There have been video games about cars for nearly as long as there has been video games. Even so, for the past 10 years Gran Turismo has stood out among the many racing titles as the game about cars and driving. Gran Turismo was created by Kazunori Yamauchi and developed by Polyphony Digital studios for Sony’s PlayStation gaming console. Over the past 10 years and five versions of the game, Gran Turismo has continued to be polished and refined to create the de facto console-based driving simulator. Polyphony Digital has always worked closely with automakers to get the details of featured cars as close to the real thing as they can be in order to provide a true driving experience.
For those who have not experienced Gran Turismo first hand, the true-to-life handling of the cars featured in the games is what makes them so realistic. Each vehicle is fitted with sensors, video and audio equipment and then driven by Yamauchi and his team on the course. In addition to receiving CAD data from the auto manufacturers, Polyphony Digital takes thousands of photos that are used to replicate each vehicle in digital form. (Just as much time and care is taken to model the courses that are featured, including Circuit de La Sarthe, Daytona International Speedway, Fuji Speedway, Infineon Raceway, Suzuka Circuit, Tsukuba Circuit and Twin Ring Motegi.)
So it’s no surprise that the studio has collaborated with many automakers to provide customers test drives within the game. A recent example was with BMW using a special version of Gran Turismo 5 to offer test drives of the company’s new 1-series before the car even came out in the U.S. This attention to detail and love of driving has made a handful of exotic cars superstars around the world. The best example of this being the Nissan R34 Skyline, a car that was not well-known outside of Asia aside from a few performance-minded drivers, but due to it’s inclusion in Gran Turismo drivers around the world fell in love with it.
A view of the Nissan GT-R dashboard. The Multifunction Meter, which was designed by Polyphony Digital, is located on the immediate left side of the instrument panel so as to minimize eye movement of the driver.
When Nissan started developing the R35 Skyline (GT-R) in early 2001, the company worked very closely with Yamauchi and Polyphony Digital to make sure the new model — the first with a worldwide release — lived up to the GT-R badge. Through the development of the Gran Turismo games Yamauchi and his team got to know the Skyline in every detail. Their modeling and data-logging of its performance and engine dynamics helped Nissan to prototype many virtual versions of the chassis, engine and aerodynamics well before they ever created a rolling chassis.
This close collaboration manifested itself in the new GT-R with something called the Multifunction Meter, an in-dash LCD-based data-logging and telematics system that was developed by Polyphony Digital using much of the same functionality and user-interface as you would find in-game in Gran Turismo. The multifunction graphical display allows the driver a complete view of every facet of the GT-R’s performance and functionality, which is intended to evolve sports driving to the next level. At the time that development for the meter started in Spring 2006, Yamauchi stated, “the GT-R is going to be a car with performance levels unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.”
A closer look at one of four possible preset display configurations for the Multifunction Meter screen. In this screen the large palette displays boost pressure and the two smaller palettes display engine oil temperature and engine oil pressure. The meter screen pictured is from a development vehicle and may differ from the one used in the actual production car.
The 2009 Nissan GT-R was officially released last October at the 2007 Tokyo Motor Show. The GT-R has already been described by MotorTrend Magazine as the world’s fastest sub-$100,000 car. The production model GT-R is a 480-horsepower sports coupe and, in an unprecedented move, its auto show reveal was linked to the release of Gran Turismo 5: Prologue. The base model ’09 GT-R starts at nearly $70,000 and went on sale on July 7.
What does this collaboration mean for the auto industry?
Usability expert Don Norman has written that “The automobile industry is badly in need of guidance on human factors.” The automotive industry can only benefit from the human factors design experience of video game developers and others who produce digital experiences.
- Gran Turismo official site
- Kazunori Yamauchi entry on Wikipedia
- Polyphony Digital corporate profile
- Notable Gran Turismo Collaborations product page
- BMW @ Gran Turismo 5; video clip on BMW-web.tv
- Kaizo Industries brings the classic Skyline GT-R into America one piece at a time; Edmunds.com, 05.19.05
- 2009 Nissan GT-R (R35 Skyline) official global site
- First Drive: 2009 Nissan GT-R; MotorTrend, December 2007
- Automobile in HCI’s future-2; Don Norman’s JND website, 2007
Nissan GT-R: Story of the multifunction meter; Gran-Turismo.com special report
Both Nissan GT-R interior images appear courtesy of the Gran-Turismo.com site