Kazunori Yamauchi: The Polygon Godfather.
The man behind legendary racing game “Gran Turismo®” takes us through his gaming career, his love of concept cars and GT6.
A legend in numbers.
They might be nothing but numbers: 1,197 different car models, 37 locations, 100 race track layouts, 82 tyre choices with 188 variations, 34 helmet styles in 952 different shades as well as 28 racing outfits with 852 possible colour combinations. To Kazunori Yamauchi, however, these are far more than mere figures or specs. The man behind PlayStation’s seminal “Gran Turismo®” racing series has a remarkable sense of detail, fine-tuning his elusive ideal of the perfect racing simulation with each new release – a labour of love spanning the past 15 years. So it should not come as a great surprise that the long-awaited “Gran Turismo®6” for PlayStation®3 not only boasts an impeccable 24-hour version of the legendary Le Mans race, but also faithfully reproduces the night sky and constellations above the actual 2013 race. At the same time, Kazunori Yamauchi enjoys a very hands-on relationship with his motoring
passion – the car enthusiast also puts high-speed models through their paces at some of the world’s most iconic racing circuits and loves to collect iconic cars. Intrigued by this dedication, we asked the maestro about his passion for the virtual game – and any future challenges on the horizon.
15 years „Gran Turismo®“.
This year marks the 15th anniversary of the “Gran Turismo®” series. What memory springs to mind when you think back to the early days?
For five years – and pretty much every single day – “Gran Turismo®1” demanded all our energy and dedication. By now I have forgotten a lot, but I do remember that whenever we made even the tiniest progress I was so excited I could hardly sleep. But back then I wouldn’t even know if it was summer or winter outside.
One step ahead.
Considering the fast-paced nature of development in the digital age, 15 years seems like a long time. How has “Gran Turismo®” changed – beyond the obvious choice of car models or tracks?
Mirroring recent hardware evolutions, we have fine-tuned the graphics and physics to reflect those advances. At the same time we also tested a number of different game designs in each of the releases. But our biggest challenge and achievement always lay in transcending the video game set-up by involving the car and motorsport industry.
From the console to the streets.
This year you took part in the seminal Nürburgring 24-hour race. What was it like? And how did it influence “Gran Turismo®”?
This year we managed to hold second place in the qualifying of the SP9 class for a while, the highest class in this race. So we expected to do pretty well in the actual race, but ran into critical engine trouble during the first sting. So in the end the mechanics were busier than the actual drivers. Such a race can resemble a battle, starting with engine development, safety logistics, strategy and planning all the way down to the final combat. I want to reflect all of this in “Gran Turismo®” – but, naturally, that’s easier said than done.
When people talk about “Gran Turismo®”, they often praise the game’s realism. In your opinion – what are the elements that lend a racing game a realistic feel?
The game should capture the car itself, its movement, handling, environment and landscape, as accurately as possible. That takes a lot of concise and careful observation.
The game introduces 19 new racetracks. What defines a great route? Do you have a personal favourite?
A great track is not about difficulty per se, but about driving pleasures. And many of the routes that are fun to drive derive this pleasure from the track’s ups and down, allowing you to get into a certain groove. Personally speaking, and apart from the Northern Loop, I enjoy traditional race tracks like Brands Hatch and Spa-Francorchamps, i.e. courses that treat you to high-speed curves and precarious passages that are dangerous and fun at the same time.
Speed and elegance.
I guess this is a recurring question… what would be your ultimate dream car? And will we be able to take it out for a spin in “Gran Turismo®” before it hits the streets?
I would love to drive a car based on my own concept – be it in “Gran Turismo®” or on an actual racetrack. I love both car design and driving, so this car would possess a certain elegance, yet also be a pleasure to drive… and drive fast.
GT6 picks up on the tradition of standalone concept cars, including a remarkable model straight from the Mercedes-Benz design studios. Why are concept cars so important to you and which technology is likely to make the jump to production cars in the future?
When I was a child, these trade fair concept cars represented a present coupled with a very positive outlook on the future. And that hasn’t changed, really. The technology that is researched and developed by car manufacturers today is extremely broad in scope and often exceeds my own imagination. As cars are at the centre of our mobility, I firmly believe that progress in automotive technologies will always influence our future.
You worked closely with the Mercedes-Benz design team when they accepted your invitation to submit a prototype design for your “Gran Turismo®6” line-up. Which elements did you like best?
I like cars with an exterior that is both classic and modern, but also display a high-performance attitude. The young designer who came up with the Mercedes-Benz model is a “Gran Turismo®” fan, which makes this a fantastic collaboration.