Grand Designs: Talkin’ With Kazunori Yamauchi

The Gran Turismo master discusses the newest model.

Story: Paul Semel

Illustration: Jacob Thomas

Six years after its predecessor redefined the genre, Gran Turismo 5 is once again resetting the standard for realistic racing simulations. It’s all thanks to the meticulous perfectionism of Kazunori Yamauchi, the longtime producer of the series and CEO of Polyphony Digital. Days after GT5 was released for PlayStation 3, we spoke to Yamauchi about his passions: cars and gaming.

When did you first fall in love with cars? It seemed that cars had already taken root in my heart naturally since I was 3. I heard from my father that I was already able to name all the cars driving around the city from that age. I think my dreamlike life with cars really began when I was around 7. It was then that I realized the beauty and just how cool cars like Ferraris and Lamborghinis are—the kind of beauty and awe that requires no explanation.

Was it that passion that inspired you to make the Gran Turismo series as a realistic racing sim as opposed to an arcade racer? Yes, I think so. There’s no other industrial product in the world that really captures the hearts of people like the [cars] do. Cars have complex forms and mechanisms. I have this respect for each and every car in the world, and that is why I wanted to make a realistic simulator.

The game boasts more than 1,000 real cars. How long does it take to construct one car from start to finish? For a premium model in which even the interior is completely re-created, it takes six months for one car. For a standard model, it takes around four weeks.

What are some of the processes involved in constructing car models? We measure surfaces using a 3-D scanner; we put the paint color under a spectrophotometer, a device used to measure light intensity; we measure the power of the engine and do things like place cars on a dynamometer to record the sound.

The GT games are known for their meticulous realism and accuracy. Have you ever been agonizing about some minute detail—like, say, the sound a windshield wiper makes on a 2003 Mustang Cobra—and thought to yourself, Okay, now we’re just being silly? I think if you look through GT5, you might find in many places that we’ve gotten “silly.” I think that over-the-top attitude is what gives Gran Turismo its character. We don’t want something that is just well made; we want to make it something that makes you feel a bit of crazy madness.

Do you ever put a car in the game not only because you think it would be good for the game but also because you want to test-drive it? The Honda CR-Z might be one of those. I was interested in the combination between a hybrid system and a manual transmission. Actually driving it on a circuit, I felt that it would be better with more power, but for a front-wheel-drive sports car, the front and rear weight balance is really good, and depending on how you drive it, you could get the tail to swing out. It was a fun car to drive.

So what is your favorite car to drive in the game and why? If I’m relaxed, I like rear-wheel-drive cars around 300hp, like the BMW M3 or the Honda S2000. With a good balance of power and weight, it’s fun to drive clean laps while controlling the car’s slide. If I’m feeling especially fit, I sometimes drive that supermachine that we made together with Red Bull. However, that kind of puts you in a trancelike state, and after around 30 minutes, it gives you that good type of fatigue that you get after two hours in a real-life race.

This interview first appeared in the March/April issue of RIDES Magazine.

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