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Hands-on with Top Spin 4 – the tennis game that’s too complex for Kinect

Thursday, 20 January 2011 17:14 GMT By Keza Macdonald

topspin4

Thinking about it for a second, tennis games have a weird tendency to be at the forefront of revolution in the videogames industry. The first proper commercial videogame was a tennis game. Virtua Tennis was a Dreamcast poster child. Tennis games were some of the first to really embrace online. And many of the first motion control game were tennis games – Wii MotionPlus launched with two of them.

According to 2K Czech President Stephane Dupas, Top Spin 4 marks the point at which motion control has become sophisticated enough to satisfy the series’ simulation needs – on Sony’s hardware, anyway. We spent some time with Dupas and the game in London recently – read our impressions below.

Top Spin 3, says 2K, was the most successful tennis game ever in terms of sales. Admittedly it was released on about nine platforms, but still, that’s an achievement, especially for a game that’s much closer to a sports simulation than the cheap and cheerful, super-accessible spin that rival publishers often put on the sport.

Dupas reckons that Top Spin’s complexity is the very thing that makes it successful. “It’s got the right combination of varied, realistic animation and behaviour, level of accessibility and depth. You have a lot of tennis games recently, especially with the new [motion] interface, that want to be accessible after 30 seconds or 5 minutes; we’ve always tried to do a genuine tennis sim. That’s our main strength.”

Despite that determination to do tennis justice as a sport, it’s undeniable that Top Spin has been off-putting in its complexity in the past, and the developer clearly realises that. Top Spin 4 aims to be more accessible without compromising on depth, or betraying those simulation sensibilities that have made it stand out from the crowd.

Risk shots – once mapped to a trigger – are now gone, replaced with a simpler system of single taps for lighter, angled hits and long presses for power. Immediately, the game uses less of the buttons at once – but the underlying depth is preserved. Top Spin 4 is a complicated game, but it’s making an effort to explain itself better.

Indicative of this approach is a new selection of on-screen prompts that make the hidden machinations of Top Spin’s simulation more visible. The team found that players of previous games in the series were often failing without really understanding why; now a timing helper, taking the form of a little circle next to your player, shows you the right moment to release the button to place the shot perfectly. A fatigue bar shows a player’s state of readiness, and there’s a small cross indicating where the first bounce will land.

All of these prompts can be turned on or off in the menu, but at least for the first few games, they really help you to understand exactly why your shots are soaring gracefully towards the baseline or pinging off at wild angles and going straight out. Before, this was mostly down to instinct, developed over hours’ worth of career practice and throwing controllers at housemates/pets in fits of impotent rage.

The Top Spin Academy tutorial system was also crucial to developing an understanding of exactly how the game worked – and it still will be. It now offers guidance on playstyles and strategy, too, teaching you what it means to be an offensive baseline or serve and volley player and helping you to learn which attributes are most important to your style of play.

There’s been a revamp of the career system that at first seems to make things much more complicated, but ultimately makes a player’s development more realistic. Instead of putting points into a individual skills, every level of experience now gives a points pack that improves technique.

Choose defensive baseline, for instance, and your speed, forehand and backhand will go up; offensive baseline concentrates on power and serve. You can’t build an omnitalented super-player, but you can build one that’s exceptionally talented in a particular area.

Coaches – another new addition – add extra bonus points to a player’s abilities, allowing you to tweak your skills slightly by picking a coach that matches your strengths or weaknesses. They also come with coach skills that work rather like perks.
There are other technical additions, like an advanced serve system that lets you control ball placement with the right stick rather like you control your swing in a golf game, but I’m beginning to sound a bit like a press release, so I won’t list them. The point is that Top Spin 4 certainly isn’t oversimplifying things – if anything, it’s still a bit overwhelming.

Given this level of detail, it’s perhaps surprising that 2K Czech has opted to incorporate motion control at all. Top Spin 4 only supports Move because, Dupas claims, it’s the only motion controller with the required precision. “For the first time, we’ve found something that’s as precise as it is with a normal controller,” he says.

“Our first goal with the motion control was to make it fit with the game design, not to change the game because of the controller. And fortunately for us, Move is a good accessory, it’s very precise, so we were able to remap all the core controls that we have, making sure that if somebody with Move is playing somebody with a pad, it’s a fair contest.”

Frustratingly, we didn’t get to actually play with the Move at all, so we’re going to have to take his word for it for now. But it’s easy to see how the sub-controller makes tennis with Move a less frustratingly random experience than Wii Sports Tennis or, presumably, Kinect.

“It’s true that you need to keep the stick to move your character around in order to keep the balance of the game,” agrees Dupas. “So Kinect is more difficult, because to move your character around with Kinect is impossible.”

Top Spin 4 is remaining true to itself, treating a very mainstream subject with impressive dedication. “Other games say, ‘Tennis is very mainstream, so we’re going to do it very simply so that we can have a small percentage of the big casual market’,” says Dupas. “It’s a very valid, relevant and honest approach. But it’s not ours. Ours is a different idea.”

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9 Comments

  1. Dr.Ghettoblaster

    Let the battle of the biggest penis….BEGIN!

    #1 4 years ago
  2. Stardog

    I don’t think coaches are a new addition. I remember them in TS3.

    And they should copy the serving system from Jimmy Connors Pro Tennis Tour.

    At least it sounds like it’ll still be in the “sim” direction.

