Forza Horizon 4 – E3 2019 Exclusive Interview with Torben Ellert
Disclaimer – This interview was done and recorded on June 10th.
Leonid Melikhov: Hey guys welcome to Gaming Instincts today we’re gonna be talking about Forza Horizon 4’s DLC Lego Expansion with Senior Game Designer for Forza Horizon 4, Torben Ellert
Torben Ellert: It’s great to have you Leonid.
Leonid Melikhov: It’s great to have you too. How’s it going?
Torben Ellert: Good! First interview of the day so looking forward to showing people this great expansion that we done and just answering questions and just watching people enjoy it.
Leonid Melikhov: How long ago was in this in the pipe for, when did you guys decide that this was gonna be it?
Torben Ellert: It takes about 6 months to make an expansion about this size so about that timeframe. There are always discussions that take place ahead of that which I’m fortunately not part of. But from the point where we start work, about 6 months.
Leonid Melikhov: I see. How many different ideas did you guys have on whether it was gonna be Lego. What other ideas did you guys go through before you decided that that’s what you want to work on?
Torben Ellert: If you ask any game designer if they have ideas they will have many different ideas. Really, the opportunity to work with Lego, to work with the Speed Champions brand and develop a world that really answers the question: What if everything, most of the things in the world were built out of Lego bricks and actually make that with the attention to detail and the gorgeous visual fidelity that is just like a trademark for Horizon which is fantastic so we jumped at the chance
Leonid Melikhov: Is this like a throwback to Forza Horizon’s 3 Hot Wheels except you decided to do another toy franchise.
Torben Ellert: Well… Yes. On Horizon 3 we had the flow for a conventional DLC and then something more fantastical and this kind of follows the same pattern.
Leonid Melikhov: Because it kind of worked out in the end?
Torben Ellert: Yes.
Leonid Melikhov: That’s awesome man. So what is the most challenging thing for you to do when it came to making this expansion.
Torben Ellert: That’s a good question. I think it depends on what discipline you’re speaking to. I’m a game designer so from a game design point of view I think one of t he most challenging and rewarding things was looking at how we would create a campaign around a world that wanted to be free and open because the main game and expansion are linear but there is a logical developing progression as you go through it.
Leonid Melikhov: That makes sense.
Torben Ellert: And with a world that’s full of Lego, we wanted the player to just be able to go anywhere and do anything. So we needed to come up with a new campaign structure that would allow us to do that. We threw around a lot of ideas but what we kept coming back to was how fun it was to drive around and smash bricks and see them fly around for fun.
Leonid Melikhov: So goofy fun?
Torben Ellert: Right, so what we came up with is this idea of Brick Challenges which are 272 different challenges which are things like smashing fences or smash 300 flowers within a certain period of time jump for a set distance and do all of the different things. As you complete those you earn a currency called Bricks and as you own bricks, you upgrade your master builder’s house and as you improve that it unlocks new challenges and unlocks new things for you to do. New smashables in the world for you to discover. Finding a nw campaign structure that allowed us reward players for doing anything without it being necessary to do things in a specific order was an interesting challenge but turned out quite nicely.
Leonid Melikhov: How many new cars are there? How big is the island compared to the base game and maybe compare it to Fortune Island?
Torben Ellert: It’s a little bit bigger than Fortune Island.
Leonid Melikhov: If you had to give it a percentage how big is it?
Fortune Island had a lot of verticality and it was a lot of road distance which doesn’t translate into actual drivable distance.
Leonid Melikhov: So it’s big in a different way?
Torben Ellert: What really makes it different is the amount of challenges you can set out to do. It has a whole bunch of races and a whole bunch of PR Stunts and a whole bunch of new smashables. In the intro drive, you basically see a Lego UFO that crashes in the desert and as you play the game you get involved in a cleanup operation to first find the alien power cells and get rid of those, but those can only be seen at night so when it’s nighttime you can go out and find them. When the sun rises you can’t find them anymore and a little bit later you discover that things have seeped out of those power cells and now there are Alien Lego trees growing around but they’re only visible when it rains. When it’s raining you have to go out and find them and smash them because there are challenges related to that. The cool thing about that is that it’s synchronized so when it’s raining for you it’s raining for everyone so people will be doing the same thing.
Leonid Melikhov: That’s pretty awesome. This is more of a general question but this is something I want to hear from you as a game developer. They’ve talked about Project Scarlett so as far as the things that they’ve talked about in terms of power, I’m sure you guys’ heads probably just exploded with ideas and creativity so how do you see like in general as a game developer, things that you will be able to do 5 years into the future?
Torben Ellert: I think that the key thing is really this transition to the player and the gamer and less focus on the console or the platform. That doesn’t mean that platforms won’t be there. There’s an xCloud Stand around the corner where you can play this game on the phone because it’s being streamed from the datacenter.
Leonid Melikhov: If you told me this ten years ago I wouldn’t believe you
Torben Ellert: Exactly and when we hear the Xbox Team and Phil Spencer wanting to put players in the center. That is just the thing that delights me, knowing that I can play Forza Horizon 4 with people on Windows 10 and it’s part of the same gaming experience. That I think is what inspires me the most is the idea that we can bring people together.
Leonid Melikhov: What about the new generation hardware? It sounded crazy last night. You guys are known as one of the world class developers of making open-world racing games with phenomenal gameplay. So for you, whatever next Forza Horizon mainline or whatever you want to do with Forza in the future. The new fidelity is just gonna be insane.
