Byte Me
Working for european car has allowed me to fulfill several boyhood dreams. I've piloted a Goodyear blimp, driven exotic cars through the Alps and, most recently, played Gran Turismo 5 Prologue with Kazunori Yamauchi, the father of Gran Turismo. That last one may not seem like that big a deal, but imagine a Catholic hanging out with the Pope.

I've been a huge GT fan since it debuted in 1997. It was the first true driving simulator and has changed the entire car enthusiast world for a generation of drivers. It introduced players to cars they'd never seen before. It turned tuners into superstars and changed the general public's understanding of car modification. Subaru, Mitsubishi and Nissan have all credited the GT franchise with creating the interest and awareness necessary to bring over cars like the WRX STI, Evo and the upcoming GT-R.

Driving games of the past used models of the cars that were basically robust versions of choose-your-own adventure games. Turn the wheel this hard and brake, and the car will perform a set reaction. Different cars' behavior was based on preset performance characteristics scripted by programmers. They had to determine how they thought a car would react according to weight, grip, balance, power, etc., and then essentially write a story to describe it.

With GT, programmers are building a car within the game, loading the actual mechanical properties of the car and letting the physics engine figure out what it would do. Part of the reason they can do this is the increased computing power available, but also a commitment of thousands of man-hours per vehicle to program in each car.

With each new version of GT, I tell people they can't make the physics any better, they've taken it as far as they can. Now I've played GT5, I'm wrong again. The physics are so much better; I wonder how much longer we will need to drive real cars at all. Once they find a way to recreate the feel of a car through some sort of motorized seat, the driving simulator will do everything a car can-except impress women.

Perhaps more exciting than the physics engine is the online component of GT5. Fans have been clamoring for online play for years, but I don't think head-to-head play will be the biggest part of the game. GT5 is going to be huge, it will represent the biggest community of car fans in the entire world all in one place.

The programmers have decided to take advantage of this and include more online content than just simply racing a friend in Europe. Videos, articles, news and car-related entertainment will all be available online. More than that, imagine press launches for vehicles no longer being just for journalists. Download a new vehicle and test-drive it before it even hits the dealerships.

Maybe you want to try an aftermarket part. Download it and see how it works. You won't get the actual feel for the part, but the physics engine within GT5 is now powerful enough to provide dependable performance numbers. Yamauchi and the guys ran the new GT-R on the Nrburgring before Nissan. They ran their virtual GT-R in GT5 and predicted a best lap time that was within a second of the real thing-it really is that accurate.

So will tuners be replacing expensive track time with a big screen and a PS3? Not in the near future, but it isn't that unrealistic. It wasn't so long ago that tuners thought nothing would replace a flow bench or strain gauges, but that's happening. Gran Turismo is already the biggest-selling video game ever and I don't think we've seen anything yet.

By Mike Febbo
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