Kazunori Yamauchi is the creator and producer of the Gran Turismo racing games on Sony’s PlayStation game consoles. The new game is launching soon, although Sony isn’t saying exactly when. It has 16-player multiplayer, as well as mechanical and external car damage. The Polyphony Digital studio at Sony released Gran Turismo 5 Prologue a year ago to whet appetites for racing fans, but the real deal has been in the works for five years. Sony had the latest creation on display at its booth at the Consumer Electronics Show. We caught up with Yamauchi for a translated interview there.
VentureBeat: Can you tell us a quick history of Gran Turismo?
Kazunori Yamauchi: Gran Turismo started production in 1992 when the PlayStation game console was in development. Gran Turismo was one of a hundred proposals I made for games back then. It was finally completed in 1997. There were so many other proposals, it was really by chance that I wound up creating Gran Turismo. It could have gone in a completely different direction. When the first game came out in 1997, I expected it to be a niche game. But it wound up selling so much, that led to the second game and the third edition and now we’re here.
VB: How many units has it sold?
KY: 53 million copies worldwide.
Sponsored by VB
VB: That’s a lot.
KY: Just lucky, really.
VB: There were lots of racing games. What set it apart?
KY: We wanted to put real cars into the game. It was an anomaly back then. There were no simulation-based racing games. Most of them were arcade games. Gran Turismo was new in their eyes.
VB: How many people made the first game?
KY: On the first one, there were seven to 15 people, at different times.
VB: And now?
KY: We have 140 staffers.
VB: What has changed?
KY: The difficulty of creating games hasn’t changed that much. It takes a lot of time to communicate with a team this large now. Before, you could wake up one morning and have a good idea. You could see it implemented in some form by the evening. Now, if you have a good idea, it may be two or three years later before you see the result. It’s because it takes so many more people to do it.
VB: How has the level of detail changed, and the level of realism risen?
KY: We had maybe 300 polygons in a car in the first game. Now we have about 500,000 polygons in each car. Back then, pieces of the car were more like symbols. Now they are real and reflect light.
VB: How do you try to make the game different? Burnout tries to depict spectacular crashes. What do you aim for?
KY: I try for realism in game systems and game design. That’s where I look for new innovations. We want to keep changing what the player experiences and feels when they play the game.
VB: The Naughty Dog designers felt like they used 30 percent of the PS 3 for Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. For Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, they said they used 80 percent of the processing power of the PS 3. What about you?
KY: It is about the same for the PS 3, about 8o percent of the processing power. The PS 3 hardware has a very high peak performance. The better you manipulate it, the better it performs.
VB: How do you get new gamers and make your games more accessible to wider audiences?
KY: We have tried to create a new standard and format for a racing game. We can’t tell too much detail yet.
VB: Sony is making a new kind of motion controller now. You already have steering wheel and gas pedal accessories. Do you think the interface for racing games can be improved?
KY: It’s fun to play with steering wheels and gas pedals. But when you see the new motion controllers, I want to create a different kind of game.
VB: What did you try to accomplish with the landscapes of the newest game?
KY: We have always tried to create landscapes in Gran Turismo that look better than real life. In Gran Turismo 5, we have objects on the race tracks that interact with the cars. We have fences, tires, and barriers. You will interact with objects on the course.
VB: How long does it take to make a game?
KY: This one has taken five years. Nothing is getting easier or less expensive. It does get easier if you are making a second version on the same platform, like the PS 3.
VB: Will you keep doing this until you get to Gran Turismo 10?
KY: (laughs) Not sure.
VB: Why do you keep doing it?
KY: Every time, it’s the same for me. I am usually pretty frustrated when a version comes out. Right after the release, I think we should have done this or should have done that. A game release is not a very happy time for me. When a new title comes out, I look to the next one to fix it.
VB: Sounds like you are a perfectionist.
KY: Yeah, I’m usually pretty angry after the release of the title.
VB: What will you do for Gran Turismo 6?
KY: Nothing is decided for that.
Please check out our GamesBeat@GDC conference coming on March 10 where we’ll talk about the latest innovations in the video game business.