GC '07: [UPDATE] Gran Turismo 5 Prologue Hands-On

Series creator Kazunori Yamauchi talks about the upcoming release of Gran Turismo 5 Prologue.

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LEIPZIG, Germany--There are two versions of Sony's upcoming real driving simulator Gran Turismo 5 Prologue here at the 2007 Leipzig Games Convention, though it's probably fairer to call them slightly different aspects of the same game. In fact, if you want to be entirely accurate, you could say that there are actually three versions of the Gran Turismo series, if you count the downloadable Gran Turismo demo that's currently available on the PlayStation Network. Nonetheless, as we were roaming the massive Sony space in Hall 3 of the Leipziger Messe in search of all things Gran Turismo, our focus was on the two versions of Prologue.

The first version featured eight racing cabinets set up to show off the game in the way a game like this is supposed to be played: with racing seats (which proved to be nearly too narrow for our frame), a full HD screen, and a Logitech wheel-and-pedal setup. The featured track was Japan's Suzuka circuit, and the game presented us with a roster of 22 cars to choose from. The full list:

  • Nissan Skyline GTR V-Spec '97
  • Acura NSX '91
  • Daihatsu Copen Active Top '02
  • Dodge Viper GTS '02
  • Audi R8 '07
  • BMW Z4 '03
  • Volkswagen Golf GTI '01
  • Alfa Romeo Brera 3.2 JTS Q4 '06
  • Lancia Delta HF Integrale Evoluzione '91
  • Lotus Elise '96
  • Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX '05
  • Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X '07
  • TVR Tuscan Speed 6 '00
  • Renault Clio Renault Sport V6 '00
  • Ferrari F430 '06
  • Alfa Romeo 147 TI 2.0 Twin Spark '06
  • Mercedes-Benz SL 55 AMG '02
  • Audi TT Coupe '07
  • Ford Mustang GT '07
  • Nissan Xanavi Nismo Z '06
  • Suzuki Swift Spark '05
  • Nissan GT-R Proto '01

Not all of the cars were drivable, however; the Nissan Xanavi Nismo Z wasn't playable, which is a shame because it looked like one of the hottest cars on the list. Though we didn't try them all, every car we drove on the list boasted the new in-car cockpit view that will be a big part of the Gran Turismo 5 driving experience. The amount of detail in the cockpits is fantastic so far, from the complex yet elegant interior of the Ferrari F430 (with its different-colored gauges) to the futuristic-looking cockpit of the TVR Tuscan Speed 6. By the looks of things, though, there's work yet to be done. For example, when switching gears, there was no corresponding animation of your in-car driver switching gears with the gearshift. In addition, the rear- and side-view mirrors weren't working properly in the build we played.

After selecting a car and choosing options for things such as transmission, stability control, tire type, and so on (using a menu very reminiscent of that found in the GT HD online demo), you're given a five-minute time attack session on Suzuka to do as many laps as you can.

Though there seemed to be some technical issues with the connectivity between the eight on-hand cabinets, the game was networked in a sense. In addition to racing against a number of cars controlled by the artificial intelligence, you'd occasionally come across cars driven by players in other cabinets. In addition to the eight racing cabinets, there was a separate screen on hand, which displayed a live time sheet that broke down the sector times for all cars on tracks. A camera would periodically switch between all of the different cars on track as well.

The other version of Prologue was found not too far away, in a different part of the PlayStation area. Here, players could plop down on beanbags and enjoy the game with the more conventional Sixaxis controller. While the same car roster was on hand in this version (including the unplayable Xanavi Nismo Z), the race type was a 16-car offline competition, pitting our skills against 15 AI-controlled cars, again on Suzuka.

Racing against such a large field felt odd for a Gran Turismo game, especially after so many years of battling it out against just a handful of cars. The game AI displayed the typical GT tendency to stick to its racing line, and, as a result, the cost of being bumped off the road or making an error in a turn was all the more exaggerated. After all, in older GT games, a mistake meant you were passed by three or four cars; in Prologue a mistake can put you in the back, with 15 aggressive cars to pass to get back to the head of the pack.

Beyond the cockpit view and the large number of opponents, GT 5 Prologue is immediately recognizable by its handling, particular the extremely bouncy feeling of the shocks. Weight transfer between the rear and front wheels in a car is something the GT series has always taken seriously, and you need only slam the brakes before turning into a tight corner and watch the front of the car lurch forward to see that it's still a big focus. Another familiar "feature" for the GT series--a lack of damage modeling--was also in effect. Collision detection seemed spotty in places too but, like the rest of the game, there's time for things to improve before it's released.

One other crucial difference between the two versions of Prologue was the appearance of rumble in the racing cabinet version of the game. The rumble feedback was fairly light and noticeable mainly when driving over the rumble strips that line the side of the circuit. Naturally, rumble wasn't present when playing with the Sixaxis-controlled version of the game. Still the fact that it was present in the other version gives us hope that we won't be rumble-free for long once Gran Turismo 5 is released.

