Fri. Mar 31st, 2023

Of course you can read all the words that follow (and you should!), but first join us on a whirlwind video tour of Turn 10 Studios.

REDMOND, WA — In a relatively anonymous office park about 30 minutes from downtown Seattle, a corporate headquarters clearly stands out from its neighbors. There are unavoidable glimpses of car ephemera – Maserati, Lotus and Mercedes flags in particular – hanging in the windows, and the car park contains a considerably higher concentration of interesting cars than one might expect. It’s subtle, but to the cognoscenti it signals “interesting car stuff happening here.” Welcome to Turn 10.

Ars editor Sam Machkovech and I recently spent a few hours in the game studio’s car-culture-drenched halls to learn more about how the fine folks at Turn 10 view the various entries in the Forza franchise. When the exterior features hint at the workings inside, the front desk exclaims the purpose of this office. That metallic burnt orange McLaren P1 hanging next to the reception desk? It was a version of the car the cover star starred in Forza Motorsport5, although the one serving as the gatekeeper here was sadly an uncontrollable grenade and not a fully-fledged 900 horsepower hybrid hypercar. Despite that fact, it still cost over $300,000! That carbon fiber bodywork wasn’t cheap, it turns out.

Sam and I were given visitor passes and our host of the day, Turn 10 Content Director John Wendl, guided us through the studio’s various trophies and into its world. There were fewer racing cockpits in the office than you might expect. A three-screen Xbox One setup took pride of place in the center of the office, complete with the pretty good Thrustmaster TX racing wheel we tested recently. Lonely under the stairs sat an older three-screen cockpit that seemed to have the ability to tilt the seat around. This trade show veteran was now gathering dust, overtaken by the Xbox 360 (and Forza Motorsport4) to the Xbox One.

An open meeting space was surrounded on both sides by design boards from Forza Motorsport5, which showcases various aspects of the game’s rather incredible attention to detail. Wendl pointed out that “it’s not about polygons anymore.” With the current generation of consoles capable of displaying so much detail, the goal now is to create atmosphere by simulating the same imperfections you see in the real world. He was particularly proud of the hand-finished scratches visible on the surface of some alloy wheels and the orange peel effect that even the most expensive cars leave the factory with. Without these extra touches of imperfection, Wendl said Forza‘s digital cars looked too good and began to show an uncanny valley effect much like that of digital people.

On one side of the room was a time trial lap sign that would be familiar to anyone looking at it Top gear, a reminder of the creative collaboration between Turn 10 and the BBC’s extremely popular car entertainment show. Maybe unfortunately there wasn’t a constant battle within the office to set the fastest time around the Top gear job with the “reasonably priced car (AKA the Kia Cee’d);” however, we were told that Turn 10’s fastest employee is Christian, one of their network engineers.

Above a wall, Audi R8 headlight and brake light clusters served as the world’s most expensive production server indicator lights, displaying the current status of the online Forza experience. However, these predated Audi’s latest laser beam headlights, which is probably good news for the eyesight of anyone sitting in front of them.

As we wandered through the office, it became clear that serious car nerds work here. There were a lot of Nerf guns guarding people’s cubes. There were plenty of car ephemera, including the odd slippery race tire here and there and more than a few (quite intricate) paper model cars that seem to have been used in previous releases (particularly Forza Motorsport 3). There was also a culture of office jokes, evidenced by the shrine in the central office area dedicated to one of the studio executives who was on sabbatical at the time. Employees bragged about some elaborate recent pranks, including one involving the installation of underfloor heating from an employee who was notorious for always complaining about being too hot.

Although Turn 10’s Creative Director, Dan Greenawalt, was out of town when we visited, I spoke to him on the phone a few weeks later and he pointed to his colleagues’ humor as one of the things he likes most about Turn 10. Greenawalt has been steeped in joke culture since his tenure at Microsoft, before Turn 10 existed, he told me. Not just sabbaticals, but even shorter vacations can trigger a joke like planting chia seeds in someone’s office.

The office is home to many different subcultures that play and work together. Martial artists all training together, a D&D contingent, basketball players, and a track day crowd are all among the workers. Despite the divergent interests, Greenawalt says every Turn 10 employee has a passion for the player at the center.

Surprisingly, when I asked him why he likes working Turn 10 so much, Greenawalt was the first to tell me that “racing games aren’t even my favorite genre.” That said, there’s a lot of appeal to working on a game that mixes cars with technology, and maybe turn it into a cultural phenomenon. He told Ars that he also loves the humor of the place (those jokes again), and it’s a pleasure to work with a lot of very smart people who can empathize with different types of gamers.

When Turn 10 was founded in 2001, Greenawalt said its employees were mostly people with experience publishing titles like Project Gotham Racing And Golf 4.0, rather than people with direct development, design, and coding experience. Looking back over the intervening 13 years, Greenawalt said he can’t recognize the way they used to do things, and the passage of time has led to wisdom (or aging) and thus better decision-making.

By akfire1

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