What was the most significant piece of motoring news in 1998? The arrival of the Ford Focus? The debut of the Smart? Or was it the launch of the original Gran Turismo game for the PlayStation?
I pretty much lost the summer of '98 to Gran Turismo, the first modern driving game and the one that pretty much set the formula for its many imitators. GT was designed to bring out the inner geek like nothing else, and I reveled in the intricacies of gaining licences, setting up cars and trimming lap times for the challenging array of tracks. And, all the time, I was marveling at what were, by the standards of the age, amazing graphics.
A decade on and the GT franchise is still going strong, getting bigger and fancier and even better-looking. But it's also left me and lots of other less-serious gamers behind. For a start, I can't justify the expense or domestic strife of a PS3. But I also felt that, as the games grew in scope, they also lost the character and playability that made the early versions.
But now - thanks to one of those airport impulse buys - I've rediscovered my love of the original concept. With the prospect of a week traveling around Eastern Europe I splashed out on a portable PSP and a compatible copy of the latest Gran Turismo for it. It's an almost perfect match: the PSP delivers more than enough graphics quality for its tiny screen, and the stripped-out game has pretty much returned to the original formula: lots of cars (from a Fiat Panda 750 to Schumi's Ferrari F2004), lots of tracks and simple, fun racing.