The amount of time and dedication that goes into creating this experience is something else”
Come with me on a tour of Polyphony Digital’s office
Polyphony Digital, the team behind the critically acclaimed Gran Turismo series, love cars. This much is clear from the games themselves, but it becomes even more apparent from the moment you set foot in their Tokyo office. A stack of racing tyres sits near an impressive driving simulator setup running Gran Turismo 5 across three 65 inch TVs. In the midst of the platinum plaques on the walls in the lobby is a framed Gran Turismo t-shirt, signed by 20 odd famous racing drivers.
I recently had a chance to go behind the scenes, to chat with the developers, and see the team at work on the upcoming Gran Turismo 6. And what an experience it was! This is a passionate group, and their love of cars and of all things racing permeates the entire design process.
At the head of the team is Kazunori Yamauchi, the CEO of Polyphony and the producer of the Gran Turismo series. When he’s not making games, Yamauchi-san moonlights as a professional racing driver. That’s right, the guy calling the shots at Polyphony Digital is a racing driver himself - Gran Turismo’s authenticity is starting to make sense now, huh?
After a look inside Yamauchi-san’s office, with his racing trophies and special, locked wine cooler that only gets opened once a year, we went off to see the rest of the crew at work. The amount of effort that goes into getting every aspect of the games just right is astounding. The designers working on the racecourses are all personally sent out to do their own surveying work. They take GPS coordinates of every bend and landmark around the track - accurate to 1cm - and in the order of 130,000 photos. Per track. Back in the office, no amount of detail is spared getting the tracks as authentic as possible, right down to the shape and size of branches on the trees.
Modelling the cars is a similarly detailed process. Designers visit car manufacturers to take photos of every nook and cranny of the vehicle, before returning to the office to sculpt it in Maya. “Sculpt” is a pointed word there, because the staff modelling the cars really do look like they’re making masterpieces with clay. Each car starts with a very basic model, and then the developer goes around, meticulously chipping away, adding extra polygons, until the car looks like as spectacular as the ones we see in the game. The process is so meticulous, and attention to detail so high, that each individual car takes three to six months to complete.
The tour also gave us a chance to speak to Yamauchi-san about the upcoming Gran Turismo 6. He talked a little bit about the process for choosing which racecourses are represented in Gran Turismo, with public feedback balanced with the need to have a diverse range of tracks responsible for what we see in the final product. Yamauchi-san told us that, although they could not give a day and night cycle for every track, they’re pushing for this to be a feature of all tracks that are known for 24 hour races, and that improved lighting will make night races a much better experience.
Yamauchi-san also talked about briefly about the upcoming Gran Turismo film. There is no script yet, but Yamauchi-san hopes the film will be about Lucas Ordóñez, a top Gran Turismo player who has gone onto become a professional racing driver. If this is the story the film tells, it should be an interesting watch, to say the least.
It wasn’t just the developers we got to chat with; two people from the automotive industry, who have been working closely with Polyphony on GT6, were also there. Malte Hammerbeck is an exterior designer for Volkswagen AG, and is in charge of designing the company’s concept car for Vision Gran Turismo, a “GTi pushed to the max.” Without the constraints of manufacturing costs and safety regulations (this is a digital car, after all), Malte has been able to really get creative and design the car he wants.
Michael Grassi is the Head of Motorsport Sales and Technical Support at KW Automotive GmbH, a manufacturer of high end suspension systems that will feature in Gran Turismo 6. Grassi talked about the company’s philosophy - they don’t just sell a product, they sell a support service for that product - and how this will be translated into the game. Players will be able to fine tune their suspension systems (as you’d expect from this series) with the company’s “7-post” test environment, allowing players to test tweak and re-test their car’s systems to get it just right before heading out to race. Clearly, the level of collaboration between Polyphony and automotive manufacturers goes a lot deeper than just licensing deals.
The authenticity of the Gran Turismo experience is something you’ve probably at least heard of, if not witnessed for yourself firsthand. The amount of time and dedication that goes into creating this experience is something else, though - the team at Polyphony Digital are a passionate bunch, not making a game, but the most realistic driving simulation possible. As Michael Grassi put it, Gran Turismo is about opening the experience of racing to everyone, and Polyphony Digital are doing just that.