Very few racing sims have decent levels of car damage. Gran Turismo went four games into its run without any damage modeling at all, Project CARS' crashes are decent(ish), and Codemasters' EGO engine is pretty good, if not as impressive now as it was six or seven years ago. Forza Motorsport 6 will feature some damage, but you won't be seeing Burnout Paradise-style crumple effects, according to the game's creative director, Dan Greenawalt. I met him in London during his brief stopover in the capitol and asked him for a bit more detail on the damage issue from a developer's point of view. Here's how that played out...
GR+: What are the problems with damage? Obiously, in a sim, we haven't seen many racing sims that have really pushed the damage element – I suppose TOCA Race Driver 2 probably [still] has the best damage in terms of parts falling off, things like that. What are the problems with damage in a modern racing game?
DG: Well, first off, the way that we design our games for Forza is to never compromise on the physics and the experience and allow you to actually turn things on or off in the difficulty settings. So for example, headlights – if you're on cosmetic damage, your headlights won't break out. So if you're a player who just wants to get in, smash up and have a good time like my 7-year-old twin boys, you can do that and you're not going to be driving blind. You go to sim damage and yes, your headlights can get broken out. So that design idea allows us to really unfetter ourselves. We're able to make an experience that's tailor-made for a more hardcore player, and yet at the same time, have an experience that's made more for the more casual player and not choose one versus the other.
It's a scaler, you know – turn traction control off, turn stability manager off – you can go all the way up the chain. When it comes to night in general, we had a very unique vision for night, which is specifically the claustrophobia that happens when you're in a real race car and the headlights illuminate ahead of you – it darkens everything else around you, so it doesn't look like a really dark day – it actually is black out there. Well that means you're living and dying by your headlights, so exactly your point – if your lights go out, you're done. The other funny thing about this is we've got 450 cars – it's not the number – it's the diversity. There are a lot of cars that just don't have headlights. They don’t race at night, or if they race at night, they race under stadium lights. So we still allow you to take those cars in. I would not recommend it, but you are capable of doing it.
GR+: So you can actually race in complete blindness at night in the cars without headlights?
DG: You can… the career doesn't obviously funnel you that way. But yeah, you can go into free play or you can go in multiplayer and you can set that up.
GR+: Are there any licensing restrictions with how much damage you can apply to a car? Because that's often been the sort of 'excuse' for a racing game that doesn't have amazing damage, but I spoke to Codemasters who told me it's actually just really difficult to do. So people like to use that excuse. I wondered what your take on that was?
DG: Yeah, that's correct – it's really difficult to do. What you tend to do is prioritise what's the experience and the vision you have you want to create – and so for us, we're trying to create that wheel-to-wheel racing. Now, you could do a… like Burnout, right? A 'collision simulator'. What's it like to hit a wall at 250 miles per hour and see a car completely obliterated. And that would cause licening problems. I don't believe you could actually license that from many manufacturers at all. There's a grey area in-between. And what we've really optimised for is the kind of racing that happens when you watch the DTM, when you watch NASCAR, when you watch British Touring Car. It's wheel-to-wheel, they crunch their bumpers, but – and yes, of course guys have catastrophic accident, but that's not what the racing is about. The racing is about rubbing fenders, trading paint, and that's allowed us to find a really nice spot where the manufacturers are all fine with it. We've never had a licensor disagree with that, because we say look: It's just like British Touring Cars. No-one's trying to wreck, this isn't about wrecking, but wrecks happen – and everyone was on-board.
So there you have it - scuffs and scrapes from close racing will be accurately reproduced, and the cars will wreck - but Turn 10 isn't making a Demolition Derby simulation. Seems reasonable. The game's September 15 release date is fast approaching, so stay tuned to GamesRadar+ for the definitive Forza Motorsport 6 review.
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