On december 11th (2016) Gran Turismo 2 turned 17 years old meaning in the uk it is finally old enough to order its provisional license, so to celebrate I wanted to write about how it became an important part of the car world.
The idea of making a licensed car simulator was born inside the incredible mind of die hard car enthusiast Kazunori Yamauchi in the early nineties, when he felt his dream of becoming a racing driver (a dream he later fulfilled) was unobtainable in his native Japan. He decided his game needed to be much bigger than anything that had come before but unfortunately had no credibility so his then studio poly decided against the costly risk.
A different kind of game:
Motortoon gran prix 1 and 2 became Yamauchi’s first gaming projects, they were silly, none serious and comedic games aping the popular kart game genre that nintendo originated with mario kart. This game seemed as if it was as far as conceivably possible from the seed that would grow into the gran turismo series, but all was not as it seemed, the game became a secret skunk works for testing handling models.
Each car/kart had different characteristics which were albeit exaggerated but through this experience Kazanori and his small team discovered the capabilities of the first sony playstation system, this research and anal attention to detail meant motortoon was a good polished game and meant Kazunori had real weight at poly (soon to become polyphony digital), meaning gran turismo was on.
The unexpected hit:
The first Gran Turismo came onto the scene in 1997 and it was automotive perfection, Yamauchi somehow managed to convince Subaru, Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Chevrolet, Aston Martin, Dodge, Tvr, Mazda, Honda and Chrystler to not only license there cars into the games but also to lend the cars to game developers to tear around the track until they believed they could accurately simulate the experience, and yes there were some casualties. Gulp.
Sony who made the playstation and owners of polyphony saw the potential the game had to bring in a more mature audience to their system. They quickly decided the controller was not really good enough to get all out of the simulator, so they got to work on creating the playstations first analogue controller which proudly shipped when the game released in december.
Gran Turismo was Driving perfection which offered much more than any driving game ever had before, the graphics pushed the limits of what was possible and a level of detail that the rest of the industry couldn’t catch up with until the next generation of consoles. The level of tuning for instance was insane for such an early console, everything from gear ratios to tyres could be set just to the players spec, you needed to be a race engineer to get everything out of the game. Its no surprise that it was a run away hit that went on to sell 10.85 million copies.
The best gets better:
If Gran Turismo was to have one complaint, it would be that it was a bit too much of a Jap Fest with just a couple of uk and us manufacturers added at what seemed like the last minute. This is unsurprising when the company had little contacts in the industry and the game was thought to only really sell well in Japan. It didnt just sell in Japan however, GT1 was a success on the world stage and Yamauchi got straight to work on the sequel. But this brought in a problem , the team already pushed the limit of the playstation with its engine and graphics and the game was near perfect so GT2 became sort of GT1 on steroids which was in no way a bad thing, you cant fix what isn’t broken.
Gran turismo shipped with 173 cars and 11 tracks, Gran Turismo 2 shipped with 650 cars and 27 Tracks which now included rallying, the game even had two disks due to the size of the package on offer. The game was no longer a jap fest , although it did have a Japanese bias (but can you blame them?) now the worlds manufacturers wanted to be a part of this phenomenon and the play-station generation became the new baby boomers.
How a game changed my life:
As a young child in the late nineties I was never really really too passionate in anything, I wasn’t that into sport and it would take a couple more years before I started paying attention to music, until I got my playstation in 1998 all I really wanted to was watch the simpsons. Video Games were fun but as I was only 6 I was never really that capable of finishing games like crash bandicoot and spyro the dragon, so to get past bosses or particularly difficult levels I would buy a lot of cheat books. Managing to sneakily get a pirated copy of grand theft auto 2 from a friend on the playground at the start of the new century. I went straight to my cheat books to get the best weapon pack, but accidentally the page slips and I see a walk-through for Gran Turismo 2, the background was an achingly cool black and white Image of a Colin McRae impreza getting air on what looked like a dirt road, I was hooked and by christmas I had my copy (this time legit as I wanted the booklets).
The game was a real revelation, there was no longer levels to complete to move on, there were cevents and license tests but the order you did everything was your own choice, also how you did it was your own choice and to be honest there was never any pressure to do anything. Some people I knew ignored gran turismo mode completely and only played the more basic arcade mode. I however persevered with with Gt mode and I found it so cool to be playing a game where I had imaginary money to spend (now commonplace on car games). Gran Turismo 2 like every gran turismo is a game which rewards knowledge above driving skill, which was my downfall on christmas day 2000 as my first car was chosen on looks alone, the achingly weird and cute Daihatsu Midget 2. Safe to say I lost every race I entered (unsurprising for a 660cc commercial vehicle).
