Gran Turismo Evolution

A video journey from GT1 to GT5.

In last week's Gran Turismo 5 tech analysis, Digital Foundry delved into its gaming archive and compared the new game to sections of gameplay from GT4. This got us thinking. Could we trace a tech lineage through all major versions of the game released to date, right from the franchise's beginnings in 1997?

The video below is the end product of our experiment. We've got the same five courses and the same five cars, running in GT titles from PlayStation, PSP, PlayStation 2 and PS3, and the comparison is quite extraordinary. It's a bit of a shame that replay angles were not standardised earlier, as the jump from PS1 to the other platforms can be rather jarring, but rest assured, these are the same corners on the same tracks - an evolution of both Polyphony Digital's development prowess and indeed the raw hardware power of the PlayStation consoles.

Five tracks, five cars... This is 13 years of Gran Turismo, spanning four hardware platforms.

Putting the video together was an interesting exercise. First up, having reviewed video samples, we decided to omit footage of Gran Turismo 2 and Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec. The PS1 title couldn't help us as there was no way to turn off HUD information in the replays - a shame as this potentially could have opened up many more cars and tracks for comparison. GT3 got cut because its content limitations were such that getting a match in cars and tracks across all hardware platforms became effectively impossible, plus there was no progressive scan for a high-quality image (PS3's backwards compatibility runs both GT1 and GT2 non-interlaced). Getting a match car-wise across all games was problematic already as we deliberately limited ourselves only to the premium cars in GT5.

The loss of both games wasn't a major nightmare, because a clear pattern emerges with Polyphony's work. The first game on a new platform establishes the tech and provides a decent amount of content. The sequel then adds masses of new tracks, cars and game modes - but crucially the tech remains much the same. For the purposes of this video, dropping these games still illustrated the technological progression from console to console - and arguably in a more concise manner.

Our first test video was promising, but showed a yawning chasm in the quality between GT1/2 and its PS2 sequels, illustrating just how much of a leap the new hardware was in the hands of Polyphony Digital. As a bridging point between PS1 and PS2, we added in the developer's PSP effort, which worked rather well - while the hugely delayed handheld title launched after GT4, the platform's technological limitations made it a good fit to sit in between our GT1 and GT4 footage.

The original Gran Turismo was a landmark title, but it's clear from replaying the game just how constrained Polyphony Digital must have felt in putting it together. The low-res visuals and 30FPS frame-rate harm the purity of the simulation which springs to life in the jump to 60FPS. You can tell where the developer was heading with the inclusion of the 60FPS HiFi mode within the original game - stripped down to its core, but a clear leap in controller response.

With the PlayStation 2, Polyphony found the computational horsepower to match its vision and the game took on a new dimension in terms of visual fidelity and the pure sense of "feeling" the car through the controls.

Replaying the PSP title (ad nauseum in order to access the correct dealerships and cars to match our existing footage) brings home what a missed opportunity that game was. Cut-down visuals and resolution, sure, but the simulation feels just as good as it did on PS2 - what a shame there was no GT Mode included, making it feel like more of a time trial/car collection mega demo rather than a fully rounded game. It could've been one of the greatest handheld games of all time. As you can see from the video, even the 480x272 native resolution still scales up to HD phenomenally well.

Deciding on the source format of the video project itself was a puzzle. Clearly 1080p was the obvious choice bearing in mind GT5's support for the resolution, and we used the PS3 itself to capture GT1 at this resolution too. The PSP version was captured natively at 480p via component, while GT4's 480p mode was utilised, the video upscaled on the fly during capture by our TrueHD hardware.

As we went into the edit suite, we had 1080p60 assets for all titles. The replay focus of the video ensured we only required a 30FPS at the top-end resolution (disappointingly, GT5's replays run at 30Hz only), but adjusting the project to run on 30FPS assets would have been the wrong move: the GT4 and PSP footage really suffered, bereft of 50 per cent of its temporal resolution. So to see the video at its best, we're preparing a selection of downloads for offline viewing.

Updated: Quality-based high bandwidth encodes are now available for download. Recommended for PC/360 and PS3 is the 720p60 version (209MB), or alternatively this 1080p30 version (280MB). Got a fast PC or PlayStation 3? Get the best of both worlds with this 1080p60 encode (399MB). Overkill? Sure, but it's the best way to ensure that each game's charms are fairly represented.

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