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Blue Sky Thinking: The Environments Of Forza Horizon 3

The Forza series has rarely pinged my radar apart from to spark Twitter #bants regarding “drivatars”. But I was reading about the team at Playground Games’ work on creating the stunning skies for Forza Horizon 3 [official site] and suddenly I’m far more interested.

The Gamasutra piece described how the team decamped to Australia for a while to capture footage of the skies at different times of day using a custom high dynamic range camera setup. The footage was then imported into the game and plugged into the Forza Horizon 3 weather system.

“All the weather systems we put in place for that game hook into the same system perfectly, so it’s like a new data input it,” says art director Benjamin Penrose. “You see storm clouds starting to build on the horizon, and it’s actually going to drive rainfall in the environment.”

You can read the full piece here. There’s also additional info on the game’s website:

“The team at Playground wanted to capture those unique Australian skies in all their glory. To do that, they’ve built a custom 12K HDR camera rig to capture the sky in incredibly precise photos – thousands of photos, in fact, creating a 24-hour timelapse video of the real Australian sky, projected onto the skydome in Forza Horizon 3. For players, it means that you’re not just surrounded by the intense natural glory of Australia, you’re also driving under authentic Australian skies.”

I’ve subsequently spent about an hour ferreting out pictures and footage of the game’s sky and rewatching the E3 trailer.

Skies in driving games are important, particularly when you’ve got a kind of desertscape and they end up taking up 50% or more of your vision, but you can often end up tuning them out because you’re focusing in on the challenge of driving or the road ahead.

I think generally in driving games I’ve tended to find I become away of the sky more because of lighting effects. I remember particular sunsets or dawns for the fact they’re a marked change from day and night levels, or perhaps for their inconvenient lensflare effects, or I’ll remember neon reflections during a rainy night level because of the colour and the accompanying splashing sounds. It’s those effects rather than the actual look of the sky during those times, but now I feel the urge to go back, to pootle around different tracks in different games and see what the sky is actually doing and whether someone lavished time and effort on it.

Rewatching one of the Forza Horizon 3 trailers now I have a new excitement for the split second of might sky footage which shows the changes in the stars which signify the rotation of the earth. Some of the detail is lost in this gif but you get the idea:

Oh god. The Forza website also mentions bioluminescent caves. I wonder if I can ask them to implement a hiking mode before the September 27 release date?

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Philippa Warr

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