From Irish streets to on-screen action

 

Microsoft’s new driving game, ‘Forza Motorsport 3’, was largely developed in Ireland. Due for release this month, PADDY COMYNtook it for a test drive

AND THERE was I thinking I had the best job in the world. Sure, there are plus points to driving all sorts of cars from week to week, but there are downsides. Like . . . well, perhaps there aren’t too many. But what if your job was to develop and test video games? And, better still, car video games?

I’m sitting in a presentation room in one of Microsoft’s Dublin offices and the company is almost as I expected it to be. There was more than one Golf GTi in the car park.

The lobby is bright and welcoming and workers sit in the spacious coffee shop exchanging ideas, wearing jeans and T-shirts. There might not be the surfer dudes or sunshine of Silicon Valley, but John Byrne, David Foster and Ingo Schumacher (the game test driver, with an appropriate surname) look relaxed and rather pleased with themselves as they present me with the fruits of their labour.

Although “labour” might not quite be what some people would call spending months on end photographing some of the world’s most beautiful cars and then sitting down to test them, before releasing them to an expectant audience. “You could say that I have one of the best jobs in the world,” says Foster, who, although I’m sure his job is way more complicated than we think, basically gets paid to test video games.

Forza Motorsport 3is the new, must-have driving game for the Xbox 360. If you don’t know what an Xbox is, just go ask any eight year old. They will tell you that it is one of the trio of consoles (the others being Sony’s PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii) that they probably want under the tree, if it’s not already in the house.

It is a console from Microsoft that offers stunning graphics and a wide range of titles, suitable for everyone from the occasional gamer to the sunlight-starved and obsessive.

The Forzaseries is the game for car lovers. And guess what? This game was developed, in part, from right here in Ireland.

Forza Motorsport 3is the third in a hugely successful series of racing car games. Foster, who is a project manager responsible for the localisation of Forza Motorsport 3for the European markets, and John Byrne, project manager for the European car content, have spent the last 18 months making sure this game will be as realistic as possible.

But when you do get your hands on it, make sure to try your hand at the Mitsubishi FTO, Opel Speedster, Renault 5 GT Turbo, Aston Martin Vantage or Ford Fiesta Zetec S, because they are all cars that were sources and photographed here in Ireland.

“We were in charge of getting all the photography for the European cars and this meant sourcing everything from the standard car to the unusual and in some cases we were able to photograph cars from just down the road,” says Byrne.

Byrne, who has been at Microsoft since 1991 and has worked on games such as Flight Simulator, wasn’t a photographer, but reckons he has picked up a few things along the way.

“All we needed to do was photograph the car on a level surface. We used a fixed focal length lens and photographed the cars through 360 degrees and used step ladders to get aerial shots. We attended the Frankfurt Motor Show to photograph all the latest models and use callipers and rulers to illustrate scale in the photos.” This attention to detail is worth it. The details on the cars in the game is incredible and watching some of the demo versions of the game is like watching a movie.

Byrne shows me a book containing an exhaustive collection of photographs of cars from every angle. Every panel, hinge and nut of the car was recorded, to be transferred into the games visuals. But it doesn’t just end there. The cars are also put on a dyno, not to measure the horsepower, but rather to faithfully record the car’s sounds through the entire speed range.

When you hear a car on Forza Motorsport 3that is the car’s actual sound, not some made-up synthetic one. “We put the car up on a dyno and get the sound at lots of different places,” explains Korey Krauskopt, group programme manager with Turn 10, a video game developer created by Microsoft Game Studio. “The audio team will mix this with the car’s physics engineering.”

The team at Turn 10 uses raw data to make sure the cars feel like they should. “At the E3 event, we had a representative from Audi drive the R8 V10 in the game and at first he said it wasn’t accurate, but then we realised he had the brake assist function activated and after we turned that off he said it was exactly like the real car.”

The game features 400 cars on over 100 real-world tracks (yes the Nürburgring is there) and from there the possibilities are endless. “There is a whole world of customisation available on every car, from changing graphics to engine tuning,” says Ingo Schumacher, as he guides me through the menus of the game. Ingo spent 12 years in the Air Force and often voices games for Microsoft and, while claiming to be no engine expert, he shows me the intricacies of the phenomenal customisation options available on the game.

But I’m itching to try. Having just spent a few days in a Fiat 500 Abarth, this was just the car I picked for my first try and it was amazing. The sound was just the same as the Fiat and you could flick the car into bends like you can with the real Abarth. There was even the delicate tail lift that happens in the real car. Plus, it didn’t require a degree in computer nerd studies to operate.

“We want this game to be something that the occasional gamer can just pick up and play without any fuss,” says Foster.

From here, we selected an E30 BMW M3 and it too, was its playful, tail-happy self. As the laps flew by, people started looking at watches as your now wild-eyed reporter kept everyone way longer than clocking out time. This is a game that will make the lonely forget that they need friends, the married probably very divorced and any petrol head blissfully happy.

  • ‘Forza Motorsport 3’ is in shops from October 23rd, at €59.99