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

Kazunori Yamauchi takes us on a guided tour of Polyphony Digital's upcoming driving game.


Gran Turismo 5 Prologue

TOKYO--Last month we wrote at length about the playable builds of Polyphony Digital's upcoming Gran Turismo 5 Prologue, which was being shown in a couple of different forms on the show floor at the 2007 Leipzig Games Convention. Here we are, just a few weeks later, this time in Tokyo for the 2007 Tokyo Game Show, and we're pleased to report that we played an even-newer version of the game. This one shows off many of the features that series creator Kazunori Yamauchi introduced in Leipzig.

As in Germany, Prologue came in a couple of different flavors on the show floor at TGS 2007. Attendees could play the game either seated in a racing seat similar to the ones featured in Leipzig, or standing up with the Sixaxis controller. Unfortunately, Prologue isn't being shown off with the just-announced, rumble-enabled Dual Shock 3, but we're hoping we get a chance to play the game with the updated controller very soon.

Our first stop on the Prologue tour was to check out the racing-cabinet version. Once again we packed ourselves into the too-tight frame and began diving through the menu system. On the surface, everything is the same as it was back in the Leipzig version of the game. The front end of Prologue still features the revamped menu screen that we're slowly becoming accustomed to. The difference is that many of the features that were disabled in Leipzig were working this time around, including the "dealer" menu option, as well as the new "TV" feature.

Though the TGS version of Prologue features 22 cars, many of which were playable in the Leipzig build, the dealer menu option will give you a bit more information on the cars available to you. Dealerships found under this menu item include Nissan, Suzuki, Lotus, Daihatsu, TVR, Ford, BMW, Alfa Romeo, Acura, Renault, Mercedes-Benz, Lancia, Dodge, Audi, and Ferrari. We went to Nissan first, and were presented with gorgeous, full-res models of a GTR-Proto 5 and a Skyline GTR V-Spec 97. The bottom row of this screen included additional items for Nissan models, including channel, test drive, news, and catalog. Selecting the channel option brings up some video choices featuring Nissan-model cars.

That video content seems to tie nicely into the main menu's TV option, which, as Yamauchi explained during his GT 5 Prologue presentation in Leipzig, will be a hub of sorts for a variety of different automobile and motorsports videos. When we brought up the option in the demo version of the game, we saw clips from the D1 Grand Prix drifting series, a Super GT highlights video, and multiple episodes of Best MOTOring, presumably a local Japanese automobile show, among many others. It isn't known yet whether this will be representative of the type of content to be featured in the full version of the game. It also isn't clear what kind of content will be available in the U.S. as compared to Japan or Europe. (Here's hoping we get episodes of Top Gear, though.) Still, it's nice to see the TV feature coming along after hearing about it for the first time just recently.

So with the extra goodies out of the way, let's talk about the track action. Another surprise awaited us in this updated version of Prologue: new tracks. In addition to Suzuka, which we'd played in Leipzig, the TGS build of the game featured another Japanese track, Fuji Speedway, as well as an American favorite, the Super Speedway at Daytona. We tried the former in one of the racing cabinets and had a ball tackling the tight corner and long, long front straight in the Ferrari F430, which quickly emerged as one of our favorite rides in the game. The rear and side mirrors, which were looking pretty rough back in Leipzig, are much better-looking this time around; you could actually make out individual cars in the reflection, which is progress. However, there's still work to be done animation-wise, because the in-car view still doesn't show the driver's hands moving when changing gears.

At the Daytona course, we moved to the version of the game using the regular controller. The actual racing on the oval was about as exciting as continuously turning left usually is, which is to say: not much. Things really got interesting only when approaching traffic in the corners, and dealing with GT's notoriously stiff artificial intelligence cars. That said, the physics of the track seem to be dead on; unlike other versions of Daytona you might have played in the past, it seemed as if the suspension of the car conveyed every bump and indentation on the road as we drove. Interestingly, for our handful of laps at Daytona, the in-car view was not available in the car we selected.

We're happy to report on a new version of GT 5 Prologue, and there's more good news ahead: We'll be visiting the offices of Polyphony Digital tomorrow to discuss Prologue and all things Gran Turismo 5 with series creator Kazunori Yamauchi. Stay tuned to this space for more on the game once we return from our visit.

[UPDATE] As promised, today we had a chance to visit the Polyphony Digital studio where the Gran Turismo series is created, and we got to hear in more detail about the game's various features from GT creator Kazunori Yamauchi.

