GTRevival is filling headlines, but who is the team behind the upcoming sim? We sat down with leader, Ian Bell to discuss everything Straight4 Studios.
Ian Bell and his most close-nit team are behind some of the most memorable titles and franchises in sim racing history. GTR and GTR2 kicked off a quarter of a decade’s worth of development, programming and passion. The Project CARS series introduced a new flock of fans to the market.
Now, the team is banding together in a new form to return to its roots. Indeed, Ian Bell recently told us all about his upcoming GTRevival project. But who exactly is Straight4 Studios, the team behind this upcoming sim? Lucky for us, we also spoke about this with Bell the other week. He took us through the history of his team, showing the calibre behind the new project.
Early on in our chat, Bell went over his early days in the sim racing industry and how he formed his loyal team.
“Our studio began as a group of modders, as you may know. 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.
GTR was a massive hit for us, it put us on the map and, when you look back at sim racing’s early days, it was, in some important ways, a spiritual successor to GPL in that it moved the whole industry to a new reality in terms of physics and immersion.”
“We’re all immensely proud of that achievement given it was our first game and—here’s a confession—none of us really knew what the hell we were doing in terms of hitting milestones and whatnot! But that was part of the charm of that game.
What it lacked in structure it made up for in sheer passion from the entire team (and we were a tiny studio back then!). We loved working that game—no one was sleeping, we were all just super-hyped to finally have a break in an industry we all loved and grew up around, you know?
Really, it was a special time for me and for a lot of the guys in the studio. One day, when we’re old and tired, we’ll have a sit-down and remember those crazy days in 2001/’02″
This is indeed a period of sim racing we ourselves dubbed the golden age of the industry. The combination of the GTR series alongside the more diverse F1 game environment and several story-led titles gave great choice to racing fans.
Artist formerly known as Slightly Mad
But as Simbin became more and more commercial somewhere between the releases of GTR2 and Race 07, it seems Bell lost interest. Instead, he fled the studio and set up yet another games company, Slightly Mad Studios.
In fact, the sim racing market changed drastically through the late 2000s leading Bell to switching focus in his game development. Instead of focusing on a single series as was the case with GTR, his team went about creating more of a sandbox. Project CARS was then born. When asked if his new creation drew much inspiration from the GTR series, he made sure to point out that couldn’t be the case.
“Did we ever look back during the CARS franchise days to making another GTR game? No, not really. Firstly, because the IP wasn’t ours anymore. Secondly, and more importantly, the brutal reality of making sim racing games would have been a blocker we could never have navigated around.”
“What I mean by the brutal reality is that it costs a lot to create a sim. And single-series sims don’t sell all that well. Sure, there are exceptions, but it’s a big risk and for us, in 2010, if you look at the landscape back then when we decided to go the Project CARS route, single-series games were scarce and funding to produce one was impossible for us to raise.”
Nevertheless, Project CARS was one of the most successful racing game franchises in recent history. It appealed to a relaxed, casual racer looking to have fun behind the wheel. Yet it still provided enough challenge for the more hardcore fan.
It featured great gamification, especially the progressive career mode. All of this combined bridged the gap between hardcore PC racers and the more casual console approach.
Straight4 Studios emerges
In 2019, Slightly Mad Studios was purchased by Codemasters and joined the EA conglomerate. However, this didn’t last long as, whilst not officially dead, very little is heard about the SMS company today. The majority of the team has moved on to greater things. In many cases, those greater things are once again led by Ian Bell.
At the end of 2022, a new game studio emerged featuring many members of the teams behind the GTR and Project CARS series. Straight4 Studios is now the latest company headed by Ian Bell and it has clear goals. We asked Ian about the aims he has for S4S. He started out by saying, “The first one is clearly to rebuild trust with our community. We let them down with CARS 3.”
He goes on to explain the details of what happened during the Project CARS 3 development and publishing journey. We touched on this our last article on GTRevival. But to sum up, Codemasters was not onboard with the Slightly Mad Studios team’s vision. This led to a rushed release that very few critics and fans enjoyed.
It hurt us, it hurt our reputation that had taken us a quarter-century to build, and it’s still hurting us. But this is the nature of the job we’re in. […] But we also hope the community understands that we have a new studio, same crew (with some fresh faces), and we’re going back to our roots.
Clearly then, with GTRevival, the team is looking to create a more focused and pure racing title. It’s obviously important to compare the two main franchises the team has worked on in the past to understand what they are truly doing now.
Does Straight4 Studios inspire confidence with you or not? Tell us on Twitter at @OverTake_gg or in the comments down below!