A Gran Turismo Op-Ed: A Massive Rant About Racing Sims
Forza 2 was the first Xbox 360 game that made me consider an Xbox 360, despite the absurd amount of problems the console was experiencing two years ago. I convinced a friend of mine to let me borrow his X360 while he was away and spent a good amount of time with a rented copy of Forza 2. Once again, I walked away extremely unimpressed. Yet again, the tire-model felt numb and lacked any feedback between you and the game. I had also rented Project Gotham 3 and found myself having a lot more fun with it than Forza 2.
So to see the folks behind Forza say that GT dropped the ball is beyond me. What ball did Polyphony drop? The ball that professional racers actually use to practice with? The ball that professional drivers have replicated their real-life lap times with? The ball that professional drivers repeatedly claim to be the most accurate console simulator? And when did Turn 10 pick up this proverbial ball? Last I checked, Forza has yet to make a dent in the automotive industry as a whole, like Kazunori Yamauchi and Polyphony have with GT. They've made no impact.
And you know what? Even if you take Gran Turismo out of the equation, Forza still fails and is still without that so called "ball." Because there's still the PC's GTR2, which, up until GT5 Prologue, was unparalleled. Having sampled GTR2 numerous times, I can attest that it trumped GT4 wildly back in 2006. Granted GTR2 is a different beast than GT4 was, but when you compare the nutty high-powered machines of GT4 to the offerings of GTR2, you'll find that the Gran Turismo cars were far too easy too control in contrast to GTR2. Polyphony has admitted as much, and with GT5 Prologue, the professional physics pretty much replicate the same madness that could be found in GTR2. I mean really, keeping a Ferrari F1 car under control is downright painful in GT5 Prologue, where as in GT3, for example, driving an F1 was like eating cake.
Having spoken to a few folk who've gone hands-on with Forza 3, it looks like Forza isn't picking up any balls, and with Need for Speed: SHIFT already looking and playing as superbly as it does, Forza's 400 cars doesn't mean much to me if it's tire-model still feels like driving a Mercedes Benz E-Class...numb. And did I mention that NFS: SHIFT is actually developed by the gang who brought us GTR2? And that it utilizes much of the technology that made their past racers so utterly fantastic, but enhanced for the next-gen world? Well, if you didn't know, now you do. I'll also be getting the chance to play a nearly finished version of NFS: SHIFT in about a month just to see the progress of it.
As some of you may know, I've already played NFS: SHIFT months ago, and even in its very early stage, the game was extremely satisfying. It's the best damn Need for Speed I've ever played, and what I played was merely an incomplete build that only had a small sampling of cars and tracks. The physics engine was down tight, the feedback was absolutely superb, and the visceral feel was there thanks to the visuals and the menacing audio. So quite frankly, Turn 10 needs to keep it to themselves, because there's a good chance that it's not Gran Turismo that'll embarrass their sim, but also Need for Speed, the competitor they'd never expect.
Then of course, we can get down to another aspect of Forza that I've always hated - the visuals. Everything in Forza games is over saturated with color. People claim, "well, GT looks dull." Well, realism is simply dull, what can I say? The colors are always too rich in the game, and from what we've seen, Forza 3 is no different. The lighting continues to suffer too, once again, a trait that Gran Turismo has historically been known to nail. And a trait that has widely been associated with the realistic look of the Gran Turismo series. And sure, visuals may not be the most important thing, but in racing games that are aiming - or claiming - to depict the highest realism possible, they sure as hell are.
A couple of days ago in a Neo-GAF thread, somebody was making the same old and tired "no damage = not realism" claim that GT-haters often do. Well, I figured, perhaps I'd include my tongue-in-cheek response to that general audience, with the profanity mildly censored:
"To be perfectly honest, I think Kaz should implement a mode like this for sh**s and giggles just to fu** with those who have always put GT down for not being a "true" sim. Their should be a:
- Hardcode Mode - You will be monetarily penalized for every bump, scrape, and damage your car encounters. If your car is totaled, you will not be allowed to fix it and have to spend all of that money again to buy and re-mod it. Basically, the mode that'll make you pull your hair out from having to grind, grind, grind a 5-lap Daytona race for 5000Cr.
- Real Life Mode - You crash hard enough, you get injured and your money depletes to zero for medical bills and you can't play your game until your virtual character heals. Or you crash fast enough, you die. A KazHiraiLaugh.gif rolls and so do the credits. End of game, please play again.
- Normal Mode - Regular GT gameplay, with basic damage model with affect on performance."
I think the above is pretty apt to the topic at hand, because most people who
claim that GT has "dropped the ball" are largely poking at the series' lack of a
damage model. We know now that there will be damage in some form, but Yamauchi
has repeatedly stated that if he were to do a damage model, he'd like to do one
as realistic as possible, and not a half-assed one that every other racer
employs. Hell, a love tap in NYC can bend a hood, damage fenders, and crack a
bumper...and you mean to tell me that it takes a 40MPH hit in a realistic racing
"sim" for half of that to happen?
Furthermore, in that VideoGamer piece Dan Greenawalt (the man who made the "dropped the ball" statement) said "We watched the Sony press conference and we were like, OK so we just brought what we believe firmly is the best racing game ever made, and our competition didnít show up. So now you can see why Iím fairly bullish. I hate to sound so cocky but the truth is the stars have aligned. I donít know how else to say it."