In a manner similar to his presentation at Leipzig, Yamauchi began the discussion with an introduction of the new main-menu screen that will greet Prologue players when they fire up the game. He pointed out features such as the calendar, which will be used to notify players of upcoming online events; the map and weather indicator, which will help you keep track of any online friends who are currently playing the game (as well as the weather of locales all across the world); and the gorgeous 3D wallpaper backgrounds that will be interchangeable at any time by the player. These high-res images are based on real-life locales. Kazunori explained that one, a small German village, was actually based on a town near the Nürburgring. Another, which features what appear to be ruins, is actually based on the remnants of the medieval Castle Nürburg, the nearby castle that is visible from the track. In addition, Yamauchi pointed out the scrolling text at the bottom edge of the screen, which, in the full version of the game, will be a scrolling ticker of sorts featuring content from automobile manufacturers, the latest motorsports news headlines, and updates from Polyphony Digital itself.

In fact, motorsports content seems to be playing a large role in what Yamauchi envisions for Gran Turismo 5 Prologue, as well as the future of the entire GT series. Although he was quick to point out that Prologue will focus on the core elements that have made the GT series successful, it isn't the only goal the team is looking to accomplish with the game. In fact, if Yamauchi has his way, Prologue, and the rest of the GT series, will become nothing less than a virtual cheerleader of sorts for the world's various motorsport disciplines.

The method behind this madness is Gran Turismo TV, which was first introduced to us back at Leipzig. Having seen the video service in action briefly on the show floor yesterday, we were curious to hear what Yamauchi believes the feature brings to the series. One of the most basic and most obvious uses of GT TV is to give real car manufacturers a way to push video to potential consumers. Of more interest to us, and perhaps to other motorsports fans, was Kazunori's ambitious plan to use GT TV as a method of sharing racing content across borders.

As Yamauchi sees it, the problem with motorsports these days is one of distribution. Beyond the biggest racing series in the world--the Formula 1s and NASCARs of the racing world--motorsports seem to be largely localized, which is to their detriment. He pointed that Japanese fans can't watch the World Rally Championship series; similarly, American car fans might have a tough time finding races from Japan's D1 Grand Prix drifting series. And because these series can't draw a big enough fan base from traditional television coverage (which is loathe to broadcast much in the way of so-called "niche" content), they inevitably put the content onto DVDs, which usually only reach a small fraction of the potential audience.

Consequently, between the millions of potential fans for a racing series worldwide, and the relatively small number of people actually going out and purchasing the content, there lies a huge gap. As Yamauchi sees it, Gran Turismo TV could be one method toward serving that gap of people who are interested in motorsports content but can't or won't actively go out and search for it.

With all of this said, the question becomes: Will we be watching NASCAR (or British Touring Car, or DTM) races on our PS3s through a Gran Turismo TV interface, no matter where we live in the world? It sounds like a nice dream...but considering the sheer amount of licensing trouble and legal red tape it will take to make that lofty goal a reality, we'll take a position of cautious skepticism on it ever becoming a reality. Bottom line: Gran Turismo TV sounds like an ambitious project with tons of potential, but it also sounds like it could have lots of growing pains before it becomes something close to Yamauchi's vision.

When not demonstrating new game modes, Kazunori was showing off Prologue on the virtual track. He gave us a brief look at the new Daytona Superspeedway while driving the just-announced Nissan GT-R (which is making its debut in the game before even arriving in dealerships). Yamauchi said that the oval racing will be more strategic in nature, and will require the player to make use of oval-racing techniques such as slip-streaming to be successful. In our hands-on time with the game on Daytona, we also found the time-honored but slightly less gentlemanly method of "pushing your way through AI cars as if they weren't there at all and/or using them as moving sidewalls" to be a pretty effective technique as well. Still, it's nice to see Daytona getting some Gran Turismo love, and here's hoping the final game includes the infield section of the track.

Races in Prologue will come in a number of forms: from straight-ahead blasts to the finish line for up to 16 cars, to drift challenges, as well as time-attack events. Even with 16 cars on the track at once, the frame rate looks solid--Yamauchi said that races will run at 1080p at 60 frames per second, while race replays (which will include numerous digital effects and new camera angles to accommodate the bigger field) will run at 30 frames per second. The in-car views, which we first saw at Leipzig, continue to amaze us in their minute attention to detail. In addition to the full dashboard, mirrors, gauges, steering wheel, and other components being modeled, the team at Polyphony Digital is also modeling the interior rear of the car as well. Both the rear view and side mirrors seemed to be working in this build of the game, which was a noticeable improvement from the blurry and messy-looking mirrors from the Leipzig build of the game.

A lack of ambition has never been a Polyphony Digital problem, and Gran Turismo 5 Prologue's approach to serving as an international motorsports proponent is nothing if not ambitious. We look forward to learning more about the game in the coming months--particularly regarding a U.S. release date, which as of this writing hasn't been announced. Those lucky Japanese will be playing the demo version of Prologue on October 24 via a free download, while the full retail version of Prologue is due in Japan this December on disc as well as via download.

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