Tuesday, October 12, 2010

GT5 Commentary - Course Maker

John Marine | 10/12/2010 03:44:00 AM | | |
(last edit: November 20, 2010)

Toscana from the GT5 demo has gotten me to wonder what could be possible with the new track editor. Looking back on old news of GT5 has gotten me to learn more about the track editor, which I was previously opposed to. The reason why I was opposed to this editor was because making distinctive (key word) and unique courses with given environments. I then started to study what this new model could provide, and needless to say, I do have my preoccupations and reservations about any created track with the GT5 course maker.

This blog post concerns the Course Maker for Gran Turismo 5 and my commentary on it. (UPDATE! - November 21, 2010) I have updated my views on this topic in my new Gran Turismo blog! To see the blog post in question, click here: "GT5 Course Maker Commentary").

--- Backtrack ---
Before I begin with commentary, allow me to call to your attention an image from the past...

^ From E3 2009, a first look at a seemingly empty environment with a dirt road.
(original picture credit: unknown (I downloaded this image a long time ago that I don't know where it came from))

Do you remember this image from the E3 2009 trailer for Gran Turismo 5? A seemingly expansive space with a lonely dirt road and some off-track details help accentuate this course. It was the same expansive and empty space where our jaws dropped at the inclusion of the World Rally Championship in Gran Turismo 5. Back then, we knew this course as Toscana, and we mostly thought this was going to be a new experience. We would later see Toscana in a new light... or should I say, under the lights? Fast forward to a year later when we saw Toscana with the sun going down and the stars coming out. Some time in the future, a master plan was finally unveiled- the Toscana course we've seen in videos was actually part of a new Course Maker for Gran Turismo 5!

As I played the GT5 kiosk demo and blogged about my experiences, I began to take second looks at the Toscana course. The only thing I know about the area represented is that you can enroll at the Olive Garden culinary school in Tuscany. Part of me says Toscana is a brand-new experience and a brand-new track to enjoy Gran Turismo racing on, but part of me also says that Toscana is what could be possible with a track editor. In addition, I doubt Tuscany is THIS empty as the Toscana track demonstrates.

It was then unveiled at GamesCom back in August 2010 that a new Course Maker was unveiled for Gran Turismo 5. GTPlanet's amar212, who is a friend of mine on GTPlanet, broke the news on a possible track editor for GT5 back in August 2009. It has since been common knowledge that GT gamers now have the power to create their own courses. Now initially, I thought it was too out of place to include such a feature. In addition, the prospect of a course maker also allows you set up some dream courses to test the limits of a game engine and its driving model. Any courses would be limited to 6.5 miles (or about 10.4 kilometers) in length. I will go into further detail about my criticisms on a course maker for GT5 later in this blog entry.

So are you excited about creating your own tracks yet? ;-)

--- Course-Making Insight from Other Games ---
Let's look at some other games that had their own Track Editor/Maker. These only involve games I have played before, so if you don't see a certain game here, I haven't played it or don't remember studying its nuances to comment.

Stunts/4D Sports Driving.

The 1990 game made by Broderbund (best known for the Myst series) and Distinctive Software Incorporated (later known as Electronic Arts Canada) made this 3D racing game featuring some of the fastest cars of its time. All created courses all utilized a huge grid system. The grid squares can be filled with various road parts and Every course was a one-lap run around a course filled with jumps, loops, and some dangerous stunts. A game like this likely took inspiration from games like Hard Drivin' and Race Drivin'. The user had a chance to create his/her own tracks and change up the horizon to five different horizons. New tracks usually involved one of five pre-made environments. Or for more advanced gamers, the ability to modify a given environment to make your own was also possible for an individual track. The track can have only one Start/Finish line, and the track must have one complete loop.

Moto Racer 2.

Moto Racer 2 was released in the late 1990s. Its most intriguing element was that of making your own tracks. The track editor allowed you to make your own tracks for either sport bikes or dirt bikes. You could create and modify roads to create your own exciting courses. Moto Racer 2 greatly lacked the ability to make your own unique courses. You can actually create your own layout, but you were unable to make really unique environments. When you create a track, you choose between one of five different environment layouts. So you have no real control over making specific and distinctive layouts. This, along with the fact that all courses feel more like barricaded courses really limits your ability to great memorable and challenging unique courses.

TrackMania Series.

Drawing inspiration from past titles (like Stunts/4D Sports Driving), TrackMania games allow you to use certain set environments. The downfall here, however, is that you are unable to use different cars from different environments. Each environment features a car unique to its environment with its own driving dynamics. The environments also allow for a variety of unique tiles to be used for each environment. There are limits for how high up you can build. I experimented making my own hillclimb courses with roads that go all the way up into the sky. Replay value is incredible since there are MANY ways to create a classic course.

