In praise of… Grand Prix 3


Remember when computers used to cost tens of thousands of pounds and would take up an entire room? Me neither.

But I do remember forking out the best part of a grand on a particular desktop machine that had about as much memory as a senile goldfish and gave off more heat than a nuclear reactor.

Ah, I remember it well… mostly because the coffee-splattered monstrosity has been sat gathering dust in the corner of my room for the past ten years.

I had, however, recently plucked up the courage to take the weighty box of archaic technology to the local tip, but not before partaking in the mind-numbingly dull task of erasing my data from it – if the damn thing still worked, that is.

Surprisingly, it did. Spluttering into life like a Ford Cortina on a cold winter’s morning, and moving just as quick.

Shifting a little faster, however, were my priorities. Who wants to scour through the contents of an old hard drive when there are dozens of old games waiting to be played? Not me! And oh, look! The underrated Grand Prix 3 is still installed on it.

I say “underrated” because although it received glowing reviews upon its release, it is seen by many fans as being the weakest in the Grand Prix series.

I once held this opinion too, until I began playing it (extensively) after a 12-year hiatus and then it dawned on me: GP3 is perhaps the greatest F1 simulation game ever made.

Grand Prix 3

Were people’s perceptions of GP3 affected by its graphics quality?

It’s difficult to understate the sheer impact that Geoff Crammond’s Grand Prix series had on the racing genre as a whole, without it, games like Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport would probably not exist.

They were the first games to offer a truly accurate representation of driving a Formula 1 car and introduced players to the concept of fine-tuning their vehicle in order to get the best performance.

Some say that the pinnacle of Crammond’s near-legendary series came in the form of GP4, which is deemed by many to be the most precise motorsport game ever created, benefiting from his finely honed and scarily realistic physics engine. But to me it felt too clinical and had none of the charm of its predecessors.

So why is GP3 seen in a less than favourable light?

I think it boils down to people’s perceptions being affected by the quality of its graphics. The leap in terms of visual eye-candy from GP1 to GP2 was gigantic, and GP4 was a big step up from GP3, but that’s just the way graphics cards progressed with each release.

Scratch beyond the surface, however, and you will find that GP3 contains some of the biggest developments in the physics department in the entire series, particularly with its then all-new wet weather system and revised modelling of the transmission system and tyres.

Grand Prix 3 in the rain

GP3 introduced features such as variable weather effects that could change during a race.

The wet weather feature was a massive talking point at the time. For the first time ever, the weather system was fully simulated, even down to the rain-bearing clouds that came in from a distance.

The wet track even had variable water depth and therefore changed how much grip was available. It was also possible for one part of the circuit to be wet while the rest was dry. All fairly commonplace in modern-day racers, but this was unheard of back in 2000.

And with advancements in the tyre modelling and incorporation of an active differential, players could perform doughnuts for the first time ever. Oh, and they could also tumble upside down for the first time too. These kinds of advancements weren’t trivial.

An expansion pack swiftly followed – imaginatively titled GP3 2000 – which saw further additions, including the ability to collide with debris, as well as allowing players to compete against the 2000 Formula 1 grid (GP3 was based on the 1998 season). Apart from Jacques Villeneuve, who became John Newhouse due to copyright issues.

The release of this add-on made GP3 damn near perfect, and for me, it represents the pinnacle of F1 games even after all these years. No game since has perhaps given more to the racing genre, nor have they been as detailed and as intricate while remaining  devilishly good fun to play.

It was a tremendous achievement and one that is unlikely to be bettered until Crammond starts work on GP5 – whenever that might be.

One Comment

  1. GP3 was a great game, graphics wise the game engine was programmed to run in software, hardware acceleration was only added towards the end of development.

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