A Two5six conversation with Forza’s Dan Greenawalt and BMW designer Chris Bangle

At Two5Six every year, we gather together someone from the world of videogames with someone from outside it to find the commonalities in their practices. The lively conversations have found where Etsy meets Lumino City, what Gone Home has in common with the 9/11 memorial.

We decided: why just do this once per year? In a new ongoing feature, Kill Screen founder Jamin Warren will sit down with two people to more rigorously explore the places where games meet culture. In this edition, he talks to Chris Bangle, former head of design for BMW, who now works as an independent consultant, and Dan Greenawalt, creative director at Turn 10, creators of the acclaimed Forza series of games for Microsoft.

Jamin Warren (JW): Thank you both so much for joining me. To get started, Chris, if you want to give a little bit of background about how you moved into car design.

Chris Bangle (CB): I’m an American so I went to the American school system. A couple of years at the University of Wisconsin in our hometown in Wassab, Wisconsin before going to Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, where I spent four years to get a B.A. in transportation design. I was hired by General Motors on graduation in 1991 for their subsidiary in Germany, Opal, and I was there for about 4 and a half years in the interior studio and Fiat then asked me to come join them in Torino Italy in 1985, because they felt someone coming from the interior point of view would work well in exterior design.

So I ran an exterior studio there and eventually ran all of Fiat exterio until 1992, when I was asked to join BMW back in Germany again, this time in Munich, and I returned there to Germany and stayed for 17 years as the design director of BMW. Later, as we acquired Mini and Rolls Royce, that all came under the culture we set up there of design. Then I left that in 2009 because I felt that was time to begin the third phase of my life. One phase in learning into cars, another phase in directing them and then the third phase I wanted to have my own design studio here in Italy. So for the past almost six years we’ve been putting a studio together in northern Italy. It’s about an hour south of Turin in the wine hills of Piedmont.

Dan Greenawalt (DG): Sounds like a good third act to me.

CB: Dan, it’s the only way boy. Head for the wine country.

JW: Dan, how about you? How did you end up in games, and more specifically working on the Forza franchise?

DG: Well, I have a very atypical path in games, which I think is typical of people who have been around for a while. There’s not a good way of getting into games from schooling, outside of a computer science degree, which doesn’t necessarily lend itself well to design, in that it’s not really focused on the player, the human, the emotions, and the like. So I was a comparative religion major in college and I taught martial arts, and I joined Microsoft just to pay the bills. Teaching martial arts does not pay the bills. And I really enjoyed the work.

I always was a gamer. And over the course of the years I (learned) some skills just on the job. A group of people that all worked together, loved building together, and had a similar culture and ethos, pitched a new game, which was Forza, and that was back in 2002. The first Forza launched in 2005 and this is our 10-year anniversary of the franchise. So the team went from about four people at the original pitch. Now there’s at any one time over 500 people working on this one franchise.

JW: Why a car game? Why were you interested in creating something related to cars?

DG: You know I loved games, obviously. And I play a lot of different types of games. RPGs. I really like open-world games. I like a lot of narrative. But at the end of the day I really like culture. And I love car culture. And I grew up around car culture. My family is from the coast, union folk, American cars, and it was kind of a debate; we moved over to the west coast, and we had Asian and German or European cars and it was always this angry, heated debate with our family—and I love that about cars.

I love that cars inspire passion. I love the racing. The heroes of racing. I think cars are so multifaceted. It’s just always fascinated me. So I was getting to blend the two things that were most important to me outside of martial arts at the time, which is car culture and gaming culture. And, it really represents who our team is. We are people who love cars and we are people who love games but more than that we get to sit in this really fun position where we don’t have to pick a side. We can watch the arguments, we can watch the passion, we can get people ignited and engaged in both gaming culture and car culture without having to pick a side. It means we have a seat at every table.

JW: Chris, I don’t know if you played Forza or you’ve seen it before, but Dan, could you explain a little how Forza works and how the franchise has grown over the last 10-plus years?

