Maneuvering the curvacious corners of Yas Island Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi at 140 miles an hour in a rare sports car is any adrenaline junkie's dream, though likely never more than a fleeting midday fancy for most of us.
Enter Forza Motorsport 5, a launch day game destined for the Xbox One and a title bound to fulfill a championship series fantasy or two. We put the peddle to the metal in the heart-thumping, smile-cracking racer at a recent Xbox One Games Preview Showcase hosted by Microsoft in San Francisco.
This is the sixth title in the Forza franchise, and we chatted with Turn 10 Studios creative director Dan Greenawalt about what makes Forza 5 stand out, especially as it works with Microsoft's new console.
"The things we're doing in physics and having the 1080p shoot these materials, last generation doesn't have the power to do that," he said of developing for the Xbox One. "Things like Azure, multiplayer, the cloud base - we could have done that last generation but it would have taken half of our staff."
Taking away the labor pains
Tapping into Microsoft's resources was a major advantage in creating the game, Greenawalt said. He's talked to TechRadar before about the collaboration between different parts of the company (Turn 10 is a first-party studio), but this time pointed to specific advantages inherent in the Xbox One that helped create the Forza 5 experience.
"We wanted an OS that would get out of our way, that would allow the developers to really focus on game play and making beautiful great games, and the OS is fantastic," he said of the console.
"We've got a game that's 1080p native, runs at 60 fps. We've got a new take on shaders that allows us to do orange peel in the paint, the metal fleck, really recreate the look of leather and stitching and all of that. It's an all new graphics engine, it looks beautiful, and that was really about taking advantage of the architecture of the Xbox One."
Using Azure for the game's cloud AI took the burden of deployment off the developers' shoulders, and thanks to dedicated servers and Smart Match for multiplayer, Turn 10 could worry about laser-scanning cars over algorithms.
"I'm starting to sound lazy," Greenawalt joked, "but really it's about resource management."
Our car took a beating in our Abu Dhabi race, cracking windows and rubbing paint wherever guardrail and competitor contact was made. Attention to detail is a hallmark of the game, even down to weeds coming up through tire cracks.
Greenawalt said that Turn 10's Chief Architect Chris Tector was in on Xbox One architecture discussions from the start - "chipsets, front sights, front bus speeds, the whole nine yards basically."
"There were some things he thought the next generation should be about. We already were pushing pretty good poly count and texture resolution last generation, but we wanted to do was do more with materials, with atmosphere, with air you could taste, having more bloom, having a lot more fogging, doing more with particles that really bring the world to life. And a lot of it was about the imperfections that make our world look real, be it damage or other," Greenawalt said.
"So by having that vision years and years and years ago, we were able to bring that to the hardware team and say, 'There are certain architectural decisions that would make it easier for us to do materials quickly, to do atmosphere quickly.'
"With Forza Motorsport 4 on the Xbox 360, we had million poly cars that looked amazing, it really wasn't about the poly count any more. We still have huge poly count cars, it's just that's not where the game is this generation."
Are you not entertained?
As for the vibe of the newest Forza, Greenawalt explained it's about much more than lining your virtual wall with 42 racing ribbons.
"We're in the racing genre, but I've always thought of Forza as a car game," he said. "Racing is part of how people express their car passion, but also we're famous for our painting. People paint incredible works of art, and when you play the full game, paint jobs are curated from the community straight into your world and you don't have to pay for it. For me, it was not just about racing, it's about painting, it's about tuning, it's about sharing with other people.
"If you're going to say the overall tone of the game, we had this idea that racing is an exciting, adrenaline-filled, violent endeavor.
"So when you're not painting, you're not tuning, you're actually on that track and racing track to track, we treat this more like it's a gladiator's journey. You're in a foreign land, the drums are just over the hill. You can hear our music is more orchestral. It's got more chorus, so it's a little more emotive of say Ridley Scott's Gladiator."
There's a clear contrast between Motorsport 5 and Forza Horizon, the last Forza title to hit the pavement.
"Forza Horizon was more about music," Greenawalt said. "It was still about cars, but it was more on the music, social side and exploration. [Forza 5] is much more about precision, mastery and danger."