Kazunori Yamauchi is a man living the boy racer dream - or rather, he would be, if boy racers even dared to have this kind of dream. As the creator of what is arguably the world's most authentic, most comprehensive simulation of race driving, he lives and breathes cars and motorsport.
The Gran Turismo games are so popular and influential among car manufacturers that Yamauchi has been given new cars as presents. And after expressing his love for Nissan's 350Z he was invited to help build their new supercar, the GT-R, by designing the vehicle's multifunction display. (For helping out, unsurprisingly, they gave him one.)
You could certainly argue that Yamauchi is living the dream. On the other hand, the cause of his immense success - his relentless, nigh-on obsessive perfectionism - is probably a key obstacle to his enjoyment of it.
Where you and I see a great game, an amazingly detailed model or a beautiful track, Yamauchi sees only room for improvement. The result is that Polyphony Digital is notorious for delivering games late (some, like the PSP version of Gran Turismo, seemingly disappear entirely for years on end). The games are always huge hits when they appear, delighting those whose tastes are in tune with Yamauchi's own perfectionism and deeply impressing even those who aren't.
Now Gran Turismo 5 Prologue has given European gamers their first taste of the next instalment, we caught up with Yamauchi in London. Read on to find out what the roadmap for the game is from here, what he thinks of the competition (hint: he's not impressed) and where in the bloody hell that PSP version has got to.
Eurogamer: With Prologue now out the door, where do you go from here - straight into full development of the full version of GT5, or are there more steps along the way?
Kazunori Yamauchi: There will be an additional major update to Gran Turismo 5 Prologue before the game is complete.
Eurogamer: So is this a case of basically building the final game, block by block, as you go along?
Kazunori Yamauchi: We're not exactly making it in blocks... But we did have a few more things left undone in GT5 Prologue that we'll be adding along the way. Those would be community features - friends lists and things like that - and also adding damage to the game.
Eurogamer: When you sat down to develop Gran Turismo 5, what were the big things you wanted to do - the key, headline things that you wanted to change about the franchise?
Kazunori Yamauchi: Of course, the quality of games you can make on PS3 is so much higher - and we wanted to establish the benchmark of videogames by creating something that utilises all of its power. The other aspect that we wanted to focus on was building a community, between the user, us, and the automobile manufacturers, so that we could communicate and create a new space, a new world in that respect.
Eurogamer: You said recently that damage would come "soon" - it's coming in GT5, then? We won't be waiting until GT6?
Kazunori Yamauchi: That's the plan, yes! It's actually really difficult to finish the quality that's possible with the PS3, in terms of the fine details - it's a lot harder than we first expected. A lot of things are very dependent on that, and we can't answer right away. However, we are planning to add the community features, and the damage, during Gran Turismo 5 Prologue.
Eurogamer: The online play modes you've provided in Prologue are pretty simple compared to what other racing games do - is improving that a big focus for you?
Kazunori Yamauchi: Yes, there'll be a lot of features added to that. We'll be adding a lot of the necessities, like being able to form your own car clubs within the game, or making racing teams in the game. Things like that, where the users can actually interface with each other, are something that we'll be adding.
Eurogamer: What's happened to the PSP version? It was announced a very long time ago - where has it gone?
Kazunori Yamauchi: We had been developing the PSP version, but the problem was that the PS3 version took much more time and effort than we had first imagined. So that's been delayed - I don't think we'll be able to make the end of this year for the PSP version, but we are working on it.
Eurogamer: In the process of developing GT5, have any of your thoughts on the PSP version changed?
Kazunori Yamauchi: That's definitely true. Once we experienced PS3 online and went through all of that, we came to the conclusion that PSP should not be a standalone product - it should be linked in to the world of Gran Turismo, linked with the PlayStation 3.
Eurogamer: When you look at the games which have come out since GT4 - with Forza Motorsport probably being the most notable - do you see things that you'd like to do, things that have moved the genre forward? Or do you develop Gran Turismo in a vacuum, ignoring the competition?
Kazunori Yamauchi: The latter is actually exactly fitting, I think. We don't reference any other games when we're making Gran Turismo - it's purely based on what we want to achieve as a game.
Actually, I have difficulty playing other games for over five minutes. A lot of the low-level quality just stands out so much in other games that I can't stand them!
Eurogamer: It's a long way down the line, but since you're making a game which simulates reality, will you at some point reach a moment where you say, "This is good enough - this looks real, this feels real"?
Kazunori Yamauchi: You know, I've been asked the same question time and time again since the PSone - but every time the hardware goes up, there's been so much to do! I think this trend will continue. There'll always be a lot more to do.
We're actually very aware of things that we're still not able to do in the game - things that we'd like to keep continuing to add. That's something that I think will be ongoing, forever.
This game, we've called it GT5 Prologue - but it's not really a teaser of things to come. This is the best we can provide at this point in time. It's just that we don't consider it up to par, in terms of volume and things like that, to be called a full game by itself - by our standards, not by other people's standards. That's one thing we want to make clear for people.
Eurogamer: Given what you've just said, do you see Gran Turismo as your life's work? Is this what you're doing for the foreseeable future - or do you see yourself turning around some day and saying, "You know what, I want to make an RPG"?
Kazunori Yamauchi: Well, I've got a lot of ideas for one, so I'd like to be able to say some day, let's make an RPG... But there are a lot of things that we think are still insufficient in GT5. There's so much more to do still. I don't think it'll be any time soon that I'll be able to consider something like that!