Sunday, June 30, 2013

Preparing for the Forza Horizon WTG Project

. . . This Post Briefly Defined . . .

The process of smoothing the path to begin properly deploying (that is to say publishing) a Walkthrough / Video Game Guide often requires a number of preparations that, in the absence of a previously prepared outline or skel or stipulations of a similar design by the editor or sub-editor who has issued that assignment - and especially in the case of a video game that is the direct (or the indirect) sequel to a previous game in a series, the process - no matter how well-ordered - often involves addressing matters uniquely connected and yet disconnected from the subject at hand.  

In the simplest of terms and in particular I speak of obtaining a minimal set of levels in one or more of the previous titles in the game series - Forza Motorsports 3 and Forza Motorsports 4 in this case - so as to reap the benefits that are provided under the flag of "Loyalty" in terms not just of unlocking the associated Achievement but also in unlocking and obtaining a series of particularly useful models of automobile whose presence and availability, which are dependent upon having attained a specific minimum Driver Level - certainly will result in an expanded measure of capability in the game at hand.

These are, therefore, several of the topics upon which I will reflect in some detail within the body of this post below...  My intention being to acquaint you with those contents in order to magnify and establish your appreciation and interest in the same, by way of encouraging you to embrace and take in this post with a finer understanding for what it contains, and therefore what it might provide to you in terms of both information and enlightenment.

Forza Horizon & The Forza Motorsports Series

Preamble Note: With the understanding that I am and have been variously employed within the beat of Games Journalism for a number of years, when it is appropriate (or when I feel that doing so will add to both the convenience and some measure of additional edutainment) I have included links to related articles, reviews, or other documents, columns, articles, and the like, the aim of which is to enhance your experience on these subjects.

In simple terms then, you are invited to indulge me in following any such links within the post at your leisure and with the clear understanding that in doing so you will encounter the spawning of a new browser session and window rather than being forced to constantly push the “Back” button and thus have to hunt for your previous position in reading - my notion being to make this as convenient an experience as is possible in result.

The Nature of the Modern Gaming Environment

When a gamer is restricted either by budget or space, it is often the case that they find themselves in a position of being loyal to a particular platform or gaming console to the exclusion of the other(s) in the present generation, to the extent that they might almost be said to be a loyal and particular fan for that console.

As it is often the case, and presuming you to be particularly fond of the auto racing simulation genre that extends beyond the Cult of Left Turns, you will surely be familiar with the long-running and heated rivalry between Microsoft and its Xbox Console and Sony and its PlayStation Console in terms of the very fine and very realistic auto racing simulations known as Forza Motorsports and Gran Turismo, respectively.

It is even fair and very accurate to suggest that, with each new version of each respective series, the realism and the experience of realism improves, promising the fan of each game if not a major improvement in the racing experience than at least many minor improvements in a game genre that seems to constantly improve as if it were a natural matter of law.

This being the reality and acknowledging that special care is often taken, from game version to game version within the respective game series to ensure that the specially-created livery and graphic designs, often differentiated by either car racing club, manufacturer model, or the particular preferences of the individual, are seen to move forward from the previous generation of a game in the series to the next, where this is allowed, to permit the gamer to present themselves to their rivals in the familiar form to which they each the two of them have become comfortable.

This being the case, and emphasizing that unique and very convenient shorthand to which a great deal of detail has now been expressed - between the lines so to speak - it is understood therefore that we have now covered and dispensed with a vast forest of information covered by those subjects, and in as satisfactory a manner as one might have wished for, so that we can put aside the topics of technical realism, design, tyre tech, and livery, and so move on to the colder but no less important topics that make up the bulk of the detail in the preparations that necessarily must be seen to in order to commence with the creation of the new guide - that is to say, that we are now ready to move on to the areas that must be sorted out in order to best take advantage of the requirements present for the same.

Paving the Way

As it turned out a great deal of the work that was required for the creation of the Walkthrough and Guide for Forza Horizon took the form of supporting material and topics that eventually made up the bulk of the branches of the figurative tree around which this guide is structured.

The catch here is that the actual game play portion, the leveling and levels, the individual races, and all that these contain, sensibly makes up the tree trunk upon and from which these branches naturally thrust and to which they are attached.

This being how it worked out, I was more than a little surprised to realize that the presentation of all of the supporting information was utterly and nearly completely reliant upon the presentation of the game play segments to the extent that the guide would look, well, bad... If the supporting information was presented prior to the meat of the game play sections being deployed - a realization that is based largely upon the disheartening experience that was obtained when the approach was applied to the guide project for Minecraft.

