GeekDad Visits the Gran Turismo Awards, Plus an Interview With Kazunori Yamauchi

Reading Time: 6 minutes

This past week in Las Vegas, the annual Gran Turismo awards were held, recognizing excellence in automotive customization. The awards, which are held in conjunction with the automotive industry’s Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) convention, annually invite petrolheads to submit their custom car for judging and potential inclusion in the Gran Turismo game for the PlayStation 3.

This year’s crop of contestants was narrowed down by a field of judges who were on the lookout for unique vehicles that embodied the soul of the top-selling driving simulator. Submissions were broken down into five categories – Asian import, European import, domestic, hot rod, and truck. The Asian import, a 2009 Nissan 370Z, was a wide body with seemingly endless horsepower and an angry, barking exhaust note. A Porsche 964 represented the European import category and is the first car in the US built using a Rauh-Welt body kit from the very popular Japanese tuner.

Deeper in the Las Vegas Convention Center was a Ford F150 with deep dish wheels, suicide doors and the reddest interior you will ever see. The supercharged pickup lays claim to the truck category. A ’72 Chevy Camaro represents the hot rod group, a car that tips its hand with a roll bar, carbon fiber panels and race suspension. Finally, a 1966 Ford Mustang, built for speed in gorgeous deep red rounds out the competition and represents the domestic class.

The father of the Gran Turismo series and race driver himself, Kazunori Yamauchi, was on hand to judge the finalists and select an overall winner. The lucky vehicle would be meticulously examined, photographed, and recreated for inclusion in the game. The honor, which takes up to a year to complete, has only been bestowed eight times prior to this year’s awards. Before announcing the winner, Yamauchi-san sat down and answered a few questions for us.

GeekDad: A year after release, Gran Turismo 5 continues to do well, Spec 2 has just been released … are you happy with how things are evolving with this version of the game?

Kazunori Yamauchi: Of course, we’re never completely satisfied, but we’ve done the best we can in the time that we have, so we have to be satisfied with that.

GD: We are also about a year past the widespread release of motion controls, but they still seem to be most appropriately used in casual games or with minimal use in more serious games. Can you envision how motion controls might be used in a more serious game like Gran Turismo?

KY: Technically, we can make the game compatible with Move but once you try it out being able to do it and it actually being fun is two different things – it’s kind of hard.

GD: I imagine a lot of GeekDad readers could benefit (and breathe easier) from their children learning to drive in a digital environment. Have you ever considered adapting Gran Turismo to educate kids, much in the way that the licenses work in the game?

KY: Kids that grew up with Gran Turismo already have very high driving skills. So if you want to make your kids a racing driver, that’s the way to go!

GD: You had the chance to work with Adrian Newey in developing the X2010 — that must have been an interesting experience. What else can motorsport learn from a simulation like Gran Turismo?

KY: I’ve actually visited a lot of Formula One teams including McLaren, Ferrari, Mercedes GP, and, of course, Red Bull. They all base the development of their cars on simulation first. It’s reached the point where there’s really no difference between simulation and the real life of a car. Something that’s really interesting, regarding the cars and the actual driving simulation, is the A-Spec part of the game. Something that’s really important to Formula One racing now is the racing strategy where you decide when you’re going to pit the car and how you distribute time and everything. And they already use a simulator that’s similar to the B-Spec simulator in the game to get the team organized in those race-type situations. So it really surprised me that, after seeing the teams, that they’re doing the same thing as we are.

GD: If the difference between current simulations and real life is thin, where’s the room for improvement in the next iteration of the game?

KY: There’s still a very long list of to-dos, a lot of things we haven’t done yet and we’re going to start doing them one by one.

GD: Each year we see dramatic improvements in automobile technology. When you walk around a show like SEMA, do you see a lot you want to incorporate into the game or is it more about your list of to-dos?

KY: At Gran Turismo, we are really focused on monitoring the all of the new technology that comes out for automobiles and we’ve gone to great lengths to include that in the game in every iteration. That’s something we never neglect.

GD: Gran Turismo has sold more than 60 million copies, you’ve personally had great success on the track. What would you say your most memorable accomplishment?

KY: I think the day we launched the first Gran Turismo is a day I’ll never forget, because I really saw a huge movement start then and there. Of course, winning the class in the 24 hours of Nubrugring is something that’s obviously a deep experience for me. Having been involved in working on a sports driving formula for this long, and to be actually able to leave visible results from that is something major in my life.

GD: When you work on a game for so long, there are certainly things, as we talked about before, that don’t get finished or you just can’t do. Can you talk about how downloadable content has affected the process of game creation?

KY: What we do during development, we do our best in developing every day and we do what we can do. The difference between having a package only release like we did in the past and how we have downloadable content now is that before, it used to be you would have to set an objective five years ahead and work toward that goal. But now, there’s this time in between where you can keep releasing new content and implement new ideas. It’s great that we can do that because it keeps the content fresh and gives us structure and objectives that we can work towards instead of of having this big objective far out there in the future. It helps to keep our motivation up, as well.

GD: What games do you see today that impress you as innovative or exciting?

KY: All the games that Will Wright makes, like Spore and the various Sims games. His games are really, really innovative. And I always have an interest for games that have that type of fresh innovation.

The Winner Is Announced

In a small club atop one of the strip’s many high rise casinos, a huge crowd surges forward. Kazunori Yamauchi has taken to the stage to announce the winners, along with GT Academy winner, Bryan Heitkotter. As each category winner is introduced, the anticipation ratchets up another gear. Finally, the overall winner is announced, Mary Pozzi’s 1972 hot rod Chevy Camaro will be digitally immortalized for the millions of Gran Turismo fans around the globe to race. The crowd cheers, on screen engines roar, and spotlights sweep the room like headlights following through a turn. A short time later, the Stone Temple Pilots take the stage and the celebration begins in earnest.

All images courtesy of Associated Press.

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