Happy Birthday Polyphony Digital! Gran Turismo History

Today marks the birthday of Polyphony Digital and it’s only right to go over the Polyphony Digital and Gran Turismo series history. On April 2, 1998 in Tokyo, Japan Polyphony Digital was born. Now 17yrs later they are still around. Pretty impressive for a video game company. Technically they have been around even longer since originally they were known as “Polys Entertainment” and created their first game “Motor Toon Grand Prix” in 1994 for the first Playstation. The project was directed by Kazunori Yamauchi, who stated that it was the team’s goal to create realistic driving simulation without distracting from the game’s enjoyment.

Basically we’re not trying to fake reality – I’d rather create the sensation of handling a remote control car but with the kind of dynamics that you’d expect from a real car,” said Yamauchi. Interesting to see the Gran Turismo mind set already starting to take form.

It wasn’t until three years later still under the Polys Entertainment name that the original Gran Turismo (or GT1) was released on December 23, 1997. They changed their name to Polyphony Digital the following year. The game was a huge success selling 10.85 million copies worldwide and giving it game of the year. The game was said to be in production for five years and started in the second half of 1992. Yamauchi said that at different times there were only seven to 15 people that helped to develop the game. When asked how difficult it was to create Gran Turismo, Yamauchi remarked:

It took five years. In those five years, we could not see the end. I would wake up at work, go to sleep at work. It was getting cold, so I knew it must be winter. I estimate I was home only four days a year.”

Sound design was one aspect that Yamauchi believed was compromised due to a lack of time. Interesting to see time issues and Kaz making sound his last priority… Although Kazunori considered the game’s artificial intelligence to be superior to its competitors, he remained unsatisfied with its development. Anyone who was around back in the GT1 days remembers how insanely amazing it was. Nothing came close to the graphics and detail that went into the game.

After the huge success came the much anticipated Gran Turismo 2 (GT2) on December 11, 1999. It sold slightly less at 9.37 million copies worldwide. Still a mega hit earning it close to perfect scores from all major reviewing companies and probably my personal favorite GT game to date. It was basically GT1 taken to the next level. It had 650 cars and 27 different racing tracks including rally courses. They managed to take what was good and just improve it everywhere.

On April 28, 2001 Gran Turismo 3 (GT3) was released making it’s way to the brand new Play Station 2. The PS2 allowed GT3 to receive a huge graphics boost and allowed for much smoother gameplay. However due to the better graphics the game had reduced the number of cars from 650 in GT2 to only 180 in GT3. As we have found out in GT5 this decision to reduce cars was not made again, but instead included all the old graphics cars and only added a few updated graphic cars. Many other aspects were taken out like ability to “race modify” or add downforce to production cars. Although there were some major downsides about the game it also marked a major change in racing car games. It was the first time  they teamed up with game peripheral maker Logitech creating the GT Force steering wheel. The features, feedback, even look was all dedicated to GT3. I actually own this wheel and it works to this day. Unfortunately GT6 on the PS3 will be the last game it works for as the PS4 has banned many of the old wheels. Be sure to check out the best wheels that work for PS4. Even with the lower amount of cars the game managed to sell 14.89 million copies worldwide making it the highest-selling game in the Gran Turismo franchise. Although it sold the most copies ever not one was sold to me. At the time I was not happy with the drastically reduced number of cars and other changed to the game and decided to skip it.

A little bonus that I didn’t know until now is GT3 also marks informal appearances of automakers Lamborghini and Porsche. A racing JGTC Lamborghini Diablo was featured in the NTSC-J version (also are available in NTSC-U copy with a cheat device), and a Porsche 911 GT3 can be found in the game code (though it cannot be obtained normally, and requires the use of a cheat device). Both cars, together with two hidden Lancia Stratoses (road and rally versions), however, are completely absent in PAL version. Too bad Porsche never made it into the game ever again.

Now onto Gran Turismo 4 (GT4) which was released on December 28, 2004. This game was a little different as technically it came out on December 4, 2003 as GT4 Prologue. It was a totally separate game that was basically just a demo. For unknown reasons it never came to North America. However the real GT4 game was released in North America and I bought it right away. It was one of only four titles for the PlayStation 2 that is capable of 1080i output. With the few problems they had in GT3 they made sure to get things right in GT4. GT4 was delayed for over a year and a half by Polyphony Digital, and had its online mode removed (later added in Gran Turismo online test version which is Japan only). Gran Turismo has yet held the title to being number one seller and highest production Polyphony Digital has ever seen. The game features over 700 cars from 80 manufacturers, from as early as the 1886 Daimler Motor Carriage and as far into the future as concepts for 2022. The game also features 51 tracks, many of which are new or modified versions of old Gran Turismo favorites, with some notable real-world additions. Huge improvements were made in all aspects of the game and many new features like B-Spec mode which allowed players to act as the pit crew instead of actually driving the car. Another major change was the introduction of Photo Mode. Players could take their cars to various locations and act as a photographer to take pictures of the cars. You could also take them off the system and share them with friends on your computer. Compared to GT3 the graphics on GT4 are drastically improved even tho they both run on PS2.

