Gran Turismo 5: Kaz Yamauchi Interview
We meet with the creator of the Gran Turismo series for a detailed chat about the next iteration on the PS3.
By Adam Doree
There's a reason why the Gran Turismo series has racked up nearly 50 million sales world wide since its debut on PlayStation 1 back in 1998. It is the most finely crafted, most obsessively detailed and stunningly authentic racing simulator in the world. The resources - and budget - afforded to series creator Kazunori Yamauchi to recreate the unique handling, engine noises and sheer persona of thousands of vehicles, and translate them into a simulation, has probably never been matched, not even by the fantastic, critically acclaimed release of the Forza MotorSport series from Microsoft - the only racing simulation game to come close to GT's crown.
But regardless of this unrelenting commitment to realism, many would argue that the crown actually now belongs to Forza. With its superlative game structure, global online functionality and painstakingly realistic game physics that few could tell apart from the Sony series, the recent release of Forza 2 for the Xbox 360 arguably left Gran Turismo in the dust. But Kazunori has never been one to rest on his laurels, and has in fact been working on the true successor to Gran Turismo 4 since before the unveiling of PlayStation 3 itself.
With Sony so keen to position the PS3 as the ultimate high-end console - regardless of its actual competence next to the Xbox 360 - its flagship driving game franchise is going to be more important than ever. Later this year, Sony is releasing a taster of what to expect from GT5, called Gran Turismo 5 Prologue, which will be available in shops as well as via download from the PlayStation Store. The full game will follow later in 2008, according to developer Polyphony Digital's current development schedule. In this exclusive interview, we quiz Mr Yamauchi on the imminent release of Prologue as well as the eventual Gran Turismo 5 itself.
We last met with Kazunori in 2003 as he was deep in development on the unrivalled prospect that was GT4 for the PlayStation 2, and again the following year when he was nearing development. So it has been a while - and the excitement of the PS3 launch has been and gone, with the very early teaser 'Gran Turismo HD' for PS3 a distant memory. Now it's time for him to show his hand for real.
Without a doubt, the preview we were given of GT5 by Yamauchi looks incredible, with fine detail on everything from pit crew to in-car upholstery that Forza 2 could really only dream of. But can the series genuinely better itself? GT4, after all, scored lower than any previous GT game in the reviews. Does it stand a chance at regaining its idolised past, let alone surpassing the current darling of the genre, Forza? For that matter, what does Kaz himself think about the Microsoft rival title? And what, exactly, is the deal with Gran Turismo Mobile for the PSP? The answers we received were interesting.
Kikizo: Would you say it's getting incrementally harder to continue the high standard of visual quality with Gran Turismo? Because obviously, GT4 was already extremely good looking.
Yamauchi: Well I feel that yes, there are obvious difficulties, but the passion we have is always to create the best visual qualities available, that we can possibly extract from PlayStation 3. In a racing game, one of the most important aspects is that, because you are travelling at high speeds, you need high resolution to accurately create objects in the distance, and also to give you enough sense speed, sixty frames at 1080p resolution display is another must-have to further enhance the racing experience.
Kikizo: One of, or perhaps the only real criticism of Gran Turismo 4, was the lack of accessibility; it was very difficult for many players to get into the game. Is this something you would look to address in Gran Turismo 5?
Yamauchi: One thing is that we now have two levels of driving physics available: Standard is more for the beginners or the novice players; Professional is a further enhanced and more real experience, where even professional drivers can use Gran Turismo as a training tool.
Kikizo: So does Standard mode offer things like braking assist to achieve this more accessible play, or something else?
Yamauchi: Actually braking assist and things of that nature are in other categories you can select; it's more that the core physics design itself is geared towards less experienced players; it picks up on your mistakes, and is more forgiving, whereas Professional is more hardcore; you know, you make a mistake, you will pay for it! To try to explain it more simply, Standard would be closer to the original Gran Turismo, whereas Professional is where we are taking it to these extreme [physics] calculations. You know, a simulator designed for the novice player is not applicable for Michael Schumacher to use, and vice versa. So they are two different things that are included.
Kikizo: Could you give us your opinion on Forza MotorSport 2 for the Xbox 360, and in particular, the ability to reskin your car in very great detail - are you going to have this degree of superficial car customisation in GT5?
Yamauchi: Straight off the bat, I think that in terms of feature sets, Forza is ahead of us. They have more options, you can do basically anything. We take a different approach obviously - we try to concentrate on what are the core values for a racing game, and we try to elevate those standards up as high as we possibly can. I am having difficulty trying to explain the differences, but one way you can look at it is, you can buy a watch that is super multifunctional, but economical, or a watch that is reduced in functions, but premium - higher end.
Kikizo: Certainly, this demo you have shown us looks phenomenal, please can you tell us about some of the background to achieving this standard on PS3?
Yamauchi: On average, the car models in GT5 Prologue is 200,000 polygons - this is fifty times more than what we used to have on GT4 PS2, which was on average 4,000 - so fifty times upscaled. We are now able to see very fine details. Another new feature is the in-car camera, because we are now modelling the interior of the car as well. You'll also notice that we have taken the extra step to represent the stitching of the leather, to the full extent, and the dashboard and so on. We've notice throughout our development process that to allow for an in-car camera it gives you a further enhanced experienced that is even more real that it was in GT4. To the extent of even reverse, or other angles, it's not just the front dashboard that is detailed like this. GT5 Prologue will also allow up to a maximum fifteen [other] cars on the same track, previously it was six. And the visual quality in-game is 1080p, 60fps.
Kikizo: With sixteen cars on the track, it looks more like a race when you see the replay. Is this the reason why we can see that it runs at only 30fps in the replay view?