How Playground made Forza Horizon 5: Hot Wheels a wild ride for the whole family

The Forza Horizon 5: Hot Wheels expansion is the most family-friendly expansion to date in the Forza series. Where Forza Motorsport tries to accurately simulate the fastest cars on planet Earth, and Forza Horizon has you race those same vehicles in some of the lushest open worlds available on Xbox, this all-new DLC has a bigger purpose: Making high-octane racing a fun experience for everyone, no matter your age or experience with the genre, right from the start.

“In our core games, we’re kind of like, ‘Yeah, we want to get you in a car really fast, really fast’ because that’s part of the promise of a Forza title. But in an experiment like this, where you know you’re going to bring in a lot of kids who are maybe seven or eight years old, it might be the first game they’re playing, so you don’t really want do that,” says Creative Director Mike Brown. “You don’t want them bouncing around a volcano in a car at 300 mph because it’s not a great learning experience if they’re new to driving games.”

Prepare

Forza Horizon 5 Hot Wheels

(Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

From the start of this Forza Horizon 5 expansion, you can race Hot Wheels tracks that rise above four new biomes, complete with volcanoes, canyons, and snow-capped peaks. It’s a playground that lets you blast your way through massive toy play in the driver’s seat of your favorite full-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 take a more traditional path in terms of progression to make it easier for young players to enter.

“What we did in this expansion was to structure our campaign so that you start with slower cars and move on to faster cars, [which is] makes it a pretty traditional way to do a driving game campaign – and something we haven’t done in our core games for quite a long time,” Brown continues. “That’s why our campaign starts you off in more cars. slow, then unlocks the fast cars as you go. This whole campaign structure was partly born out of wanting to serve a potentially younger, more novice player.”

You start by joining the Hot Wheels Academy and trying to climb the ranks. Brown says the progression cycle is designed to appeal to Forza fans of all experience levels and to ensure that all new content is accessible. “Major missions tend to be more rewarding, in terms of the medals they give you for campaign progress, and minor missions give you a bit more so you can progress a bit faster,” says- he, explaining that the main challenges are “pretty accessible,” like getting a star on speed cameras or reaching destinations within wide time limits. “You can give players a path: just work on those missions, which aren’t particularly skill-based, and that will guide you through the campaign.”

This structural change isn’t the only way Playground is trying to create a “fun for everyone” racing game. The decision to have us drive slower cars early in the expansion was made to help players master the controls and understand the rhythms of the new gravity-defying racing lines at their own pace, although Playground acknowledged that might not be the case. to be enough. That is why new accessibility settings have been introduced – toggles that help tailor the game to your own situation or needs. For example, the ‘Motion Blur Toggle’ lets you choose between long or short motion blur, or turn it off altogether, while ‘Stunt Steering Assist’ can help you steer away from the edges of steeply angled sections. or inverted from a Hot Wheels. Track.

toy wonderland

Forza Horizon 5 Hot Wheels

(Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

These accessibility features and changes to the campaign structure are there to ensure that as many players as possible can enjoy what makes this expansion so appealing: the ability to drive fully realized Hot Wheels cars. Whether you’re new to Hot Wheels or not, you’re sure to have fun zooming around in a beautifully rendered, life-size toy car and that’s thanks to Playground Games’ meticulous attention to detail and research, with the collaboration teaming up with Mattel throughout the creative process to faithfully translate the vehicles into the game.

Almost every car in the Horizon series has existed in real life, with a few notable exceptions, such as the Final Fantasy Quartz Regalia and the Halo Warthog (the latter now exists but was created using game data), per example – which allows Playground to really aim for authenticity. But many vehicles in this expansion, like the all-terrain Baja Bone Shaker, are deliberately larger than life and required a unique production process. “We asked Mattel if they would be happy for us to try [creating the Baja Bone Shaker]. They absolutely were, and it created a really fun journey that we went on, where our vehicle design team was building it and their benchmark – rather than being the complete car – was one of the die-cast toys 1/64 scale that we actually bought from a local toy store. Then we had to scale it, but you don’t just make this toy and then scale it with all the mold details and things like that, because obviously it doesn’t has no headlights, it has no real brakes. ”

The vehicle design team began to incorporate all of the details, including the features that a fully realized version would need in-game. appearance of the vehicle, as if it were already a real car. “We learned at that time that although the design team at Mattel had built this little car in 1/64 scale, in their heads this car is real and exists. And they’re like, ‘No. , no, no, clusters are not Like this. Yeah, they look like that, but they’re actually this sort of a cluster,” and they pointed to an actual reference of an actual Baja 1000 truck. Because in their head, that car in their imagination is real, isn’t it? It exists,” Brown explains.

“And so we kind of met in the middle where they were guiding us to be more realistic, we were following the toy and actually looked more like a toy, and they kind of met in the middle with the car that we have in game. But [it was] a completely unique production for this car. We have not done this for any other vehicle. So yeah, that one, I think, was one that was especially fun for us creatively.”

It’s a real treat to ride around in a Hot Wheels car and see for yourself how every little detail reflects the care the design team took to make it a reality in-game. Creativity and attention was also given to the tracks, with Mattel sending “creations of their various toys” for the team to play with and use as reference. From creating close replicas of particular features such as the motorized toy dragon that roars when you pass it, to influencing the box art for including the ice track, many of the parts you see and cross in the expansion were influenced by real toy sets. With all that attention to detail, the expansion manages to come as close to a Hot Wheels theme park as possible.

Imagination and creativity

Forza Horizon 5 Hot Wheels

(Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

“As a dad, it’s been a really rewarding experience to be able to play it with my kids.”

Mike Brown, Creative Director

Bringing extreme Hot Wheels cars to life with the attention to detail typically given to the Ferraris and Lamborghinis of this world is one thing, but Playground was also keen to replicate the feeling of joy and imagination born of sitting down with a physical playset. . That’s where Event Lab comes in, the creative hub introduced in Forza Horizon 5 captures an “essential part of the Hot Wheels experience”.

“Event Labs felt like a really natural fit,” says Brown, speaking of your ability to now create tracks as wild as your imagination can muster. “Technically, it was quite difficult. There are 87 pieces, and about 80 of them have the ability to fit together. It’s easy to manipulate it and break it if you want. But this default experience of going ‘I want this piece and this piece, and I’m going to turn right and I want a jump’, that everything should fit together in a really easy way.”

Brown points to the variety of these 80 pieces as a highlight of the Hot Wheels expansion, as you can assemble Hot Wheels track pieces and place them directly into the base of the park map to take advantage of. “We’ve added construction stubs into the base map so you can use a stretch of road we’ve built and then build over it. It allows for some real creativity… We’re starting to see things coming through the community now , which is already super exciting for us.”

Creativity is at the heart of Forza Horizon 5: Hot Wheels. From the unique creative process the team followed to accurately replicate the miniature cars, to changes to the gameplay structure and long-standing progression systems, to new accessibility features and Event Labs functionality – it has been a labor of love for Playground. Brown says it was worth it, if only because he has something new to play with his kids.

“I have three sons, and my youngest is really obsessed with cars. He loves Forza, and that probably rubbed off on me, but he also love Hot wheels. So I had to keep it a secret from him for as long as possible, because kids can’t keep secrets,” Brown laughs. he loves it. Knowing what kind of player he is and what kind of experimentation he’ll want to do is something that absolutely informed the creative process. I think it’s natural for anyone when they do something like that.”


You can see how successful Playground Games has been with its racing game designed for all kids of all ages for yourself right now, with the Forza Horizon 5: Hot Wheels expansion available on Xbox Series X, PC and via Gamepass.

Harold B. McConnell