DG: Sure. So obviously our first game was made by a bunch of young guys who were pretty sure we knew what we were doing, and I look back and I’m proud of what we did but I’m really embarrassed by how we did it. Our process was really immature, but we had a lot of original ideas. There was this learning-based, machine-learning AI called Drivatar. And it was in the first game 10 years ago. And now machine learning’s become a big part of all of our lives, with search and Bing and Google and big data coming out of Target. So that was something we got to be in at the ground floor of, which was cool.

But at the end of the day what Forza’s really about is simulation; that’s how we started Forza Motorsport, really trying to simulate every part of a car. And then we moved beyond it. It’s about this car culture. We make a beautiful game—it looks great on beautiful TVs. We got physics where at first we were getting information from manufacturers and tire manufacturers and the like. And later we were getting custom tests and really moving beyond what is currently known and moving into a new realm of simulation. We do a lot of things with multiplayer and social, so players can paint their cars and customize their cars, and that’s become a real hallmark of our franchise. Players take the base cars that they like, the base cars they love and the brands that they love, and they make it their own. Which is a really big part of millennial culture right now: owning it. Not (in terms of literal) ownership, but making it personal and making it theirs and putting a stamp on it. That’s been part of our franchise since the beginning. In the last few years we’ve added not only simulation game but we also have an open-world game where you can take a car on an epic road trip with your friends listening to great music. That to me rounds out the picture of car culture really nicely. Cars (are) beautiful art but they’re (also) very functional in their simulation. They’re about taking 10 seconds off your time on the track and then there’s this idea of the car as your third friend on a journey, part of this story of the roadtrip and a journey that you’ve been on. Having the two franchises under ForzaForza Motorsport and Forza Horizon—speaking of those two different ideas, I feel like we’re in a really nice spot.

JW: Chris, what would you say is the biggest change in how cars are designed over the course of your career? How different is the process, how different are customers’ expectations? Have you seen that shift over the last couple of decades that you’ve been making cars?

CB: It was very polite of you to finally condense it down to a couple of decades. Before I answer that, are we gona get back to the description of Forza, because it really fascinates me.

JW: Was there something about what Dan had said that had resonated with your experience?

CB: Well, okay, I don’t know the interior exactly of the synergy, but I will tell you my take on this is that it’s absolutely fascinating and very pleasing that the car provides, and fits into this cultural phenomenon that begins to take on all these aspects that were originally a real-world experience. For one reason or another, they’ve become more and more marginalized in the real world, an alternative has opened up into this virtual world where the same set of relationships can be developed and the same set of pleasures can be generated and because the effectiveness—I don’t know the games so I can’t really comment exactly on that—but in general the effectiveness of the gaming world in doing that with the young people is so great that the big change that is happening in real-world car design is that they can’t compete with that. So they can’t compete with that on the level of, let’s say, bringing talent into the world of car design. If you look at some of the very good talent it’s talent that prefers not to go work for an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) in the car world but to stay out in the world where, “I’ll do games today, I’ll do films tomorrow, I’ll do something like that.” And they can’t compete with that at the level of enticing real customers to parting with money for this experience. And that’s what I find extremely fascination.

JW:  How have cars been marginalized?

CB: Let me just ask Dan: What would the cost be to the player if he wanted to go through your game to the point that he could customize the car? How much money are we generally talking about?

DG: Among gamers, the cost is higher than I’d like, but in the sphere of automotive it’s actually very low. So there’s generally a console, let’s call that $300, and then there’s another $50 or $60 for the game itself. Still, expressing virtual car passion is much less expensive than expressing real-world car passion. And, on the virtual side, you can do more personalization, more quickly and with better reliability and safety, too.

CB: Okay, so, my point being, that’s to me a very reasonable cost. I don’t see that as being an issue, but the fact is that’s many many magnitudes less than they would have to spend in the real world right?

DG: Absolutely.

