We had a good system going. A friend of mine up the street had a newly acquired CD burner and I had a modified PlayStation One, capable of playing copied games. As long as I rented the games from our local Blockbuster, he would make us each a copy of the game.
One day I was having him copy a game for me, maybe PaRappa the Rapper. As we chatted, he flipped me over another disc. He said it was something new and since I liked cars, I should try it out. Scribbled on the CD-R with black sharpie were the words Gran Turismo. Little did I know it then, but those words would become etched in my brain for the rest of my life.
I went home and fired up the game. Immediately I was entranced. Look at all these cars. They’re so real looking, with real stats, and, and, and so ordinary!
For those not alive in the mid-90s, most racing games up until this point featured unobtainable supercars or completely fabricated 400 mph futuristic cars running on unicorn tears. Realism was not part of the game and there wasn’t much for the diehard car lover.
Game Changer, uh, Game
Gran Turismo changed all that. That Honda Civic sitting in your driveway was suddenly in this video game. That Corvette Grand Sport up the street you’d drool over every time Jim drove by was here as well. And they had real-life stats. Engine size, power, torque, weight, drivetrain, it was all there. No more of these arbitrary handling, acceleration or top speed scores (unless of course disc 2 was inserted to play the arcade version of Gran Turismo).
Best of all though, the cars performed like their real-life inspirations.
This was the first game where I remember feeling the difference between front-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive when overextending myself through a corner. The cars didn’t just go into a generic slide, they had to manipulated and set-up for each corner entry and exit. The notion of weight transfer, albeit in its infancy, was present in this game.
The hairier cars to handle required practice and skill to operate. No one could just pick up a controller and have at it. One of my favourite memories is playing the Arcade split screen mode at parties. I would drive the Corvette 427 Coupe and manhandle it around Trial Mountain and Deep Forest destroying my friends as the couldn’t keep up in their slower, more agile cars.
A Gateway Drug
But Gran Turismo wasn’t just a fantastic racing game; it was a gateway drug. It introduced millions to the wonderful world of ‘90s Japanese machinery – an addiction many have never recovered form. It may be hard to believe now, but prior to 1997, most North Americans were not familiar with the terms Skyline or GT-R. Many knew of the Impreza WRX and Lancer Evolution thanks to the weekly WRC recaps on Speedvision, but all the JDM specials we pine over now were foreign to us then. FTO, Cosmo, Chaser, Silvia – it was an education in Japanese awesomeness.
In class, I would talk for hours with friends about how to best modify/tune my FD Efini RX-7 Type RZ. We would debate if a Supra RZ for a R33 Skyline GT-R Vspec was best for Autumn Ring. A-Spec, GPX, SiR and LM Edition became our everyday lexicon.
It’s hard to quantify just how far reaching and influential Gran Turismo was on the automotive landscape. But it can’t be a complete coincidence that four years after its release, The Fast and the Furious did arrive staring plenty of the same cars found in that game (and its subsequent sequels). One year later, Subaru would begin selling the Impreza WRX on our shores with the Lancer Evolution following the year after that. Gran Turismo probably had no direct influence over these decisions, but it didn’t hurt.
I don’t want to think about how many hours I have collectively played on this franchise over the past 22 years; I’m sure it would be measured in weeks, if not months. Do I regret any of it? Not a single minute.
Click here for Growing Up Gran Turismo – Part Two
Click here for Growing Up Gran Turismo – Part Three
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