Those that remember the episode when Top Gear featured the game with Jeremy Clarkson (now fired) when he preformed a head to head challeng with a NSX on Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in real life and in GT4. He scored 1:57 in real life and 1:41 in the game version. To be fair he used a NSX-R in GT4 which is slightly lighter and better than the normal version. Clarkson also had to be shown by a race driving instructor where the line was between the game and reality. He pointed out that adjusting one’s braking mid-turn in a real car could cause loss of control, and also mentioned that in the game, he is compelled to take bigger risks than he would in real life, and that in the game, the car did not suffer from brake fade. Despite the apparent discrepancies, in a column for The Sunday Times, Clarkson gave the game a score of three stars out of five and had this to say about it:

“I called Sony and asked it to send me a game chip already loaded with the 700 computer cars. And I am in a position to test out its claims because, unlike most people, I really have driven almost all of them in real life. There are mistakes. The BMW M3 CSL, for instance, brakes much better on the road than it does on the screen. And there’s no way a Peugeot 106 could out drag a Fiat Punto off the line. But other than this, I’m struggling: they’ve even managed to accurately reflect the differences between a Mercedes SL 600 and the Mercedes SL 55, which is hard enough to do in real life. There’s more, too. If you take a banked curve in the Bentley Le Mans car flat out, you’ll be fine. If you back off, even a little bit, you lose the aerodynamic grip and end up spinning. That’s how it is. This game would only be more real if a big spike shot out of the screen and skewered your head every time you crashed. In fact that’s the only real drawback: that you can hit the barriers hard without ever damaging you or your car. Maybe they’re saving that for GT5. Perhaps it’ll be called Death or Glory.”

With all the positive new add-ons many people complained like Jeremy did that there was no damage to the cars and bouncing off a wall totally ruined what was supposed to be a very real driving simulation game. Overall the game still received praise scoring it again close to perfect scores and selling slightly less than GT3 at 11.73 million copies worldwide.

Moving onto December 13, 2007 Gran Turismo 5 Prologue was released. The first GT game to be released on the PS3 and it blew me away when I bought it. Thinking about it now it was probably a stupid game to buy as it was basically a demo that they charged a lot for, but being for the PS3 and having a brief online mode it wasn’t something I could pass up. However what it did do well is get everyone pumped for Gran Turismo 5 (GT5) that came out on November 24, 2010. The game was delayed more times than I could count and took and excruciatingly long time to finally hit the shelves. However as of 2013, it is currently one of the best-selling PS3 games and the best selling PS3 exclusive with over 10 million copies sold. It was the first full GT game for the PS3 and featured many new modes. NASCAR, Word Rally Championship, Super GT were just some of the new licenses that were now included. It had over 1,000 cars, 26 different locations, and 71 different tracks are available in the game. Night racing also returns. They seemed to have the same problem they did with GT3 having a hard time to complete new cars for a new system. Instead of just making a very small number of cars like they did in GT3 they decided to break it up into two cateogries “standard” or “premium”. Standard meaning literally old GT4 cars with no graphic updates or Premium cars that were brand new and updated for GT5. This was a very disappointing and controversial decision from a users perspective, but I can see why they made it. Damage was also added to the game, but sort of half assed just to say it’s included since many cars never got anything more than a scratch. You could slam into a wall at 200mph and bounce off with only a few knicks on your bumper. Despite some of the choices that were made GT5 was totally new from GT4. The premium cars look spectacular, the AI was much improved, the Photo Mode was updated, just much better overall. Online and DLC updates were also new to the game and brought a whole new level of difficulty being able to race against real people rather than just computer controlled sims.

This brings us to the current Gran Turismo 6 (GT6) that came out on December 6, 2013. On February 2013, Sony’s Computer Entertainment Europe senior vice president Michael Denny claimed that Gran Turismo 6 will remain a PlayStation 3 title, despite the recent unveiling of the PlayStation 4. An interesting decision to have a new game be released for an old system, but in my opinion a smart move. At the time not many people had a PS4 and the sales would of been way down. Gran Theft Auto 5 made the same choice a few months later however eventually it did make a PS4 game down the road. GT6 features 71 layouts of 33 tracks, and 1200 cars. Like in GT5 there were updates and DLC that have added even more tracks and cars to the game since release. To commemorate the 15th anniversary of the series the most notable change is “Vision Gran Turismo” cars which are concept cars made by all major manufactures that have been slowly added since release and are exclusive to GT6. So far GT6 has scored high, but not as high as previous GT versions by critics. Many areas of the game are the same as GT5 and some things taken out. There is also much more competition in the marketplace for the Gran Turismo series to compete with than ever before. Despite all that GT6 has still made it in the Top 10 best selling games worldwide and continues to be sold with positive reviews.

Now this brings us to Gran Turismo 7 (GT7) and what is next. Many people have speculated what may or may not be added to the series and everyone has their GT7 wants list, but there isn’t much word yet on what is to come. The only thing we know for sure is unfortunately, but expected standard and premium cars will return and that is is set to release somewhere between 2015 and 2016. Based on all the other release dates it seems like mid December 2015 will be the release. However realistically it seems more like December 2016 is more likely. The only game ever to be released so soon after that first one was GT1 to GT2. All games past that have been a roughly a 3yr wait.

Either way I’m excited to see what is to come and would like to thank Polyphony Digital for all the fun they have provided over the past 18 years. Happy Birthday.