Torben Ellert: We always push the envelope with what we could do and I think that the Lego Speed Champions expansion really showcases in the way you don’t expect. When you look at the way the Lego cars have been rendered and built with detailed subsurface scattering to create today’s plastic on today’s hardware. You can just look forward and start thinking, “what will this be?” when potentially, the hardware limitation just disappears.
Leonid Melikhov: I can imagine the lack of loading times will be amazing. I did a little bit of game development in college as an artist for textures and stuff like that in photoshop. So I can imagine when you load up the game, this game is huge, it’s a massive open world and I know that you guys are working on another open-world game that you’re probably not allowed to talk about. With the lack of loading times we won’t need any loading screens in the background and loading might just be going away. So this would probably fundamentally change the design of the game in some shape or form.
Torben Ellert: One of the advantages of working cross-platform which is the big advantage of working with Microsoft and Xbox now because we’re developing for two platforms and one of those platforms has incredible power potential. With high-end PC’s you essentially eliminate loading on modern technology because of SSD’s and high-speed streaming with incredibly powerful graphics cards.
Leonid Melikhov: I can’t wait to see what Forza will do with this. So what was your favorite part about the whole show yesterday?
Torben Ellert: I’m sorry, it was Keanu Reeves on stage.
Leonid Melikhov: Yeah, a lot of people say that was the highlight of the show, it’s not something you see every day. That game looks awesome.
Torben Ellert: Though what stuck with me was the range of games going from one side of the spectrum of games from Multiplayer, Single player and indie games. It fills me with delight to see massive games from new markets coming with Xbox to the West. It really ties into what we’re hearing about. Microsoft wanting to give us more games to play.
Leonid Melikhov: I feel like that Phantasy Star’s announcement was great.
Torben Ellert: I played Phantasy Star 1 years ago.
Leonid Melikhov: Nostalgia is some drug.
Torben Ellert: It really is!
Leonid Melikhov: It was good, I’m looking forward to see what you guys are making, both on Forza and the open world. So I’m hoping to hear about that next year. You’re probably not allowed to say what it is.
Torben Ellert: To be completely honest I’m here to talk about Lego Speed Champions.
Leonid Melikhov: People kind of just explected a little tease. I’m going to be brutally honest with you, the internet is a very scary place. You get instantly disappointed in the smallest way possible. How do you guys take that?
Torben Ellert: The way I think about it is that it comes from abundance of passion. People are passionate about the thing and they have strong opinions that are essentially in love for a brand of the franchise and I feel that the best approach as a developer is to be as honest and transparent as we can. Obviously there are things we can’t talk about like projects that might not turn into anything. So when we do livestreams, we get questions. The language that we use is, “there are things we can talk about and things we can say we can’t talk about and there are things we can’t say we can’t talk about.” Which is a fun thing.
Leonid Melikhov: I understand that from a business perspective, but unfortunately the majority of the market doesn’t realize it. They’re not in those shoes and don’t understand how this whole thing works.
Torben Ellert: That’s why I think transparency is important because when you say to people, “there are questions being asked but remember that there are things we can’t talk about.” It helps people understand why you’re talking in a certain way about a certain thing.
Leonid Melikhov: We’re on the verge of a generational transition coming up for next year for holidays speculated for both Sony and Microsoft and even Stadia for new players in the game industry. Does this excite you?
Torben Ellert: Absolutely, so the Microsoft tagline is, when everybody plays, everybody wins. People can be quite tribal about everything but I honestly believe that there is no better time to be a gamer and the content that we make, content other studios make. Studios that work on other platforms that we don’t. Looking at the work and the craftsmanship and the passion and they experience it together. Perhaps it’s a little sad that we can’t play together, but there has never been a better time to be a gamer.
Leonid Melikhov: It’s just too much good going on. Now 2020 is packed, do you have a favorite game that you’re looking forward to as a personal fan that you can’t just can’t wait to sit down and try? Like Cyberpunk?
Torben Ellert: Cyberpunk Obviously, I played the pen and paper game years ago. I’m also definitely looking forward to playing Halo Infinite as well.
Leonid Melikhov: Halo is launching with the new console just like the old days. You know one of my employees was with me and he’s a huge Halo Fan and used to write exclusively about Halo. When that tailer showed up, he was crying. Full on tears. I thought he was joking when he told me, “When that trailer shows up I will cry,” and I didn’t believe him and he just cried full out.
Torben Ellert: You live for that and when you talk about what your pointing to is the passion that games bring to people and when I hear things like Game Pass for PC and the way that simple subscription model basically opens the door for people to try things that they never had tried before.
Leonid Melikhov: The pricing is insane it’s almost free.
Torben Ellert: It’s like one dollar right now?
Leonid Melikhov: Yeah you can’t say that’s expensive.
Torben Ellert: The fact that it’s not the big ticked AAA titles, it’s the other games from the indie to the biggest AAA titles you can imagine.
Leonid Melikhov: Awesome stuff. With that being said before we leave, do you have anything you want to say to the viewers?
Torben Ellert: Play games and have fun!
Leonid Melikhov: Awesome, thank you so much.
Torben Ellert: Thank you so much for your time.
For more information about Forza Horizon 4 including new DLC, check it out here.