How New Star GP is Raising the Bar for Retro Racing

How New Star GP is Raising the Bar for Retro Racing

How New Star GP is Raising the Bar for Retro Racing

For over 20 years, New Star Games has specialised in making casual sports games, starting with New Star Soccer on the PC. Since then, it's become better known for free-to-play mobile games, with Retro Bowl on iOS and Android and the 2012 New Star Soccer mobile port gaining millions of fans. Now, the Buckingham-based indie studio is making its first foray into racing with the hotly anticipated New Star GP.

Speeding onto PC, PlayStation, and Xbox on 7 March, New Star GP is a love letter to retro racing and motorsport, blending old-school visuals with surprisingly deep gameplay mechanics you'd expect to see in modern sim racers.

During a recent preview event, we sat down with community manager Mark Baldwin to find out how New Star GP is raising the bar for retro racing.

“The biggest game we’ve ever done”

“We take a sport and distil it down to a bite-sized,” Baldwin said, explaining the philosophy behind New Star Games. “We mostly do mobile, which is all about shorter play sessions. If you can play a game of football in two or three minutes, that’s what we wanted to do. We concentrate on the highlights and exciting bits of a game.”

“In New Star Soccer, you only took over when you’re in a goal-scoring position. Everyone knows football is all about scoring goals – nobody really cares about defenders or goalkeepers.

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“We take all the nuances around the game and add a light RPG element with fun stories. In New Star GP, you have all the rivalries and stories that go around and manage relationships. We try to distil it down to something that’s quick and easy to play but has a lot of depth."

“The idea was how do we get a GP race to a bitesize play session? You can play most of the GPs in six or seven minutes down to six laps. But you still have the refuelling, pit stops, drama, and weather changes. We wanted to get it down to a quick and easy game to play.”

A love for old-school arcade racers led to New Star Games moving from football to motorsport for the studio's first multi-platform release. “When we did Retro Bowl, it was heavily based on the old 8-bit American Football games," said Baldwin. "We were looking at other sports and we all loved the old-school arcade racing games like Virtua Racing, Super Monaco GP and Pit Stop. We thought it would be fun to do something like that.”

Three years later, New Star GP is approaching the finish line. After focusing primarily on mobile games, releasing a game on multiple platforms proved to be an enormous challenge for the small team of ten.

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“New Star GP is the biggest game we’ve ever done,” Baldwin tells us. “We’ve done a couple of Switch and PlayStation ports but nothing like this. It’s been quite an experience for us.”

Remarkably, Baldwin tells us the retro-inspired visuals were achieved by just one artist and the game was programmed by a lone main coder. This feat is even more impressive considering the game's ambitious scope. “We’re very mindful that we wanted to make a premium title. A lot of our stuff before has been free to play on mobile so we wanted to make sure it has loads of features.”

More than meets the eye

New Star GP is arriving at a crowded time for this sub-genre of racing. The last few years have seen a slew of retro-inspired racing games with old-school graphics, from Hotshot Racing to Slipstream to Formula Retro Racing World Tour.

Like Formula Retro Racing, New Star GP features colourful, low-poly graphics inspired by early 3D polygonal games like Virtua Racing. On the surface, New Star GP may look like another superficial tribute game, but there’s a lot more going on under the bonnet.

“There have been a lot of retro racing games but nothing recent has influenced us,” said Baldwin. “What those games do well is capture the visual aesthetic of the old-school games. We wanted to add a bit more depth to that. People who see New Star GP initially might think it’s a classic arcade racer. But there are extra layers on top of that. There are so many extra nuances to the game."

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Despite its colourful presentation and approachable handling, New Star GP has more depth than most retro racers. When you're not hitting the track, you’ll be managing your team, upgrading your car, and making tactical strategy decisions from choosing the right tyres to how much fuel you add in a pit stop.

There’s even tyre wear so you need to be careful with your tyes – something you would expect to see in a racing simulation like iRacing. Adding these realistic features meant the team had to find creative solutions. “Our programmer had to invent some things for Unity,” Baldwin said.

“Unity has plug-ins for physics and racing. But it was missing some of the stuff that we wanted. So our programmer wrote stuff from scratch and added it to the game because it didn’t have the feel we wanted. Certain tracks have different abrasions but there was no solution out of the box for that kind of thing. We really wanted it, so we just wrote it.”