So what will Gran Turismo's influence provide? Replay value will be immense since you can create any number of courses. That will all depend on what the game will provide from the course making experience.

--- Theme Play ---
These are the themes we know of:
* Toscana (Asphalt)
* Eifel (Circuit)
* Mount Aso (Asphalt)
* Liege (Gravel)
* Eifel (Kart)
* Alaska (Snow)
* Tokyo Bay (Kart)

These themes help determine what is possible in designing a course for Gran Turismo 5. The two themes feature variations for tarmac and non-tarmac roads. The only concern I really have is if it is possible to create (especially in the case of rally racing a combination of tarmac and non-tarmac roads in one stage.

--- Possible Future Themes? ---
Let's say the options were open to showcase more venues. What would make for possible future environments?

Snow/Ice Theme?

KEY ELEMENTS: snow, ice, cold temperatures, snow banks

This can either pertain to a snowy location or an icy location. Imagine if you could have a race track in a snowy/icy locale, like with the WRC Rally Sweden, with icy roads or maybe some tarmac with some icy off-road sections? If temperatures play a role in Gran Turismo 5, then a cold or cool course would help out turbo cars since it's cooler. There may also be a tough time trying to get a colder track warmed up because of the cold temperatures. A tarmac course would feature some slippery off-road sections. I even envisioned a Grand Prix-style racing course in a snowy location. It may not be likely to happen, but imagine a proper Grand Prix-style course (any road course 2.75 miles or more in length) where there is a lot of snow on the outside of each corner (or at least, grass that has a lot of snow on the grass). A non-tarmac icy course would test your ability to race on snow and ice. Snow and ice handle MUCH differently from gravel or mud. You are going to have snow banks on either side of the road. Getting up on either side of the snow banks can be just as bad as flying off a gravel stage into a tree or a ditch.

I think to add diversity to the kind of environments, a snow environment is needed. Unless you just want those Snow Tires to not get any work...

Desert Theme?

KEY ELEMENTS: sand, sand dunes, desert vegetation (such as cacti and joshua trees), rock formations, and more

If you are thinking of an expansive desert environment (like the Baja 1000 or the Mint 400), you are likely out of luck. The possibility to make your own Dubai Autodrome or Yas Marina Circuit is a good possibility here. A desert environment would mean that temperatures would be unbearably hot. Series like the Middle Eastern Rally Championship and Dakar Rally have their fair share of desert-type off-road racing.

Coastal/Tropical Theme?

KEY ELEMENTS: lush greens, rock formations, tropical scenery (such as palm trees), crashing waves, sandy beaches

The presence of a coastal setting lends itself to the possibility of creating racing venues with racing along or near a coastline. This can be good for exotic-style courses or even off-road courses along coastlines. Options are really endless for this setting. You could create a tropical tarmac paradise like Tahiti Road, or you can have coastal-style rally courses like Tahiti Circuit or Tahiti Maze. You could probably also create your own fantasy Grand Prix race course that takes place along the beach!

Jungle Environment?

KEY ELEMENTS: lush greenery, high trees, dirt and mud

This environment entails exotic scenery. Despite the exotic scenery, it may likely be a setting primarily better for off-road racing. Surfaces may consist of gravel and mud. I basically think of the Safari Rally when I think of such a setting. If there is such a setting, I sincerely doubt animals will run across the track for you to avoid (or hit if you love drive like an idiot). I am pretty sure there won't be any kind of Grand Prix courses through a jungle. So at best, you're looking at a good rally environment for a jungle-type course.

Mountain Theme?


I primarily thought of mountain passes here. Imagine taking part in your own touge battles on mountain passes you create! Enthusia fans can relate to this with Dragon Range. Forza fans can relate to this with Fujimi Kaido. What makes mountainous stages great is for the immense challenge such courses provide. It may not seem very fun to not be able to make a challenging mountain pass with about 6.5 miles to work with, but you can still create some great mountain passes if you just use your creativity.

To get an idea of making your own mountain passes, play the tracks from the games I mentioned earlier, or try out "Tokyo Xtreme Racer Drift 2." TXRD2 even features one mountain pass that is over seven miles long!

Now one that can be very tough to define...

Urban Themes?

KEY ELEMENTS: city buildings, city scenery, city roads, city streets, highways, concrete walls, and the like

What I am going for here is an environment more accustomed for traditional urban cities. This is an environment that would be better suited for making your own street courses. Anything from a romp around a city park to a Grand Prix race through downtown of a metropolis is possible. While these can be glamourous, they can be very tough to come along with since city courses take a certain amount of magic to make believable. You know, you have to envision a city before you build a course around the city. What I had in mind for this section is mostly along the lines of more modern cities, like San Francisco, New York City, London, Tokyo, Sydney, and the like.

