Even when Polyphony Digital president Kazunori Yamauchi was working on slapstick PSone racer Motor Toon Grand Prix, the luminary had driving simulators in mind. The internally developed title, which was undeniably inspired by the success of Mario Kart, was built with a casual audience in mind, but the Japanese developer couldn’t help but consider the title’s physics model. “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,” he told Next Generation magazine all the way back in 1995. “The cars' suspensions actually work – we've attempted to simulate the dynamic forces as they go around corners.”
Of course, the internal development group then known as Poly’s Entertainment was already hard at work on the very first Gran Turismo behind-the-scenes. A labour of love that lasted almost five years, it wasn’t until approximately 18 months after the release of Motor Toon Grand Prix 2 that Yamauchi’s opus would park up on store shelves. It was a smash success, augmenting the creator and his team the autonomy to form Polyphony Digital, and paving the way for a franchise that has not only sold over 70 million units globally, but also shaped the ethos of the PlayStation brand. Now, with Gran Turismo 6 sitting at the starting line, we're taking a brief look back at a groundbreaking series.
Released: 23rd Dec 1997 [ Jap ] / Sales: 10.8 million
It took almost five years for Sony to wave the chequered flag on Gran Turismo’s production. A team of up to 15 people worked tirelessly on the PSone exclusive – an endeavour that Yamauchi reflects took its toll on the group. “In those five years, we could not see the end,” he told Automotive Magazine in 2009. “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.” The luminary was famously unsatisfied with the results, but the title changed the face of racing releases due to its advanced physics system and impressive artificial intelligence.
Released: 11th Dec 1999 [ Jap ] / Sales: 9.37 million
The sensational sales of the first Gran Turismo enabled Kazunori Yamauchi and his team to form an autonomous studio under the SCE banner named Polyphony Digital. Its first game, however, was not Gran Turismo 2, but on-rails mech title, Omega Boost. The simulation racing sequel followed approximately six months later, and expanded upon the original’s content roster. It featured almost five times as many cars and more than double the tracks, while it also augmented tweaks to the title’s braking dynamics. This, according to Yamauchi, resulted in an “even better product”, which was reflected by the title’s impressive review scores.
Released: 28th Apr 2001 [ Jap ] / Sales: 14.8 million
A generation shift meant that the pressure was on Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec. With the PSone entries cementing Polyphony Digital’s driving simulator as one of the biggest brands on the planet, Sony opted to showcase the studio’s next generation entry alongside Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty at its E3 briefing in 2000. The title was put into gear a year later, where it demonstrated a significant step forward in visual quality. Improvements to the physics engine furthered the sequel's unquenchable quest for realism by improving the manner in which vehicles responded to grass and dirt. Despite its comparatively small vehicle roster compared to Gran Turismo 2, the title went on to become one of the highest rated titles of the PlayStation 2 era – and it still remains one of the best-selling games of all time.
Released: 28th Dec 2004 [ Jap ] / Sales: 11.7 million
A prologue version of Gran Turismo 4 preceded the title’s Japanese launch in 2004 – a strategy which developer Polyphony Digital would employ again to bridge the gap between the full release of Gran Turismo 5. Much like Gran Turismo 2, the studio used a large chunk of the title’s production time to create new vehicles, bumping Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec’s paltry 181 car selection to a massive 722 vehicles, as well as almost doubling the title’s track roster. The sequel also incorporated a slew of new game modes, including the B-Spec management simulation and popular photo mode, which allowed custom screenshots to be captured during gameplay and copied to an external USB stick. Furthermore, the physics model was upgraded to simulate body movement, while the title remains one of just four PS2 releases to output in 1080i resolution.
Released: 25th Nov 2010 [ Jap ] / Sales: 10.6 million
Gran Turismo 5 suffered an arduous road to release. While developer Polyphony Digital deployed an HD Concept teaser right around the release of the PS3, fans were forced to make do with the stripped back Gran Turismo 5 Prologue for nearly three years before the studio’s first full next generation entry arrived. Like all of the previous instalments, it garnered universal critical acclaim, but the response from fans was much more tepid due to the clunky user interface, tired progression system, and emphasis on standard car models ported from the PS2. The studio spent over a year tweaking the release, culminating in the Spec 2.0 patch in late 2011. Costing a reported $80 million to develop, the title remains one of the most expensive games ever made.
Do you have fond memories of the Gran Turismo franchise, or has it never been your cup of tea? What’s your favourite entry in the series so far? Are you planning to pick up Gran Turismo 6 on the PS3, or are you waiting for it to drift its way onto the PS4? Rev your engine in the comments section below.
What's your favourite Gran Turismo game? (17 votes)
Gran Turismo (PSone)
Gran Turismo 2 (PSone)
Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec (PS2)
Gran Turismo 4 (PS2)
Gran Turismo 5 (PS3)
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