CB: So when I say marginalized, I mean the people who are of that mindset, of that desire, of that willingness to create their own world around the car for them, in the real world, and having that amount of disposable cash to do that is quite obviously not that many, compared to the ones online.

JW: Do you think the expectations that people have from playing a game like Forza will affect what they expect out of contemporary car design?

CB: Quite honestly I don’t expect them to go to a dealership. The real-world reality is that in some countries, like in America, there’s a real difficulty of getting young people to even get a driver’s license. And if the thrill of having a car is met by doing this with a game like you’ve created, (they’ll say), “I can get around from A to Bwith a bicycle or a bus or whatever, I’m happy with that. Why do I need to spend all that money and have all those taxes to pay and insurance to pay and blah blah blah to pay?”So, yeah, there are some changes happening in the real world if you look at some cars like the Nissan Juke, I’m sure that obviously appeals to people with a videogame mentality at work. You can see it’s put together by a youthful mentality, but I’m more concerned by the fact that you’re winning the race for the hearts and souls of future customers.

JW: Dan, that’s a heavy burden for the Forza team. Do you see that with your players? Maybe the relationships a Forza player has in the real world with cars is going to be lived out in Forza, the game.

DG: I don’t consider it a burden at all. In fact, that’s why I come to work. I like to be in that nexus where car culture and gaming culture mix. But it’s really hard to talk about one player type. This is something, a huge part of the culture design at Turn 10 is really putting an understanding of the player at heart and the diversity of the player, and respecting that player’s motivation. And they are diverse. That’s the real shocking thing I think people don’t expect, is that 50% of Forza’s sales come in Europe, whereas for most of the shooter games, most of the popular games, America actually dominates sales. The other aspect is that 30% of our players are women. And again, especially in console games, that’s just not the case. We have this incredible wide spread of players, so our average age of player is slightly older than a lot of the shooters, but the reason the average is older is the bell curve is so broad, we have really much, much older players than generally get into gaming, and these really, really young players. They’re actually hard to get information on because they’re minors. The important thing is to create personas that the designers can really empathize with, and start creating paths, we call them core loops, that delight players of these different types, and they’re different, they’re incredibly different. So we have players that just want to do multiplayer and they couldn’t be bothered with single player and the reason they do multiplayer is yes, involving cars, but it’s involving that path of mastery and social. They don’t necessarily have to win, they want to  practice, they want to be with their friends and talking and that is an aspect of car culture, but we don’t approach it from the standpoint of look at car culture and then replicate it in the virtual world, we look at what’s fun in the virtual world and we infuse it with car culture. So our hope is that we’re in a sense infecting a younger generation that may not be as in as cars, or may not be in cars they way my generation is, infecting them with the same ideas, but their take on that is gonna be different, and respecting that, I’m not asking them to confirm to ours. If they love a car for this reason and that reason, that’s great as long as they love cars.

the car itself is almost like a living being

The great thing about Forza, the thing I’m most proud of, is that it’s a huge game, and the reason it’s huge is, one, it’s difficult, so it’s a lot of work. The reason it’s great to have a big game is not because of the numbers but the diversity it affords you. So we can have 1960s cigar cars, old gran prix style racing, we can have the new la Ferrari, we can have the car I drive every day which actually was designed under Chris, the 2008 BMW M3 Coupe. We’ve got cars that are classic American muscle, we’ve got every kind of car you could imagine, and that creates subcultures within our own group of players, so players who have a fully robust world of just classic American muscle, and they can get in arguments about Camaro versus Mustang, we’ve got Alfa Romeo and competitors from that class, and of course all these modern cars. So we’re finding a new car culture that’s emerging within our game, that involves painting and photography, and a real democratization of cars that you would never see. What was that car, it sold for 50 million dollars—the Ferrari 250 GTO I think—that’s a car you can get into in our game, and like all the cars in Forza, you can open the hood, you can look at the engine, you can get inside of it, drive from the cockpit view, you can get a little tour of it, and all of this is done in incredible detail, so it’s a virtual museum in your garage, in your living room, and then you can go drive it on the track, and actually show if you have what it takes to really master that car, drive faster than other people, or if you’re in Forza Horizon you can just go on a roadtrip with it, take beautiful photographs with it at the golden hour as the sun’s going down. So we’re not trying to replicate the real world—we’re trying to create a new world that attracts people, and I think it will change car culture, and my hope is that it will change car culture for the better. We are in a relationship with the auto manufactures because those brands are incredibly powerful. We’re creating some brand affinity. Most of our players come with some level of brand affinity, they might be part of car culture. They may not be doing track days, but with the marketing culture that’s around the world, you can’t escape brands. I mean either your parents or your uncle worked on cars and they’ve infused it in you, or you just watched the Super Bowl or you watched the World Cup and you saw an Audi commercial or an Acura commercial. So we’re in this relationship with car culture. There’s no dividing it.

