After the first announcement of the Xbox One in May – which was light on games and heavy on everything else. Microsoft’s E3 conference made good by actually presenting a whole host of games and explaining how some of them would work with their DRM-policies and ‘cloud processing’. One of the games that went into some detail about how this would work was Forza Motorsport 5, and Turn 10’s Dan Greenewalt took no time in discussing Forza 5’s new cloud-based mechanic, the ‘Drivatar’ system.
Dodgy buzzword aside, the Drivatar fits into the mould of developers embracing new technologies to create innovative ideas. A lot of discussions around the cloud have centred on whether it can transform gaming, but as with any new technology, things will only improve over time.
One of the biggest issues – as mentioned in the above link – is how well the cloud can work in real time. Every action and reaction counts by the nanosecond; whether it is multiplayer in a first-person shooter, sports game, driving game and so on.
The Drivatar works differently in that its use of the cloud exists to collect data from how you drive. It’s difficult to tell exactly how much of this is translated into real time calculations, but essentially (as long as you’re online) after every race, Forza 5 collects data on your driving habits; if you brake early, how you approach a corner, how fast you leave the corner, its all gathered up by the game and sent to the cloud. From there it sends back a package that is your Drivatar, and every time you race or take part in the Drivatar lessons it will gradually improve and drive according to your habits.
From there, your Drivatar can be used to take on races for you (although they will be entitled to a cut of the pay), but perhaps more importantly: the Drivatar of other players will start popping up in your game as the other drivers, and they will drive according to what the game perceives as their driving habits. So theoretically, the fixed routes and patterns that are set up in the conventional means of AI programming are transformed into something entirely different and each race becomes a new challenge.
Outside of a one-time connection, you were free to do as you please on offline mode, which theoretically would have meant existing AI systems being in place. Although with the Xbox One originally needing to connect once a day, surely the Drivatar systems would update anyway, unless it was something that needed to update in-game. Now though, you have no need to be online at all. Were developers notified at the beginning that this could ever be a situation that occurred and that they might have to adjust their games accordingly?
Microsoft was nice enough to respond about this situation. They simply noted that “Drivatar will only function when the player is connected to the cloud, so if someone chooses to play strictly offline, opponent cars will be driven by computer AI rather than Drivatar powered opponents.” They also said that ‘Similarly, Drivatar will only be collection information on your driving habits when connected to the Internet.”
So while people have been collectively applauding their triumphs to make Microsoft reconsider their ways, it might not make a whole of difference depending on how developers deicide to make their games. And while the previous Forza games have been of a high standard in the driving genre (and it’s hard to imagine Forza 5 will be any different). The fact remains that regardless of the DRM reversal, for some people who don’t or can’t connect online, their experience will not be the same for those who are connected.