How Gran Turismo 7 Could be Compromised by PlayStation 4

Gran Turismo 7 1048 June 8, 2021 by

In case you missed the major news of last week, it appears that there’s a very real possibility that 2022’s Gran Turismo 7 will release on PlayStation 4 as well as PlayStation 5.

This comes against all expectations, particularly as Sony had previously marketed the game as a PlayStation 5 exclusive, unlike other titles with known cross-gen capability.

Although it’s not yet fully confirmed, a statement from the head of PlayStation Studios, Hermen Hulst, at least cited the game as an example of one where a cross-generation launch would make sense — alongside confirmed cross-gen title Horizon Forbidden West. Our subsequent contact with PlayStation PR would only restate Hulst’s quote, without further clarification:

“You can’t build a community of over 110 million PS4 owners and then just walk away from it, right? I think that’d be bad news for fans of PS4, and frankly not very good business.

“Where it makes sense to develop a title for both PS4 and PS5 — for Horizon Forbidden West, the next God of War, GT7 — we’ll continue looking at that. And if PS4 owners want to play that game, then they can. If they want to go on and play the PS5 version, that game will be there for them.

“That being said, it’s also very important to have showpieces for PS5, hence the development of Returnal and Ratchet that are exclusive to PS5.”

While we wait for appropriate confirmation one way or the other — GT7 still appears on the PlayStation site as a PS5 exclusive — the possibility of a cross-gen Gran Turismo 7 raises several questions.

Why bring out GT7 on both platforms?

This one’s easy: sales. Although the PlayStation 5 is outperforming the PlayStation 4 in terms of consoles shipped at the same point in their lifespan, despite the silicon shortage, the simple fact is there’s 110 million PS4s out there right now.

Sony is planning “the longest tail” for a PlayStation console ever — and it’s worth noting that GT7 was not included in this part of a recent financial presentation — and that means continuing to develop games for PS4.

A PS4 GT7 helps that out, and probably vice versa. When GT7 comes out there’s likely to be 120 million PS4s, alongside 40m PS5s, making for a possible 160 million customers. If the game supports cross-gen saves then a player could play on the PS4 they have now and transfer to a PS5 when they get one, with Sony likely charging $10 for the upgraded version of the game.

Why hasn’t Sony developed the game for both platforms from the outset?

In an ideal world — and the events of 2020 have very much proven we’re not in an ideal world — Sony would want to get people off the old console and onto the new one. It may make a loss on PS5s right now, but that won’t last long, and it wants people to buy those sweet, sweet $70 PS5 games which fill the coffers.

GT7 would be a flagship title for PS5 and sell consoles all by itself. If the game appears on last-gen hardware, there’s no need for people to take the plunge on a new console; great for the PS4’s tail, not so much for the PS5. However demand for the PS5 is robust enough to survive it.

It’s also worth noting that the last time Sony decided to launch a GT game on an old console with GT6, it returned the worst sales performance in the history of the series. It was a slightly different situation — there was no PS4 version, nor could the PS4 play it — but GT6 shipped just 5.2m copies to 87m PlayStation 3 owners.

What’s the bad news then?

To date, every cross-gen title has been identical on both consoles, with the exception of graphical bells and whistles. We’ve seen titles loading faster, more visual effects, higher resolutions and frame rates, larger multiplayer grids, and PS5 making use of DualSense haptics and adaptive triggers.

Outside of that, every PS5 and XB Series game so far is identical to its PS4 and XB One version, with no differences in gameplay mechanics.

This means that if there’s a PS4 Gran Turismo 7, it too should be identical to the PS5 version, aside from different sound, visuals, DualSense effects. For the most part this probably doesn’t matter, as it doesn’t for DIRT 5 or Wreckfest, but it could severely hamstring GT7.

Dynamic Time of Day/Weather

Gran Turismo Sport was a visual compromise. PD opted to pre-bake light conditions with ray-tracing, in order to save GPU power for 1080p60 on the base console and 4K60 (checkerboarded from 1800p) on the PS4 Pro with HDR. The significant extra power of the PS5 means that compromise isn’t needed and GT7 would be able to run dynamic time of day and weather at a true 4K60, likely seeing the return of endurance races.

However, the game almost certainly can’t have this feature on PS5 if it can’t have it on PS4. That means either another compromise or we lose the feature altogether. We can’t see PD being willing to lower resolution or even go back to 30fps to get it to work on PS4, especially when the company is aiming for 240fps and beyond, so that leaves little alternative but to cut it.