CB: If you don’t mind me asking, escaping brands is a very fascinating phrase. Does that also refer to your ability to design them? for instance, if you design this sports car that no one had ever seen before and put a Ferrari logo on it, could you get away with that?

DG: Well there’s brand and then there’s licensing.

CB: Exactly.

DG: Do I believe we could? Yes. It would be done in partnership with the brand. Any work we do with a brand would be done in partnership with a brand. We just unveiled the Ford GT as the cover car for our game, and this has been the biggest change with the relationship between videogames and car culture, or car manufacturers in the last 10 years. We used to just license cars, and we were just an afterthought as a form of digital marketing for the car manufacturers. And now we’re seen as one of the best ways to unveil a halo car like the Ford GT to an entire generation of person, so they can build the Ford brand. So we were let into that design studio very early on when actually most of Ford didn’t know it was being made. I was actually in the room when several executives were brought in to see the car and hear about it for the first time, and it was shocking to think that we, an outsider, were let in before executives of Ford were.

JW: Dan, one of the things you mentioned was this idea of personas, and trying to design a game for these different types of personas. Chris I was wondering if there’s something similar when you’re designing a car. Do you have similar kinds of archetypal consumers, or did you just pick a design that inspired you?

CB: Car design is of course trying to focus on a product that a real world consumer uses, so you can’t ignore that, and there’s tons of inundation on market segments, and particular customer cohort groups, and blah blah blah, but the reality of car design is creating a personality and an experiential phenomenon where the car itself is almost like a living being. It speaks so much of its own character that people can identify with it. You know the use of the word “avatar” that Dan used in his phrase before? That’s a typical one in the industry; we refer to the cars as an avatar of people, as in that old phrase from Mini marketing, you know, “Mini, it’s me.” That basically applies to anything across the line if it’s being done under the auspices of car design. This is the difference between car design and automobile design, or car design and transportation design, or car design and product design. Car design is about really the infusion of character and personality into an inanimate object. And this is why one of the problem areas comes about. (A person’s) bind with the brand is that this is something that’s only lived backwards. Unless a car has been, let’s say, justified in some way shape or means, it is part of this margin of cars that are non-cars. These are the things people build in their garages, these are the one-offs. It could belong to a subculture like hot-rods, and then it belongs to a hot-rod culture and it’s been justified by the hot-rodders, but unless it carries the halo of the brand, to many people it doesn’t even exist.

When I asked the question, “Could you create a Ferrari that had never been seen before?” that used to be the way cars were designed. When Pininfarina did a Ferrari back in the 60s, when Paolo Martin did the Ferrari Modulo, no Ferrari executive ever said, “Yes, go do that,” they just went and did it. And the idea that Pininfarina was so strong, that their designers could lead a brand, it’s completely reversed today. And the wonderfulness would be if the gaming culture became so strong that they could lead, because inside the car companies this leadership is not allowed by design, it is extremely held at check in a ring by the power of brand.

