Virtua Tennis 2009 Interview (Xbox360)
Strategy Informer: This will be the first time a Virtua Tennis game will be going head-to-head with a tennis title from EA. What have you done for VT 2009 to set it apart from EA Sports Grand Slam Tennis?
Toby Allen: VT obviously comes from a long history of arcade games and what we wanted to do was mainly make sure that we continue the tradition of making a game with very solid gameplay that’s a very good experience for the gamer. We have a lot of fans we don’t want to disappoint and so we want to maintain that. Some of the areas that we worked on to improve the game are visual – so a lot of time has been spent on creating an environment to make sure that you feel a lot more like you’re part of the game, being in the stadium and playing tennis – really giving that vibe you should get. One of our key inspirations was the Nadal and Federer match last year, where effectively the crowd really gave an ambience to the game, but the game was also just so exciting. We worked with AM3: the regional developers of VT to polish up the gameplay, the animations and make other small tweaks.
Kenton Fletcher: One of the advantages we had was that we were building upon an already successful franchise. We’re big, big fans ourselves so we already knew what parts needed tweaking and that kind of thing. Instead of having to start from the ground up every time, we could look at it, set ourselves targets like: let’s try and capture that excitement to a match.
Toby Allen: And listening to the feedback, we knew that one of the points that AM3 wanted to change, and we wanted to change, was the old dive animations. It was one small adjustment that people wanted to see, so we made a little stumbling animation. But as a whole, it’s just adding extra polish, working with a game that’s been established for years and making sure that the players get what they want and just a little more. So, that’s the way we’re looking to differentiate ourselves from Grand Slam, which is trying to establish itself as a whole new franchise. That’s all very well for them, we’re just trying to maintain what we have, keep going and make sure that gamers are happy and enjoy playing VT 2009 for hours on end.
|Kenton Fletcher (left) and Toby Allen (right) pose with their shiny, new game.||Masters Monday at Sega HQ and Rich (near) gets his ass handed to him after a nail-biting tiebreaker.|
Strategy Informer: And I guess working on Sega Superstars Tennis was the perfect springboard for working on VT 2009?
Kenton Fletcher:We have come off the back of quite a lot of tennis…
Toby Allen: Virtua Tennis World Tour for PSP too…so as a studio we do have that background, so it’s only fit that we work with Sega on this and we’re very pleased to do so.
Kenton Fletcher: It’s a good thing we did Sega Superstars, because coming off the back of all that cartoony, really fun, light-hearted tennis – I think we’ve brought a little bit of that over into the new VT, like in the mini-games for instance. They’re fun, just pure fun.
Toby Allen: Yeah, basically we were allowed to go a bit crazy with SST. It’s a cartoon environment, it’s Sonic, and it’s his friends, whereas VT is a very professional, more realistic version of tennis. We were able to do this, because we had that experience from those games.
Strategy Informer: The mini Court Games form a big part of VT 2009. Which are your personal favourites and why?
Kenton Fletcher: It's just brilliant. It’s cute. It’s fast-paced. Everything about it just makes me smile. Can’t really ask for much more than that!
Toby Allen: I’m going to go with the classic VT and say I like Avalanche and Drum Topple. Both are very fun and quirky, but Avalanche is very hectic. Playing with two-players especially, it all goes a bit mad, which is great fun. Drum Topple is just hitting barrels, but you feel like a kid again, smashing things.
Strategy Informer: When you come up with an idea for a mini-game, is the approach built around covering a key tennis discipline, or do you just get an offbeat idea and reverse engineer if for Virtua Tennis?
Kenton Fletcher: Not at all. It purely starts with everyone sitting around brainstorming ideas. If it sounds like it’s going to be brilliant fun, we run with it from there. There’s no shoehorning in ideas.
Toby Allen: The original VT games were developed to work on a specific area of your custom player. That’s always going to be a part of VT, so you’ll always have a running game, a hitting game and that kind of thing. Within that framework, the designers can pretty much run wild.
Kenton Fletcher: If someone has an idea that sounds like it’s going to be brilliant, we’ll find a way to make it fit within the game.
Strategy Informer: What would you say is the most significant addition to this edition of Virtua Tennis?
Kenton Fletcher: World Tour. A lot of work has gone into making that the largest part of the game now. It’s split into two tours this time around - amateur and professional – and we’ve got 500 custom characters that fill out the mode. We’ve got the Davis Cup, 1500 player items…
Toby Allen: …friends matches, friend invitations, charity cups. It’s a World Tour packed with stuff that just gives you that bit extra you might have wanted out of VT 3.
Kenton Fletcher: We’ve also made it less linear than last time. This time it’s much more fluid, so if you don’t play for a few weeks, your ranking will start to slip. It feels like a proper World Tour.
