Games within games: Racing memories
When can you score a win in a race when you don't cross the line in first place? The answer is when you've taken a lovely photograph during the replay and had it praised on the Internet.
Gran Turismo 5 is my photo studio of choice for virtual car photography, delivering results that, when directed with a certain degree of understanding and flair, can range from spectacular to almost indistinguishable from real photographs. An aesthetically-oriented passion for the automotive form and a twinge to simply create stuff is all you need to find a quick five-lap run expanding into an hour-long shoot.
Take the idea of virtual photography to heart and the average race becomes a turn-by-turn series of photo opportunities in which the optimal position for cornering is the one in which your car's best posed for drama or beauty. You drive to make sure you enter some iconic curve to get the shot, diving in to get three-abreast with your competitors to capture the moment, then pore over every angle and framing permutation to get a render fit to publish in some fan-sourced virtual racing journal, or if you're willing, submit to one of many subforums dedicated to photomodes.
An Alfa Romeo Giulia TZ2 captured at dawn on the Nurburgring. The interior detail is arresting, though the car's non-standard colour will upset purists (the twelve real examples of this car were all in red)
As seen most recently on car fetishist blog Jalopnik, a good Forza or Turismo photo render can find an audience beyond fans of the games. This obviously points to these games' quality of modelling and simulation, but also to the power car designs have to evoke a response, despite being a collection of polygons and textures rather than carbon fibre and aluminium. GT Planet's GT5 Photomode Forums is over 40 pages of threads that include plenty of guides to mastering the art of virtual photography.
Gran Turismo 5 was the first game to make me take virtual photography seriously, due to its amusingly obsessive photomode (it even puts 'Gran Turismo 5' and the virtual camera settings in the EXIF data) and its unnervingly good lighting engine. In other games, I'd take plenty of pictures of memorable events or cars I was proud of or in love with, and I still insist the Ferrari courtyard I set up in PGR3 was of exquisite taste, but I'd never bothered with exploring the potential for getting serious about composition and camera settings until I saw quite how amazing Gran Turismo 5 can look. As it happens, in GT Planet's The Realistic Photo Thread.
Being a smoker, I spent every post-race cigarette going through the replay for pictures and it wasn't long before grinding a Seasonal Event wasn't so much about earning cash as it was running the same course with the next car I wanted to photograph. From there it's an easy step to practice mode and combining the personal challenge of gaining a lap time with specific car/location/time photostudies.