Recently released screenshot from the GTRevival engine
Image credit: Straight4 Studios

Ian Bell: Modding, Throwback game modes coming to GTRevival

One of the big sim racing titles joining the market in the next year or so is GTRevival. We had a chat with the project’s leader, Ian Bell about the game and his team’s projects including the game’s development.

From the early 2000s working on ISI engine mods to the glory days of Simbin and the GTR series. Then moving on to creating Slightly Mad Studios and the hey day of Project Cars. Ian Bell has been an integral part in some of sim racing’s most special eras. He and his team are now hard at work on their latest project.

Having put together Straight4 Studios from the ashes of the senior Slightly Mad Studios team, their latest project throws back to what Bell himself describes as “a special time.” GTRevival is all about combining the soul of the glory days of sim racing with new gen tech. We were able to get a few words with the man himself and discussed everything about the new game.

A logo draft for the upcoming S4 Studios game
A logo draft for the upcoming S4 Studios game – Image credit: Straight4 Studios

Including chat about the project, he mentioned that the game will have many features rarely seen in modern racing games. He also broke down the plans for the future after the title releases as well as answering an important question; will GTRevival allow for modding?

What is GTRevival?

Kicking off the chat, Ian Bell was keen to point out the main goal for GTRevival. When asked what the team is targeting with the game, his initial answer was, “to rebuild trust with our community.”

In fact, a messy restructuring of the SMS team upon its Codemasters takeover led to Project Cars 3 falling short of fans’ expectations. “we wanted that title to be a Forza Horizon-type spinoff of the CARS franchise. In the end, our new owners decided otherwise, and we were saddled with that decision. It hurt us, it hurt our reputation that had taken us a quarter-century to build, and it’s still hurting us,” he added. Clearly looking to right past wrongs, it is clear this game is truly a passion project.

Overtake: How would you describe the difference in style or approach between the Project CARS series and GTRevival?

The first word Bell used to answer this question was: focused.

We have a good amount of cars and a lot more experience in the team and that means the cars in GTRevival will all be given the superstar treatment their pedigree deserve. And that, ultimately, is the difference in scope of the two sims.The other major difference, of course, is that GTRevival is unapologetically a motorsport sim. Pure, passionately, motorsport.

In fact, Bell goes on to explain that it is a way for the team to return to its roots; “With GTRevival, we have a sim with a certain breed of car that lends itself to our strengths.” The most recent screenshots show that this could well indicate a return to early 2000s GT1 models, such as cars seen in GTR2.

This Ferrari 550 ran in the GT1 class which featured in GTR and GTR2
This Ferrari 550 ran in the GT1 class which featured in GTR and GTR2 – Image credit: Straight4 Studios

Overtake: Is it still an aim for GTRevival, and the GTR series to be focused on a single series or discipline? Or will it resemble more of an Assetto Corsa/AMS 2 sandbox style?

I can tell you what it isn’t. It’s not a CARS or AC or AMS2 clone. And it’s also not a single championship. As I alluded to earlier, funding for those types of sims—particularly if you want to make a AAA-title across the major platforms—just isn’t practical for us right now.

Alongside fighting the corner of a focused simulator, Bell mentions that the Audi R8 GT3 one sees in many screenshots on the developer’s Twitter feed aren’t as significant as the community believes.

The Audi R8 GT3 may not even feature in the full GTRevival release
The Audi R8 GT3 may not even feature in the full GTRevival release – Image credit: Straight4 Studios

So what was up with the GT3? Well, it’s our test-mule for physics and for the look and feel of the sim during the initial phase of development. GT3s are popular these days, and that affords our teams across multi-departments the ability to benchmark because all our main competitors feature pretty much the same car. That’s crucial for us, as it is for all other developers.

I wouldn’t, however, read anything in that image in terms of the content that will come with GTRevival. Not in the least.

Clearly then, the simulator will yet distance itself from the current crop of modern GT racing games. It is indeed a crowded market with the likes of Assetto Corsa Competizione and Rennsport among others tackling the niche.

Features Included

If a sim racing title only includes cars and tracks to race, even the best physics in the world won’t entertain fans for long. The best games have a plethora of features and game modes to keep players coming back for more. It seems GTRevival will be no different. But in a very different way.

Overtake: Are you looking to replicate the success of the Project Cars career mode in GTRevival?

