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E3 2003: Gran Turismo 4

What we thought of the demo, and a quick chat with Kazunori Yamauchi...

As predictable as a new FIFA game, we hardly need to remind you that there's a new Gran Turismo title due out on the PS2 at the end of the year, and more than a few of you will be perspiring just a little at the prospect of opening the bonnet of Mk.4 and sniffing the fumes.

But thankfully we've got a little more than an enthusiastic press release to go on. First of all we got some decent hands-on time with the game, playing through three tracks, sampling some networked racing, and then we went off for a chat with the esteemed Kazunori Yamauchi from developer Polyphony Digital in a round table Q&A session; of which more later.

More more more

Gran Turismo 4, then. What's new? Oh, you know. More cars, different courses, an "all-new" physics engine with "revolutionary technology to deliver enhanced, if not perfected, game physics" [that's me stuffed then -Ed], new race modes, online gameplay and graphics that provide a "near-realistic automotive racing simulation".

The online mode is perhaps the most interesting development, with support for up to six players, offering petrolheads the chance to both race online and "chat with others to form an automotive community". Sadly, voice chat won't be available in game, and we know precious little about what online modes will be included.

Of the trio of tracks on show at E3, New York City particularly caught the eye, showing off the nigh on photo realistic backdrops to stunning effect (as long as you ignore the cardboard cut-out crowds), with incredibly detailed buildings and texturing throughout. The dusty rally-based Grand Canyon course was less impressive, while the stadium-based track was nothing you haven.t seen plenty of times before, but all amply demonstrate Polyphony's ability to push the PS2 further than many could have imagined. But before you ask, no there's no vehicle damage. Again.

Glitch Turismo?

Car wise, there was talk at the show that GT4 will have more cars than any previous title in the series, with an insane 500 plus figure being thrown around. We're not sure if this makes the game any more fun, or just makes it an insanely complex and completist simulation, but we can't really complain about more content. It just makes it pretty impossible to review like a conventional game.

Just as well, then, that the demo is a fairly focused affair. The actual car models are extremely well rendered, as you'd expect from the "masters". From the hour or so we hurled ourselves around the various tracks, the handling doesn't seem dramatically different from GT3, although it would be unfair to judge from such a relatively brief session. If we're totally honest, the demo of Project Gotham 2 was far more impressive both visually and in gameplay terms, encompassing the handling and the various distinct ways of playing it. Oh, and was more fun. But don't forget, GT4 has full online racing, although it must be noted that Gotham 2 will also have this, albeit lag free and for up to eight players, along with ghost downloads and time leaderboards. We know which one we're more excited about.[updated - Ed]

The six-player network games at the show gave us some hint of how much of a draw this will be when it arrives later in the year, but frustratingly you can't see what car your opponent has chosen until you're actually in the race, and voice support won't be included either, although it may yet make an appearance in a pre-race lobby situation. Meanwhile, there were a few lag-related graphical glitches apparent in the demo sessions, with cars jerking oddly in front of you as you approach, but we're assured that the problem will be addressed in the run up to its release.

From the horse power's mouth

Meanwhile, allow us to hand over to Polyphony Digital's Kazunori Yamauchi, who was only too happy to field questions relating to the absence of car damage, online play and what got him into making obsessively detailed car simulations in the first place.

Press Panel Will there be any car damage in Gran Turismo 4?
Kazunori Yamauchi

The simple answer to your question is: no. We are not planning to include any visual car damage. However, we are considering something, although we are not 100 percent sure... For instance, you saw the Grand Canyon course with the car running close to the ridges of the canyon? If the driver messes up and misses the course, we might show the car jumping off the cliff, but we won't show it falling into pieces at the bottom. We're still considering that and we don't know how far we can go with it.

Instead of visual damage, we are considering some kind of a penalty system in which players will be penalised for trying to run corners along a wall, as they did in Gran Turismo 3 for instance. Also, pushing against opponents' cars, again seen in previous GT titles, will be penalised. We're currently trying to find the best solution.

