In the driver’s seat

In the driver’s seat

Ed Byrne ’97 greenlights key features for Xbox’s most popular racing game.

Sitting in the front seat of today’s hottest cars, from Ferraris to Lamborghinis, fans of the Forza video game series start their virtual engines before speeding around the globe for the ultimate racing experience. It’s what’s made the franchise one of the highest-grossing series of all time, but Forza’s winning strategy relies on a delicate balance between what users want and how the game can deliver. That’s where Ed Byrne ’97 comes in.

Byrne, a design director at Turn 10 Studios, part of the Microsoft family, works with the game’s programmers, producers, artists, engineers, and designers to ensure the creative vision holds together. His job? To take a series of the game’s features, such as the ability to customize cars using colors and decals, and put them through the wringer — sketching, prototyping, and testing — so that when the final product is released, gamers are revved up for the new details.

“It’s bringing order to chaos,” Byrne says. “You’re finding the fun and understanding your audience. When those two items merge, you have a good product.”

But Forza’s $1 billion franchise, available exclusively on Microsoft’s Xbox video game console, didn’t happen by chance. It has leaned into understanding its audience through game data analysts, user experience designers, and telemetry to help drive decisions that keep the game a perennial bestseller.

“We’ve seen the rise of creative personnel and technology that give us data, insights, and consumer profiles that show us how best to meet our players’ needs,” says Byrne.

Byrne, a fine arts major at TCNJ, had his first foray into video game design while working as a computer lab tech in Holman Hall. A man from a local computer store asked Byrne and his friends to create graphics for a sci-fi game he had in mind. The final product never materialized, “but it was the first general game project that I was involved in,” says Byrne.

After graduating, Byrne made his mark at Sony, Disney, and UbiSoft, creating games for popular brands like Harry Potter, Marvel Avengers, and the Splinter Cell series. He also got the chance to cross an item off his bucket list when he created his own game, Moon Breakers, in collaboration with Google.

“To be able to make a game is a rare opportunity. Not many people will get the chance to build something as personal with that level of creative control,” he says.

Byrne admits that his career feels a bit like the games he designs — a fantasy. But it’s his fanatical thinking that led him to where he is today.

“As an 11-year-old, sitting in front of a rubber keyboard computer, I had no idea someone like me could do this,” he says.

 

Photo: Bill Cardoni

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