And that’s really one of the reasons why car design as a phenomenon has degraded to the point it has, where there’s so many copies, so many reiterations, so many vehicles where people just said, “This is boring. Why don’t you do something new and fresh?” Because basically brand is about the fear of change, not change.

JW: Dan, obviously you can’t talk about what’s coming down the pipe, but has there ever been an example of that? Where you were able to implement features, or give feedback to one of the brands you work with? Have there been examples from the Forza games of the needs of game design to sort of give some feedback or influence over how cars are being designed at these companies?

DG: Yes, but not really anywhere near the scale that Chris is referring to here. And I could probably listen to Chris talk about this all day, this is fascinating to me. It’s always interesting to hear an insider’s point of view on something that I’ve been watching from the outside. It’s kind of like reverse-engineering something: I know how it works from the outside but I haven’t seen it from the inside. I think it would be incredibly hard for us to have a constructive discussion with an automotive manufacturer that might alter their brand significantly. I think there’s just too much protection around that, and it’s not even that I don’t understand it—I understand it from a business perspective. But the revolution that is implied by what Chris is talking about is having a design that is influenced by the people, as opposed to the brand, which would then lose its identity in a sense, but would be centered around the people who made itThe only thing I’ve seen like that is like Local Motors. There’s a company in Arizona, Local Motors, that’s done some crowd-sourced car design. So it might have the headlights or taillights of a Civic, but it’s using parts off the shelf. It’s very purpose built for certain aspects. It’s a really cool idea, and they’re a fascinating group we spent time with. What’s interesting is ultimately we licensed their car, if you see why that’s ironic.They’re basically a crowd sourced thing and we licensed it the same way we would license a la Ferrari.

CB: If I had a customer that worked in the door tomorrow and said, “Chris, I want you to design the coolest sports car that’s going to take on Tesla,” I would tell them, “It’s going to take you a couple of years to get your act together. Why don’t you have Dan and his team design the car, race it, put it out there under that brand, and then you will realize it, and it will already have been embedded in the culture with them.” This is where I see these guys taking the lead.

JW: Chris, could you walk me through the process of how you go from initial idea or conception to finished product?

CB: There’s only three major phases to a car design. The first phase I call the understanding phase, where you basically have to understand what you have to do. Many people take for it granted and say, “Oh, that’s a coup,” and, well, is it really? Is that really what you’re being asked to do? And in my experience we’ve made a lot of mistakes, and if you don’t take the time to go back and look at this again and again and again and ask questions again and again you’ll probably make mistakes. That takes over a year to basically understand what the hell it is you’re doing. And you have to make models, you have to design, make sketches, and make running prototypes, etc. etc. Until you really get to the level where this is what you have to do. We don’t know what it looks like, but we know it has to do this. That I call the understanding phase.

Then comes a phase where you just want to nail down: it really looks like this. The believing phase because at the end of it there’s no proof, you have to believe in it. So in that phase you do sketches, the sketches get turned into some type of renderings, which go then into supporting 3D data so you can model over top of that, whether you use Modo or Rhino or Alias or something like this. At the same time, you might sketch models by hand in clay, or you begin generating 3D data paths and knock this stuff off full-scale, which then gets reiterated by hand, and digitized, goes back into that loop. And at the end of that phase, which is another year, you’ve presented a series of proposals to the management, they’ve whittled that down from, let’s say, six main contenders down to three, down to two, down to one, and at the end you have that one car that you say will then be what it looks like. And why I say it’s a believing phase is there’s no proof. Even if you try and clinic this, that’s not telling you anything really. You have to have management which is extremely involved and understands the issues to the point they can say, “Look, I stand by this 100%. I believe in it.”