Tracks and Environment

Part of the PS5’s suite of advanced capabilities comes in terms of “maps” (in this case, circuits). With the high throughput I/O, the PS5 is capable of streaming what you see directly from the SSD, rather than loading it into active memory. That opens up some major possibilities for the PS5 that, at least in terms of Gran Turismo Sport, seem impossible on PS4.

In recent years we’ve heard much about PD having licenses for or scanning some pretty big tracks: the 12.4-mile climb up Pikes Peak, or the 37.7-mile Snaefell Mountain Course. For PS5, these would be a relative doddle, but getting them into the PS4’s active memory could be just too much. Pikes Peak may be shorter than the Nurburgring, Special Stage Route X, or Circuit de la Sierra, but it is significantly more complex, and the required draw distances from 14,000ft up are pretty vast.

Again, if it can’t appear in the PS4 version, it almost certainly won’t appear in the PS5 version either.

Physics

It almost goes without saying, but the fundamental physics model cannot be different between the two versions if they are to play together. If the underlying physics are different, fans simply won’t accept being forced to buy a PS5 to be competitive.

This means that PD simply won’t be able to exploit the PS5’s Zen 2 processor for complex physics calculations, because it will have to ensure the eight-year old Jaguar processor in the PS4 can deal with it. Segregating the player base could provide a solution, but we can’t imagine PD will exclude people from the FIA Online Championships for not having the right equipment.

That said, simulation title Assetto Corsa does manage to preserve its more accurate physics model from PC even on the base PS4. There are compromises in how the game performs in other departments that aren’t so readily accepted with a GT game though.

Marketing

This doesn’t directly affect players, but it will be a massive hurdle to clear. Even if it can solve the problems above, Polyphony Digital would, in essence, be producing two different titles with the name Gran Turismo 7: a heavily compromised version for PS4, and the full-fat PS5 version.

That means Sony will have to be explicit in its marketing so as not to make the title look awful for PS5 owners, and not to oversell the PS4 version with enhanced visuals impossible on that console — and even then the internet will make their job harder.

We can envision the GTPlanet Forum threads now… with people posting videos of the PS4 version trying to prove that a 2022 PS5 game looks worse than a 2007 PS3 game, or disgruntled PS4 buyers posting screenshots of the PS5 version complaining that their game looks nothing like that.

With the Standard/Premium car debacle still ringing in Sony’s ears from 2010’s Gran Turismo 5 and 2013’s Gran Turismo 6, the concept of trying to market standard and premium versions of the same game should inspire dread.

In particular, the perception of GT6 as a “last-gen” game and its series-low sales figures should cause internal questions about just how well a PS4 GT7 will sell, and what effect it might have on the PS5 version’s sales.

What won’t be affected?

The game structure itself and — with the possible exception of some tracks noted above — assets and content won’t differ one bit. That all comes down to storage space, which is actually something the PS5 has less of — thanks to the 825GB internal hard drive — than the PS4. The existence of a PS4 version won’t cause any changes to the car list, although we’ve not yet heard anything regarding the game’s car roster.

Other things like the career mode, and individual events and races should also be fine, though if time of day and weather aren’t available that might prevent proper endurance races from being a thing in GT7. The return of tuning from previous games is also not going to be a casualty.

Features that are already available in GT Sport, such as the livery editor, shouldn’t be affected either. Indeed there is a chance that improvements to the livery editor and VR — particularly with PSVR2 in mind — will be possible in an enhanced PS5 version of the game.

Is this good news or bad?

At first glance, it’s a good idea. You can’t easily argue with quadrupling the number of potential customers, and if the game has always been a PS5 title, a PS4 port lacking the more complicated functions could be a licence to print money.

The problem is that a PS4 version won’t exist in isolation. As far as we’re aware, it has to be the same fundamental game as the PS5 version, and that means the PS5 version can’t do anything the PS4 version can’t do; the PS4 version will limit the potential of the PS5 version. Considering the PS5 is built around removing bottlenecks, shackling it to the PS4’s limits on a flagship, system-shipping title seems to be a step backwards.

However, this situation all remains unclear. For now, nobody’s statements on the issue have been definitive, and Gran Turismo 7 remains a PS5-only title according to its official landing page. Hopefully Sony’s presence at Summer Games Fest on June 10 will bring more clarity.

Keep up to date with all the information on Gran Turismo 7 on GTPlanet’s special Gran Turismo 7 Guide page.

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