A non-conventional urban locale, if you will, was Grindelwald from Gran Turismo 2. It was a street course mostly set around a traditional European village rather than an urban jungle. The possibility exists to have certain tarmac rally courses that utilize an environment where you're weaving through various villages and cottages. Think about places like the WRC Rally Corsica or some other rally that has a stage go through streets of villages or cities.

These are just a few ideas in regards to environments. We will see what will really be possible in the future.

--- Previous Criticisms of Mine for the Course Maker ---
I have had some primary criticisms regarding the featuring of a course maker for Gran Turismo 5, and you will read both of them here.

Lack of Distinction.

I am someone who believes that true distinction in track making does not involve using a pre-determined environment. While you can create great courses utilizing a certain environment, making DISTINCTIVE courses doesn't truly materialize. I define distinctive courses as courses that have their own unique environment that makes a certain track come to life. A street course that has a little of New York and Paris in design and environment is more distinctive than a proper race track designed in a grassy plain environment.

Seemingly Out of Place.

You would think for a racing game more about cars and racing, the idea of a Course Maker appears to be totally out of place. You can, however, test the limits of ANY game and its game engine by making your own courses. This is a case where making your own courses can help you discover the limits of a certain game.

Always Thought Autocross Was the ONLY Purpose for a Course Maker.

Because a Course Maker is out of place for a Gran Turismo game, I thought its only usefulness was in making Autocross or Gymkhana tracks. That would be the ONLY usage for making your own tracks since making a track from start to finish would be too massive a task. A simple Autocross track would be better for me than going with a full-on Course Maker of some kind.

These have been my own criticisms with the new Course Maker for GT5. Despite these, I welcome and will embrace this new Course Maker.

--- Tarmac Possibilities for GT5 ---
What is possible for GT5 in making tarmac courses? I once made race tracks for Duke Nukem 3D of all games. I wonder if I'd be able to re-create the courses in the GT5 realm. The courses, however, are all realistic. So I didn't create anything that has like, for example... loops, exploding bits, any sort of Apocalyptic details (like ravaged cities and rough roads). Could I be able to create them as best as I can? That all remains to be seen.

Every created course will have weather and time implemented. Anything from tarmac rallies to tarmac racing circuits are possible. Can I make my own oval with banking in the corners? Can I re-create a stretch of road? Can I make my own Grand Prix course to race really fast and powerful cars on? These all remain to be seen.

--- Randomly-Generated Rally Courses for GT5 ---
The best news about this Course Maker is that it is possible to make point-to-point stages. I hear that courses will be limited to about 6.5 miles. That is still a LOT of track to make courses with! In my view, making your own point-to-point stages may not seem like making enough sense. But when you consider how tough it can be to make some of the most believable and realistic point-to-point venues, the idea of randomly-generated courses is not a bad idea. I mentioned earlier about not having that distinction element by using given environments. However, it is still possible to make quality rally courses 6.5 miles (or 10.4 km) in length. Don't believe me? Here's some perspective from Colin McRae Rally 2.0... Many of the individual stages from CMR2 are longer than 1.9 kilometers (or longer than 1.18 miles) and no longer than 5.5 kilometers (or about 3.42 miles). In fact, a lot of the courses are mostly in the range of 4.2 km to 5.3 km (or about 2.61 mi to 3.29 mi) in length. So you have more than enough space to make your own rally stages.

You are able to adjust the width of the road to accommodate the amount of rally racing challenge you want. So if you are disappointed with the very wide roads of most rally courses in Gran Turismo games past, you can narrow things significantly to make for a more realistic experience. Think of courses like any of GT4's tarmac rally courses or tracks like Grand Canyon in GT4 for inspiration of real rally-style courses.

Finally, what can be possible with these courses? Can I make water splashes through streams (like with the WRC Rally Argentina or the WRC Rally Australia)? Will there be a variety of surfaces to race on (like with the WRC Rally Great Britain)? What can be possible on the rally front? Also, can realistic courses be created? I want to imagine making my own unique challenges, like having to deal with the rough roads of the Acropolis Rally or some of the rural village of some rallies. I do think Course Maker will be great for rally racing.

You are welcome to offer your own thoughts on the Course Maker for GT5. You can seemingly make any course using up to 6.5 miles (10.4 km) of track. How do you feel about the Course Maker for GT5? Comment away! While you're at it...

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John B. Marine said...

If you want to check out some really unique course creation, you should look at ModNation Racers on the PS3. Of course, that's arcade racing, not sim racing, but it's pretty cool anyway.

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