Think racing games are for kids? A title like Forza Motorsport 5 ($60, Xbox One) is years in the making and requires the work of hundreds of people, from graphics engineers to experience designers and even pro hotshoes. Think of it as an at-home version of the sims that modern racers use to train.
SKIN Building a production-ready version of a car for Forza takes about six months, and the game's developers only work with vehicles they can physically get their hands on—even if that means traveling to a far-flung museum, track, or private collection. With modern cars, the team often starts with the same raw manufacturing data that the carmaker used to create the real thing. Example: Because Forza's designers crafted their digital McLaren P1 (top) in the early stages of the car's design, they worked from preproduction CAD data, then made adjustments to its geometry on the fly as components changed during testing.
BONES Forza 5's vehicles aren't just pretty, photorealistic re-creations; each drives with the same character as its real-life counterpart. Take the P1—everything from the feel of its torque vectoring to the way its automatic dampers stiffen in the turns is based on real engineering data. And if the manufacturer doesn't have what the studio needs, OEMs like Bosch and ZF step in.
PUTTING IT DOWN The Xbox One's eight-core CPU allowed Microsoft to develop what might be the most sophisticated tire simulation ever attempted in gaming. Pallets of tires were sent to Calspan, an automotive-industry research facility in Buffalo, New York, where researchers collected data on how heat, friction, and pressure affect rubber performance and wear at track speeds. "Tires are incredibly complex," says Dan Greenawalt, creative director for Turn 10 Studios, the company behind Forza. "We need to simulate every little thing that goes on, from the pressure in the atmosphere to the humidity on the track."
ARTIFICIAL SHINE The Xbox One's 1080p resolution allowed Turn 10 to re-create the intricate paints now common in showrooms. Base and clear coats are rendered separately, as are individual flakes in metallic paints. McLaren employs a wet-sanding specialist, so its P1 has a nearly perfect surface in the game; on lesser machines, you'll notice the same slightly bumpy "orange peel" effect you find in the real world.
NOISEMAKERS "One of the big cues players use is sound," says John Wendl, Turn 10's content director. "To re-create each car's engine note, we put them in an environment where they are stressed similarly to the way they would be in the game." Turn 10 puts each car on a dyno, then records full pulls through all the gears, including deceleration, to capture both positive and negative loads. As for wind noise and the sound of a sliding tire? "We take rental cars, mic them up, and do horrible things to them in an open parking lot."
TRACK CHANGES To craft Forza 5's fictional showpiece track, set in Prague and seen in the image above, Turn 10 sent a crew to Czech Republic to take thousands of photos and hours of video, capture military-grade GPS data. Meanwhile, Smart MultiMedia in Houston, Texas, laser-scanned other locations to millimeter accuracy. Turn 10 used the resulting 3-D "point cloud" to build the track. To perfect simulations of real circuits like Laguna Seca and Sebring, racers including Tanner Foust and Gunnar Jeannette were employed for a "sanity check," to make sure courses drive like the real thing.
To experience the nuanced driving dynamics of modern racing games, you need a proper setup. The Alcantara-clad Playseat cockpit (about $918, ) comes with a Logitech force-feedback steering wheel—feel the drift!— as well as mounts for a shifter and pedals. Like all auto accessories, Playseat will let you upgrade to a fancier kit until you're completely broke.