Virtua Tennis 3 was a well-received game in 2007, and Sega is hoping to hit another ace with the latest in the series, Virtua Tennis 2009. We spoke to Sumo Digital producer Toby Allen to find out what the major challenges were in developing this game, what player feedback is being built into the title, and how easy it was to integrate Wii MotionPlus for the Wii version.
GameSpot AU: What improvements over the previous title have you focused on with Virtua Tennis 2009?
Toby Allen: As big fans of the Virtua Tennis series, we came to the project with lots of our own ideas, and we spent a lot of time studying the fans' feedback to the previous games. After some valuable consultation with Sega and their AM3 department, we highlighted the World Tour mode and online features as particular areas we wanted to build upon, alongside a number of gameplay improvements such as fixing the dive animations, introducing a new camera view, and countless other tweaks and fixes.
GS AU: What new features and gameplay modes will be available?
TA: Virtua Tennis 2009 features a completely revamped World Tour made up of Amateur and Pro Tours, an all-new character creator, 500 custom-created opponents, and over 1,500 player items. We are also very proud to have the licensed Davis and Fed Cups, which the player can enter as any one of over 200 different nations. Virtua Tennis 2009 also sees the return of some fan favourite minigames and the arrival of some completely new games involving crocodiles, pirates, zoo animals, and more.
GS AU: What famous names can we expect to see on the player roster?
TA: We’re extremely happy to welcome back some of the most famous names in tennis, such as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Venus Williams, and Maria Sharapova, who will be joined by several new additions to the Virtua Tennis world, including Andy Murray, Ana Ivanović, and more. We’re also delighted to introduce Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg to the Virtua Tennis fold.
GS AU: Many fans of the series will want to know how the online component of the game will work. Take us through what you will be able to do online and what modes will be available.
TA: We took on board the feedback of fans after Virtua Tennis 3 and have really pushed the online element this time around. Virtua Tennis 2009 features friendly online play where the player can play the game using any of the professional players or their own custom character and with their preferred settings. We also have ranked online play where players can compete to become the world number one on a level playing field using their custom character. For the first time, players can also enjoy many of the minigames online. We’ve also introduced an all-new weekly mode called Online Tour where players can participate in a set number of events over the course of a week, which earns them points. At the end of each week the player with the most points is declared the Online Tour Champion.
GS AU: What did you find the most challenging aspect of developing the game?
TA: Our main challenge was simply to ensure that the new additions and improvements we made to the game didn’t end up losing the unique feeling of Virtua Tennis. We also faced some interesting new challenges developing for the Wii and the new MotionPlus device. We were extremely fortunate, however, to have just completed work on Sega Superstars Tennis when this project began, so we were able to carry over many of the lessons we had learnt with regards to the unique Wii control system. We designed the Wii controls for Virtua Tennis from the ground up, and we hope that fans will be as happy with the result as we are.
GS AU: This will be the first time Virtua Tennis will be on the Wii. How is the Wii version of Virtua Tennis 2009 different from the other builds?
TA: Controls aside, we’ve tried to ensure that the Wii version of the game is as close as possible to the other platforms. If there is one message that comes out time and again from the Wii owners it’s that they hate receiving a version of a game that lacks half of the features of the 360 or PS3 platforms. That’s why we’ve ensured that the Wii has the same offline and friendly and ranked online features as the others.
GS AU: What is the Wii control scheme like? Will it take advantage of the Wii’s motion-sensing capabilities?
TA: We looked very carefully at the different approaches that had been tried with tennis games on the Wii and found that by far the most popular and user-friendly control method was also the most simple. We built the control method around the basic idea that all the player needs to do is swing the Wiimote like they would a tennis racquet. There’s a lot of depth underneath that for players that want to learn how to perform particular stroke types, but our aim is that any player will be able to pick up a controller and play an enjoyable game of Virtua Tennis.
We also had the privilege to develop a control method for the game using the Wii MotionPlus that is very different to the basic Wii control system. Wii MotionPlus allows us to read the player's gestures with an unprecedented level of accuracy and translate this into extremely precise shot recognition. Using this control system the player can place shots where they want to, use just the amount of power they want, and produce a wide range of shots based purely on their gesture. We have to say it has been a real pleasure for the team to get the opportunity to play with this device and try to uncover some of its incredible potential.
GS AU: Run us through some of the new minigames that will be included in Virtua Tennis 2009.
TA: We looked at which games we most enjoyed and which had produced the best feedback from fans and brought them back for a new outing alongside a range of completely new games. New additions include Pot Shot (a pool game which you play on a giant-scale pool table), Pirate Wars (where you fight off fleets of attacking pirate ships), and my personal favourite, Zoo Feeder (a game where you have to hit the correct foods to hungry zoo animals to make them sleep).
GS AU: Toby Allen, thanks for your time.