One of the most revered racing games of all time, Gran Turismo, is celebrating its 20th anniversary with the release of its seventh edition. We sit down with its creator in Tokyo for an in-depth analysis.
For Kazunori Yamauchi – the mastermind behind Gran Turismo – cars are his first and foremost passion. Indeed, it’s an unconditional love. I understand it right away, as he shows me the memorabilia he keeps at the Polyphony Digital office in Tokyo – where the seventh edition of the world’s most famous simulator, GT Sport, is taking shape. “My favourite racing driver is Ayrton Senna,” says the game designer, caressing the two helmets of the champion that are kept in the studio. “Without him, I would never have made Gran Turismo. His personality and guidance have influenced my life a great deal.” In a way, even Yamauchi is a legend himself. Since the inception of the game in 1997, the GT series has sold more than 80 million copies, transforming itself into a cult product that goes far beyond video games. It’s a racing sim of sorts, and is based on a real-life development platform. In fact, it’s so good that it’s also used by the GT Academy, which is a talent hunt programme in collaboration with Nissan. Lucas Ordóñez, Jann Mardenborough and Jordan Tresson are some of the successful racing car drivers that have come out of the series. “GT sums up all my hobbies and passions, crystallises them into one thing – cars, racing and photography. It’s just condensed my world into one package.”
Even in the real world, Yamauchi is quite a driver. He’s a professional racer, and has quite the name in the racing scene at the Nürburgring. And it’s not just that he competes in these races for the sake of it – Yamauchi has had some phenomenal results, such as the 2009 VLN victory (in a Lexus IS-F) and fourth place in the SP8 class at the 24 Hours of Nurburgring in 2010, which as per him is “an unforgettable achievement.”
From the steering wheel to the joystick
From the very beginning, Yamauchi wanted to give his video game a real life touch with the pure emotions that he experienced while racing on the track. And for his new creation, which is set to release on the 18th of October for PlayStation 4, the path is clear – the next GT will, in fact, be an e-Sport (electronic sport), and will support an online championship that will officially be recognized by the FIA. In addition to that, the most deserving players will be able to obtain an FIA Gran Turismo digital license issued by their National Automobile Clubs, which is the first step towards gaining an actual racing license. “We will continue to produce real racing drivers through the academy programme, and, as we’ve witnessed in the past, there’s no dearth of new talent finding its way into motorsports by means of the racing simulator,” assures Yamauchi. Gran Turismo is a reflection of a passion that straddles a fine line between virtual and real.
“My car collection is the same as it was in 2009,” says the programmer. Among some of the cars he’s most fond of include “a Honda S2000, a Nissan GT-R, a Mercedes-AMG SL, a Porsche 911 GT3 and two Ford GTs (first generation).” In short, Yamauchi’s life revolves around fast cars. Not only does he reinterpret them in his game, he also drives them almost every day.
“We have very profitable relationships with manufacturers, and I can say that several of them are using GT technology to develop hi-tech environments, such as robotic guidance. With the new game, we want to intensify our collaboration. What about self-driving cars? A “petrolhead” like the Japanese game designer should obviously fear it. But even on that subject Yamauchi has a reasonable explanation, “I think that it’s very meaningful, especially in the city. A Ferrari is the best to drive on a track or on a road free from traffic, but when you get stuck in a traffic jam all its beauty comes to an end.”
Gran Turismo Sport will support an online championship that will be officially recognized by the FIA.
Born in Kashiwa (Japan) in 1967, Yamauchi is a game designer, racing driver and chief of Polyphony Digital, a subsidiary of Sony Interactive Entertainment.
• On December 23, 1997, after five years of development, he launched the first edition of Gran Turismo.
• From 2009 onwards he has participated in various GT competitions, including the Nürburgring 24 Hours.
SIM FROM THE BEGINNING
Gran Turismo allows you to drive a large number of production cars, side-by-side, with prototypes and one-offs especially developed by manufacturers. The seventh edition offers more than 150 cars, representing over 16 brands in numerous categories, including GT3, GT4, LMP1 and rally spec. The online championship is divided into two parts – a National Cup (where players represent their country) and a Manufacturers Cup, dedicated to carmakers. Circuits are reproduced inch-by-inch, thanks to accurate photographic documentation and a special laser technique that is unbelievably realistic and precise.
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