Friday, April 08, 2005

Learn how to drive in Gran Turismo 4 (GT4) for complete beginners

So you saw the glorious screen-shots of powerful cars sweeping around exotic circuits and thought I can do that. And you fell off the road at every opportunity. In every car. On every track.
Getting started on GT4 is pretty hard for us beginners. You can watch the licence test demos and try to get up the screen display to see when the car brakes and accelerates. Too short. You can try to race and learn from the other cars, but you make a mistake and they whizz off into the distance.
This was supposed to be fun but you're just getting mad sliding off all the time. You may decide to pack the game in, and you only bought it a week ago.
Well help may be at hand because I've just gone through the same thing. And I sat down and figured out how to let GT4 give me a real tutorial.
Some features are denied by the handbook and some have to be work-arounds but this may help us klutzes who find it hard to get round a hairpin in one piece.
Right - the basics: I figure there are four things you must master to get around a track without fiddling with the tuning.
Track position, speed, accelerator (gas) and braking.
There are thousands of variants of these which will pitch you off into the scenery and you need to get most of them right to stay on the road. So we're going to learn these
and stop that crashing and burning.
crash and burn
First nip off down to the licence centre (in GT mode) and do the B licence tests. Read what you have to do, then look at the demonstration (second button from the left) then do the test and repeat it until you get a big bronze medal spinning around. On to the next one. (By pressing the buttons you can find the displays, but braking is only on outboard view.) When you have completed them all successfully you will be rewarded with a VW Lupo car and you can have a crack at the beginners races. Try the Sunday Cup with your Lupo and you may be able to hustle it around and pick up some points but you aren't really learning how to improve.
This is where the next stage comes in. To learn driving technique you need to be able to follow another car closely and learn the track position, speed, gas control and braking for each section of a track. Then you can go racing.
The key is the B-spec feature in GT4. You can't really do this in GT mode as it limits you to the car in your garage. So go to Arcade mode and choose Time Trial. Choose a circuit which has varied corners like Autumn Mini or El Capitan. Right, you are going to become an expert on this track. Now choose a well-mannered car, not underpowered and not too powerful. You could try your Lupo or something like the Mini which I chose. Colour it white, not red, so you can see the brake-lights clearly.
First let's have a little fun which will prove its worth later. Flail around the track as fast as you can and see how fast your lap was. Write it down, we will return to it later.
Choose B-spec (the option second from the left with the little headphones). (The handbook says this isn't available in time trial - it is on mine and yours too I hope.) This allows the computer to drive the car on the track and you command what it does. Now choose the speed of this computer-driven car. We're beginners, right? Before the start click the left direction arrow so that slow pace is chosen on the big line of numbers at the top of the creen (square 1). (Of course if you are not a beginner you could choose faster paces but we are going back to basics here.) Now the computer will drive the Mini around the track in slow pace. Click the X button and watch from the driving seat. Kill the background music and listen where the car brakes and accelerates. Watch where the car is positioned on the track and how fast it is travelling into corners.
Commentate out loud on what you see: " on the right into the tunnel, stay on the left out of it, pull a little bit right to avoid that barrier." Do this as many times as you need.
When you have an idea of what is required, press the start button and then the triangle button and get back to the Time Trial window. Now choose the A-spec option (the logo on the left, the steering wheel). This time you are the driver. Start off and in a moment the ghost car of the B-spec lap will appear, probably whizzing past you. Get behind him and shadow him around the track, matching him for position, speed etc. This is where you learn to improve your technique. Perhaps after a few laps you can speed up and get in front of the ghost. Then if you make a mistake or slow down too much he will overtake you. You can try different lines, speeds and braking points. Each time you can see where you lose time or make it up.
Now then to save this aid. This is what I found. GT4 is really weird about ghost cars. You can't save them in replays in GT mode. The file calls itself "free run" and excludes all ghosts. So you can't replay a ghost in Replay Theatre either. But you can save it in Arcade mode, and it comes up with data displays so you can see when he's braking and accelerating, and by how much. Send out the B spec driver in Time Trial mode at whatever pace you want. When he's finished his lap, save it using the ghost replay button. Now you can choose any car you like, load up that ghost file (using the ghost load) button and the Mini will appear in front of you as you start your lap. You can replay the ghost and you driving together too, but if you save that replay and try to view it in Replay Theatre it will just be you without the ghost!
If slow pace is still too fast you have a problem - he will whizz away and you won't be able to learn. So go to the auto-tune up button to the right of the A and B spec screen buttons and click on that. You can now adjust the power and weight of your Mini. Give it a bit more power and a little less weight. If you still can't keep up then try a different car or track.
Remember we are only at slow pace so far. Now you can send the B spec car out at pace 2 and so on. Just for reference go out and drive a lap using your new-found knowledge and record your time - compare it with
the one you recorded before training. I hope it will be streets ahead with no "offs".
When you have speeded up considerably you can try a proper race on your learned track - either in arcade or GT mode. This time you should be able to keep up with some of the other cars and be able to make some judgements on their lines and braking points.
That's it - use the same technique for other tracks, use it to rehearse the stages of the A licence, start winning races and the full complexities of GT4 should open up.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Ipod Shuffle DIY clip

