Friday, 13 November 2009

Gran Turismo 4: A moment of triumph!

This may rate as my saddest ever blog. Sad in the sense of "You saddo!" But Gran Turismo has been a part of my life for a long time.

Back in the dark days, the original Gran Turismo came out for the playstation. My sister had a playstation. It came with three games. One was Gran Turismo. The others I couldn't name if my life depended on it. , and I fell head over heels for the game. I'd regularly stay up all night playing. A few years later, I bought a playstation second hand for about £60 just so that I could play it. I didn't even have a memory card, so Icouldn't save my progress, and so had to keep sitting and re-sitting the license tests.

Several things set this particular driving game light years ahead of anything else out there at the time. One was the graphics. Another was the physics. And a third was the gameplay.

Graphics-wise, most driving games at that time were top-down cartoon style affairs. They were really 2D games, but Gran Turismo did things very differently. Right from when you switched on, the graphics from the intro looked like real life. I'd assumed that the gameplay wouldn't match the intro, but it did. Indeed the intro was just snatches of gameplay stitched together and fitted to a soundtrack.

Since it was proper 3D with polygons and a track with gradients and what-have-you, it was always going to "feel" good. You have to remember that the playstation itself was a huge leap forward in games consoles. It was pretty much the first 32bit system, and it was fast enough to give players a real sense of motion. The first game I played was Wipeout, and that had me and my stoned friends swaying in our seats as we played. And so it was with Gran Turismo. To get around the track, you had to actually go round properly. The weight of the car would move forward and backward and outward in accordance with the laws of momentum. The grip of the tyres was finite. So you couldn't just go buy a big powerful car and win all the races.

And so there was a real challenge here. The techniques had to be learned. And to facilitate this, before you could participate in certain types of races, you had to obtain licenses. These were obtained by completing sets of increasingly difficult tasks; These included starting and stopping within a set area within a set time, doing a slalom between cones or tyrewalls, doing a very tight course that could only be done within the time by using the handbrake and accelerator to spin the back end out, and completing full laps of some of the tracks, within strict time limits.

There are always cheats available in the actual races. Knowing where you can cut across a verge or smack into the back of another car to push it off the track and simultaneously slow yourself down. Or just getting a powerful car with really sticky tyres so that the opposition could never hope to keep up. But none of this was possible in the license tests. The cars were chosen for you, and were not modifiable in any way. Coming off the track or hitting walls/cars/etc would result in an instant fail.

For me, these tests really added something to the game.

The original Gran Turismo looks very dated these days. It's been superceded by GT2, then by an entirely new console in the PS2, and then by GT's 3 and 4. I've played them all, although I don't have a PS3, and have no interest in getting one just yet. Give it a couple of years and I will be able to pick one up in Cash Converters or ebay for£50, but for now, I'm more than happy with my old PS2.

It sits under the telly for months on end, gathering dust, and then the whim will take me and I'll play on it for a few days or a week or whatever.

This is what I've been doing for the last few days, and surprise surprise! I've been playing my most up to date incarnation of Gran Turismo - GT4...

I'd left it at a point where I'd completed most of the licenses, but I'd only completed about half of the time trials that comprise the final, special, license. I had left myself the most difficult and challenging courses. Driving on snow in Chamonix, the Le Mans course, Suzuka, etc. The final challenge - the boss track of them all on GT4 is the Nurburgring. It's about 12 miles long, and requires a huge degree of skill and concentration to get around at all, never mind within the set time of just under 8 minutes.

Yesterday, I finally managed it. I Got around in 7 minutes and 57 seconds - a whole half second within the allotted time. And just to prove it (See? I said this was my saddest ever post) I've taken a photograph of the telly screen at the moment where I passed the finishing line.

Ta daaaaa!

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