You can read far too much into an E3 demo, and we'd be wrong to assume that the finished Gran Turismo PSP won't feature much, much more than the version we've played in Sony's suite. But the early signs are that this will be a slenderer game than its home console counterparts - hardly surprising, given it will be a flagship launch title for the download-only, UMD-free PSPgo.
The main menu options are single-player, multiplayer, Mission Challenge, Car Dealer and Trade. Mission Challenge is a combination of the traditional GT Licence Tests that guide players through the basics of simulation racing, and GT4's more advanced Driving Mission scenarios. Trade and multiplayer weren't available to test, while the car dealer was a shop, pure and simple.
What you'll be shopping for will be instantly familiar to any Gran Turismo fan. Polyphony head Kazunori Yamauchi has his own particular taste when it comes to cars, and it's not the most up-to-date, but it is a real connoisseur's selection of eighties, nineties and early 2000s Le Mans racers, rally cars, Japanese tuner coupés, plush Euro production cars and esoteric classics. We spot the latest BMW M5 and Skyline, an '85 Lancia Delta rally car, a 2002 Lotus Esprit, a DeLorean and classic Mustangs and E-types as well as some unlikelier candidates, notably the Dodge Ram pickup and a vintage Citroen 2CV. There are 100 cars in this demo and we'd be surprised if that was all of them.
Single-player offered single race, time trial and the new drift trial modes, but none of the more substantial race events that we're used to from Gran Turismo. Drift trial puts markers around the corners of the selection of classic Gran Turismo tracks - the likes of Trial Mountain, Deep Forest, Laguna Seca and the Nordschleife Nurburgring - and scores you for the longest drift around the corner. Standard racing has adopted the racing line guide introduced by series rival Forza Motorsport.
There's no car modification or tuning on show at all in this build, although Yamauchi promises this GT staple will appear in some reduced form in the finished game. You can however set traction control, stability management, steering assists, change car and tyre settings, save replays and download time trial and drift ghosts.
The on-track experience is pure Gran Turismo - well, almost. The combination of the iconic tracks and cars means you couldn't mistake it for any other racing game, but the feel is a little way off simulation, especially in rear-wheel-drive cars which tend to oversteer and drift with extreme ease. It almost feels like Project Gotham in places - but the sense of weight, suspensions travel and road surface is still amazingly strong for a handheld game.
Read on for an interview with Kazunori Yamauchi (conducted by Christian Donlan).
Eurogamer: The demo doesn't have tuning or modification...
Kazunori Yamauchi: It's going to have a Quick Tune mode. You won't be able to replace parts or anything, but you'll be able to adjust your spring rate, ride height, and camber alignment.
Eurogamer: Was there a decision to rein that aspect in because you're on the go?
Kazunori Yamauchi: That's the main reason. One thing that we were careful about when we designed the PSP version is that Gran Turismo provides a really wide field of options and things that you can do in the world and on the PSP version we have such a small screen, if we provide that kind of options it will confuse the user, so we're very careful to make sure that the player would clearly know what to do next in incremental steps rather than have the same kind of system as Gran Turismo has provided before.
Eurogamer: Is it hard to strike a balance between getting it to work on a handheld and also providing that kind of depth that Gran Turismo players expect?
Kazunori Yamauchi: In the traditional Gran Turismo you're too free to do anything you want, and to have the player focus in on the small screen it has to be very clear what you have to do next, and it's that kind of presentation within the system. So the depth of the game hasn't changed, just how we present is different.
Eurogamer: Can you talk about developing for the PSP? Previous Gran Turismo games came on multiple discs, but presumably you've got a file limitation now this is downloadable.
Kazunori Yamauchi: We're still working very hard on that, and we're actually working to get it down to around a gigabyte.
Eurogamer: Is it a little bit scary being the launch title for PSPgo? Gran Turismo is such a Sony tradition - is there a sense that Gran Turismo has to sell hardware as well as software?
Kazunori Yamauchi: Not really, because it's actually just a matter of coincidence that the release of our software and PSPgo coincided.
Eurogamer: Gran Turismo PSP has been in development for a really long time. Can you explain what stretched development out and how the game has changed over that time period?
