Editorial: Could Car Damage Ruin Gran Turismo?
Today, video game racing fans got some wonderful news: it was confirmed that car damage would eventually be included in Gran Turismo 5: Prologue. According to franchise creator Kazunori Yamauchi, it will arrive with a "major update" some time later on this year, and overall, it seems this news has gone over extremely well. And why not? This ramps up the realism even more, and many gamers believe vehicle damage is essential if a simulator is to be taken seriously. Of course, they're correct in this belief. But most of these people are just gamers, and don't really have the first clue about cars or racing, which immediately means they're opinion isn't quite worth as much, anymore.
I've always loved GT. I have been a fan of the series since the very first installment way back on the original PlayStation, and I have watched with satisfied fascination as the franchise has grown and expanded over the years. Anybody who says the racing is the same; i.e., the physics haven't changed, is a complete and total fool. In general, every entry in the series has been better than the one before it, and I'm sure we can expect yet another progression with Gran Turismo 5. However, including car damage might not be the best idea... Look, we're talking about a game that claims to be a simulator, and it's supposed to offer the most realistic virtual racing experience available. Many amateur - and even professional - racers have already sung the praises of the game, confirming the accuracy of the physics time and time again. Of course, the unbridled terror one experiences when flying around a track for the first time isn't evident, but there's not much Sony can do about that.
Obviously, adding car damage makes the game more realistic. Or does it? The problem is, if you want this to be truly realistic, then vehicle damage would make the game nigh-on unplayable for most gamers. Think back to even your best runs in the past. How many times did you scrape a wall? Even slightly? How many times did you barely nudge an opponent? How many times did an opponent knock into you? With realistic car damage, any one of those incidents could've completely ended the race. You scrape a wall at 120 m.p.h., one of your tires might be mangled. If you under-steer through a sharp turn - so common in front-wheel drive cars, which is why high-performance cars are always rear-wheel drive - you might plow into the wall on the right. Normally, this only slows you down in GT games, but this time around, the impact causes the coolant and radiator fluid to leak, and your car is worthless within the next few miles. Or the impact itself is strong enough to snap the engine mounts themselves.
Now, I know what you're all thinking- "well, the car damage probably won't be that realistic." Okay...umm...doesn't that immediately detract from the overall accuracy of a simulator? Take Forza Motorsport, for example. While the game is fine, the car damage involved is a joke, as anybody who knows racing can tell you. What if just about every other part of the racing experience is perfectly recreated in Prologue, but the car damage in the game isn't representative of reality? As far as I'm concerned, that's a strike against a fantastic game. Sadly, this may be a lose-lose situation: if they do it correctly, it won't be accessible to the vast majority of gamers who aren't used to real racing. If they tone down the car damage, it significantly takes away from the simulation aspect. In my estimation, the only safe possibility is to put car damage in the "Simulation" mode, and not in any other mode. If damage can't be avoided, I'm not sure it's a good idea.
By the way, as a small disclaimer: I'm not a mechanic, but my father is, and most guys in my family know a great deal about cars and amateur racing. I also like to learn when I can; for instance, Arnold and I are very proud owners of the Nissan 350Z, and just in owning that, I've become much more interested in this topic. And the more research I do, when I compare it to a virtual video game and what would be required...I have to wonder. Is car damage really a good plan? In so many ways, I know it is, but it leaves a lot of questions unanswered and poses a whole new host of obstacles. That's all I'm going to say for now.
4/3/2008 Ben Dutka