Due out next week is Virtua Tennis 3, the next iteration of Sega's popular sports series. I spoke with Sega associate producer Christopher Kaminski to find out if Virtua Tennis 3 will continue the series' popular blend of arcade game play, smooth, realistic graphics, and addictive multiplayer modes.
Shack: What big names are on the roster this year?
Christopher Kaminski: The roster includes 20 real world tennis professionals: Roger Federer; Venus Williams; Andy Roddick; Maria Sharapova; Tim Henman; Juan Carlos Ferrero; Tommy Haas; David Nalbandian; Mario Ancic; Taylor Dent; Rafael Nadal; James Blake; Lindsey Davenport; Daniela Hanchekova; Nicole Vaidisova; Lleyton Hewittl Sebastien Grosjean; Amelie Mauresmo; Gael Monfils; [and] Martina Hingis.
Shack: What sort of character creation system has been crafted?
Christopher Kaminski: World Tour Mode is the Career Mode that allows you to create, train and compete your own customizable player. The customization system begins with creating your physical appearance, including everything from hair color to facial features to clothing. You'll unlock more clothing and accessories like sunglasses and hats as you progress through World Tour Mode. You can also customize the strengths of your character through the mini-games. Each mini-game is designed to exercise a set of skills, ranging from footwork to the strength of your swing. The choice is yours to create a well balanced character, or one who specializes in a specific area such as devastating serves.
Shack: How do I level up my created character? What stats can be modified?
Christopher Kaminski: You level up your character through playing mini games and attending the Tennis Academy in World Tour mode. Your skills are grouped into four major categories: Footwork, Serving, Volleying and Strokes. You can choose to focus in one category or create an overall rounded character.
Shack: How's the career mode shaping up?
Christopher Kaminski: World Tour mode is really quite fantastic. You start off by creating your character and setting up your home base. That's when the clock starts ticking. You have a 20 year career to go from being a novice professional player to making it to number one. You begin by playing mini-games to increase your skills. You can also attend the Tennis Academy, where you learn specific techniques like how to score points using a backhand groundstroke. Soon you'll start playing in tournaments against other professionals. Watch your stamina and be sure to take breaks. If you don't, you could suffer an injury and miss a big tournament.
Shack: Can I take a "real" athlete through World Tour, or only a created character?
Christopher Kaminski: World Tour is specifically designed for your created characters. However the real world athletes may offer to be your doubles partner or could even declare you their main rival!
Christopher Kaminski: I'm happy to say that we still have giant bowling pins! We have 10 new mini games, plus the classic bowling and bulls eye games. This is something we're really excited about because Virtua Tennis 3 has the best mini-games we've ever had! What's really great is that you'll find the mini-games become increasingly more challenging as you improve your skills through the World Tour mode.
Shack: Tell us about some of them.
Christopher Kaminski: Alien Attack is one where you must defend the net against an ever advancing army of alien tennis ball serving machines. The concept is quite simple: make sure none of aliens reach the net by volleying big tennis balls at them. Aim for the red ones, as they explode on contact! It gets a little trickier at higher levels when the aliens start hitting smaller tennis balls that stun you when you get hit.
The Bullseye mini game tests your accuracy and your ability to anticipate shots. You are positioned across from a ball launcher and a large bullseye. You must return shots and get a certain number of points within the time allotted.
Avalanche is a favorite around the office. Words alone don't do this one justice. Your task is to collect giant fruit while dodging even larger tennis balls as they all come barreling down a big ramp in one chaotic mix.
Shack: Can any of the mini games be played with other players, either online or on the same console?
Christopher Kaminski: They sure can. We have special versions of the mini-games known as court games. Court games are special multiplayer versions of the court games. They are specially weighted and balanced to provide hours of fun for up to four players in the same room.
Christopher Kaminski: We have different playable surfaces available including grass courts, clay courts, and hard courts. Then we also have different styles of environments: the bold arena in Barcelona, the vibrant interior coliseum in Moscow, and the intimate settings in Milan. Each location is vastly different with unique character.
Shack: Let's talk about game play mechanics. Say I'm playing on a harder court versus a softer, grassier court. Will game play vary at all between court types, or are they only for aesthetic value?
Christopher Kaminski: The terrain is absolutely more than just attractive places to play. Virtua Tennis 3 features a robust physics system that takes terrain types into account from how your player moves on the court and how the ball bounces.
Shack: Do courts degrade over time? Can this affect game play?