So despite having what amounts to nearly 75% of the guide written, as that huge structure fails to appear elegant on its own, I am in the position of needing to actually play the game and, in the process, make the game play videos that are really part and parcel a major element in that process, prior to being able to put up the supporting material without the guide appearing ugly as a result.

I am OK with that?

You can imagine how surprised that I was to realize that rather than being able to jump right into the game and begin playing - sliding the game disc into the 360, arriving at the loading page, hitting the record button on the separate capture system PC, and racing away to the Festival, instead I found myself making a list of the things that I needed to do BEFORE actually being able to play the game?!

Seriously, call it a failure to think ahead; call it a lack of the full mental image of the “Big Picture” that is more or less required for such projects to proceed; call it whatever you like, but I tend to call it a major miscalculation on my part. And clearly I accept all the blame on this one.

Now I can honestly point to recent and ongoing health issues as full justification for just such a failure of memory and consideration - and the nature of those being what they are, I have serious doubts that even the most annoying of critics and detractors would be able to find much in the way of moral high ground from which to find purchase for such an argument or accusation... But that does not really solve the problem.

A History of Pre-Game Preparations

In a way this is one of those lessons that should have been learned from the past. After all it is not as if almost the entire Forza series did not contain just this sort of catch in game play, right?

The original Forza Motorsports was released for the Xbox (original) in 2005, and just two years later the direct sequel to the game, Forza 2, made its debut on the new Xbox 360, offering gamers not just the satisfaction of the continuation of what had by then become a very well-loved and well-established game that rapidly solidified in the minds of gamers as a racing series.

The second Forza also fully embraced the new Game Achievement and Gamerscore system that was then rapidly growing in popularity to the extent that Sony found itself in a race to devise a similar system of its own in answer to what Microsoft had done (and eventually settled upon the Trophy system it now uses), but that is a story for a different post...

When Forza Motorsports 4 arrived, with its own unique and full set of Achievements, among them was a pair of Achievements that had a tacit connection to the previous title to which it was a sequel, specifically the “Forza Faithful” Achievement, and one called “Unicorn Hunter” (though technically the latter Achievement could be unlocked in alternate ways).

The Forza Faithful Achievement in Forza 4

Once you install and load Forza 4 and complete the very first race - the introductory one that it does not really matter where you place in - the game will look for a Forza 3 save and, if/when it finds one, notify you of that fact and ask you if you wish to complete the import process from the previous game.

If you say yes - and you obviously should say yes - while the doing of it will have no effect whatsoever upon your Forza 3 profile or save, what it will do is read and evaluate your Forza 3 game save and, based upon your level of progress in the previous game, give you a graduated set of prizes and rewards based upon the contents of that profile.

Several factors are taken into consideration here - starting with your Forza 3 Driver Level, and the cars that you own in that game. As long as you are online (that is to say that your Xbox 360 is connected ot the Net and to the Forza Server as well as Xbox LIVE's servers) you will be gifted a combination of credits (aka “CR” which is the in-game money that is used to buy things like cars, upgrades, and stuff from the in-game store and auction house) that is based upon your profile level.

In addition to receiving a certain amount in percentage of the CR you possess in Forza 3, you will also be gifted with a specific set of cars depending upon your progress, and of even greater importance, as long as you possess specific and uber-rare cars in Forza 3, the importation of the rare car (or cars) that will/may trigger the unlocking of the Unicorn Hunter Achievement as well (more on that in a moment).

Technically the car imports does not require any connection to Xbox LIVE and its servers, and based upon your profile levels, Driver Level, and etc. you may receive the following rewards for being a Forza Faithful:

FM3 Profile Level - Year - Make - Model
  • 1 - 2010 - Abarth - 500 Esseesse
  • 5 - 2009 - Ford - Focus RS
  • 10 - 2010 - Chevrolet - Camaro SS
  • 15 - 2010 - Audi - R8 5.2 FSI Quattro
  • 20 - 2009 - Bugatti - Veyiron 16.430 - 2009 - BMW - #92 Rahal Letterman Racing M3 GT2
  • 40 - 2006 - Aston Marin - #007 Aston Martin Racing DBR9
  • 50 - 2009 - Peugeot - #9 Peugeot Sport Total 908
The 2010 Abarth Model 500 Esseesse - the cutest car you never heard of...
Community Loyalty Reward Cars: In addition to the above direct car rewards that are based on your Driver and Profile Levels, you may also receive the following Forza 4 version cars if you have any of these cars in your Forza 3 garage:

