Gran Turismo 7 Is Designed To Save The Future Of Car Culture

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With exactly 30 days between now and March 4, Gran Turismo 7 is firmly in the home stretch. That’s exciting and pretty unexpected. Save for the initial delay from a vague release sometime in 2021 — which never seemed all that certain anyway — Polyphony Digital announced one release date for GT7 and kept it. In anticipation, Jalopnik was fortunate enough to enjoy an early look at the State Of Play presentation streamed to the public on Wednesday and attend a live Q&A with series creator Kazunori Yamauchi.

If you’ve been following GT7 closely up until now, you likely know the main attractions. The single-player campaign is all new but pulls heavy inspiration from classic entries, with its world map, used car dealership and familiar events like the Sunday and Clubman Cups. Customization is getting a major glow up, with performance upgrades and cosmetic parts returning alongside GT Sport’s extensive livery editor. (By the way, you’ll be able to migrate all your old liveries and decals from the last game if you like, Yamauchi confirmed to us.) And dynamic weather and time-of-day is back for the first time since GT6, with far more detail than we could dream of back in the PS3 days.

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Image: PlayStation Studios

Though, this being Gran Turismo we’re talking about, that’s a very birds-eye view of what is surely a very deep game. At launch, GT7 will have more than 400 cars and 34 locations with 97 track layouts. That number will change post-release; eagle-eyed fans may remember the shape of Apricot Hill Raceway was teased in a promotional video for the game a few weeks back, and that track isn’t in GT7’s launch roster. Perhaps it’ll come later.

Here are the other big takeaways from Polyphony’s gigantic GT7 info dump. Get comfortable — we’ve got a lot of ground to cover here.

GT For A New Generation

Educating players and encouraging them to sample the game’s vast range of cars has clearly been a major priority in GT7’s development, particularly compared to the more competition-focused nature of the last entry. And it happens to stem from a rather dire view of society’s present interest in cars.

While Gran Turismo was “originally inspired by the rich culture of automobiles that was ever-present 25 years ago,” according to Yamauchi, that zeitgeist has waned since the series’ emergence in the late 90s. “Today, you won’t find as many people talking about car culture anymore. Less people are talking about the beauty of cars, or focused on the fun of driving.”

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Image: PlayStation Studios

GT7’s answer to that is a new mode called the GT Café — a mini campaign unto itself that comprises 30 chapters centered on different scenes and eras, like hot hatches or the evolution of the Porsche 911. Each one involves collecting the relevant group of cars and competing in races with them to unlock prizes and tracks. There’s a wealth of exposition on the car’s importance woven through the chapters — sometimes courtesy of the original designers themselves. A pair of clips in the latest video showed Tom Matano and Freeman Thomas — designers behind the original Mazda Miata and Audi TT, respectively — shedding light on their inspirations. This is an aspect of GT7 that truly excites Yamauchi, as he explained through his translator:

“Up until now, we’ve always had a Brand Central.” [“Brand Central” is GT’s name for car dealerships, where players can also research the history of automakers contained in the game.] “We’ve had a museum section where you could go and read descriptions of the cars and different manufacturers. So we’ve always tried to convey this information to people, but we realized that that’s not enough.

So what we’ve done now is people will actually appear in the café and talk to the players and in a conversational format explain to them about the world of cars. So that’s something that we put in really to support the beginners to the world of cars. And I think that it’s a big difference and a big thing that it’s human beings now that are interacting with the players.

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Image: PlayStation Studios

It’s all a part of a desire to make Gran Turismo more friendly to newcomers and kids in particular, when it’s historically been daunting to parse for the uninitiated. For the first time, players will be asked to choose one of three difficulty levels upon starting the game — beginner, intermediate or expert — signified by little hot pepper icons in that classically charming Polyphony Digital way. If you’re a GT veteran, you’ll want to skip right ahead to intermediate, Yamauchi said.

