The Final Piece of the Gran Turismo Puzzle

August 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

The search for greater realism with every entry in a series is a noble pursuit indeed, and it’s this dedication that has given Poliphony Digital an almost unique reputation in the industry. As rewarding an ambition as it is though, it does limit the amount of changes that can be made from game to game. Over the years they’ve added more and more tracks and cars to their seminal racing series, but short of changing the laws of physics, the basic driving experience remains very similar from game to game. The question then is this: Is there anything missing from the Gran Turismo formula that could be added to the core gameplay?
For the past few iterations the series has seen nothing on this scale. The addition of online as well as dozens of new race types has given series fans plenty to play with, but there’s been little in the way of game-changing additions.

This is a by no means a bad thing when your core game is as solid as Gran Turismo’s is, but it does make it harder to retain the interests of the fickle casual fans of the series. It’s an unfortunate reality that for many a big, marketable feature is needed for them to jump into your latest release.

There does however exist a part of the car which has somehow escaped inclusion thus far. It’s a control more important than any other without which you wouldn’t even get off the starting line in reality. It’s the thing every learner driver struggles with, almost without exception. Despite all this, it’s hard to recall a single game which has attempted its inclusion.

The clutch is its name.

Its addition would add another layer of complexity to all those who know Gran Turismo’s mechanics inside out. It would change the start of every race from an exercise in holding the accelerate button into a tense standoff as you try desperately not to stall. Most importantly of all it would just feel right to anyone who’s ever fallen in love with a perfectly executed gear-change. 

Perhaps surprisingly, the Dualshock is already well equipped to deal with its inclusion. The pedal could be mapped to one of the triggers, and a delicate vibration could activate to alert the player when they’ve reached the so-called ‘biting point’ when the clutch is depressed just enough to engage the gears. Even more surprisingly is the existence of racing wheels which already have the clutch included, but then when your hardware costs above $100 an extra pedal is a fairly trivial inclusion.

In spite of this, it’s hard to ignore the fact that a large amount of people don’t drive manual cars. There’s nothing wrong with this, and it would be ridiculous to claim otherwise, but there’s no escaping the fact that it takes a great deal of time to learn to drive a manual, and a dedicated instructor too. With such a learning curve it’s likely many would be put off ever choosing the ‘MT’ option in the first place.

That’s even assuming they’d chose that option now, but the fact is that when faced with the choice a large majority of players will pick automatic without a second thought. If it’s the complexity that puts them off – and it almost certainly is – then making the option more complicated going is hardly going to entice them in. In a worse case scenario, a great deal of time and resources would get dedicated to a feature used by few.

Then of course there’s the stall, which every driver has experienced, usually at the front of a very large, and very angry, queue of traffic. Good game design practise states that you rarely, if ever, want to punish a player’s mistake so severely that they have to restart the level, but that’s exactly what a stall would do. Such a mistake at the starting line would be impossible to recover from, and it wouldn’t take too many to get a player to give up entirely.

These problems are large, but they’re not without a solution. First and foremost you’d have to give players a good reason to spend time learning your new mechanic. Enticing sports cars, trophies, anything to make their time and effort worthwhile beyond simply giving them personal satisfaction.

Secondly you’d have to tech them, and teach them well. An in depth tutorial would be a must, as would stabilisers for when the player heads out into the big wide world. Difficulty levels would influence how easy it is to stall, going from an essentially stall-less easy mode to a more realistic hard mode. When the teaching is good enough, a game can get even the most mundane player to master the most complex mechanics. There’s nothing to suggest this couldn’t be the case here as well.

If Gran Turismo 6 were to add the clutch to its already dizzying feature-list it would be the biggest step forward in the simulation racing genre since the original Gran Turismo arrived on the original Playstation. It would completely change how people race, reigniting the passion of GT fans, whilst dragging in many that have grown bored with the series. Perhaps most importantly of all though, it would prove once and for all that Gran Turismo is deserving of its crown as ‘the real driving simulator.’

Forza Motorsport? Never heard of it.

First Picture taken by Delboydread for the EU Playstation Blog
It seems like every article I write nowadays needs a note affixed explaining why it’s been so long coming. Indeed this has been my quietest year yet, punctuated by just a paltry few articles when I’ve found the energy. 
For once though I do actually have a valid excuse. For the past three months I’ve been travelling, starting in South East Asia before heading on to South America. It was eye-opening, unforgettable, and above all utterly exhausting. Somewhat intentionally I thus haven’t touched anything more technologically advanced than a digital camera since the beginning of June.
I missed games, of course I did, and more than once I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Legend of Zelda as I gazed upon a secluded waterfall or patch of forest. I’m at peace with leaving those times behind me now, and I’m eager to catch up on all I missed out on, the games, the news, and of course, E3. Somewhere along the way I’ll hopefully even write an article or two. 
So in summary, I’m not sorry I left, but I’m glad to be back.

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