this is how they keep the game at the desired E rating). Then he tapped the back button on the 360 controller and rewound the race. This idea's been done before, with GRID by Codemasters, but he felt that they had implemented it poorly by putting tight limitations on it and punishing the player for using it. Forza 3 does neither, using full recording of the race to let you go back as much as you like, and not giving you a time penalty for doing so.
Someone in our group asked, "Isn't this going to annoy the hardcore, since there is no more punishment for failure?" The development representative scoffed at this, commenting on how most of these types don't really want to be punished; they want everyone except them to be punished, as he put it. He further discussed how previous racing games had a similar hardcore-versus-casual controversy over the now-standard "restart race" function, and how he figured rewinding would be one of those standard assumptions in the future. Fortunately, while they might have to deal with "noobs with the easy buttons" on the scoreboards, the second question provides even them a good space. "How's this going to work in online play?" He immediately shakes his head, not only pointing out the massive technical difficulties that would be involved, but how, even if there were limits online, the first thing on most players' minds would be griefing people.
Just to show how confident the developers are, after discussing the merits and details of the rewind feature for a few minutes, they admit, "It's not even something we're putting on the box." They consider this, which to many players will be the biggest sticking point for or against the game, to be a minor feature.
Discussing the new features, the developer described his grand goal: to turn car freaks into video game players, and vice versa. The game offers layers of abstraction on every feature, including, for example, allowing for either "good enough to beat the game easily" auto-upgrading, or fine-tuning of every single car part. Further, for players who get really good at tweaking their cars, they can even sell them on an in-game auction house system, so players who really don't get the subtleties of the upgrades system can buy their way to a top-notch supercar.
He then decided to run another lap on a new, mountainous course, to show off the graphical detail — things like clearly visible, individually moving blades of grass, the quality of lighting on the cars, and just how precise the roar of the engine was. The dev also noted that the sound effect was actually being generated on the fly based on the physics inside the car. To say the game was beautiful on the TV screen would be a massive understatement. He believes that while the graphics will attract people, the amount of details in the cars will get them to stay.
I happened to ask about DLC, possibly for more cars, and he shook his head. "We support it, since we kind of need to for some of the game's default functions like car sharing, but I can't think of more brands I would really want to add to the game." Another person asked about the word choice, and how many companies were loathe to let their cars be damaged in simulations. The development rep continued that the companies were pretty nice on that, in part because the game won't render any damage that threatens the life of the driver. This means, for example, that there will be no falling off cliffs (the guardrails are absolute) and the passenger cabin won't bend at all. Other damage, however, renders beautifully and will affect play. Since that means you can disable your car, well, that's one reason the rewind feature is so important.
As the guy waxed poetic some more about Forza 3 and aimed a rant at the Polyphony Digital team behind Gran Turismo (who had also come to check out Forza 3, as I later found out), I looked at the game a bit more. Certainly, Microsoft has one hell of an impressive experience coming with this game, and if the game polishes out as well as they were showing at E3, it should definitely raise the bar.
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