It was back in 1998 that the sleek European box art for the original Gran Turismo on PlayStation featured a mysterious supercar covered in cloth. The world soon discovered that beneath that cover was the start of the most successful series in PlayStation history; one that would redefine the driving genre with ultrarealistic graphics and handling. The Real Driving Simulator was born.
The two distinct categories of racing game during that era were arcade and simulation, focusing on excitement and realism, respectively. Gran Turismo featured both in the form of two completely separate modes, and boasted nearly 200 cars to choose from – far more than any racing game at the time.
Simulation Mode recreated the life of a racing driver, with the player even having to obtain racing licences of different grades to compete in certain events. Credits, the Gran Turismo currency, could be spent on the world’s most luxurious cars and new parts to get them ready for the track. This level of detail had never been seen before and soon Gran Turismo was the talk of the real life racing world as well as the gaming one.
The evolution of a driving experience
Gran Turismo 2 followed two years later, building on the core gameplay of the original and upping the stable of cars to an astonishing 650. The credibility of this collection was bolstered by the enthusiasm of the series’ creator, Kazunori Yamauchi, who is widely regarded as a connoisseur of cars both classic and new, highlighting the bond between developer Polyphony Digital and the car manufacturers.
“Relationships with manufacturers have always been very important to us in Gran Turismo,” explains Yamauchi. “And that’s because the cars which we cover in the game are something that is open to society. Gran Turismo is always looking to communicate with the world outside of the games industry. It’s something that will continue to give us new creative motivation and insight that will influence us and allow us to keep evolving.”
PlayStation 2 arrived in Europe in 2000 and the world waited to see what Polyphony would come up with using this new, more powerful hardware. The answer came a year later with Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec, a game that would make casual observers do a double take when they found out they were watching a videogame rather than a real race.
The game included 150 cars – fewer than its predecessors due to the level of realism achieved and the time it took to capture the fine detail of each one. However, that was plenty for Gran Turismo fans, as the motorsport had never before been depicted so thoroughly in a videogame.
Before Gran Turismo 4 arrived there was Gran Turismo 4 Prologue, which gave a taste of the game ahead of its release. The full game, which launched in 2005, included more than 700 cars from 80 manufacturers, spanning from the 1886 Daimler Motor Carriage to concept cars looking as far ahead as 2022.
The game also introduced the B-Spec game mode which allowed players to move away from the driving seat and into the role of race manager, deciding how hard your driver should push, when he should overtake and when to call for a pit stop. Driving missions were another new addition, resembling the Licence Test challenges and themed around certain aspects of racing, such as slipstreaming.
While a limited edition version of Gran Turismo 4 used the Network Gaming capabilities of PS2, Gran Turismo players in Europe started their first online races in 2008 thanks to Gran Turismo 5 Prologue on PlayStation 3 via PlayStation Network. It was the first game in the series to feature a full suite of network features such as online racing, leaderboards and GT-TV, a service that allowed players to watch motorsport programmes in-game.
Take it to the track
Gran Turismo 5 Prologue also unearthed a potential star in Lucas Ordonez. The winner of the inaugural GT Academy – a search for the fastest GT players in Europe – went on to earn his racing licences, compete in the 24 hour Dubai Endurance Race as his prize and then became a professional racing driver as a result. GT Academy represents a particularly proud moment for Yamauchi: “It was a dream I had when I first started developing a driving simulator, especially because I was confident that one day it would come true. And when it really came to be in the 2008 GT Academy, it was incredibly exciting.”
While the Real Driving Simulator had people racing around the world from the comfort of their own homes, Polyphony Digital switched lanes in 2009 with Gran Turismo on PSP. Speeding onto the handheld entertainment system with over 800 car models and 35 tracks, as well as Ad Hoc Mode multiplayer racing and player-to-player car trading, the depth and thrills of an authentic driving experience quickly sped off as a fast favourite for PSP owners.
Driving towards a new industry standard
Now Gran Turismo 5 the Real Driving Simulator is set to teach another generation of PlayStation gamers how to drive. With more than a thousand cars, 20 stunning locations, stereoscopic 3D support and a brand new game engine, it’s looking and handling better than ever. “We always set very high goals and ideals for our games,” says Yamauchi. “And as long as we actually achieve our goals and fulfil our expectations I’m sure it will set the new industry standard.”