And after that, there’s about another year of actually looking at it, which we call the seeing phase. Seeing like you actually have to look at this. There’s so many details and small joints and crevices and imperfections in the surfaces that have to be ironed out. And if you want a car that’s going to look good for 50 years, you’ve go to put 50 years of looking into it, and that takes about another year. So if you were to take those three years out of the six- or seven-year span it takes to actually physically create the vehicle, that’s the core part of the creation phase of a new car. And in that first phase where you’re trying to understand it, that’s when you do all your market research, ask questions to everybody. It’s kind of like having a kid. You know, the very first phase you ask if kids are a good idea, what do you think about having kids, are they expensive? And then that last phase, that final detail phase, that’s when the kid’s getting ready to get born, you want to ask people where’s the nearest school, make sure you paint the room the right color, blah, blah. But actually making the kid, the believing phase, that’s when you shut the doors and it’s just between the two of you. And that’s how it should be in car design.

we can get people ignited and engaged in both gaming culture and car culture without having to pick a side.

JW:What has been the biggest surprise for you between understanding phase and the belief phase? Are you ever surprised by that last part of the process, and is there a specific car that you could mention?

CB: Yeah, the surprise comes when we think we know what we’re doing and it turns out we don’t. I’ll give you a very simple example. When I got to BMW in 1992, they were working on a 5 Series coup project. And they worked on a 5 Series coup project every year I was there and it always failed. They got to the point where they made their decisions (by saying), “This is exactly what we want.” And you know what, when it came down to actually designing, the project failed, it collapsed. Why? Because really at the heart of it, a 5-series coup didn’t make any sense. The 5 Series already was a very coup-y car. It didn’t make any sense to just chop it down a little bit more. Anyway, we were in the middle of all this, another 5 Series coup project, when the 7 Series needed a show car back in the late 90s, and to figure out what kind of show car we wanted to do, we decided not to make a roadster, not to make a Cabriolet, but to make a coup out of it. And Adrian van Hooydonk, who was the designer on the 7 Series, who is my successor there now, but at that time was a young designer, he created a coup based on the 7 Series. And when I saw it I realized, this is what the coup project is about. It’s not about a 5 Series coup, it’s about what is the top of the line coup that BMW can offer, and that needs to be based from the 7 Series, because that’s a much better starting point, worth more money.

So together with my boss, we convinced management to delay the 5 Series coup until we could get Adrian’s model to the point of really seeing it and making something believable out of it. That became the Z9 GT show car, but it went on to become the basis for the 6 Series, which is a very successful line of cars that BMW revived. And that’s a classic example of where we just had never done the understanding phase correctly.

CB: The Z9 is something else too.

DG: It’s a fantastic car.

JW: Dan, I was curious, do you have similar stages for design? How do you go from the ether—the concept sketch or a digital model or a car that exists in the real world—to something that actually goes inside the game?

DG: I think there’s two aspects here. One, there’s the actual games we build, and they have a concept phase, a pre-production phase, a production phase, and then a shut-down phase. Within that, we do ideas that are generated to solved problems, and that’s run through a creative process that’s very related to what’s used in Hollywood. We actually got some guys from Pixar and they helped us sort of dial this creative process in. And then there’s the car itself, and how the car comes to life in the game. It sounds like you’re asking about the car specifically.

JW: Yes.

DG: Okay. So it’s different with different cars. If we are working on a car that’s very modern such as the Ford GT, for example, we get CAD (computer-aided drafting) data from Ford. And we then still need access to the car, so we can take photographs, and those are used for texturing and quality control.

We also get data from the car manufacturers on kind of base stats. And if I’m honest we don’t use any of those. We thank them for the data, but for us it’s actually important that we do the research and make sure we have everything correct. And that means weighing how much this suspension architecture weighs, is it a double wishbone or a McPherson, how much does the spring weigh, what’s the actual spring weight. We look at the weight and therefore the inertia on something like the driveline, or the trans axle, transmission, flywheel, clutch. We do all this research often around the manufacturer. Or we go to another car that we know shares the piece that we can take apart. For example, for the part that’s shared between three BMWs we might go take the less expensive one apart that’s already in our parking lot, because it belongs to one of us. My car’s been taken apart, shot, put on different dynos multiple times, different exhaust run on it. We use our cars as test facilities to make sure we get everything right.

