Digital Foundry will be looking in-depth at Gran Turismo 5 later in the week, but in the meantime we're planning a series of blog posts to celebrate the long-awaited launch of PS3's most highly anticipated of sequels.
The first port of call for us when we received the game was to see just how Polyphony Digital had managed to implement a consumer-friendly course creator, bearing in mind how long it seems to take the developer itself to craft new circuits.
Polyphony calls this new mode the "Course Maker", but "Track Editor" would have been a more apt description because, you don't actually design the circuit at all. Instead, you feed the editor a range of variables and the code itself creates the track for you. From there you tweak the available values until you're happy.
To give you some idea of how it all works out, here's a video compilation outlining the process of customising a course. We've also captured the same tracks multiple times with single variables adjusted, and then we transition between the vids within the edit to give you a direct idea of how tweaking stuff like the time of day, weather conditions or road width affects the overall look of the track you're working on.
So, let's break down the entire process. First up, you choose an existing course to edit. There are seven of these "themes" available out of the box, encompassing tarmac, gravel and snowy environments, along with a couple of templates that favour hilly terrain. There's even a mini park there for customised kart racing. Choose a theme and you're ready to begin.
A default tracks appears, but if you don't like the look of it, simply hit The "New Track" button at the base of the screen to magic up a new course out of thin air. Don't like the look of that? Rinse and repeat until you get the basic look you're after.
From there, the editing work kicks in proper. You can change the number of sections on the circuit, then edit those individual segments to your liking, adjusting overall complexity, how sharp the corners are, and even how wide the road is. Global settings are also available, which cover elements such as the time of day and weather. However, some courses have limited time-of-day options or none at all and likewise with the selectable weather.
Once you're happy, you can road-test your creation with one of three cars specific to each theme, or else you can take a "favourite" from your garage for a spin on your new creation. Once your creation is complete, you can save and share it.
It's clear that the track editor has been designed for quick and easy content-creation as opposed to giving the players access to the same kind of tools used by Polyphony Digital itself. The scope of the courses you're able to create is accordingly fairly limited.
You can't design the layout of the track itself, you can't adjust the gradients of the terrain, and as you can see from the video, even a small tweak to just one variable can often dramatically change the layout of the entire circuit, presumably because the code is trying its best to fit your wishes into the available topography. Also sorely missed right now is the ability to mirror or reverse the current circuit.
On the plus side, the range of themes available covers off a great many racing scenarios that will be great for multiplayer: rallying, karting, driving through the snow... Also, whether it's through getting a more intimate understanding of how the variables work, or just through plain luck, the editor is capable of throwing up some eminently driveable courses - and the advantage of having such a tightly controlled editing environment is that it's basically impossible to create an unworkable track.
The global variables such as the adjustable weather and time of day mean that the overall appearance of the course can also be individualised to a certain extent, and some of the dynamic lighting effects in particular can be quite beautiful - especially when using the Alaska or Toscana themes.
It's evident from the setup of the editor that it has been designed with expansion in mind. Most obviously, the theme selection screen has been created so that additional templates can be easily selected once added (presumably through DLC updates).
However, even the main editor screen has enough real estate left over for at least a couple more tweakables, and it wouldn't surprise us at all to see the editor evolved and enhanced in the future...