Post Script

Why do de­vel­op­ers keep slap­ping L-plates on ex­pe­ri­enced driv­ers?


Gran Turismo 6 wants to get you be­hind a wheel as quickly as pos­si­ble. Once you’ve placed the disc in your PS3’s drive, all that stands be­tween you and the open road is an in­tro and the name-en­try fields. Af­ter this, you’ll find yourself parked in the pits at Brands Hatch, sit­ting in a Clio RS ’11. It’s an ef­fi­cient open­ing, un­doubt­edly, and you’ll ini­tially feel grate­ful to Polyphony for spar­ing you the or­deal of nav­i­gat­ing an­other of its out­dated UI de­signs be­fore you’ve had a chance to sam­ple the new driv­ing physics.

Heart­ened, you squeeze the right trig­ger and wait for the revs to spike. Noth­ing hap­pens. You try again, but the 2.0L in-line four re­mains stub­bornly un­moved. It’s X you should be press­ing. De­spite Polyphony’s keen­ness to be on trend with Gran Turismo 6’ s menu­less startup, the stu­dio ap­par­ently re­mains en­tirely un­aware of many of the other genre in­no­va­tions that have be­come stan­dard­ised since 1997.

Hav­ing lo­cated the ar­chaic ac­cel­er­a­tor, it’s at least now pos­si­ble to get out on the tar­mac. But even af­ter un­do­ing a decade’s worth of con­di­tion­ing and forc­ing yourself to ig­nore the trig­gers, the ex­pe­ri­ence is still a neutered one. All of the driv­ing aids are switched on and your hot hatch is in­ex­pli­ca­bly lum­bered with an au­to­matic gear­box.

De­spite Polyphony’s ad­mirable sen­ti­ment, you’re now forced to spend a lap wish­ing it would end so that you can remap the con­trols to some­thing more be­fit­ting of the 21st century and switch off all those pa­tro­n­is­ing driv­ing aids. Much of this could have been avoided by sim­ply ask­ing play­ers if they are new to Gran Turismo – or even driv­ing games – be­fore the game starts, then au­to­mat­i­cally cus­tomis­ing the de­fault set­tings to suit.

At least Polyphony has the de­cency to let you skip its in­tro. Turn 10’s Forza 5 forces play­ers to sit through a Jeremy Clark­son mono­logue be­fore send­ing you to Prague in what is pre­sum­ably a cus­tomised McLaren P1, per­haps fit­ted with its au­to­matic gear­box by the same af­ter­mar­ket spe­cial­ists that sorted out your Clio RS. Af­ter com­plet­ing a dull lap, you’re handed back to the Top Gear man for more un­skip­pable histri­on­ics and it is only then that the op­tion to open up Forza’s full driv­ing model – and dis­ap­point­ingly scant track se­lec­tion – be­comes avail­able to you.

Both se­ries are long-run­ning and sup­ported by ex­tremely pas­sion­ate fan­bases – two groups with more than a lit­tle over­lap. So why do Polyphony and Turn 10 con­sis­tently fail to recog­nise that loy­alty? Early on in these se­ries’ lives, go­ing through the mo­tions of tu­to­rial races and li­cence tests was no less en­joy­able than the first time you sat through them. But decades on, it’s in­creas­ingly galling to be treated like a be­gin­ner with each new it­er­a­tion. Equally frus­trat­ing is hav­ing all of your progress stripped from you and be­ing re­set to the point where you’re un­able to af­ford any­thing more than a hum­ble fam­ily sa­loon.

The counter-ar­gu­ment is that these games need a sense of pro­gres­sion, and that sub­tle changes in a new han­dling model are of­ten re­vealed by a lap or two in a slower ve­hi­cle. And in the lat­ter re­gard, Gran Turismo 6’ s sus­pen­sion is par­tic­u­larly no­tice­able in the spongier, less sport-ori­ented stock. But giv­ing play­ers a broad range of driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ences could be achieved through event struc­tur­ing alone, with­out forc­ing us to buy our way back up to a Pa­gani. Cross-gen­er­a­tional dif­fi­cul­ties aside, it’s in­ex­cus­able that play­ers who put hun­dreds of hours into GT5 should find their ef­forts en­tirely un­re­warded on boot­ing up GT6.

Gran Turismo high­lights this more than most. Given that the se­ries has never re­ally suc­ceeded in pro­vid­ing a sat­is­fy­ing rac­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, its fo­cus re­mains on the sim­ple plea­sure of driv­ing. Why isn’t the chance to try out your ex­ist­ing collection in sharper form con­sid­ered ad­e­quate mo­ti­va­tion to in­vest in an­other in­stal­ment? The loom­ing shadow of mi­cro­trans­ac­tions means the con­ven­tional struc­ture is un­likely to go away any time soon. Polyphony has pitched its pay­ments as a way for busy play­ers (or im­pa­tient ones) to progress through the game more quickly. And to the stu­dio’s credit, such in­vest­ments are kept out of sight of the main game and new cars are handed out gen­er­ously. Turn 10 was more bullish, its cars daunt­ingly ex­pen­sive at first. No won­der the stu­dio hastily dis­counted its prices soon af­ter the game’s re­lease.

Gran Turismo 6 ad­justed its econ­omy post-launch, too, but had less ground to make up. Even so, what mo­ti­va­tion does any stu­dio have to in­no­vate the oftre­peated struc­ture of rac­ing games when the prom­ise of throt­tling back play­ers to yield more money clouds de­sign meet­ings? Forza 5 il­lus­trated the dan­gers of mis­judg­ing your au­di­ence, and stu­dios’ de­sire for us to ac­cli­ma­tise to this new pay­ment model will likely draw yet more at­ten­tion away from the loyal play­ers who come back for each sub­se­quent re­lease.

It’s un­der­stand­able that de­vel­op­ers should want to cater to new play­ers as well as old, but few have found a sat­is­fy­ing mid­dle ground – in any genre, let alone rac­ing – that doesn’t force ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers through un­nec­es­sary re­it­er­a­tion of well-honed skills. It’s an is­sue of cus­tomis­abil­ity, which is tra­di­tion­ally con­sid­ered an area of strength in driv­ing games. But the con­tin­ued in­sis­tence to lock ad­vanced op­tions be­hind an un­skip­pable pro­logue for the sake of ac­ces­si­bil­ity, and to throw the dust sheets back over loyal play­ers’ car col­lec­tions, is prov­ing dele­te­ri­ous to the genre.

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