So that research phase is happening year-round. We’ve got an audio team that’s dyno-ed over a thousand cars to get audio, and it’s not a 1-to-1 match. If you’ve got an 8 cylinder with certain inclination, there’s certain sounds it’s going to make, and depending on the technology we put the acoustic material all around it, we put mics all over, and are able to capture the sound of the car. So we basically re-composite the car from all of this data to make sure that it’s physically accurate. We don’t look at 0-to-60 times and 0-to-100 times—we look at those to then verify that everything we did was correct, so that in the world it came out the way it should.

As far as the actual aesthetics of the car and how the car looks, I mention the CAD data and photography, we also do laser scanning if we didn’t get CAD data, so we’ve laser scanned Bugatti Veyron 1-to-1, and a lot of different cars. But some cars we’re simply not given the type of access. You know, when you’re trying to photograph Ralph Loren’s $50 million classic car, he’s not gonna let you take the wheels off and throw it on a dyno-ed.

JW: Right, right.

DG: And certainly not gonna let you put tape all over it so you can laser scan it. So those are the ones where we just take thousands and thousands of photographs. It takes about five hours to do a photo shoot. And the artists have a process for actually re-creating that into a 3D model that is sub-millimeter accurate. The biggest thing to get, and this is the part that I love about the new generation of console, and the power we have, is that we can recreate the imperfections. This is something that was even mentioned in the believing phase, I think. There are imperfections in cars that actually make the car look real in a virtual world. In movies this is called the uncanny valley—when there’s a digital person, and you can just tell they don’t look—the more real they look, the more unreal and unhuman they look. There’s a soul missing, there’s something wrong.

The same thing is true in cars. Our cars in Forza 4 looked too perfect, and what we did for Forza 5 at the start of the new generation, and of course Forza 6, we started adding the orange peel on the paint, the scratches on the rotors, the little bit of freckle that’s on a cast rim, all these things that just make a car look not perfect, and that’s what made them start looking real. Especially even from a distance, where you can’t see the detail per se, but the play of the light, the way the light plays off these materials, the reflection and everything, you can spot it a mile away, and you don’t even know what you’ve spotted.

So by taking all these photographs and recreating the physics of light in our game, we’re able to recreate those imperfections. So at the end of the day it all comes together. You see the car, and the car is pretty much an exact replica of some car we shot. We’ve even had bugs we’ve shipped, this is embarrassing, but we shipped a guy’s garage door opener on his visor. So we went and shot the car, and they didn’t take the garage door opener off. And it was sitting on his visor. And it was in the photo reference which we QA-ed. So we built the car, built his garage door opener, and shipped it in the game. Somebody pointed it out, and it’s like, “Hey, that’s a garage door opener. Oh my god, how did it get through everything?” It was in the reference, and so our QA just assumed it was part of the car.

JW: I have one last question for you guys. You’ve both talked about avatar., Dan, you talked about how important player personas are when you were designing Forza, and Chris you talked similarly about how how car design is different in that it involves actual people, and that’s what makes it different from transportation design. It looks like we’re moving towards a world with self-driving cars, and I was curious, as humans stop, over the next 25-50 years, how that effects the cars you design in the future? And then Dan how does that effect how you think about the Forza franchise?

CB: There are a couple schools of thought on that, just really quickly. One is that it’s going to take so long for self-driving cars to come on to the line that it’s just going to be this super-incremental thing you won’t even notice it. Your Mercedes or your BMWs already 90% of the way there. And if that’s the way it goes then it probably won’t be a huge impact. In car design, the other school of thought is that when these things come on they’re gonna come on fast because as soon as the laws line up and the regulation and insurance and everything finally gets behind it, then it’s going to be the only way to have a car, and within one generation you’ll pretty much wipe out the impetus to have a driver’s license. What kid growing up in a family where his dad has a self-driving car is going to have this desire to go out and get a driver’s license? There will always be that, but it’s going to be marginal. And because the automobile industry does not really have its handle on what the business model is for these types of, let’s say taxis, shared-vehicle products, where as soon as you have a self-driving car you have to make it earn its keep, so when you’re done with it it’s going to go off and drive somebody else. The radical rethink of the industry could be spurred on by the fact. And it might, in a dire scenario, it make take away entirely the desire to buy a car. You’re just gonna use it. And at that point we’ve got to create a business model that allows them to be produced even though people aren’t paying money at the same rate.

