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The road to Gran Turismo 7 - the evolution of Trial Mountain

Polyphony Digital's iconic circuit compared across the generations.

Since its inception Gran Turismo has always pushed the envelope for each new console. With the reveal of Gran Turismo 7 at Sony's recent PlayStation 5 event then, we have an exclusive that appears to live up to that reputation: both 4K resolution and 60fps are on display in the trailer, alongside taxing ray traced reflections. And yet despite the technical ambition, it's a true, classic circuit that's used to demonstrate it all: Trial Mountain. After its absence in Gran Turismo Sport on PS4, Trial Mountain's return shows the huge strides developer Polyphony Digital has taken. Not just in comparison to its last appearance with Gran Turismo 6 on PS3, but going all the way back to the original 1997 PlayStation game. Every numbered entry features this track, and so, it charts a clear path of technical evolution for the series - today letting us see how far we've come in seven numbered entries.

Much was shown in the trailer, but what's curious is how Polyphony Digital has chosen a track not available in GT Sport, ruling out a PS4 vs PS5 comparison. There is an overlap in the choice of vehicle though: the Mazda RX Vision GT3 was Kazunori Yamauchi's car of choice, and it is indeed available on GT Sport's dealerships. In theory, most cars could transfer over in a similar manner, with the design of the Mazda making the jump from GT Sport more or less as-is. Much of the internal material-work - chair fabric, the rubberised wheel, LEDs, and even rear-view screen, are matched between the two. Still, GT7's rendering has an advantage: we're getting a native 3840x2160 image from the trailer as opposed to PS4 Pro's checkerboarded 1800p target.

The jump is standout - and ray tracing makes a difference too. An overview of the garage reveals a huge focus on ray traced reflections - rather than simply settling for RT shadows. Chrome materials, and even opaque window surfaces reflect the environment with more nuance than we've ever seen on console. Each vehicle even reflects its own details as we pan around their polished chassis. This is the real deal. The caveat is that these reflected elements run at a lowered resolution of circa-1080p in this trailer. It ends up giving portions of the screen an aliased look, within an overall higher-res picture, with almost checkerboard-esque artefacts. Still, it's a huge leap over the screen-space reflections of Sport - where artefacts could creep in with objects occluding the reflecting material. This is just one example of how PS5 can leverage a form of ray-tracing, while keeping 4K and 60fps, and it really impresses.

Cover image for YouTube videoThe Road to Gran Turismo 7: Tech Evolution of Trial Mountain - Every Gran Turismo Compared!
The evolution of Trial Mountain, as depicted in every numbered entry in the Gran Turismo series.

As to how the iconic Trial Mountain course has evolved over each series entry, that's an outlook best served by the above video - and the circuit's return is significant for many reasons but mostly because it's a complete, ground-up reworking of a series staple. It's a circuit that has evolved with Polyphony's work across the generations of PlayStation hardware. The question is how representative this is of the final experience. After all, Polyphony Digital spends years of development on their titles and by the time they eventually launch, they often transform dramatically when stacked up against their initial showings. And there is some evidence that beyond what we've seen in this trailer, the team is experimenting with other ways to tap into the new hardware.

The studio has already shown off 8K 120fps footage of an enhanced Sport build, back at the InterBEE 2018 event. TheGran Turismo 7 trailer runs at 60fps without skipping a beat, at least, but doubling that refresh to 120 has been noted by Polyphony as a higher priority than boosting the resolution. Whichever road the developer eventually takes, the trailer is still a showcase in its own right. Resolution and performance modes would certainly be great options to have in a final product.

Beyond that, the arrival of new hardware brings with it a new set of expectations - a wish list from the committed Gran Turismo fanbase. What we've seen so far looks like an evolution of GT Sport, but with PS5's beefier 10.28 teraflop spec, there's a demand to see that power used to deliver never-seen-before features. Fully dynamic weather on every track, similar to Project Cars, would be high up on the list, as well as a more realistic damage model. It's great to see the return of a classic Gran Turismo career mode here, but better in-game handling, AI, and improved chase cameras are also key wants.

The trailer shown on PS5 achieves what it sets out to do, regardless. The series has never looked better, and Trial Mountain uses its lineage as a great way to showcase the advances with the move to 4K, upgraded materials, and its ray tracing implementation. All that remains now is some sign of when the game will actually arrive. Polyphony games tend to arrive after three to four years of development (excepting the mammoth six-year wait for Gran Turismo 5) so based on GT Sport's 2017 launch maybe we'll see something next year? Needless to say, we'll be keeping a close eye on developments.