The competition didn't show up? He makes it seem as if Polyphony is scared or something. The reason why GT5 wasn't playable at the show, and everybody knows this now, is because Yamauchi and Sony didn't want the game stealing the thunder away from the PSP's Gran Turismo. Yamauchi later went on to say that GT5 is basically complete and that they can release it anytime they wish, but are using the time to polish the game some more. So, Mr. Greenawalt, don't flatter yourself, the competition didn't show because they didn't need to. Just like how the Chicago Bulls didn't need to practice all the time in the 90s and yet, they continued to win championships.
I have little doubt that GT5 won't make it before the end of 2009, Sony is simply giving the PSP version some limelight before letting it be known that GT5 is also a 2009 game. I also didn't write this to defend Gran Turismo, in fact, there are a number of things I'm hoping to see in GT5 that were never present in the past games, including GT5 Prologue.
For example, selecting between automatic and manual transmissions. In a lot of cars, there are different gear ratios and even a different amount of gears between transmissions. An easy example is a 350Z, which is a 5-speed automatic and a 6-speed manual. In my opinion, if you choose an auto, you should face the penalty of missing a speed, taller gears, and the adverse effect on top-speed. Another example, again with the transmissions, is cars such as the Audi R8 boast automatic transmissions that are extremely different than a conventional automatic with a torque-converter, in that the R8 features a DSG gearbox that has two clutches automatically engaging with every flick of your wrist. How these Dual Clutch Transmissions work is one clutch operates gears 1-3-5, while the other 2-4-6. So when you're in first gear, the second clutch is already there with the second gear just waiting to be electronically activated, basically.
So why is this important to me? Well, when I pick my R8, I want to drive the car with the DSG transmission for its seamless and lighting fast shifts. After all, every split second counts in a race, and a lot of time is lost in shifting as the clutch engages, the shift is thrown, and the clutch disengages, and that translates to a slower shift no matter what transmission setting you choose in the game. The same applies to the E92 BMW M3, which is a manual transmission by default in Gran Turismo 5 Prologue, and so cannot be driven with using its DCT transmission. Oddly enough, the Nissan 370GT (America's Infiniti G37 Coupe) comes only as a 5-speed automatic in Gran Turismo, despite having a 6-speed variant in real life. Odd.
I've always thought of this as the one glaring error in the GT franchise. But who knows, with 600 cars, perhaps some of those cars, like the Audi R8 and BMW M3, will simply be the same two vehicles offered with different transmissions. After all, once you buy a car, you buy a specific vehicle with a specific transmission, so switching at any time you wish would make little sense.
Furthermore, the tuning aspect of GT5 needs to be overhauled over GT4, because there are some really key components missing. For starters, a dyno, which to date has only been featured in Need for Speed: Underground 2 (poorly, might I add), is a must here. GT4 showed power graphs with a respective curve for both horsepower and torque, but it never showed you how much power you were actually putting down to the wheels - you got crank and brake figures only, which aren't realistic or true. Other tuning aspects I'd like to see is dialing in spark plugs, turning them hotter and colder, in addition to being able to toy around with forced induction by increasing boost/PSI. And hey, when you buy an ECU/engine management unit, include the ability to enable ECU maps that have the car running on 100 octane and making power from it, as well. And make sure to sell that 100 octane, since that stuff costs nearly $7 per gallon in real-life, anyways. Also, fix the weight reduction inconsistencies - in GT4 a stage 1 weight reduction removed the backseat...but my Lotus and 350Z don't have backseats.
Let's see, what else? Ah, tire-pressure. It's a pivotal aspect, and dammit, I want to be able to set my own settings to control grip vs. longevity myself. Changing tires and rims should also not be a purely cosmetic function, because it isn't in real life. A lightweight tire and rim can go a long way in gaining acceleration and braking power, at the expense of worse traction off the line. And instead of just offering a type of tire, allow us to choose the width and tire profile for grip and tire flex, and of course, have the gamer endure the consequences for choosing, say, an extra wide 305mm tire.
It's 3AM, and I feel like I'm beginning to ramble here. And there are probably tons of other aspects I can bitch about relating to Gran Turismo. The reason why this article came out so long was because earlier on today, I had originally only intended on writing a piece that only pointed out the faults with GT and what the series needs. With Turn 10's statement, it turned into one mammoth rant, one that I hope doesn't fall onto deaf ears (both you guys and Sony). The point here was not to make Gran Turismo shine like a beauty queen, because as you can see I have expressed a full list of disappointments with the series that I've yet to see addressed, and I wasn't even done.
The point, rather, was to simply...rant, I guess. Hahahaha.
Okay, dammit, I came back to edit this article after closing it. I want to add one more thing. When using the Logitech G25 or anything else with a clutch, please Polyphony, give us proper clutch engagement, including stalling a car. When you gradually release the clutch on a real car the torque will slowly begin moving it forward, in some instances. GT5 Prologue doesn't do this. Also, when you release the clutch sharply, the car doesn't lurch to let you know that you've stalled. It's the little things that matter most.
Okay, now I'm really done.
6/10/2009 Arnold Katayev