BFTP: Gran Turismo
There are only a handful of games that change an entire genre; Gran Turismo is one of those games. Gran Turismo was released in the spring of 1998 into a console market where simulation-driving games were limited to games featuring only single manufactures. The likes of Porsche Challenge and Automobili Lamborghini or single discipline racing the likes of Formula one were all too common. Gran Turismo featured over 150 fully licensed cars from all forms of manufactures and presented you with the most realistic, and most in-depth racing game.
Gran Turismo’s importance to the racing genre is so significant that you can plot its affects on other games. Racing games before 1998 were heavily influenced by the arcade styling of Ridge Racer, Daytona and Outrun where outlandish jumps, power slides and an on rail Scalextric cornering feel. While the most successful racing games post 1998 have simulation as their core feature. Dirt, Project Gothem Racing and Forza racing have all in one way or another been directly influenced by Gran Turismo.
Polyphony Digital, the developers of Gran Turismo aimed at offering a “simulation” feel to racing video games allowing drivers to experience driving and racing cars that the average person would never be able to drive or buy in real life. During production Polyphony Digital undertook a huge research exercise where they painstakingly analysed every angle, engine noise and characteristic of each car. As a result each car had a unique feel and just like in real life no two cars drove the same.
Gran Turismo was split into two modes – Arcade and Simulation. The arcade mode alone was head and shoulders above other racing games of the period. It featured a perfect balance of instant gratification and challenge. Major manufactures and instantly recognisable cars were available from the first race. Arcade mode followed the standard tier racing format. Winning races meant you unlocked new tracks and cars, the progressive difficulty meant that completing arcade mode was a significant achievement.
The arcade mode was aimed at the casual pick up and play driver but also acted as an introduction to the immersive Simulation mode. Gran Turismo’s simulation mode was an open-ended career mode which challenged drivers to hone their skills across multiple cars, tracks and disciplines.
Simulation mode featured a fierce learning curve. Before you can enter various races you must obtain the relevant license for that race. Somewhat controversial at the time but a feature which has been replicated in both Forza motorsport and to a lesser degree in the Project Gotham racing series. Obtaining racings licenses was done through completing various challenges, race from point A to point B in X time for a frequent challenge. What made the licence test so challenging was the games sublime realistic physics and the unique real world handling of each car. Each car’s unique mix of grip, power, weight, and balance directly influences the way it responds and performs on the track. So a challenge using the hugely powerful and almost uncontrollable Dodge Viper is infinitely more difficult than the same challenge using a severely underpowered Honda Civic.
The licenses tests not only aimed to challenge drivers but they were an important tutorial tool to ease you into the mid-set of a racer driver. A game which punished you for not using racing lines, breaking zones and general race discipline was almost unheard of, however one of the major features that ensured nongaming petrol heads migrated to Gran Tursimo was the almost eerily realistic car tuning modifications. Every single area of the car could be tweaked, changed or removed. Gear ratios, turbo levels, wheel camber and tyre type are just some of the areas that could be modified. This flexibility allowed drivers to modify their cars for each individual track and race types.
No matter how much engine tweaking was done the real stars of Gran Turismo were the cars. Almost every major manufacturer was associated and the ones that weren’t were scrambling to become associated with the series. Cars from all global regions featured. The game included current, conceptual and classic cars from all manufactures. Motorsport aficionados whom had only seen TVRs and Dodges in magazines were now able to live out their dreams without the cost of owning a supercar.
The games far reaching success lead to boy-racers seeking out and even importing their favourite models, cars from Mitsubishi not released in many European territories become sought after automobiles. Their desirability lead too many GTO’s and FTO’s being imported from Japan.
Kazunori Yamauchi’s much loved game not only established the Gran Turismo name, it placed Sony’s Playstation in pole position. To date Gran Turismo has shipped in excess of ten million copies worldwide and spawned over ten further versions.
So with the imminent release of Gran Turismo 5 the question is:- Can Polyphony Digital and Kazunori Yamauchi radically affect the world of driving simulation once more?