“There’s nothing worse when you’re playing a racing game to feel like you’ve been cheated”

To balance this mix of arcade and simulation, there’s no AI rubber banding. This means you won’t see opponents gain a miraculous speed boost to catch you up – a common frustration in modern racers.

“One of the big things we talked about early on was how much we hated rubber banding in racing games. There’s nothing worse when you’re playing a racing game to feel like you’ve been cheated. We want the player to know what they’ve done wrong,” said Baldwin.

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If you’re struggling to catch opponents up, it might be because you’ve put too much fuel in or fitted the wrong tyres. “We wanted that to be opaque for the player so they understand what they need to do to get faster and be in contention with the rest of the racers.”

To keep the racing exciting, you start at the back of the grid with no qualifying sessions determining your position. “If you just get out in front and that’s it, that’s boring. We wanted to make it interesting,” said Baldwin.

“But we also wanted to reward the players who learn the game and how to maximise it. We want them to be out in front and feel good about their skills. You don’t want to be way out in front and then the AI is suddenly right up behind you.”

Don’t think you can dominate the championship and leave your competitors in the dust like Max Verstappen, though. As you fight for position with drivers like Nigel Mawsen and Michael Schildhauer, the AI will adapt to your performance and form a rivalry.

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“The AI adapts to your strengths and weaknesses. If you start a game and you’re winning by a massive margin, the AI will improve quicker to catch up. They’ll upgrade their car more or drive more aggressively,” Baldwin explained.

“In the middle of the season, it should be tight. You should only be winning by a few seconds at best – you should feel like you’re in a race with the rest of the pack and that your strategy and the way you drive are the determining factors."

“If you go for a risky one-stop strategy and the AI has done two stops and you end up winning by a few seconds because you didn’t have to do another stop, that feels good. We want the player to feel like they made the right decisions to win.”

Racing through the decades

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What also sets New Star GP apart is its unique career mode, which sees you race through five decades of F1, starting in the 1980s and working your way up to the 2020s. As you progress, the car designs and tracks evolve. But the changes aren’t just visual.

“There are not only visual differences to the decades but also noticeable gameplay changes,” Baldwin explained.” The cars look and perform differently as you go through the decades. You’ll notice your car is a lot quicker."

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“If you jump straight into the championship mode and go for the fastest cars straight away, you would really struggle. You might think it’s slow to start with, but there’s a massive difference in how the cars handle.”

You’ll also face different AI drivers in each decade with unique personalities. “All the drivers have their own racing style. Some get more annoyed than others and become rivals.”

Furthermore, the upgrades and perks you can equip will vary in each decade. “Early on you can get an infinite rewinds perk, but that only appears in the ‘80s. But there are different perks later which are not available early on.”

While there are no real-world tracks, Formula 1 fans will instantly recognise the locations, with fictional takes on iconic tracks like Monaco and Silverstone. Each decade has different races, with existing tracks evolving with new layouts like in the real-life championship.

Final lap

New Star GP launched on Steam Early Access last August, allowing players to take it for a test lap. With a Very Positive rating on Steam, initial reviews have been encouraging. "People are surprised by it – it’s much more than what they thought it would be. Feedback has been fantastic,” said Baldwin.

Feedback from players has helped shape the final game, from redesigning the championship mode to adjusting the AI difficulty. “People said it was far too easy in early access. So we added a pro difficulty,” said Baldwin.

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“Balancing two difficulty levels is much more difficult than just doing one. Going into Early Access probably added six months of extra development time. But it’s been well worth it.”

With 176 events, 34 tracks in 17 locations, 45 drivers, a race creator, and split-screen multiplayer for up to four players, New Star GP offers a generous amount of content for an indie title. Baldwin estimates it will take around 40 or 50 hours to complete. “We’ve maybe over-delivered, but we don’t want people to feel they’ve been shortchanged,” he said.

As for post-launch plans, Baldwin hints that New Star Games “would love to do the ‘70s" if the game is successful: “There are loads of things we would love to do but we’re a very small team.”

From what we've seen so far, New Star GP is shaping up to be a sleeper hit and one of the more promising retro racers. Priced at £24.99/$29.99, New Star GP hits the track on PC, PlayStation, and Xbox on 7 March.

Are you looking forward to taking New Star GP for a spin? Let us know in the comments.

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