Videogames, politics, science, all the important things in life.

Holy crap I wrote 1200 words about a feature in a demo

Posted by nfinit on October 1, 2009

I enjoy a great number of perversions that are difficult to explain– My love for airport terminals, for instance.  Or my extensive and troubling knowledge of professional wrestling.  My fondness for fried baloney.  The hundreds of gigs of cataloged hardcore lesbian pornography.  Ownership of a Virtual Boy.

Among my deviancies one of the more baffling to outsiders is an obsession with console racing simulators, the sort of car porn pioneered by Polyphony Digital’s Gran Turismo series.

Gran Turismo 1 was a harsh mistress; it’s seductive whispers of an obscene list of real-world cars tempted many a innocent gamer who quickly found themselves outmatched by the game’s demands– things such as expecting a player to actually pay attention to when they were breaking, or unforgiving lessons on the real-world implications of arcade-style drifting.  Most people were only tricked once by the Gran Turismo games– it took nothing less than a bent for masochism to prefer the sort of relentless discipline GT doled out.

I was a car nut well before picking up the gaming bug, grew up on Car and Driver spent enough time in closed rooms building Tamiya model kits to be a case study for the effects of airplane glue on young brains.  My fantasies involved carving up Laguna Seca in a Porsche 959 long before Castlevania entered my lexicon.  Naturally I  was rendered helpless before Gran Tourismo’s come-hither stare.

But something happened in the dozen-odd years since Polyphony Digital started making Gran Turismo games– they became so good at what they did the refused to evolve the concept.  Online modes never emerged, yet the punitive license test system remained.  Polyphony steadfastly refused to incorporate damage modeling, but saw fit to keep opponent AI neutered.  Despite a heavy focus on realistic sim racing there remained no real consequence for poor driving skill– Enemy cars doubled as convent cornering tools and even the most horrific accident was easily corrected with a judicious application of horsepower– of which you had plenty, there was no reason not to bring in absurdly overpowered cars into the most trivial of events.  While Gran Turismo remained a technically competent game and an obvious labor of love by the developers, the series grew calcified.  Outside of an ever expanding list of cars an tracks nothing of any real consequence ever changed.  Gran Turismo 4, although techincally brilliant and unmistakably beautiful, was hardly more than a refinement of the formula developed in GT1.

Left alone in the hands of Polyphony Digtal, Gran Turismo 5 would likely be little more than an high def re-imagining of GT4, with more Lancer Evo and Skyline varients shoved between the margins.  Luckily in the time it’s taken for Polyphony to develop GT5 someone came along and finally did something interesting with the genre.

Turn 10’s series, Forza Motorsport, did away with license tests, replacing driver progression with levels of experience, allowing players of any skill level access to the highest levels of the game. No longer was your game purchase effectively blocked off if you could not pass a series of arbitrary challenges.  At the same time as Forza distanced itself with realistic damage modelling and a physics engine that promoted actual skill, Turn 10 introduced features such as driving aids and on-screen driving lines to make the genre accessable to a wider audience, the opposite of what Polyphony Digital was willing to do.  Turn 10 nurtures players; Polyphony Digital punishes them.

Presumably Gran Turismo 5 will be able to incorporate at least some of Turn 10’s innovations– after all, come October all three Forza games will have been released in the time it’s taken Polyphony Digital to release GT4 and GT5.  Gran Turismo PSP has at the very least introduced driving lines into the series, however evidence from TGS would seem to indicated that Polyphony has yet to fully grasp damage modelling or anything that’d require the player to actually think about the consequences of poor technique

This is a roundabout way of saying the Forza 3 demo released last week is by itself my game of the year and has ruined my ability to enjoy Forza 2, other racing games, and possibly all forms of media that are not directly related to Forza 3.  The Forza 3 demo has basically ruined my life and it’s entirely due to unlimited in-game rewinds.

Rewinding a race in progress is not a new feature, I first encountered it in Codemaster’s arcade racing masterpiece, GRiD and it’s probably older than that.  Before in racing games it was quite easy to have an entire race wasted due to a single lapse of attention– Dozens of laps spent narrowing slivers of seconds from your opponent’s lead only to have the entire effort dashed to bits because you were millimeters too close to a retaining wall, or feathered your breaks for a second too short coming into a hairpin or fallen victim to a psychotic bit of AI driver code.  On something like the Nürburgring, a single lap of which could easily take upwards of ten minutes, you could have an entire night’s worth of progress wasted.  This is a discouraging prospect even for hardcore proponents of the genre such as myself, for a more casual racing fan such an event is enough to turn a person off the concept for good.

Forza 3 does away with that– If you find that you’ve irrevocably ruined your race, it’s a simple matter of rewinding the race back to point before your fiery demise.  And unlike GRiD you can do this as many times as you wish, it’s use is encouraged and transparent– Turn 10 has realized the real joy in a racing sim doesn’t come from endless repetition of technically exact laps, but finding the exact point where a track has mastered you and then cracking it.

This sounds like a minor tweak, but as far as I’m concerned it’s the single most important change to come along since the genre’s inception.  It’s the sort of thing that changes the way you look at a game– instead of incessant and endless restarts you know full well you have the ability to win any race you enter the first time you enter.  There’s no longer the prospect of an entire night’s worth of lost progress hanging over your head.  This feature is more important than damage modelling, more important than online play, more important than driving lines– it removes the genre from the narrowing margins of psychotic gearheads and returns it to a wider audience– anyone interested in racing games of any skill can enjoy Forza 3.  It is the exact opposite of what Polyphony Digital was doing to the genre.

In the meantime though, any prospect I had of collecting achievements in Forza 2 in preparation of improving my skills for Forza 3 have been dashed.  Previous Forzas and GT games aren’t just archaic and quaint, they’re downright unplayable.  So thanks a lot, Turn 10.  This chunk of my life is now ruined.


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