The day before yesterday, everybody in the games industry convinced themselves that Lady Gaga was going to turn up at Activision's E3 party, and she didn't. Yesterday, everybody in the games industry convinced themselves that David Jaffe wasn't going to unveil a new Twisted Metal, and he did.
In the midst of so much speculation and confusion, it's comforting to know that some things don't change: another E3, another chance to get a look at Gran Turismo 5, Polyphony Digital's personal Arcades Project. It's spent the last half-decade or so growing and growing with no end in sight - a game we get to visit once a year in carefully controlled circumstances, as if we're making an annual visit to an uncle who's stuck in prison.
Finally, though, the end is in sight. Gran Turismo will be hitting the US in November, and the rest of the world will probably be fairly close behind. Even Australia. "It would take too long to explain everything regarding GT5," laughs Kazunori Yamauchi, showing off the game backstage at Sony's booth. He should know: it's taken him long enough to make it.
On the track, Gran Turismo 5 is a dream to drive: the cars have distinct personalities, the skyboxes are huge and dramatic, and the handling can take in anything from arcade racing to simulation stuff so exacting I struggle to travel in a straight line. Today's not about getting another demo, however - there have already been enough of these, along with the little matter of a Prologue to get players accustomed to the basics. No, today Yamauchi wants to explain a bit about just what he's been making all these years, starting, as ever, with the cars.
There are two types of car in Gran Turismo, apparently: premium cars and standard cars. The latter, it's worth noting, are only standard by Yamauchi's exacting principles: there's over 800 of them, they cover the majority of the vehicles included in all the previous Gran Turismo games, including the PSP version, and they've been optimised and upscaled for the PS3.
If that bothers you, a show reel of standard cars - Dodge muscle numbers, streamlined F1 concepts, and something that looks to my untrained eye like a Mini Clubman with way too many rallying headlights - hardly makes them seem shabby. They're glossy, finely detailed, and a fair match for anything you might have seen in Project Gotham or Forza.
The 200 premium cars that take the final count past the 1000 mark are something else, however. The premiums have been lavished with a slightly worrying amount of detail - every single screw is visible in the hubs, the interiors have been recreated down to the stitching (standard cars won't have interiors, which is a bit sad, but there are, like, 800 of them), and their undersides have been comprehensively modelled to take into account a new physics system which, along with allowing for dents and scratches, can sends your ride flipping through the air during collisions.
Yamauchi likes to move in close on the models to let people see the individual pieces of disk brakes, or the engine parts dimly visible through grills, and when he compares pictures of a genuine and GT5 Nissan GTR, the only way you can tell the difference is that one of them has the reflection of the man taking the picture in the window. (Yep, I think that's Yamauchi too.)
Included in the premium garage will be nine NASCAR models, including those used by superstars - in Middle America, at any rate - like Carl Edwards and Brian Vickers. Brian Vickers! I know. GT5 allows you to race by the NASCAR rules, as well. Seeing it in motion seems a bit too brutal to fit comfortably into the rest of the game, but it's an excellent opportunity to enjoy that new physics deformation system and some truly epic crashes - although, typically, even fender benders look rather pretty and artful in Yamauchi's universe.
Polyphony hasn't just been modelling cars, of course, and it's here that, if you take into account the team's obsessive talent for minutiae, you start to realise why the game has been in the oven for a while. GT5's tracks - the latest inclusions include Madrid City, Tuscany, Rome Circuit, the Nurburgring and the good old Top Gear Test Track - can take as long as two and a half years to piece together. Once again, that dedication pays off, and whether it's the dusty dirt track of Tuscany to the heavily graffiti'd road surface of the Nurburgring, Polyphony's brought its locations into the game in a way that's vivid, solid, and extremely pretty.
It's all so pretty, in fact, that the developer's thrown in two different photo modes. The first one is a fairly standard affair for capturing snaps of cars as they whiz around the tracks. The second, however, is a little more elaborate. Photo Travel allows you to take your favourite cars to picturesque parts of the world, stroll through the stage on foot - from a first-person perspective - and take pictures of your motor until the last crows fall from the sky and the moon turns brittle and crumbles into dust.
Before we can say, "This is starting to sound like some automotive take on Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball, Mr Yamauchi, and it's making us a little uncomfortable," he's fired it up and we're off to Kyoto, to a part of town called Gion. Choosing from a range of spots to park his car, Yamauchi enters walking mode, and we're heading into the silent midnight streets of the city, checking out the posh little houses made of wood and glass, wandering past twinkling lanterns, and watching the cherry blossom drift on the breeze.
Yamauchi only has eyes for the car, however, and a click of a button switches us to the camera viewfinder where there are - would you believe it? - dozens of different options allowing you to zoom out, rotate, tilt, and screw around with the focus. After playing with the framing for so long you could be forgiven for thinking that he's forgotten anyone else is in the room, Yamauchi finally takes a picture. It's not great, as it happens, but photography's not really his thing, is it? His thing is rebuilding the Nurburgring from the gravel upwards.
From the photo mode, Yamauchi turns his attention to the online suite, as this is the first Gran Turismo game to include extensive PSN functionality. GT5's actually become a rather social game over the course of its development, and the current build supports BBS, personal logs, mail, and something called My Lounge. That turns out to be a friends network of sorts, where you can gather with other players and chat, or check up on their progress in the game, alongside the nifty stuff like setting up races and spectating on events that are already underway.
You really can follow the action as closely as you want, too, moving about the track, focusing in on the separate cars, and sending messages to the players who are racing, hopefully catching them at just the wrong moment so they make a mess of the next corner and dump their Porsche into a nearby tree.
Dozens of other details spill forth after that: the day-to-night transitions that can take place during a race, the 3D visuals and face-tracking in cockpit view (combine those last two and the results are astonishing as the horizon line disappears into the distance), classy visual effects like smoke illumination, collision sparks, and kicked-up debris. Whatever Polyphony's been doing for the last few years, its staff probably hasn't been clocking in at the office and then juggling Pop-Tarts all day.
It's not just a racer, really: it's a Noah's Ark for cars, a haven that will never be touched by rust or sky-rocketing fuel prices. And although while GT5's been in development the driving genre has gone through plenty of transitions of its own, if anything, the explosive excess of contemporary titles has given Yamauchi's game even more of an air of class, as it ditches the dynamite and the levelling up to rely instead on simply being comprehensive and beautiful.
Halfway through today's presentation, I think I may have realised that Yamauchi is probably quietly bonkers, but it's unquestionably the good kind of bonkers. He's a heroic completist, the kind of person who builds the unlikeliest monuments, who discovers new entries on the periodic table, or who constructs fantastical rockets and lands on the moon.
The kind of person who creates elaborately detailed videogames, and eventually ships them.
Gran Turismo 5 is due out for PS3 on 2nd November in the US and just plain "November" in Europe.