It’s unclear how precisely the difficulty levels tie into the strength of the artificial intelligence or game progression. Yamauchi touched very briefly on AI during our Q&A — an area that many fans believe has historically been one of the franchise’s weakest:

There’s a lot involved in the development of AI — there’s really no end to it. of course, we’ve done things to try to get them to drive as fast as human drivers, to take proper action in different situations that you encounter during a race. In those aspects, there have been advancements made from Gran Turismo Sport to Gran Turismo 7, so the cars can drive more aggressively. They can drive in a way so that they’re not always in the way of a human driver, and they’re driving more competitively than before. But it’s still not perfect, and it’s something that still has a lot more room to grow.

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Image: PlayStation Studios

The Joy Of Tinkering Returns To GT

On the flip side, if you’re eager to get your hands dirty, GT7’s customization suite is good for it. GT Sport’s emphasis on homologated motorsport left little space for altering a car’s performance or bodywork, but the new installment makes up for that with a wealth of changeable parts. Sure, there’s your standard upgrades to aspects like the exhaust system, transmission, suspension and forced induction, but GT7 compounds that with bumpers, roll cages, rear wings and even widebody kits. In some areas it allows the player to get very granular, too — for example, you can select the span of a custom wing independently of the shape of the endplates.

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Image: PlayStation Studios

The widebody conversion feature is especially exciting. Longtime fans will recall Racing Modifications from GT1, GT2 and GT5; in a sense, this is the same idea. The only difference is that GT7 detaches the cosmetic aspect of the upgrade from the performance side of things, which is a smart move. Hopefully a vast range of cars in the roster can equip these kits.

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Image: PlayStation Studios

Even the tuning menu is eye-opening in its own right. In GT Sport, Performance Points — the value that signified a car’s general performance level — was calculated based on a mathematical formula involving power, weight and grip. As you could imagine, it didn’t give an extremely accurate estimate of a car’s capabilities.

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Image: PlayStation Studios

GT7 moves the PP model to a real-time simulation basis. This value can be re-benchmarked by pressing the triangle button as you modify parameters in the tuning screen. And there’s so much to modify I don’t recall ever seeing adjustable settings for four-wheel steering or turbocharger anti-lag systems in previous GT games. Also, insignificant though it may be, it’s very cool to see the name of a car’s engine included at the left there, below the thumbnail. It’s little touches like that that give you the impression this has been a real labor of love.

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Image: PlayStation Studios

I wish I was as smitten by the realism of the game’s used car lot, which now reflects the lunacy that happens on Bring a Trailer every day — a conscious decision by the developers, we’re told. I’m pretty sure the values on the screen below are from a Western version of the game (the economy in Japanese releases tends to multiply values by 10) and they hit depressingly close to home — particularly the M3 Sport Evo and 964 Carrera RS. Regrettably, that’s pretty consistent with what the latter tends to go for.

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Image: PlayStation Studios

An Atmosphere Unlike Any Other

Weather and time-of-day changes aren’t completely necessary in racing games, though they’re certainly nice to have. GT Sport offered preselected times and weather conditions the player could choose from before starting a race, and they looked fantastic. The only problem was that they were static, and didn’t change over the course of a race. GT7 addresses that.

Now, this isn’t the first time dynamic weather and time have featured in Gran TurismoGT5 and GT6 had both, though they really pushed the limits of what the PS3 was capable of, and rain in particular wasn’t very convincing. Also, the moment you tried to run a race with a full grid in the wet, the frame rate chugged and the console sounded like it was preparing to blast off, or explode.

The PS5 offers a major improvement in this regard, as you’d expect. The time-lapse GIF above explains it better than I ever could, but the skies in GT7 are really something to behold. Clouds develop and move organically and are lighted by the sun, and changes in temperature and pressure have an effect not only on grip levels, but the power of slipstream, too. Dry lines form on wet asphalt as cars repeatedly move water on the same patches of track, while puddles will hold moisture the longest and be the last areas to dry.