Press Panel Will you include car damage in a GT game in the future?
Kazunori Yamauchi

One of the reasons it would be difficult to include damage is that, because Gran Turismo is a real driving simulator, we would have to consider damage to be real. I have done experiments, and a very high percentage - maybe 80 percent - of crashes in Gran Turismo would smash the car into pieces maybe two inches big.

Current specifications of the hardware will not allow us to represent this fully. If the specs are higher, then maybe, but then again, there are also other issues with manufacturers, licence issues. there are many hurdles we must get over. It's not all manufacturers, but there is a trend generally speaking that manufacturers have become a little bit more lenient towards the direction we would like to head, in terms of allowing for damage on cars in games. You do see that in other games - there are ways - it's just that with the range of cars we have, it's more difficult.

Press Panel Will GT4 be the last PS2 game you make?
Kazunori Yamauchi Maybe [smiles].
Press Panel Can you tell us about the online features?
Kazunori Yamauchi The reason why you haven't heard much [about online] is that there isn't much we can talk about, unfortunately. But my main area of interest is not actually the racing element of online, for instance, where people will compete against each other online. My main interest is to find a setting where players can come to share knowledge of cars - just car talk. Car talk is endless: you can talk about tyres; you can talk about oil, car parts, modification...
Press Panel Will you include an 'online garage' where you can trade?
Kazunori Yamauchi Technically it's possible, but we're currently studying all the possibilities.
Press Panel Will you offer voice communication via the USB headset?
Kazunori Yamauchi During racing? No, because Gran Turismo 4 uses the specs of the system to its maximum. Unless you want 30fps frame rate.but I'm sure no-one wants that.
Press Panel It would be nice to know what car your opponent has chosen before a race - what about voice communication at that stage?
Kazunori Yamauchi

What you've brought to our attention is absolutely right, but that is only because we were very limited in time preparing for E3. For the finished game, there will be a system in place so that players know what each other has chosen, otherwise it wouldn't be fair. I think most of you will have experienced the demo downstairs and noticed in some of the online competitions that you might see an opponent car fidgeting in front of you. This is a technology problem due to latency and cannot be eliminated 100 per cent.

But the team is very, very smart and knows what it's doing. They know the problems, but they also know the solutions. It's just that due to the network, there are hurdles they cannot overcome. So you will always see that, and the further you are away from someone, the more "off" that will be. If you're closer it's not that bad.

There are so many areas we need to study if we're to say we're comfortable with where we're going. The biggest problem for me is that the images that players see will no longer be the standard of Gran Turismo, and that's the greatest concern for me we have in terms of taking the game online.

I don't think that problem will ever be solved. No matter how hard the team studies the programming side of the game, there will always be a network-related problem in which the quality of the gameplay will be decreased when seen in relation to the potential of the rest of the game. Being the perfectionist that I am, this will always be a problem in my mind, and I will have to continue examining it.

Maybe if this were another game it might not be such a significant point. But because it's Gran Turismo and because of the quality we've had, once we take the online step, we're afraid it won't be the Gran Turismo that we all know. That's not the way we would like to move forward.

Press Panel Considering its accuracy, have you ever thought about commercial uses for Gran Turismo in the sense of teaching people to drive particular cars, or will it always be a game for entertainment purposes?
Kazunori Yamauchi

We have been approached by a number of car manufacturers and we are looking into some of those possibilities, but we haven't actually taken the step into taking action in terms of creating some kind of training simulator.

We're not as interested as the manufacturers in this case.

Press Panel What got you into cars and making car games in the first place?
Kazunori Yamauchi There's no specific incident in my life that triggered the passion. I feel it's an instinct a lot of boys have - it's just natural for boys to like cars and that's where it stems from.
Press Panel What racing games inspired you?
Kazunori Yamauchi Winning Run by Namco and Microprose Grand Prix.

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