Christopher Kaminski: As you play, you'll notice the visual effects of tennis ball scuff marks on the court, so there is visual degradation, which is just one example of the added visual effects that make Virtua Tennis 3 even more realistic on the PS3 and Xbox 360.
Turn the page for more information on Virtua Tennis 3._PAGE_BREAK_
Christopher Kaminski: I don't think you'll find a measurable difference between the men's and women's matches in terms of performance and gameplay. I think the key differences are in the animations. For example, men will dive for a ball that is just out of reach, while women will do a short dash and then slide.
Shack: Tell us about the physics engine used in the game.
Christopher Kaminski: The team did an excellent job of taking a really great game in the previous version of Virtua Tennis and made it just that much better. This game feels more polished than any tennis game that has come before it. Everything just feels fluid, precise, and satisfying.
Shack: What sort of hits are available? Is there more to hitting the ball then just pressing the correct button?
Christopher Kaminski: You actually have a deceptively large amount of control over the ball. You have three types of shots: ground, slice and lob. You can increase the power of your shot by anticipating where the ball will arrive. The longer you stand still and hold the button, the stronger your shot will be.
The game is very simple to pick up and get into a match. You won't feel overwhelmed by this game.
Shack: What are the major differences that set the PS3 and 360 versions of the game apart? What about minor differences?
Christopher Kaminski: The contents of the game are exactly the same on both platforms. You have the same number of players, stadiums, mini games, and racquets. The difference is that the PS3 version has support for the SIXAXIS controller and the Xbox 360 has Live! support.
Shack: So no online play for PlayStation 3 owners?
Christopher Kaminski: The PS3 version of the game does not feature online play. Much of the attention was focused on making the most realistic-looking tennis game possible and including gameplay using the SIXAXIS controller.
Shack: What all can you do with the SIXAXIS?
Christopher Kaminski: Yes. You can use the ... SIXAXIS controller to perform all the functionality of the analog sticks and face buttons. It's now possible to move your character, swing the racket and control the spin on the ball all without ever touching the buttons.
Shack: What sort of online play does the Xbox 360 version include?.
Christopher Kaminski: Playing online via Xbox Live on the Xbox 360 is something we're quite excited about. We have our classic modes (Exhibition and Tournament) where you can play singles or doubles matches in Ranked Match, where players can compete against other players worldwide for ranking on the Leaderboard). You can also host or join tournaments with your friends in Player Match.
For the first time in any tennis video game, you can play four player doubles where each person is on their own console. Additionally, we are introducing VT:TV, which is an enhanced spectator mode that allows you to watch other matches live in real-time over Xbox Live. It's very much like watching a match of tennis on TV, and it has the added benefit of allowing you to see how your friends are doing and study up on the competition. Also, in the Xbox Live mode, you and others can now replay and view your last match.
Shack: Can I take created players online?
Christopher Kaminski: You most certainly can. We talked about this feature early on, and quickly placed this on our "Must Include" list.
Shack: Ever since the Sega Dreamcast iterations, Virtua Tennis has been a favorite for arcade and simulation tennis fans alike. What do you feel separates the Virtua Tennis series from other popular games such as Top Spin?
Christopher Kaminski: The Virtua Tennis games are firmly grounded in their arcade roots. The games have always been designed so that the player can have fun the very first time they pick up the controller. This game really epitomizes "pick up and play" gameplay with easy to learn controls. What keeps people coming back for more are the layers of strategy lying just underneath the surface in World Tour mode where you can create your own custom player and train and compete to join the tennis pros in the top ranks.
Additionally, the new fun and lighthearted mini-games ("Court Games") that are now multiplayer enabled, make Virtua Tennis 3 even more fun with friends.
Shack: Would you classify Virtua Tennis as more of an arcade style game, or a simulation?
Christopher Kaminski: Virtua Tennis is an arcade style game. We focus on fast-paced action, intense rallying and volleying, powerful smash shots, and fierce competition. We expand that core game play through the single player career mode, which allows you to grow your character and take them from a novice to a premier professional tennis athlete.
Shack: What do you feel is the key to Virtua Tennis's success?
Christopher Kaminski: I believe the key to Virtua Tennis's success is that "simple but deep" recipe. The game is so accessible to new comers, plus it has so much depth and strategy for the experienced player.
Virtua Tennis 3 will be available on March 20, 2007 for the PS3, Xbox 360, PSP, and PC.