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Hot Lap Racing is the indie underdog taking on gaming’s biggest racing titles

TG Speaks to Zero Games CEO Pierre-Luc Vettier

Published: 18 Mar 2024

It’s not easy, this game development lark. You might have read about the frightening numbers of layoffs across the games industry over the last year, and the spiralling cost of triple-A development. Not the ideal backdrop for an independent studio to embark on a giant-killing project like Hot Lap Racing, but Zero Games is doing exactly that, and turning heads while they’re at it.

What stands out about this game is that somehow it’s packed with official car and track licences - usually these are the preserve of the big budget racers like Gran Turismo and Forza, but Hot Lap Racing’s roster includes a mouthwatering selection of modern and classic vehicles from the cigar-shaped death machines of seventies Formula One to modern Le Mans prototypes.

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How on Earth has it managed it?

“To be honest, it's very difficult to have access to some official licences,” Zero Games CEO Pierre-Luc Vettier tells us. “Even the smaller ones.”

Since they’re fantastically expensive to acquire, there’s a real balancing act when you’re going after them. On one side: what deals can realistically be brokered with a small budget? And on the other: what will the player actually connect with?

“Then also some IP owners just see us as too small for their brand. So we had to explain our situation with honesty, hoping they would like to be part of a new game with a different audience than the usual simulations in which they appear.”

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Hot Lap Racing isn’t going for absolute realism, nor do its cars float around like they’re in a ‘90s Sega arcade cabinet. It’s a sim-cade proposition, a blend of arcade racing’s immediate gratification and flashy powerslides, and the weighty, long-form enjoyment of sim racing’s more demanding physics. Think Codemasters’ GRID games, or Test Drive Unlimited.

To that end, Zero Games has built its own physics engine. The idea is to build a realistic driving model, then tame it with driver assists so that anyone can handle it.

“We didn't want to make a hardcore simulation racing game,” says Vettier.

“Even if some of us – including myself – love this kind of game, we wanted a game that could be played easily by people who want a real racing background and atmosphere, but also want to play with their children. Or [they] just don't want to spend half an hour [changing car setups] or calibrating their steering wheel because they can only dedicate time to short game sessions.”

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Under that philosophy, Zero Games has amassed an impressive collection of riches with its car and track rosters. There are over 50 different layouts here, including FIA-licensed tracks, and more than 30 cars ranging from hot hatches to GTs and open wheelers. Some of the vehicles unveiled so far include the KGM eCup 200, Mygale F4 gen.2, Ligier P217, and Mygale F3 R.

But the most fascinating wrinkle so far is that real drivers appear alongside these familiar cars and circuits. Not even the glossiest of blockbuster racing games does that as a matter of course - in Gran Turismo you’re racing a grid full of overly polite nobodies, Forza likes to pull in your mates’ Drivatars to give the illusion of online racing, but Hot Lap Racing once again wants to do things differently.

“The career mode will be about choosing paths between different categories – GT, single seaters, endurance – and ramping up through the various levels of motorsport,” says Vettier.

“We thought that having some real drivers who would be harder to beat in some categories could add a bit of immersion and challenge in the game. It's always more satisfying to beat a real driver for a championship than a fake one, even if it’s only virtual.”

The driver roster is under wraps for now, but they didn’t just lend their names to the game. They also acted as consultants, advising on the handling model to fine-tune a bit more realism.

It’s encouraging to see that a project like this can still exist in 2024 - there's a need for more accessible racing games, and games that look at the genre from a different perspective and throw in the odd esoteric element. When it arrives later in 2024 we’ll be setting aside our regular GT7 hotlap practice for this one. Who doesn’t love an underdog, after all?

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