There’s now a weather radar visible in the multifunction display on the bottom-right corner of the screen, and it’ll be especially useful at larger tracks like the Nürburgring Nordschleife and Spa-Francorchamps. That’s because those circuits cover so much ground, precipitation might be falling in one sector and not others.

There’s a bit of a catch, though. While all environments benefit from dynamic time and weather effects, they don’t all express the same full range of conditions. This is something I made sure to ask Yamauchi for clarity on, because even in GT Sport, not all tracks allowed for rain, and only some tracks were available for night racing. Here’s how he explained it:

All the tracks in the game are compatible with the transition of time from morning until evening. But the tracks that will be compatible with the time [spanning] from nighttime to morning will only be certain tracks — mainly, the tracks that 24-hour races are hosted on. In terms of the weather, from sunny to very cloudy weather is compatible on all tracks. But the tracks that will have full rain is limited and is not all the tracks.

Personally, I think this is the best approach. Full dynamic time and weather for every track is difficult and time consuming to model, program and optimize. And let’s face it — it’s really more important that circuits like the Nürburgring and Spa, which host 24-hour races in real life, are prioritized over venues that historically don’t host such races, like Catalunya or Tsukuba.

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Image: PlayStation Studios

Better Simulation Through Feedback

If you could have any input device to play GT7 with, you’d probably want the Fanatec CSL DD Pro. That wheel-and-pedal set happens to be officially licensed by Sony and is effectively the PlayStation version of the CSL DD I tested last month — easily the best sim racing package you could get for $700. It’s wonderful, but most people can’t afford or make room for such hardware. Enter the DualSense controller and its advanced haptics and adaptive triggers.

The DualSense controller’s L2 and R2 triggers can tense up or rumble dynamically depending on what’s happening in game. Naturally, you’d think such technology would make them a great fit for racing games, where we intuit so much through a vehicle’s pedals. And yet, the few titles I’ve played that do take advantage of the feature — WRC 10 and Ride 4 — have felt pretty underwhelming and unnatural in practice.

I haven’t actually played GT7 yet, so I can’t speak to how good the triggers feel in the way Polyphony has incorporated them. What I can discuss is how the studio’s chosen to deploy the tech. It’s only for braking, and only designed to simulate two things: the intermittent skipping of ABS systems when active, and the relative heaviness of the brake pedals of different cars.

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Image: PlayStation Studios

That’s remarkably straightforward and, on the surface anyway, pretty intuitive. The few racing games I’ve tested with adaptive trigger support use it to mess with the throttle, and that never feels right. Braking is a hydraulic process, and so it makes perfect sense that Polyphony would use it to that end. I’m excited to see how it feels in motion, and compare older and newer cars to feel the difference.

Polyphony has also tapped into the DualSense’s haptics tech, and this is something that is a bit harder to envision without actually experiencing. Yamauchi said that the controller will be able to contribute unique and detailed feedback for a range of sensations, from the judder of driving over curbs and road imperfections, to drivetrain vibrations, to the front tires washing out and losing grip during understeer. Curbs are obvious, but I’m very curious about how haptics will impact the sensation of front grip. Typically racing games ratchet up vibration to convey wheelspin at the back when you give it the beans, but this sounds like something quite different.

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Image: PlayStation Studios

A Rediscovery Of Music

Music has long been a consideration for Gran Turismo, albeit in a passive way. The lounge-inspired menu jams are there if you care to notice them, and for a great many of us longtime players, they’ve become intrinsically linked with the series. GT7, however, take its tunes more seriously than ever before.

First of all, there are more than 300 songs from 75 artists in the game’s soundtrack, comprising licensed and original tracks. That’s almost as many songs as cars. And Polyphony is placing them front-and-center in a new mode called Music Rally.

The goal of Music Rally is to enjoy the drive, and not so much get wrapped up in the fever of competition. There are checkpoints placed throughout a track, and a song’s beats represent the time allotted. Run out of beats before the next checkpoint, and the song stops playing and the drive ends. Score is measured as a function of the distance you travel while the song plays, and in old-school GT fashion, there are bronze, silver and gold trophies awarded depending on how far you make it.