Year - Make - Model - Original Source
  • 1969 - Chevrolet - Camaro SS Coupe - Unicorn Car
  • 1982 - DeLorean - DMC-12 - Community Choice Classics Pack
  • 2002 - Mazda - RX-7 Spirit R Type-A - Unicorn Car
  • 2006 - Subaru - Impreza S204 - Unicorn Car
  • 2007 - Ferrari - 430 Scuderia - FM3 VIP Car Pack / FM4 Unicorn
  • 2007 - Lamborghini - Gallardo Superlegerra - FM3 VIP Car Pack / FM4Unicorn
  • 2009 - Chevrolet - Corvette ZR1 - FM3 VIP Car Pack
  • 2010 - Ferrari - 458 Italia - Hot Holidays Car Pack
  • 2010 - Lexus - LF-A - Stig's Garage Car Pack

Unicorn Hunter Achievement: As previously mentioned, the Unicorn Hunter Achievement was also attached to the loyalty import from FM3 (though you could also unlock it in FM4 the usual way if you lacked an FM3 save of sufficient level with the right cars).

Basically when you completed the importation from FM3, as long as you owned any of the following cars . . .
  • 1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS Coupe
  • 2002 Mazda RX-7 Spirit R Type-A
  • 2006 Subaru Impreza S204
  • 2007 Ferrari 430 Scuderia
  • 2007 Lamborghini Gallardo Superlegerra,
. . . you would then automagically unlock the Unicorn Hunter Achievement - which I might add while it could be unlocked in the usual way in the game was, by and far away the easier and more convenient way to get it since unlocking it in FM4 in “the usual way” required either massive luck, or a massive pile of legally obtained and filthy lucre!

The 2011 MINI Cooper S - this game is full of too cute cars!

So how does that bring us to Forza: Horizon?

Simple really - just like FM4 and its relationship with FM3, Forza Horizon has a similar relationship to both FM3 AND FM4! That's right, the “AND” is intentionally emphasized...

Basically in Horizon once you begin the game and drive your way to the point at which you have unlocked and received the first wristband (the Yellow one), you will be prompted to activate the import process for the Achievement “May The Forza Be With You” (10G) You received free cars for being a loyal Forza fan!

Now granted the 10G may not seem like a lot of Gamerpoints (and really it is not),but that isn't the major focus for this Achievement - rather it is the Loyalty Rewards Car Importing that is the major focus, and what that translates to is actually very simple, really...

The evaluation is once again based upon either your FM3 or FM4 Driver Levels - which was a problem for me in that I had been forced due to the Red Ring of Death to replace my Xbox 360 between when FM3 and FM4 was released, so I did not have an FM3 save on the hard drive - AND - my FM4 save had been corrupted on my current 360 so that while I did have a save, it was basically empty in terms of progress!

Because of that I found myself in the unfortunate position of needing to put the game play process for Horizon on hold temporarily while I built up the stats and levels in FM4 so that, when I did engage in Horizon gameplay, the game would properly evaluate my save and thus deliver unto me the following proper May the Forza Be With Me Rewards:

FM Driver Level - FH Award Car
  • Level 01 - 2011 MINI Cooper S
  • Level 05 - 2011 Citroen DS3 Racing
  • Level 10 - 2012 Dodge Charger SRT8
  • Level 15 - 1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS
  • Level 20 - 2008 BMW M3 E92
  • Level 30 - 2012 Jaguar XKR-S
  • Level 40 - 2009 Gumpert Apollo S
  • Level 50 - 2012 Lamborghini Aventador LP700-4
Now this is not really a question of being a stickler for getting what you can get, or for the whole ego argument that has surrounded this sort of reward/element in the games, but rather it is the recognition that several of these cars offer performance characteristics that are highly desirable and, more to the point, ownership of them represents a savings in time, playing, and CR.

Pick the correct exit, get off the highway, and discover a new Forza World!

That's my story and I am sticking to it!

Besides there were still a number of Achievements in FM4 that I wanted to unlock anyway, well, that and the reality is that FM4 is a fun game that is worth playing (and replaying) so really it was more a question of putting in the time - so for me it was a matter of working on other guide projects and assignments while squeezing in racing sessions during breaks - an approach that I found worked very well indeed.

This sort of situation begs the question: How much effort is too much effort?

The only answer that I can come up with is: How much fun are you having?

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