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?


  1. flashman says:

    As an Australian I can say that there is a curious kind of national pride that comes from seeing our country rendered so faithfully in a game, even if it’s by a foreign team. Everything from the skies and geology down to the lane markings, guard rails, hazard signs and guide posts looks utterly faithful to the roads on which I’ve driven tens of thousands of kilometres.

    The beaches are that colour. The outback roads terminate abruptly into ochre and spinifex. The gums grow twisted from the dirt, just like that. My continent has been waiting three billion years to be captured like this.

  2. Frog says:

    I was thinking the exact same thing, I’d love a hiking mode. In VR maybe. I think that the opportunity to go places/ walking simulators may be one of the biggest selling points for me for VR.
    I loved the sky and incoming storm in Mass Effect’s Virmire ride and would stop, get out, and look around between enemies.

    • ElementalAlchemist says:

      You were doing it wrong! You should get out of the Mako to fight enemies. You earn more XP on foot.

  3. AskForBarry says:

    Could this be done in Minecraft?

  4. grundus says:

    There’s no hiking mode but there IS a drone mode, and what are drones if not hiking for the 1%?

  5. crowleyhammer says:

    I hope this game is better than Horizon 2, constantly having to drive to the centre of the map after events was just tedious.

  6. Glacious says:

    I don’t know of any bioluminescent caves big enough to drive a car through, so maybe a hiking mode makes sense.

    Another Australian here. I recall the excitement when Project Gotham Racing 2 had a Sydney level:) So a whole game being set here is rather sweet. Definitely plenty of horizons around. I had a look at some photos from a trip along the Great Australian Bight and the water does look pretty similar to that top screenshot. Will there be DLC when the next of the 12 Apostles topples over?

    Anyway, this article is right up my alley. My desktop backgrounds are all photos of the sky, many of them taken by me or friends. I dig crepuscular rays, those halos around the moon I think are from high atmosphere ice crystals and basically any type of atmospheric effect. Still haven’t seen an aurora, but hopefully before I die. I also drive buses for work and thus have a lot of time to soak up views of things like city skylines at sunset, cranes reflected in nearby buildings, the slightly blurred glow created around street lights in rain at night and suchlike. Sometimes it’s dramatic, sometimes it’s oft-overlooked small detail, but I love it all the same.

    I’ve also taken many a screenshot of gaming environments I find pretty or interesting. Something I like about ever improving gaming graphics is that it has produced a feedback cycle between my appreciation of real and simulated environments. Skyboxes and time of day lighting are a big part of that. I remember looking at a screenshot of a “rainy night level” mentioned above and thinking having the car reflected on the road looked nice, but was an exaggeration. Then I was in the city a few weeks later when it was raining and sure enough, the cars were relected on the wet road – and this was daytime. Thanks games:)

    • vahnn says:

      Fellow bus driver here. I drive motor coaches all over the Midwest United States, mostly flat ground, very boring stuff. But the skies are incredible. Sitting right in front of those huge windows, I have a lot of time to take it all in, one of the best parts of the job. I started paying a lot more attention to skies in games since I started this job 4 or 5 years ago, particularly in racing games.

      This sounds pretty awesome.

  7. Unsheep says:

    I really hope they have gotten rid of those annoying commentators, urging you to do ‘this’ and ‘that’.

    A good open-world racing game should only feature you, the gamer, and the various racing events. Let the gamer decide what to do next instead of hurrying them to this or that event. This kind of hand-holding diminishes the value, fun and purpose of an open-world racing game.

    That’s why I did not like the previous Forza Horizon games that much, with the commentators’ constant nagging. The two Test Drive Unlimited games are much better in my opinion, and much cheaper.

  8. Michael Fogg says:

    Great to have this arrive on PC! Never too much open world driving

  9. SlimShanks says:

    It releases 3 days before my birthday, really! Well, I love Windows 7, but I think it’s time for a dual boot. So I can play a single game.

  10. LuNatic says:

    Lies! I’ve spent the last 3 days driving from Alice Springs to Kalgoorlie (3077km/1926miles) and the skies were all grey clouds!

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