TOKYO--At a press conference earlier today, Kazunori Yamauchi, president of Polyphony Digital, revealed a plethora of new information on Gran Turismo 4--most of it good. We'll get the bad news out of the way first, though, which is that Gran Turismo 4 will not be shipping with any online functionality. Yamauchi cited "challenges" with the European and Japanese online infrastructures as the reason behind the decision--challenges that would presumably have taken until well after the game's targeted December release date to overcome. Polyphony now plans to release an online version of the game (or at least a very similar game) sometime next year.
The focus of today's Gran Turismo 4 press conference was the game's newly announced B-Spec mode. Compatible with both the Arcade and Gran Turismo modes of play, the B-Spec option will essentially be an all-new way of playing (or not playing) the game. If you select the B-Spec option ahead of any race, you'll basically be choosing not to drive the car yourself but, instead, to just influence the way that the CPU driver in your seat does its job. You'll view the race from the same camera angles used in replays, and you'll determine how hard your driver pushes by hitting buttons numbered one (cruising) through five (driving on the edge). In addition to those buttons, you'll have the option to hit an overtake button that will see your driver actively trying to improve his position, and a button with a large letter "P" on it, which will have your driver pull into the pits at the next opportunity. Now, you might be thinking that the B-Spec mode is going to require you to do little more than stick your car on number five with the overtaking option highlighted. You'd be wrong.
For one thing, the CPU driver in your seat is capable of making mistakes, and is more likely to do so when he's driving aggressively. Yamauchi also pointed out that, in lengthy races, you'll need to look after your tires if you don't want to have to make lots of pit stops. Speaking of lengthy races, incidentally, Yamauchi--while demonstrating the B-Spec mode's Race Monitor screen--mentioned that it will be possible to speed up races by up to four times, so you could theoretically run the Le Mans 24 Hour race in just six hours. The Race Monitor screen, which updates on the fly, will allow you to check out the current race standings as well as the distances between each of the cars so that you might make more informed decisions as to how to have your driver proceed.
In addition to announcing the B-Spec mode, Yamauchi took a few minutes to go into greater detail about the game's photo mode--which was unveiled at E3 earlier this year. The photo mode will actually comprise two distinct methods for composing pictures: "photo travel" and "photo drive." The photo travel mode, which we got hands-on with at E3, will allow you to choose any car, place it in one of 15 different locations, and then shoot it from almost any angle imaginable. The photo drive mode, on the other hand, will allow you to take more action-oriented shots using race replays from any of the game's 50-plus tracks. The camera positions available to you in this mode will be more limited, but you'll still have over 300 to choose from at any time.
Among the 50-plus tracks in Gran Turismo 4 (not including the reverse versions) will be four that were unveiled for the first time today, namely El Capitan in Yosemite, California's Infineon Raceway, and Japan's Suzuka and Twin Ring Motegi circuits. Popular courses from previous Gran Turismo titles will also be in the game, and each has benefited from a GT4 makeover that not only makes them even more pleasing to the eye, but also, in the case of those based on real-life tracks, more realistic. The only newly announced course available to race in the Tokyo Game Show demo version of the game was El Capitan, so as soon as the press conference was over we took the opportunity to test-drive a few different cars there. The scenery was arguably the most beautiful we've ever seen in a racing game, with mountains and trees stretching far into the horizon. Yamauchi believes that Gran Turismo 4 players should be able to enjoy traveling the world as much as they enjoy driving, and with that in mind it's not difficult to see why the game would feature a track in the Yosemite National Park.
Among the cars we toured Yosemite in was the wedge-shaped Dome Zero concept car that dates back to the '70s--one of several cars that were revealed in Gran Turismo 4 for the first time today. Other models worthy of note that we got to see today (although not all of them were playable in the demo) included: the Mazda 6 MPS, which was only unveiled in Paris two days ago; the upcoming BMW M5; Toyota's Motor Triathlon Race Car, which looks like the 4x4 offspring of a Formula 1 car and an SUV; Jay Leno's one-of-a-kind Tank Car, which is roughly twice the size of any other car in the game; and Chrysler's 1886 Tri-Wheel. During his presentation, Yamauchi confirmed that the final number of cars in Gran Turismo will be in excess of 650 from 80 different manufacturers. He had apparently hoped to include twice as many cars as that at one point, but given that each car in the game takes a designer approximately a month to model, it simply wasn't possible.
Before wrapping up his presentation with the "no online play" bombshell, Yamauchi shared a few more new details about Gran Turismo 4: the game will feature Dolby Pro-Logic II support; you'll be able to fit no less than 1,000 cars in your garage this time around (as opposed to just 200 in GT3); and an in-game calendar will keep track of all of your significant achievements. Finally, the Japanese release for the game was confirmed for December 3, while North American and European releases were "targeted" for December 14.
For more updates, be sure to check GameSpot's coverage of the Tokyo Game Show 2004.