Strategy Informer: The Davis Cup is fully licensed. Won’t this be the first licensed tournament to feature in a Virtua Tennis game?
Toby Allen: Yes, I guess so. Certainly from a very big licensing point of view. It’s one that we’re pleased to have because it’s one of the bigger names in the tournaments and it makes sense to have it as part of the World Tour. We’ve got the country selection, so you can be where you’re from, which also affects your Davis Cup team, where you get invited and where you get seeded in the ranks.
Kenton Fletcher: If you want to win the Davis Cup as Kazakhstan then you can!
|“Can I have a go next, please?”||Sumo’s Toby Allen showing off the new character customisation options.|
Strategy Informer: How important was it to overhaul the character creation tool for World Tour then?
Kenton Fletcher: If you go back and play VT 3 now and compare it to the character creation in say, Tiger Woods or whatever, it feels a little bit limited. Approaching it now, we wanted to take it a step further and bring it up to date.
Toby Allen: Virtua Tennis 3 is nearly three-years old now, so a lot of games have pushed boundaries in terms of what they’re able to do with customisation. And that was something we didn’t want to deny to any gamers, so we looked at expanding on the very basic with your apparel, and we realised that VT 3 had a lot of unlockables that not many people were able to access. There was a frying pan racket, a ping-pong racket and we just thought that this time round we wanted to expose that a bit more, we want to show that off. You can unlock stuff through various mini-games and then go back, dress up and enter charity matches, so it all ties in. Buying gear in the shop also ties into the customisation, so you can go back and edit your character, which gives a bit more of a personal touch to your career.
Kenton Fletcher: And also, because ranked online is all custom players when we were first designing it, we didn’t want you to always be playing as a similar looking character. We wanted to get a really wide range of what you’d be seeing when you play online, which is hopefully what we’ve done with all the player items.
Toby Allen: I mean, throughout the World Tour you play against the amateurs and then the pros. And because we had to create unique characters to look like everyday people with different personalities, it gradually grows as you get to the pros.
Kenton Fletcher: I think it feels nice when every now and again when you’ll be playing against the computer and you’ll get matched with someone who’s wearing a tracksuit. Something small like that just keeps it fresh.
Strategy Informer: This year you’re calling it Virtua Tennis 2009 for the first time. Is this the beginning of yearly iterations for the franchise?
Toby Allen: Well, we hope so. If people like the game, then we’re more than happy to continue making new versions of the game. It’s just a question of what people think and we hope people really enjoy it.
Strategy Informer: Do you think you have enough ideas to support annual updates?
Toby Allen: Oh yes! There’re loads of things we can still do.
Kenton Fletcher: And each time we’ll be getting feedback from everyone, telling us where there’s room for improvement.
Toby Allen: It could be something from a connectivity point of view, tying into Facebook or something like that, you know maybe doing something more on the online side or maybe 24 mini-games instead of 12. There’s still a lot open to us.
|Enjoying a few multiplayer mini-games.||Oh! The humanity!|
Strategy Informer: Did any ideas get left behind that you wanted to squeeze into VT 2009?
Kenton Fletcher: There are always a few things that fall to the wayside during the project, but what’s surprising is how much we actually managed to fit in. There’re some features that have made it into the game that we actually wondered if we’d have time to get them in. We got so much packed in at the end. The nation select, being able to pick pretty much any country on Earth seemed like a bit of a stretch, but we got it into the finished product!
Toby Allen: We’ve got nine out of the twelve mini-games available online and it would have been great to get all twelve online, but some by their nature don’t allow for that, so it would have been nice to try and push that a bit more. You can always polish and add more, but we don’t want to dilute the product by adding 25 features that are all crap, so we make sure we stick to what we know. For example the new camera, which gets up-close so you can see the 3D crowd, you can see the environment you’re in and it just makes you feel like you’re participating a bit more within the environment. It’s just small touches that we build upon and hopefully people appreciate it.
Strategy Informer: With online now a much more significant part of the game, will this extend to DLC?
Toby Allen: We get asked this question all the time and I think really it’s one of those things where we’re not quite sure what people want to get out of DLC. It has to add value to the game and we’re still questioning whether you’d just download a new player. Would that be significant? Would you download a whole player pack or would you want more stadiums or more mini-games? It’s one of those things where I suppose we’re still trying to find our feet and it would be nice to get some feedback from the community and the fans to know what their expectations are. It could be a bunch of new items, but maybe with this version we won’t see that. But then maybe with the next one, we will.Virtua Tennis 2009 is out now. Check out the full review.
Virtua Tennis 2009 Pro Trailer
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