Where I see a possibility for gaming to come in, and this is where I certainly hope your audience takes this to heart, it’s quite possible for them, coming through their world, to create a scenario of added value where it really does make a difference to have “your” product, “your” vehicle. I’m not saying you’re playing a game while you’re in it; I’m saying the experiences coming from the gaming world, even though the object itself is getting you from A to B while having that experience. Instead of today, you get up from the console and you go into the kitchen and go back to the console, and those two things really haven’t changed place in the world. If the gaming community can understand the potential behind it, and realize that the platform of the automobile could be a breakthrough platform for them to then expand their experience away from just the in-home or static environment, it might be the savior for the automobile.

JW: Dan, how do you feel like the possibility of self-driving cars affects the way that people might play the Forza franchise 25 years from now?

DG: I think the way that Chris summarized the two major options there was very eloquent. When I do look back, you know having driven a pre-war car, and having driven cars from the turn of the century, from over a century ago, there’s been a lot of evolution in cars that seems very revolutionary. The amount of maintenance that it takes to actually run a Model T, which was at the time the incredible (for its) usability, like, “Oh my god, cars are so easy to drive now with the Model T relative to the cars before it.” If you go from today’s modern car back to it, it’s shocking. Because you’ve got so much you need to know about fuel and air ratios, how to get it moving and repair it all the time. We’ve had a lot of this evolution that’s hard to see until you look in maybe 20- and 40-year increments. So I guess I’m saying that, of the two options, it seems obvious that things are going to get more and more automated as they already are. Cars that brake for themselves, cars that stay within their lanes, it’s just adding one more thing after another. That makes perfect sense to me.

What’s interesting to me is that that doesn’t wipe out the old ways. It changes them. It evolves them. But they just continue on. Radio’s not dead, but, boy, it’s not real healthy. TV was supposed to kill it, and the Internet’s gonna kill TV, and these things go on and on and on. So I still have hope that car culture lives in these forms beyond it. But the bigger question is, “What happens with the new generation?” I don’t think that auto-manufacturers know what it means to be a 20 year old, and what a 20-year-old cares about in this millennium. Things like personalization are embraced. The OEMs have now locked down a lot of the aftermarket, and have aftermarket programs that are inside of their own options packages, and that gives people a modicum of personalization. And that’s in response to what millennials say they want. More personalization. But I guess I at root I agree with Chris that this generation, gaming and electronics are part of who they are from the moment they’re born, and that is going to radically change how we interface with everything, from refrigerators to cars, and the expectation that I’m always connected all the time, and that everything knows me, and knows who I am, and knows what I like, and I’m able to continue experiences as I walk from one room to the next, and one place to the next, seamlessly, without even understanding that something logged in. And I think that’s going to be finding its way in everywhere. So that’s where I’m most interested. How we can take that idea, which is spearheaded by gaming and the gamification of everything we do, and actually put that into cars.

I don’t have a clear path of how to get there though. For the most part I think we just keep looking at our players and keep them excited. But making that full flip to where the car industry is taking its cues from videogames, that tipping point is very difficult to discern. It’s getting closer and closer, but I can’t see the fulcrum.


This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Photograph of Chris Bangle acquired through jeanbaptisteparis on Flickr
Photograph of BMW Geneva Floor Show acquired through Clément Bucco-Lechat on Wikipedia Creative Commons
Photograph of Ford GT acquired through Soerfm 
on Wikipedia Creative Commons