I always had a love/hate relationship with school. On the one hand, I learned some stuff. On the other, a lot of it was really boring. Most of the information I got in the hour-long lectures I attended in college could have been communicated in a series of succinct emails. So I'm often a bit torn when I attend a Polyphony Digital press briefing. As a car nut and Gran Turismo fan, I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to get even the tiniest glimpse of the most astounding driving simulator in the world. But I also get some serious classroom flashbacks.
Polyhony head Kazunori Yamauchi has been holding Gran Turismo 5 lectures at every major videogame event for the past couple of years. He made the rounds this year at E3 and Gamescom, revealing tiny bits of information about the upcoming game each time. We've recently learned that GT5 will ship with a track editor, that it will sport a massive community and race-sharing component and that it will feature a robust weather and damage system. Each of these reveals has been informative – even exciting. But as the title rolls closer and closer to launch on November 2, I've been getting more and more antsy for school to just be out already. I've seen the bullet points and taken notes. I've paid attention and asked questions. I've studied the screens and trailers. Now I just want to graduate.
The feeling of restlessness hit me doubly hard at the Tokyo Game Show this week, when Yamauchi held his traditional behind-closed-doors demo session at the Makuhari Messe convention center in Japan. The presentation took place in a drab room lined with long tables full of attentive listeners taking furious notes. There were slides. There was a lectern. There were even people taking attendance. Would I be able to last the hour? Once the session began, I had my answer. Because no matter how many of these I attend, they always end up giving me chills. And that never happened in Econ 300.
Last time it was seeing the interior modeling on a GT500 race car. A few sessions before that, it was driving the Lamborghini Gallardo. This time it was a trailer, for a car that doesn't exist yet. It's called the Project X1 Prototype, and it's a collaboration between Polyphony Digital and Red Bull Racing, the team that currently leads the Formula 1 constructors' world championship. It's an answer to the question, "What would a race car, free of all technical regulations, look like?" Apparently the answer is, "awesome."
Tease that he is, Yamauchi only showed the prototype car in silky silhouette. It's a black thing, with undulating lines of what looks like carbon fiber. It looks impossible, which I suppose is the point. Cars like these are important to Yamauchi, who views the automotive world with a mix of deep respect and childlike adoration. The X1 Prototype is a ridiculous machine, a speed-freak fantasy. It's absurd and beautiful, even shrouded in shades of gray. And yes, it sent a shiver down my spine.
Seeing the X1 reminded me that there was soul behind Gran Turismo 5's slideshows and factsheets, and the rest of Yamauchi's TGS presentation drove that fact home. In addition to the X1 reveal, Yamauchi announced a handful of other vehicles that made the cut for GT5, including the Isuzu 4200R, another concept car. The 4200 was revealed at the 1989 Tokyo Motor Show and was worked on by some of the world's top young designers at the time. A newer concept inclusion, the GT By Citroen race car, was designed jointly by Citroen (exterior) and Polyphony (interior). And as a reminder that the Gran Turismo series is about more than just speed, Professor Yamauchi whipped out a slide of three of the most random Volkswagens you'll ever see in a videogame: the squat Kubelwagon, amphibious (and epically ugly) Schwimmvagen and the classic Samba Bus, one of Kaz's favorite vehicles.
And to put them through their (slow) paces, Yamauchi announced you'll be able to putter around Laguna Seca, Trial Mountain and a nighttime version of the Sarthe Le Mans track. All are classic tracks from the series, completely rebuilt for Gran Turismo 5.
Not content to reserve the schooling solely for the gaming press, the folks at Polyphony have built in a series of Special Events into the Gran Turismo 5 experience, some of which are designed to mold you into a better driver. Want to make left turns just like a NASCAR driver? Jeff Gordon's NASCAR School can help you out. More of a dirt and grit person? Rally legend Sebastian Loeb has you covered in his own section.
In showing off the Sebastian Loeb Rally segment, Yamauchi demoed one of its coolest features: randomly generated special stages. Each time you race in this game type, the system auto-generates the rally course on the fly. That means it's a completely different experience each time you race, but it doesn't mean you'll lose your trusty navigator. Just like a real rally, you'll be hearing the turn distances and grades in your ear as you make your way from point to point, even though the track was randomly generated.
The rally Special Event is just one example of Polyphony's dynamic design approach to GT5. The game's weather system is also auto-generated (on endurance-based and custom tracks only) based on a trio of interacting factors: humidity, temperature and pressure. The combination of those three elements can result in fog, rain, snow or a clear day. Yamauchi said the team cannot even impose specific weather conditions on a particular race but merely suggest them by creating cloudy weather, for example. From there, the system takes over to create weather on the fly. It's an impressive feat that I'll probably love until I have to drive in the rain.
Gran Turismo 5 is just a few weeks from release, and it's a credit to the driving sim's sheer size, complexity and promise that it's still getting me excited after all these years. Now that that lessons are almost over, I can't wait to get out into the real world.
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