Reluctantly I decide to start the game from scratch but carefully think out my second car, I looked through all the specs for kg and hp and after a good 10 mins i settle for the common starting car, the sprinter trueno (ae86). This effort was rewarded and even better when I got attached to a car I could read a two page summary of everything about it from history to interesting facts, never before had I enjoyed a game that could be considered to be educational.The license tests meant I could master the corkscrew at laguna seca 9 years before id touch my first roundabout, I became a petrolhead and spent my whole life since then buying books, magazines, documentarys and playing the subsequent sequels. But nothing beats the memories of my tuned 300zx on apricot hill and when I replayed the game today using my 16 year old save the aged graphics did not get in the way of the brilliant gameplay and the nostalgia hit was almost too much. And then there’s the replays:
How a game changed the car industry:
The nineties to many is seen as a bit of a low point for good cars, great cars were there but a lot of cars were very samey and very cheap. Japan however was on fire in the nineties going through the 276 bhp ‘halo’ era. The supra,the nsx, skyline, impreza and so on were knocking straight on italy and germanys door. Problem was before gran turismo a lot of these cars were unheard of in the west as japan saw no market for them. Gt1 and 2 changed all this, in 2000 subaru of america were reportedly getting inundated with requests for wrx imprezas despite the cars never selling or even rallying there. Subaru listened and started importing wrx’s in 2001. Nissan had noticed the influx of grey imports into the uk and in 1997 (gt1) imported 100 r33 gt-r’s officially and in 1999 (gt2) imported 80 r34’s. This was no small task, as type approval is time consuming nissan decided to sva each car individually (much like a kit car) just to get the cars into showrooms quickly. The import scene became massive at the time of the millennium and even Hollywood wanted in on the action through the fast and furious films , Gran Turismo has been a huge influence on car culture and buying patterns.
The uk benefited from a few potentially jap only cars
Japanese companies were not the only ones to benefit, Blackpool bruisers Tvr always featured heavily in the series and as the cars were so insane they became a favourite from a young age. Tvr stopped selling cars in the states in 1986, but the cars were powerful and cheap so became a common staple in the game meaning thousands of Americans will have owned a virtual replica of the cars that they could never own. So is it a coincidence the American film ‘swordfish’ decided to use a Tuscan s as its hero car? So close to its debut in Gran turismo 2 (just over a year prior). I doubt it, because as gran turismo 2 came out the internet got a lot bigger and forums for car and game enthusiasts started to talk a lot about gran turismo , which was a notoriously difficult game to complete (100% could never actually be attained anyway as many people found out, oops). Tvr , venturi , ruf and vector became manufacturers of intrigue for many people who would never actually be able to see the cars in the flesh.
I was pleased to see the excitement of many people on forums this year celebrating that the first griffiths are now old enough (25) to be officially imported into America due to historical importance.
me driving a car Iv been driving for 16 years on my tv
Gran Turismo is so big now it works directly with the automotive industry, companies now design bespoke concepts just for the games through gran turismo vision, nissan even made a gran turismo 4 edition of the 350z. A far cry from the days of Polyphony going cap in hand trying to convince people of the benefits. Gran turismo 2’s ability to keep the momentum going was a huge part of this.
How Gran turismo changed motor racing:
It might seem unbelievable but Gran Turismo now has the ability to turn you into a fully fledged sponsored racing driver , but through Gt academy gran turismo is doing just that. The lessons learned from license tests are based from real motorsport exams, so through an online tournament anyone with a game and online capabilities can try to beat the world and if they are talented enough they can drive the cars for real and potentially become the next big thing. No longer do people have to buy the car and the kit to enter motor racing, sure the chances are slim but this really is giving back to the community that made the games a success.
How Gran Turismo changed the gaming industry:
Racing games before gran turismo were very basic, and for the most part completely unlike actual driving. Games like ridge racer were fun but the cars were fake and generic and the handling was more like driving a trolley than a car.
Alternatively you could race the brilliant codemaster games , but they had limited cars and focused on only the one racing discipline. Both were fun but did not offer anywhere near the depth of play that the Gran Turismo series did.
It wasn’t until arguably forza hit the xbox that Gran turismo had an actual competitor that could play to a similar scale (although forza is as good if not better in areas of gameplay, Gran Turismo could let you drive your own mundane cars for a laugh due to its silly amount of cars). Now the market is awash with similar games such as project cars and drive club and no matter what your opinion is on what game is best you have to concede that Kazunori did it first, and with that I say happy 17th birthday to Gran Turismo 2 . (Gran Turismo 1 turns 19 in just under 2 weeks!)
GT SPORT HAS A LOT TO LIVE UP TO.