Kazunori Yamauchi: We first made the announcement in E3 of 2004, so [laughs] it's been five years. Since then we've released GT4, Tourist Trophy, GTHD and GT5 Prologue. Of course we were always working on the PSP version a little bit at a time, but every time we have one of those releases it's affected by that new title. So this is a software that was born in between GT5 Prologue and GT5, and it's affected by both of those titles.
Eurogamer: In return, does it have any kind of knock-on effect on how GT5 is coming along?
Kazunori Yamauchi: I don't think there was a direct effect, but I do believe that the development team really gained experience in streamlining displaying graphics on a very small space and also how to manage memory when the amount of memory available is very small. That sort of experience is something that was gained by the team.
And you know, this is the first time we've developed a portable game, and I think there is an effect on how we see games, and how we understand videogames.
Eurogamer: Could you expand on that a little bit?
Kazunori Yamauchi: When you think of a game you have certain expectations for it, but we were going from a full HD screen to a screen this size [gestures PSP shape], and the dynamic range between the two experiences is very different and changes your thinking.
Eurogamer: Have you been thinking about other racing games? It seems that Forza is in the same space, but other racing games have gone into really quite strange areas with power-ups and weird effects and elaborate open worlds. How much do you take notice of what's happening in the wider genre?
Kazunori Yamauchi: I've created games before with power-ups and things like that - Motor Toon Grand Prix for example - but Gran Turismo is always just Gran Turismo. That's just the same as U2 is always going to sing U2 music - they're not going to sing hip-hop all of a sudden.
Eurogamer: Can I ask you a little bit about what motivates you as a game creator - is it cars or is it game design?
Kazunori Yamauchi: That depends on the time period actually. Right now creating the game system has my interest, because we're creating things like this, and when I'm creating GT5 I'm always thinking about how the system's going to be arranged. But at a certain point in time my heart goes out to cars, so it kind of swings back and forth!
Eurogamer: In terms of GT PSP connectivity, is there downloadable content planned, and is there any plan for connecting with GT5 at all?
Kazunori Yamauchi: First off, for the PSP version we're not thinking of any downloadable content. And as for the link with GT5, we're hoping maybe to make it so you can share the garage with the PSP version so that cars you unlock on PSP will be available immediately on GT5.
Eurogamer: I appreciate you're not here today to talk about GT5, but is there anything you can say about how development's going?
Kazunori Yamauchi: I want to release it as fast as I can, but GT5 for us, when you talk about its status, it's at a point we can release it any time we want, but we can always keep working on it. It's very important for us to make sure everything is done perfectly and everything is done in detail.
Eurogamer: One of the things that stood out in Microsoft's press conference was the Forza team saying it was the definitive simulation racer. How do you feel about that?
Kazunori Yamauchi: I don't exactly know what their announcement was about, but we've evolved over 10 years through our history, towards GT5, and I don't know if it's something that can be compared.
Eurogamer: As a car fan, any thoughts on the troubles the car industry is going through at the moment?
Kazunori Yamauchi: My first and foremost concern right now is not about the game industry but it's more about the automobile industry. I'm very worried about it and I don't think it's a problem that's just limited to the United States. One of the reasons why we made this game now and are releasing it now is that we want teenagers to get into cars. That's something I had in mind when I created the game. Cars are fun and just wonderful to drive, and it's something we have to relay to younger generations and all over the world.
Eurogamer: And, with how exhaustive GT is and how detailed and specific it is about cars, is there almost a sense that as the economy steps away from building these elaborate, really exciting bits of technological brilliance, you're almost becoming a curator for the really great cars?
Kazunori Yamauchi: 20 years, 30 years away, I think you're right - Gran Turismo will have that kind of effect where people look back and say, oh, cars back then used to be like this. But videogames doesn't have a very long history yet - they're just getting started. But cars have a hundred years of history, and when we read books about cars, we think these cars were created a hundred years ago, and we have something to gain from that. And that's also because the history of books is long as well. But I think in the future maybe videogames will have that kind of effect on people as well.
Gran Turismo PSP is due out on 1st October. Hands-on by Oli Welsh, interview by Christian Donlan.