Defending Gran Turismo’s AI.

Someone's got to do it.

Someone's got to stand up for the numb and unresponsive AI.  The black mark on Gran Turismo's otherwise stellar name.  Polyphony Digital's own Edsel.

I once commented that the AI was perfect, that on the Top Gear Test Track VW SambaBus challenge it was like I was taking on Jeremy Clarkson himself, then realized, perhaps, I was wrong.

 

Or was I?

 

Unrelated, soon after, I hopped online, and engaged in some random players in some GoKart racing.  After about 10 minutes of repeatedly spinning out because some cock kept clipping my rear wheels while taking a tight hairpin on Tokyo Bay kart track, I started to swear.  The repeated "thump" noise, I thought, sounded just like a YouTube video tribute of James May getting thumped around.  These wankers online aren't anymore intelligent than the AI I'm going up against offline.  

 

I'm willing to bet that if this were any other game, say, Need For Speed: Shift or Forza, my experience wouldn't be any different.  There are a lot of useless tossers out there who simply don't know how to drive, myself included, and many of us own PlayStations, or Xboxes or PC's suitable for gaming.  Not all of us can be Gregor Huttu, current iRacing champion.  Nor can we be competent around the track in a notoriously difficult go kart or even something with a little too much horse power and rear wheel drive, like a BMW 3 Series.  

 

Which had me thinking, inherent in the electronic simulation of racing is the lack of risk.  Even in the most super hardcore simulation, if you get it all wrong at Laguna Seca and understeer into a tire wall, you can reset the simulation and start over. Further more, very few of us will ever actually know the reality of owning an Enzo Ferrari or rolling a Subaru Impreza Rally Car into a ditch while swearing in Norwegian; but when given the chance and zero risk to ourselves or property, we're going to drive the thing like we stole it, not caring about the suspension, or the transmission and run the thing into the ground.

 

If the simulator was perfect, it would reach through our screens and slap us for doing something that in real life, would've destroyed the engine or completely shredded the tires.  So while the very nature of simulation requires us to suspend disbelief to some degree, the reality is, we know that this is a simulation on a more conscious level.  None of us, in our own personal car, would ever think about doing 120 MPH in the rain, and slam on the brakes only to understeer into a poor Fiat 500 trying to make it's rounds.  We know we're playing a game with our computer systems, or our PlayStations or our Xboxes, so why shouldn't our games be in on the joke?  

 

It all feels a little disingenuous to me, to have the game to pretend like there are real people in that simulated car barreling down the straight away, right at the hairpin where I just spun out. Certainly if there were someone sitting in the seat next to me on my couch with a Dual Shock in hand or connected from Venezuela via the Internet, they wouldn't pretend like it's real, so why should my PS3?  

 

For me, that's the mad genius behind the Gran Turismo series.  It knows it is a simulation, that it is not real.  It wants to try its best, it wants to make sure the physics are all correct, that if you try to gun it in the corner with no traction control or stability control, that you're going to spin out.  The sheer thrill of the driving experience synthesized into a digital form, with no pretensions that it's something it's not.  It's not real.  Nor would I want it to be.  Even if I could afford a Nissan GT-R, I don't think I'd want to drive it like I would around Tokyo R246.  I don't think I'd go totally mad behind the wheel of a real Zonda.  

 

The whole state of Gran Turismo's AI really reminds me of John DeLorean's botched cocaine deal.  It was a dark mark, and a deep seated shame.  Everyone remembers it more than the car itself.  Maybe some geeks will have fond memories of Back to the Future, "88 Miles Per Hour!" and all that nonsense.  No one will remember the exquisite beauty of the car.  No one will remember that in the 70's and 80's, John DeLorean saw a need for America to stand up to it's European rivals and say, "Yes!  We can build a sports car with the best of them!" "Yes!  We understand modern automotive engineering practices!" "Mid-engine IS the wave of the future for super-cars!"  No.  Instead.  What we'll remember is the coke, and the flux capacitor.  

 

Gran Turismo reminds me what I love about driving, is the driving.  Not tarting up my car like a desperate 20 something about ready to hit a night club, or bragging about my online lap times.  The difference between Gran Turismo and any other game out there, is that it truly is a celebration and a love letter to what the car is.  The speed, the feeling of grip into a corner, the sheer insanity of what's possible when you don't have to worry about what truly is real and what isn't.  Comparing it to Forza or NFS: Shift is like comparing Top Gear to Pimp My Ride or NPR's Car Talk.  It truly is the difference between a game about racing and driving, versus a game about cars, AI be damned.  

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