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How Forza Horizon 5 created such a realistic Mexico

Forza Horizon 5 will be gracing our screens in under a month, with this latest entry being set in Mexico – a big change from Forza Horizon 4, which was set much closer to home, in Great Britain.

We interviewed Mike Brown, Creative Director of Forza Horizon 5 at Playground Games, on how he and his team created a realistic Mexico and why it was such an important aspect of the game. Here’s what he said:

Why was Mexico picked for this game?

“So this goes back all the way to 2018. I guess we’ve just shipped off Forza Horizon 4 and beginning to think about what comes next. And, straightaway, we knew from the start that we wanted to take three years,” Brown said.

“Because if it took two years, we knew that we would be launching alongside the Series X and S, which brings with it a ton of challenges that, while we weren’t running scared from, we felt it would give us a little bit more breathing room if we came out in the second holiday of the console.

“We wanted the biggest campaign, the most cars, the biggest environment that we’ve ever had.”

Mike Brown, Creative Director of Forza Horizon 5

“But that then also allowed us to realize our ambitions of making the biggest Horizon game ever. We wanted the biggest campaign, the most cars, the biggest environment that we’ve ever had. We’re gonna need something bigger than Forza Horizon 4 Britain.

“That’s quite a simplistic way of thinking of it. But then you think, what’s the point of just being bigger if you’re just expanding all your areas, so you’ve got extra bits of the same stuff.

Forza Horizon 5

“So then we start to look for a country that offers incredible diversity. We wanted a country that has as many different driving experiences and visual palettes as possible within one location. And Mexico, when you actually start to dig into it, it really is like the whole world in one country,” Brown went on to say.

“You’ve got like, snowy mountains, volcanoes, epic canyons, like really beautiful ancient cities, really ancient historic ruins, jungles, rolling hills and farmland, but then you have modern hotel resorts and beautiful pristine beaches.

“And I didn’t even say deserts, it’s full of deserts. It just has so many different visuals, and each of them brings a different driving experience as well. And then you add on to that why Mexico… that Mexico has a culture that is loved the world over.

“People know Mexican music, they know Mexican people, they know Mexican art and Mexican history. All of that is just instantly resonates with people because it’s just a culture that people just love. And that gives us then so much extra that we can represent in the game,” Brown explained.

Did you notice any differences when developing this new map compared to the last game?

“I mean the UK’s roads aren’t fantastic, but Mexico’s roads do have just so much storytelling to them,” Brown said.

“As we’re doing our research, you can just see this so much because they obviously have very extreme weather, they have extremely hot springs, and then really, really wet autumns, which means that road surfaces kind of reflect that.

“You can see where the surfaces were baked and then it will be waterlogged. And that’s been baked again, and all of that.

“All that next-gen power allows us to put loads of detail into every single driving surface in the game, which when you play and when you’re driving around, that’s the bit you’re actually directly looking at. Just the head of the car on that road surface,” noted Brown.

Was it important to you that the little details about Mexico were accurate?

“I think this is so right from the start, and this is true of all of our games. It was just a lot easier for us to achieve it in Britain than it was with our others,” Brown explained.

“We always imagined a player who is from Australia, from Britain, from Mexico playing the game, and you don’t want a Mexican player to feel like they arrived at a cheesy Mexican restaurant.

“You want him to feel like they really just really captured that soul of Mexico, a little bit of their culture and then presented it to the world.

“You’re actually hearing the soundscape of a real Mexican desert or a real Mexican city or a real Mexican volcano.”

Mike Brown, Creative Director of Forza Horizon 5

“We’ve been out in Mexico and recording the sounds of Mexico. So when you actually just come to a stop and let your engine die down a little bit, you’re actually hearing the soundscape of a real Mexican desert or a real Mexican city or a real Mexican volcano.

“And we’re actually encouraged to do that when you get a chance, because there is just quite a lot of audio ambience in there that’s just really relaxing to just sit there and soak it up,” Brown went on to say.

“And, so it is important that we capture those details, that it doesn’t ever feel like our capacities are like a cartoon version of Mexico. We want it to feel like if you are a Mexican player driving around the world, it’s not a one-for-one recreation of Mexico.

Mercedes Forza Horizon 5

“But you think that is what houses are like, that is the kind of bins that we have, that bench is exactly like what we have in my town, and the way everything should look should knit together and feel like it’s done in a way that feels kind of authentic and feels realistic.

“For example, if [in Forza Horizon 4] our road markings were not the same as British road markings, it’s something that an American would never notice. A Mexican would never notice. But a Brit would play and go, ‘that’s not what our road markings look like’.

“Really tiny details that don’t really affect the game all, but every British person would play it and go ‘they’ve not even driven on the British road’.

“And so it’s things like that, which if you get all that right, when a Mexican player plays, they will say ‘this really does feel like Mexico’.

“And to us, we wouldn’t notice it. We wouldn’t know what Mexican road markings and road signs look like. But the fact that it feels like you’re going on a bit of a journey to this real place and it feels to a British person, maybe like you’d go on holiday to Mexico, which is a great thing.

“And to a Mexican, it feels like it’s just a real loving representation of their home country,” Brown concluded.

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