Gran Turismo, Mario Kart, and the Race to the Top:

The guys who live on both sides of me play video games.  So when I refer to the Vernor’s Ginger Ale and cold pizza, I’m liable to go either direction to have access to both the games and their systems, but also to people who can explain to me what is going on.

So when the guys next door to me had only cheap beer on Friday night, I went the other way.  I played Gran Turismo, on their PlayStation device.  Last night, I went back to the cheap beer folks, to find them with more cheap beer, and pulled out my Vernor’s, and played MarioKart.  These people epitomize MarioKart.

After conversations with these folks, I learn that “Turismo” (as they call it, they think they’re so hip) is fundamentally based on a racing simulator genre. Players maneuver an automobile to compete against a sort of artificially intelligent driver or drivers on the various race tracks. The game uses two different modes: Arcade Mode and Simulation Mode. In the arcade mode, the player can freely choose the courses and vehicles they wish to use. Winning races unlocks additional cars and courses.

As the alternative given, simulation mode requires the player to earn different levels of driver’s licenses in order to qualify for events, and earn credits (money), trophies and prize cars by winning race championships. Credits can be used to purchase additional vehicles, and for parts and tuning.  Winning any given championship also unlocks a video and a few additional demonstration tracks.

Gran Turismo has the ability to alternate between 180 different types of cars and eleven different race tracks, with options added to their reverse versions. This provides a fresh perspective and fun and exciting ride each time.

MarioKart is quite different.  I’m told it’s a series, with different options out each time, but on this game system (I think it’s an XBOX, but I’m still not an expert), it seems as monotonous as monotonous can get.  I should add that I’m biased – these kids stay up until 3 and 4 in the morning, swearing and keeping us up in the four hours of sleep I’m trying to get, until they beat each other in MK.

From the conversations I had with these guys, I’m told that in the Mario Kart series, players compete in go-kart races, and they have the ability to control one of a selection of characters from the Mario video game series. One of the features of the series is the use of various power-up items obtained by driving into item boxes laid out on the course. These power-ups include mushrooms to give players an advantage in speed, a “boost,” Koopa Shells to be thrown at opponents, and banana peels that they are able to put on the track to delay opponents.  The type of weapon received from an item box is random and often influenced by the player’s position in the race.

I wish there was more to say about this game, but simplicity seems to be a key concept here.  I originally intended on comparing and contrasting the two video games, but they appear to have entirely different motives and strived goals: Gran Turismo offering tons of different routs and over 100 different cars, and MarioKart building off of a theme in political advertising known as predisposition.  In terms of effectiveness, I like the options and they may even be too much (!) in Gran Turismo, but I’d play it again.  I may or may not play MarioKart again, but I think the effective use of building on prior knowledge (for example, use of the characters in the Mario games) is very effective and well done.

For our class, building on professors, students, common figures (Mary Sue Coleman, common athletes, actors, politicians) could be a cool facet to a video game design.  Building upon this prior knowledge is a great tool for recruitment and retention – it catches your eye, and if done well, keeps it in.


  1. I think there’s a lot to be said on the differences and similarities between Gran Turismo and Mario Kart. Big points of divergence are the graphical style and the gameplay mechanics. Gran Turismo’s graphical style is as realistic as possible. Its gameplay is very straightforward racing with highly realistic physics. Gran Turismo is trying to simulate reality. But Mario Kart’s graphical style is cartoony, and the racing gameplay uses unrealistic physics with the pickups you mentioned scattered across the track to further modify the racing gameplay. Mario Kart accepts and embraces unreality.

  2. ultrapoulet said:

    I think another key difference between the two is that Mario Kart is more geared towards families or groups of people. Because of this, Mario Kart is simpler in control and gameplay, to allow anyone to play. The 4-player support means that a larger group of people can play at once. Some of the gameplay mechanics, such as items, allow the players who aren’t as good at the game a chance at catching up. This combination of things allows it to be more of a party game. Gran Tursimo, on the other hand, is more geared towards one or two people, as well as people looking for realism. Its use of realistic physics and actual cars caters to these people. Unlike Mario Kart, where winning might come down to an opponent’s use of an item, Gran Turismo comes down to the car you use and the player’s skill. These two games are indeed very different, and as such, it’s next to impossible to say for certain which one is better.

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