Words: Baz Nugent
What's new in Grand Slam Tennis 2, how is it different from its predecessor?
The original was exclusive to the Wii, and that came out in 2009, and developed from the ground up with the Nintendo Wii audience in mind. It was very stylised, the characters were caricatures, and it very social experience, for a pick up and play, casual audience. This version is about delivering the authentic simulation sports experience you would expect from EA Sports. From a visual perspective, the characters are photo real, they're eerily accurate like themselves, they look and sound real, and they perform real life tennis tactics, play styles, just like their real life counterparts. Roger Federer is an all-court player, her plays in the game as an all-court player, John McEnroe who has a certain volley style will dominate if he gets to the net. That's our Pro-AI system, which didn't exist in the original.
What also didn't exist in the original, which is probably the first innovation in tennis gaming in a long time, is our Total Racquet control system. Much as we've done with our NHL and FightNight franchise, we use the analogue sticks like no other tennis product has. The entire experience can be had without the press of a button. Essentially, your right analogue stick is your tennis Racquet, while the left analogue stick takes care of player movement. The right analogue stick takes care of everything your Racquet would do in real life, aiming your shot, the shot type selection whether its flat, topspin or slice.
A lot of sports games are “fire and forget”, you hit the button and off the ball goes. Is there a change to a more analogue style of play?
That's what games used to be. Press a button, and here comes an animation. What Total Racquet control, and for that matter, Playstation Move, it is a real-time, one to one, strategy. From an analogue perspective, how long do I pull back, where do I aim, and it's real-time As I pull back on the right analogue stick, my character pulls back, as I swing forward, they swing forward. All of that stuff is in there.
There's a lot of fidelity in the tennis game that has never been brought to market yet. Tennis isn't just a game of Pong, where you're trying to hit the ball past an opponent left to right. The job is really to bring opponents to the net, or keep them off the net so you can hit winning shots. All that control is the depth piece. Its in there. But its not delivered in a control system that's so complex, all about button combination.
You said you've added different play style, character strengths. Did this mean going back to the drawing board for GST2?
The control system is a completely different system from the play styles, tennis tactics, patterns. All that under-the-hood stuff, that's stuff the average consumer shouldn't have to worry about. The player should be concerned with “what am I intending the game to do”. If you took our product and asked, are we simulation or are we arcade, I’d say we're 80% simulation, authentic to the sport of tennis, the 20% arcade pieces are the pick up and play simple flex control systems that are in the palms of your hands, and readily available for you to take advantage of.
You've got all 4 “Grand Slam” Tournaments (The Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open) in the game. Is that a big selling point for Grand Slam Tennis 2?
If you take a look at the sport of Tennis, the only four tournaments that truly matter are the Grand Slam. Its no accident that those four tournaments have the largest pay check for a professional tennis player, and they're the ones that everyone is competing to get to, based on ranking. Those are the only four tournaments that make up the name “Grand Slams”, which is actually owned by the International Tennis Federation. The consumer out there, tennis enthusiast or not, will follow those tournaments, they're the one's they know about. The athletes we've licensed for this product, John McEnroe, the Boris Becker, Roger Federer, people know them.
Mentioning McEnroe, there's the Classic matches. Is that for players to re-eneact the great matches of history, or are you leaning more towards a “Fantasy match” set up, old legends against new big stars?
By licensing these venues and these players, it allows us to celebrate a big piece of history. There's some pretty epic matches that have taken place over time that have really made this sport, and those players in particular, the pinnacle players of this sport. More than that, from a gaming standpoint Grand Slam Classics is designed to drop you into a match that's already there, already taking place, and give you the opportunity to relive history. But not in such a way that you're playing 5 sets, instead you're dropped in in the final set, and your role is to finish off the match. There's metagame stuff in there as well, that will get you additional points by completing side objectives. The goal is to get enough points to unlock the next era – there's 3 eras, the 1980s, the 1990s, 2000s, as well as some fantasy matches.
Before you were involved in Grand Slam Tennis, had you any interest in the sport?
I've always been interested in Tennis, never extremely good at it! I'm a little older, so Racquets were a little heavier than they are now, and I was more into team based sports. Tennis is an interesting game where you can't get any coaching during the match. I've played team sports where coaches yell at you during the match. Tennis is kind of an anomaly, you're very alone up there.
I've the utmost respect for tennis Pros – its an amazing sport of attrition, the level of athlete, just how in shape they are to have to sustain a tennis match for that long is incredible. I have a lot more knowledge about tennis than I used to have, but end of the day I'm not an extreme stat person. When I start watching a sport, I usually don't see the end of it, cause I want to go play! I'll get a Racquet in hand and start to play tennis against the wall in work.