If Xbox had been able to host an in-person E3 press conference this year, this would be the moment a sleek supercar drops slowly from the ceiling of the Microsoft Theater amid a shower of green confetti and party fog. It’s Forza time.
Xbox today debuted the first footage of Forza Motorsport (no 8), which is being built specifically for the Xbox Series X by Microsoft-owned studio Turn 10. It’s still in the early stages of development with no release date in sight, but Turn 10 studio software architect Chris Tector and Xbox director of program management Jason Ronald shared a few details about the game with Engadget ahead of today’s virtual showcase.
Tector oversees the technical direction for ForzaTech, the in-house engine that powers all Forza titles, including the Horizon series made by fellow Xbox studio Playground Games. He clearly appreciates automotive beauty, and thinks deeply about the sound, appearance and feel of Forza’s cars.
We talked about each of these subjects -- visuals, audio and latency -- in regards to Forza Motorsport on the Xbox Series X. First up, a look at how it’ll look.
“There's all these creases around them where the body panels meet, or the big sweeping curves that everybody loves on supercars, or even the finely detailed interiors or the wheels,” Tector said, before waxing poetic about the intricacies of wheels for nearly a minute straight.
The Xbox Series X has a 12-teraflop GPU designed in collaboration with AMD, a custom 1TB SSD, plus on-board DirectX ray tracing and variable rate shading capabilities. VRS allows developers to prioritize effects on certain objects rather than spreading them equally across every pixel and wasting precious processing power. Ray tracing, meanwhile, is a buzzword in the next console generation because it provides such an obvious visual improvement to every game it touches, enabling natural-looking, dynamic lighting and reflections (and audio!). Both the Xbox Series X and its rival, the PlayStation 5, will support ray tracing at the hardware level.
This all means that the wheels in Forza Motorsport look sharper than ever. Tector said that without hardware-accelerated ray tracing, developers have to mimic lighting effects with tools like cube maps and static textures, which can remove realism from the scene.
“With the wheels, we no longer have to compromise with those approximations, because they would always end up with this really flat lighting, or there wouldn't be enough light interaction between the wheel and the brake discs and the fender,” Tector said. “It's a big, complicated, tight space in there, and now, we're able to actually get a very realistic look to that wheel.”
Jason Ronald is leading development on the Xbox Series X, and during our meeting, one of the first things he mentioned was how the new console would handle audio.
“Even with all the advances that we have in CPU power, we want to make sure that we had dedicated audio hardware so that you could actually offload those workloads from the CPU to really free up that CPU to really make that game as immersive and realistic as possible,” he said.
Convolution reverb is a large part of this upgrade. It’s essentially ray tracing for acoustics, providing a realistic, dynamic simulation of sound in any physical space. Using convolution reverb, Turn 10 developers are able to sample sounds in specific areas -- say, the plush interior of a luxury vehicle or the hollowed-out body of a race car -- and apply it to the proper on-screen scenes in real-time.
“In a lot of ways, it's the equivalent of physically based rendering, but for audio,” Tector said. “It's an expensive feature and we haven't really been able to use it much, because to simulate on the CPU, it would cost a lot of processing time. But now that we have dedicated hardware for it, we can really deliver that immersive, physically based audio like we never have before.”
The Xbox Series X has custom hardware to accelerate audio, offloading the CPU work for sound cues and enabling complex features like convolution reverb. The PS5, meanwhile, will have 3D audio capabilities powered by the Tempest Engine.
“If you've got like an average gaming setup, you might have 100 milliseconds of latency,” Tector said. “At 200 miles an hour, you're going to travel 30 feet in that 100 milliseconds. That's two entire car lengths that you've moved.”
Xbox has been particularly vocal about its approach to latency with the Series X and its new gamepad. The company has focused on reducing input lag in the living room with things like auto low-latency mode, a feature that automatically sets a TV to its lowest-possible latency setting when it’s connected to the console. There’s also dynamic latency input, a system that constantly monitors button presses and syncs them up with the appropriate frames, sending information to the console just before the game actually needs it. DLI significantly reduces controller lag, according to Microsoft.
“It's always sampling just in time, just before it is needed by the game,” Tector said. “And that's with some pretty clever prediction in order to figure out when the game might need it. That's been pretty awesome.”