Our coverage of GT 5 Prologue will continue this week here at Leipzig as we learn more about this game, which is currently slated for release in Japan in October.

[UPDATE] Today, we sat in on a presentation hosted by Gran Turismo series creator Kazunori Yamauchi as he demonstrated some of the new features that will be present in Gran Turismo 5 Prologue. The game is due for release on the PlayStation Network as a free download later this year.

Yamauchi started by introducing the front-end menu system of the game, which, as we described above, is a good deal different from previous entries in the Gran Turismo series. In addition to your current car appearing front and center in all its high-res glory, gorgeous interchangeable backgrounds from locales such as Germany, Tokyo, and more will also be available. Referred to as "3D wallpaper," these decorative background images will be tied to your profile in the game and you'll be able to change it whenever you like.

The new menu system in Prologue runs across the bottom of the screen and features the following different choices: race, garage, TV, album, profile, and Home. As Yamauchi explained, race is where you'll encounter the different race events in the game, and garage will house the cars available to you in the game (which totals 22 as of this writing, listed above).

Where things get interesting is with some of the other menu items, including TV and album. The TV option will allow you to choose from various automobile-related video content, including everything from race replays to videos from car manufacturers. On the other hand, the album feature will let players take photos of their cars in various GT locales, or during GT races, and share them with other people. No word yet on whether the "TV" option will allow users to share their own created videos from the game, or where all of that video content is going to come from, but we can expect more announcements about this feature at the 2007 Tokyo Game Show.

The final menu option Yamauchi touched on was the mysterious "Home" icon. While no details were given on just how Prologue would interact with the PlayStation 3's upcoming integrated online service, he did say that the goal is to create as seamless an experience between the game and the Home service as possible. We have no idea what that means, but we're glad to see someone finally talking about the Home service in real, if minimal, terms.

Other aspects of the front end are worth mentioning. The map and calendar that we mentioned in our original look at the game are more than window dressing. Your friends--who will list their location in their game profile--will show up as dots on the map. As for the calendar, you'll be able to keep track of both official race tournaments, as well as organize race events between you and your friends using this tool.

We were taken next in the presentation to the gorgeous car models that will be found in Prologue. Whereas cars in Gran Turismo 4 were comprised of approximately 4,000 polygons, cars in the fifth game in the series have been bumped up to an astonishing 200,000 polygons. That number comes to life when you look closely at the details in the models themselves: everything from the subtle reflections in a car's headlights to the stitching in the interior leather of a Ferrari F430 speak to the care and precision the Polyphony Digital developers have taken with every car on the roster. There's still work to do--the team is busy adding things such as gear-change animations for the drivers' hands and making sure the interior mirrors are functioning properly. Because the parts that comprise the cars are individually constructed, developers think that it's not a stretch to say that you could one day have upgraded replacement parts available for your car thanks to the new system. It also follows, it seems, that individual parts could open the door to a functional damage model at some point in GT5's future.

So what about other big points of interest such as artificial intelligence improvements, online racing, and the aforementioned damage modeling? Of the three, Yamauchi addressed the game's artificial intelligence most directly, saying it has been one of the primary concerns with the development of GT 5 Prologue. Because races will now be comprised of 16 cars, improvements to the AI were warranted, Yamauchi said. As he put it, cars will be much more aware of the positions of their rivals on the track and will do their best to swerve out of the way to avoid accidents where possible. Essentially, the AI has been remodeled from scratch this time around, and Yamauchi said that after the game is released, future updates will continually improve the AI.

These updates will typically come packaged in with PS3 system updates, Yamauchi said, and in addition to AI upgrades, it's possible that additional improvements, such as damage modeling, could be a part of a future update to the game somewhere down the line. As for online racing, based on what we've seen it seems like it's going to be a part of GT 5 Prologue. We say "seems" because Yamauchi gave a rather cryptic answer when asked about the online features in the game, stating in essence that "the basics are there" for what fans would expect from online features in a racing game. Perhaps we'll learn more about those online features at the Tokyo Game Show as well.

When asked about the improvements to the physics in Prologue, Yamauchi pointed out the improved ability to slide cars around corners--and maintain that drift as you go through the turn--as a big indicator of development. To prove his point, Yamauchi took control of a Ferrari F430 and guided it around the twisting turns of Japan's Suzuka, managing to kick up some tire smoke as he sped around the course.

It's obvious Yamauchi is speaking from the heart when he discusses his racing creation, and while we still have a lot of questions about Prologue and the eventual full version of Gran Turismo 5, it's hard not to be taken in by his obvious continued affection for the nearly 10-year old series. With lots more information coming on GT 5 Prologue in the coming months, you can be sure we'll be on top of all the latest news.

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