Are we looking to replicate the success? Yes. Are we looking to bring the same career path to single player? No. We have something better, and that fits more organically with the ethos of GTRevival.

This sim represents a blend between the past and the future. Its soul is the glory days of sim racing while its tech’ is very much next gen’. So obviously while I can’t give anything away, I can confirm that our career mode is something … let’s say nostalgic and leave it at that. Although I should add—when we look back at the glory days of sim racing, there were gameplay elements back then that really brought games to life. We want to bring that back because it’s our opinion that some things have just fallen through the cracks through the years for no good reason at all. Things that worked, and things that will still work given a little love and tender updating.

Not only will the game’s career mode get plenty of attention during the title’s development, GTRevival will also seemingly feature a collection of rarely seen features in modern racing games. GTR2 had a nifty track learning system and Driving School feature that pushed players to improve if they wanted to unlock tracks to race on and championships to compete in. Could the new game draw inspiration from that as the team looks “into the past and its history” for game mode implementation?

One new age addition we were anxious to ask Bell about was AI. Early in 2023, Austin Ogonoski, the S4 Game Design Director shared videos showcasing AI synthesised commentators and pit crews. It seems they will indeed feature in the game as AI is reportedly a big focus point for the development team.

Overtake: What can you tell us about these features’ implementation into the game? Will they feature at all?

I’ve made it a priority that the dev team gets these things into the game. That said, it’s not easy working with new technology, and for us, as a new studio, it’s doubly-hard because we’re also dealing with new tech’ when it comes to our underlying physics engine and so on.

The AI components, what’s more, haven’t been done before in sim racing, so we don’t have a model we can point to and improve on, we’re having to literally invent the whole thing ourselves. It’s hard work but we have a good group here at S4 when it comes to AI: we’ve recruited an entire team dedicated to AI and we’re seeing positive results.

GTRevival Will be Moddable

As aforementioned, the Straight4 team is a group of developers that, for the most part, began their careers creating mods for sim racing games like F1 2002. This ISI engine mod later went on to become the first GTR game, a legendary title. So it’s clear that mods are important to the team. This is something Ian confirm.

Overtake: Is there any discussion on modding capability and making third party content easy to create and install for GTRevival?

“I started my career as a modder, and our first sim, GTR, was essentially a mod of an ISI F1 game named F1 2002. We owe our existence to modding and, because of that, we understand the spirit and what drives that community.”

“We see modding as an integral and vital dynamic of this new sim, and we have an entire department dedicated to ensuring GTRevival will be the most moddable platform we’ve ever delivered. And I say this without prevarication: we are absolutely committed to offering the modding community all the tools and behind-the-scenes help that they require to make GTRevival the community’s foremost modding sim.”

It seems then that not only will mods be available for GTRevival. They will indeed be an integral part of the game. With the necessary tools being made available to budding content creators, we should see the sim have a long life beyond the developer’s support. One must therefore expect to see this title rival the likes of Assetto Corsa and Rennsport. The latter recently announced it is also welcoming third party content.

Launch and Beyond

Speaking of the title’s life post-launch, Ian Bell also had something to say about that. Whilst he could not go into much detail on the matter, he did confirm that content will be added further down the line.

Overtake: Are there plans to support the game long-term post-launch? Will there be many DLC packs for fans to look forward to?

“Will there be DLC? Yes. But they’ll be a little different than what’s traditionally on offer. Again, though, this is directly linked to PLAION and therefore not something I’m able to discuss at any length.”

Plaion will publish the new title
Plaion will publish the new title – Image credit: Straight4 Studios

So GTRevival will indeed receive DLC packs to keep fans entertained after it releases to the market. But he once again attempts to set his upcoming title aside from the heard. The traditional DLC offering typically features a set number of content pieces for a price. Whether GTRevival goes down the iRacing route of single content pieces, we do not know. We will simply have to wait and see what Bell means by this after the game launches.

At the end of this year, GTRevival will go through an early access soft launch akin to those of the Project Cars days. Those truly committed to the title will get their hands on the game then in one form or another. The team announces a full release of late-2024.

Are you excited for GTRevival? Tell us on Twitter at @OverTake_gg or in the comments down below!

Passionate about motorsport, simracing is my perfect escape, a way of forgetting the world around me and pretending to be battling out on-track. Writing has always been a love of mine and when I am sharing my passion with the wider world, I am truly happy.