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Image: PlayStation Studios

From what I’ve seen of Music Rally it seems like the sort of thing that may present a fun distraction from typical racing, but it doesn’t appear that the music dynamically responds to your performance. That strikes me as a missed opportunity. It’d be neat if instruments or stems comprising the song fall away as you run out of beats before hitting a checkpoint — though I also imagine that would’ve required plenty of work for a roster of 300 songs, the vast majority of which are licensed.

Another music-themed new feature, called Music Replay, syncs up camera angles to the currently playing track. Big moments in the song and the beginnings and ends of segments are punctuated with instant perspective shifts, and the effect is fun when everything stitches up just right. If you played GT3 or GT4, you may remember those games offered a similar feature in concept called Dive Replay. Dive Replays, though, leaned fully into the sort of heavily filtered and post-processed music videos that were all the rage in the ’90s and early 2000s. GT7’s approach is much more subdued. I’m not sure it’s quite as huge a deal as the studio is hyping it to be, but it’s a cute inclusion nonetheless.

If you’re like me, you might wonder where this sudden fascination with music has come from. Yamauchi said that over the course of GT7’s five-year development, members of the team regularly gathered in Polyphony’s sound room to play and listen to music. Out of that brainstorming, the team sought to find a way to tie music — an entertainment form intrinsically linked to time — with racing.

Music Rally especially was spurred on by that aspiration to offer younger, less experienced players an easy, stress-free atmosphere to play around. The cars chosen for that mode are slower by design, and Yamauchi said that’s because he envisions Music Rally as ideally presenting a budding car enthusiast’s first point of interaction with the game:

You can imagine that when a father gives their kids Gran Turismo 7 and says “hey, you should try this game,” because it’s so big and complex, it’s not going to be easy for them to just jump right on in and get into it. But if you give them the Music Rally, I think kids will really intuitively enjoy the game and really start to discover racing is interesting and fun — driving is interesting and fun. That’s really the objective we went for when designing this mode.

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Image: PlayStation Studios

There’s So Much More

All this only scratches the surface of GT7’s multitude of modes and avenues through which to experience car culture. There’s the audio side of things, and how Polyphony has integrated the texture and surfaces of various materials to convey or inhibit sound in realistic ways. Thanks to a new 3D audio system, it should sound pretty satisfying through a quality pair of headphones.

Graphically, GT7 figures to be a step up as you’d imagine. While ray tracing won’t be available in gameplay, players on PS5 will have the option to enable it for replays and other non-gameplay scenes in exchange for a halved frame rate (alternatively, you could turn off ray tracing and enjoy smoother 60 frame-per-second replays.)

Speaking of which, Yamauchi said little about how GT7 will perform on PS4, other than admitting that developing for two generations of PlayStation hardware was one of the greatest challenges the team faced this time around. That will remain a big question mark entering release. While Polyphony’s long been renowned for its technical wizardry in such areas, GT7 will push the PS4 in ways GT Sport never did, particularly with the dynamic weather and time system. Hopefully, GT7 runs in a way that’s comparable with the benchmark set by GT Sport, which was extremely well optimized for PS4.

Players can expect additional cars and tracks in the months following release; Yamauchi even teased a possible snow track that may arrive in a post-launch update.

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Image: PlayStation Studios

At the moment, that figures to be the last word on GT7 until we’re able to play it ourselves in a month. Personally I don’t ever recall knowing quite so much about a new Gran Turismo in the weeks leading up to release. Polyphony is a studio that has traditionally preferred to hold its cards close to the chest, usually because it’s still toiling away at development in the 11th hour. But with GT7, Yamauchi and company have had time to reflect on bigger questions — the series’ responsibility to the next generation of car enthusiasts, chief among them. From what I’ve seen, I have little doubt this entry will inspire today’s youngsters the same way the very first Gran Turismo inspired my generation 25 years ago.

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