The Forza Horizon 5: Hot Wheels expansion is the most familiar addition to the Forza series yet. Where Forza Motorsport is trying to accurately simulate the fastest cars on planet Earth, and Forza Horizon has you racing those same vehicles in some of the most lush open worlds available on Xbox, this new DLC has a larger goal: to create a high octane race. experience that is fun for everyone, regardless of age or experience with the genre, from the start.
“In our core games, we say, ‘Okay, we want you to get in a really, really fast car,’ because that’s part of the promise of a Forza title. But in an experience like this, where you know you’re going to bringing in a lot of kids who may be seven or eight years old, this might be the first game they’ve ever played, so you don’t really want to do that,” says Mike Brown, creative director. “You don’t want them bouncing around a volcano in a car at 300mph, because then it’s not much of a learning experience if they’re new to driving games.”
From the start of this Forza Horizon 5 expansion, you can ride Hot Wheels tracks that rise above four new biomes, complete with volcanoes, canyons, and snow-capped peaks. It’s a playground that lets you speed through a huge set of toys in the driver’s seat of your favorite life-size Hot Wheels cars. But that’s once you’ve unlocked them, of course. Instead of giving you access to the fastest cars from the start, the team decided to go a more traditional route in terms of progression to make it easier for younger players to enter.
“One thing we did in this expansion was structure our campaign so that you start with slower cars and then build up to faster cars, [which is] it’s actually a pretty traditional way of doing a driving game campaign, and something we haven’t done in our mainline games for a long time,” continues Brown. “That’s why our campaign starts in slower cars and then unlocks the faster cars. cars as you go. That whole campaign structure was born, in part, out of wanting to cater to a potentially younger, more rookie player.”
You start by joining the Hot Wheels academy and trying to work your way up the ranks. Brown says the progression cycle is designed to appeal to Forza fans of all experience levels and to ensure all new content is accessible. “The main quests tend to be more rewarding, in terms of the medals they give you to progress through the campaign, and the minor quests give you a bit more so you can progress a bit faster,” he says, explaining that the main challenges are “fairly accessible”, such as getting a star on speed traps or reaching destinations within wide time limits. “You can give players a path: just work on these missions, which aren’t particularly limited by skill, and that helps you get through the campaign.”
This structural change isn’t the only way Playground tries to make a racing game that’s “fun for everyone.” The decision to drive slower cars at the beginning of the expansion was made to help players navigate the controls and understand the rhythms of the new gravity-defying race lines at their own pace, though Playground acknowledged that this may not be like that. be enough. This is because new accessibility settings have been introduced: switches that help to adapt the game to your own situation or requirements. For example, ‘motion blur toggle’ lets you choose between long or short motion blur, or turn it off entirely, while ‘Stunt Steering Assist’ can help you steer away from the edges of tilted or inverted sections of a Hot Wheels . clue.
Such accessibility features and campaign structure changes are there to ensure that as many players as possible can enjoy what makes this expansion so compelling: the opportunity to drive fully-fledged Hot Wheels cars. Whether you’re new to Hot Wheels or not, you’re sure to have fun zooming into a beautifully rendered life-size toy car and that’s thanks to Playground Games’ meticulous attention to detail and research, in collaboration with the team . with Mattel throughout the creative process to faithfully translate the vehicles into the game.
Nearly every car in the Horizon series has existed in real life, with a few notable exceptions, like the Final Fantasy Quartz Regalia and the Halo Warthog (the latter of which now exists but was created using in-game data), for example, which it allows Playground to really strive for authenticity. But many of the vehicles in this expansion, like the Baja Bone Shaker off-roader, are deliberately larger than life and required a unique production process. “We asked Mattel if they would be happy for us to try it. [creating the Baja Bone Shaker]. They absolutely were, and it created a really fun ride that we went on, where our vehicle design team was building it and its reference, rather than being the complete car, was one of the 1/64 scale diecast toys that we at actually bought at a local toy store. Then we had to scale it up, but you don’t just make that toy and then scale it up with all the mold details and things like that, because obviously it doesn’t have any headlights, it doesn’t have any real brakes. ”
The vehicle design team began working out all the details, including features that a full version of the game would need. Through the creative process, it became clear that Mattel had a clear idea of what the vehicle should look like, as if it were already a real car. “We learned at that point that even though the Mattel design team built this little car at 1/64 scale, in their heads, that car is real and it exists. And they’re like, ‘No, no, no, groups aren’t like that.’ that. Yeah, they look like that, but they’re actually East type of group’, and pointed to a real-life reference of a real Baja 1000 truck. Because in their heads this car in their imagination is real, right? It exists,” explains Brown.
“So we met in the middle there where they were directing us to be more realistic, we were following the toy and actually being more like a toy, and they were meeting in the middle with the car that we have in play. But [it was] a completely unique production for that car. We haven’t done that for any other vehicle. So yeah, that, I think, is one that was especially fun for us creatively.”
It’s a real joy to ride around in a Hot Wheels car and see firsthand how every little detail reflects how much care the design team took to bring it to life in the game. The same kind of creativity and attention was paid to the clues as well, with Mattel sending “creations of their various toys” for the team to play with and use for reference. From creating close replications of particular features, like the motorized toy dragon that roars when you pass it, to influencing the box art for the inclusion of the ice rink, many of the pieces you see and go through in the expansion they were influenced by real toy sets. With all this attention to detail, the expansion makes it feel as close to a Hot Wheels theme park as you can get.
Imagination and creativity
Bringing extreme Hot Wheels cars to life with the attention to detail normally afforded to the Ferraris and Lamborghinis of this world is one thing, but Playground also wanted to replicate the sense of joy and imagination that comes from sitting down with a physical playset. . This is where the Event Lab comes in, the creative hub introduced in Forza Horizon 5 that captures a “core part of the Hot Wheels experience.”
“Event Labs felt like a really natural fit,” says Brown, speaking of his ability to now create tracks as wild as his imagination can muster. “Technology-wise, it was quite a challenge. There are 87 pieces, and about 80 of them have the ability to fit together. It’s easy to manipulate and break if you want. But that default experience of saying ‘I want this piece and this piece, and I’m going to turn right and I want a jump,’ it should all fall into place in a way that’s really easy.”
Brown points to the variety of those 80 pieces as the highlight of the Hot Wheels expansion, as you can collect Hot Wheels track pieces and place them right on the base of the park map to build from. “We added building snippets into the basemap so you can use a stretch of road we’ve built and then build on top of that. It allows for some real creativity… We’re starting to see some things coming through from the community now that we’ve It’s super exciting for us.”
Creativity is at the heart of Forza Horizon 5: Hot Wheels. From the unique creative process the team went through to accurately replicate the toy cars, to changes to long-standing game structure and progression systems, to new accessibility features and Event Labs functionality, It has been a labor of love for Playground. Brown says it’s all been worth it, if only because he has something new to play with his children.
“I have three kids, and the youngest is really obsessed with cars. He loves Forza, and that probably rubbed off on me, but also loves hot wheels. So I had to keep it a secret for as long as possible, because kids can’t keep secrets,” laughs Brown. “As a parent, it’s such a rewarding experience to be able to play it with my kids, and he absolutely loves it. Knowing what kind of player he is and what kind of experimentation he’ll want to do is something that absolutely influenced the creative process. I think it’s natural for anyone when he’s doing something like this.”
You can see how successful Playground Games has been with its racing game built for all kids of all ages right now, with the Forza Horizon 5: Hot Wheels expansion available on Xbox Series X, PC, and through Game Pass.