There aren't many people who've made a career creating a franchise that spans the entire lifetime of a company's consoles. Kazunori Yamauchi is one of those men. He's led the development of the PlayStation's flagship racing franchise since there have been PlayStations to develop for. And he remembers how it all began.
Many years ago now, at a time when next-gen consoles were measured in double-digit bits, Yamauchi sat down to prototype a realistic racing simulator.
With the tools at his disposal, he created a Formula 1 car and a simple oval track, all of which he modeled himself. As the car raced around the track, he was floored with the possibilities, rudimentary as his proof of concept was, that 3D gaming harnessed.
Gran Turismo was born in that prototype.
At a round table event during E3 2013, Polygon spoke to Yamauchi about the past, the near future and his hopes for the not-so-distant next-gen future of the realistic racing sim that defines his career.
The biggest thing about PSOne might have been the development hardware, which was "about the size of a refrigerator," Yamauchi said through a translator. Awkward as that may have been, it allowed him to deliver a 3D racing sim running at 30 frames per second, something he said he never thought possible.
By the time that the PlayStation 2 came around, he was delighted by the power of the new hardware. The screen fill rate, which refers to the number of pixels that a graphics card can render and write to a video card every second, was of particular importance because it allowed him to improve the graphics through the use of many more textures.
"In some cases," he said, "It's even faster than the PS3."
He recalled a demo he created for Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec that was shown at the PS2's E3 unveiling. It included a heat shimmer effect, the kind of atmospheric distortion you see over a hot grill, something that never would have been possible on the PSOne hardware. In fact, he said he can't recreate that effect on PS3 because the read/modify/write capabilities of the PS2 were in some respects better than the PS3. The transition to full 1080p HD also complicated matters.
The PlayStation 3, despite its raw horsepower, presented a challenge.
"The PS3 was a combination of poor GPU with an SPU that is really fast if you use it right," he said. "In terms of balance, it was not balanced very well. It's hardware that's hard to utilize properly. That's one of the reasons why it took us five years to develop Gran Turismo 5."
Using the SPU "properly" is an "interesting" act, he said, but the investment was worth it. Having mastered development on the system, he and the team at Polyphony Digital were able to add features like adaptive tessellation, a technique that ups the polygon count of an object the closer a player gets to it, which is more closely associated with today's next-gen hardware.
Thinking about the future and the PlayStation 4, he seemed optimistic about the hardware itself and the possibilities it could create for all developers.
"If you look at the market today, Gran Turismo is one of the only games that does 1080p at 60 frames per second," he said. "On the PS3, it was really difficult to achieve. I think on the PS4 ... the bottom line is going to be boosted, where most of the games will be able to achieve 1080p at 60 fps. I think that's the real good part of PS4.
"The bottom line is going to be much higher now."
For more on the next installment in the franchise, Gran Turismo 6, which is headed to PS3 toward the end of this year, be sure to read our earlier interview ith Yamauchi about the improvements Polyphony made.
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