ipod Shuffle
Yup I got one. The 1gb version is excellent value. On the UK market you can pay £100 for a 500kb MP3. The 1 gigabyte Shuffle costs £99.
Granted, other players come with screen, equaliser and maybe radio as well but I had some of those features in an earlier MP3 player and I just didn't use them. With my first player (128kb £90) the screen started going on the blink after I dropped it on a run. I didn't look at the screen anyway. You just run and listen. After a bit I stopped running with it because it kept snagging its cable and it was too bulky to put in a pocket.
So with the Shuffle you are buying big capacity for the money, tiny size and weight, and most of all - the software. Itunes is just perfect for importing, organising and loading up songs. You can prepare a song-list in advance, plug the Shuffle into the computer and leave it while you do something else. In a minute it has flushed out all the previous songs and uploaded the new songs in whatever order you dictate.
Having no screen is just a state of mind. It's like listening to the radio. If you can't listen to the radio without having to know what is playing in advance, you won't want a Shuffle.
There are two glaring design shortcomings with the Shuffle which I am sure will be fixed soon. First the on/off slider has too smooth a surface to operate easily. You can just stick a paper dot on it and that helps, but I imagine they will come up with a slightly embossed Apple logo to give you the necessary grip.

Shuffle with elasticated loop

Second the lanyard they give you is too long and gets in the way. I snipped it off and substituted a loop of elasticated cotton which my daughter uses to grip her hair. Cost about 20 pence. Stick on that one of those gripper things which come on name badges and you can clip it to your shirt, jacket, belt etc.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Can vote, won't vote!

Who are we going to vote for? Are we going to vote at all after the government's record over the last four years?
Politicians may be looking for ways to recruit floating voters but they ignore a sizeable portion of the electorate –those who turn up to vote but spoil their paper. They aren't apathetic, just not prepared to vote for someone they don't believe in.
According to the Electoral Reform Society, quoting Home Office figures, around 100,000 voters spoiled their papers in the 2001 election. This is about 0.38% of the electorate. Most of the spoilers write protest messages on the ballot while others fail to mark their choice or mark too many.
Anecdotal evidence is that number will rise in the 2005 election with disaffected Labour voters turning against Tony Blair, his conduct of the Iraq War and his association with the Bush administration.
Over a million people marched through London streets two years ago to protest against the war in Iraq and Blair's scant regard for parliamentary democracy. Many people seem to know who they will not vote for, and not voting at all is one of the alternatives they are discussing.
If you add to those the rural lobby against the abolition of hunting and Conservatives turned off by Michael Howard then indications are that numbers will swell.
What we don't know is how many people consider spoiling their ballot but end up sprinkling votes on the Greens and independent candidates as a form of protest vote.
In the past these spoilers would be making an empty gesture. There are no political rallies for those minded to chuck away their vote. By the time "none of the above" is written across the ballot paper, all political horse-trading is over and the vote is wasted.
But the internet and mobile phones give spoilers and other disaffected voters the means to make a powerful voice heard. If they use web-sites or text to contact each other and form a loose alliance, despite not sharing common views, then they can dangle the carrot of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of votes in front of the politicians.
People power has been used before in the Philippines and in the last Spanish election to topple governments.
A month before the election they could flex their political muscle by registering via e-mail as a probable spoiler and give their reasons for their stance. Then the politicians would know how many votes in each constituency were up for grabs.
If the politicians failed to come up with the goods the spoilers would punish them by scribbling over their ballot on election day and declaring on a web-site that they had done so. This would give immediate feedback that candidate B could have beaten candidate A by harnessing the power of the bloody fed-up.
Of course this degree of loose co-ordination doesn't just apply to spoilers. Floating voters could form a voting bloc to force concessions out of candidates. Long after the tactic was proposed, we are still waiting to see vote trading across constituencies being used as a strategic ploy to target marginal seats.
But this could be the year that people power becomes a significant force in British politics.