    #2 4 years ago
  3. doa766

    well, virtua tennis 4 is a PS3 exclusive because it works with Move and not Kinect

    #3 4 years ago
  4. theevilaires

    LMAO! What about scanning a real tennis racket? (pulls penis out and chases Dr.G around VG247) :D

    @3 +1

    Now lets sit back and watch the usual Natal defense force (NDF) come in and do damage control by saying Top Spin is an overrated game, I have no interest in this anyway,blah blah blah….or they might not say anything at all ;)

    READ THE DISCLAIMER AT BEGINNING LMAO! :D
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=03thQvGRVvQ

    #4 4 years ago
  5. orakaa

    … and THAT IS why Kinect will remain limited to shovelware and party games, as its interaction possbilities are way too limited (along with the precision/lag issues)…

    #5 4 years ago
  6. Dr.Ghettoblaster

    lmfao TEA!! get that thing away from me!! lol

    _______________

    “There are no plans to include Kinect support, with 2K Czech blaming the difficulty on being able to move your character around precisely without buttons.”

    THIS is certainly an interesting statement. Aren’t we being told Kinect has full body motion tracking?

    #6 4 years ago
  7. elbubu

    @3 + @6 >> Virtua Tennis 4 is not a PS3 exclusive anymore. The game will also realease on Xbox 360 and Wii with a compatibility with Kinect and WiiMotion Plus.

    http://www.leblogdujoueur.com/?p=23604

    #7 4 years ago
  8. Dr.Ghettoblaster

    @7, i know, but why isn’t THIS game getting Kinect support?

    #8 4 years ago
  9. Gadzooks!

    You move your player around in kinect sports table tennis. You have to move to reach wide shots and you can get up close for fast returns.

    Works really well in fact and I expect virtua tennis will work similarly, which does support kinect.

    #9 4 years ago

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  • New Steam policy restricts accounts to protect users from phishing scams and spam

    Valve has implemented a new policy on Steam which limits user accounts which have spent less than $5 through the store. The new policy is to protect users from phishing scams and spam. If the users hasn’t spent anything on the store, they at least have to have $5 sitting in their Steam Wallet. This […]

  • Latest Flash Sale on the US PlayStation Store discounts action games and movies

    Sony is hosting another Flash Sale on the North American store with plenty of action games, and some films, to help get your weekend started. The list is super long, so here’s a few highlights: Army of TWO The Devil’s Cartel Battlefield: Bad Company 2 Bayonetta Beyond Good & Evil HD Castlevania: Harmony of Despair […]

  • A new expansion for Postal 2 called Paradise Lost was released today

    It appears Postal 2 has a new add-on available. No, it’s not for the 2003 version, but the Complete Edition which was greenlit on Steam 10 years later. Called Paradise Lost, the add-on stars the Dude and contains a new single-player story campaign and new areas featuring free-roam gameplay. The original voice actor for the […]

  • GTA 5 patch 1.01 is now available for PC, fixes launcher and framerate issues

    Rockstar has released patch 1.01 for the PC version of GTA 5 and along with a fix to the character’s facial features changing when transferring to PC, the launcher will no longer drain your CPU and crash. Here are the full patch notes: Fixed an issue where the GTAV Launcher would use an abnormally high […]

  • Ultra Street Fighter 4 will arrive on the PS Store for PS4 in May

    Ultra Street Fighter 4 will be released on PlayStation 4 in May, Capcom has announced. All characters, levels and previous DLC will be included in the PS4 version, including a fix to input lag found in the PS3 version’s controls. The fighting game will be released digitally on the PS Store May 26 for $24.99 […]

  • Upcoming Dark Souls 2 patch to fix weapon degradation glitch

    Weapon degradation wan’t an intentional feature in Dark Souls 2, and now that it has carried over into Scholar of the First Sin, the glitch will be patched out in an upcoming update. The glitch also affected the framerate of Dark Souls 2 on PC, and on all platforms with Scholar of the First Sin. […]

  • Star Wars: Battlefront is now available for pre-order on Origin, Amazon, others

    Star Wars: Battlefront is now available for pre-order through EA’s Origin service as well as Amazon and GameStop. Star Wars: Battlefront pre-orders, as previously reported, will include early access to the free Battle of Jakku DLC. The planet is included in the upcoming film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and finds the New Republic coming […]

  • Star Wars: Battlefront – watch the lovely reveal trailer here

    The first trailer for Star Wars: Battlefront was released today after much anticipation. Watch the lovely game reveal below, all captured on PlayStation 4. The trailer was revealed during an EA panel today at the Star Wars Celebration, and featured Lucasfilm concept artist Doug Chiang, the game’s senior producer Sigurlina Ingvarsdottir, and other members of […]

  • Star Wars: Battlefront has 40-player battles, play as Darth Vader and Boba Fett

    Star Wars: Battlefront will take place during the original film trilogy’s timeline, according to a report from the Associated Press. It appears the information was posted ahead of time, (via Kotaku) as the report is written in past tense. According to the report, players will take part in “frenzied shoot-outs between up to 40 players” […]

  • Microsoft confirms departure of Xbox Europe VP Phil Harrison

    Microsoft has confirmed the departure of Phil Harrison, its corporate VP of Xbox in Europe. According to a statement, Harrison left to pursue interests outside of the company, Xbox boss Phil Spencer told GI.biz. “Following a successful tenure as Corporate Vice President in Xbox in Europe, Phil Harrison has chosen to pursue business interests outside […]

  • Battlefield Hardline Rent-a-Server option coming to both last and current-gen consoles

    Battlefield Hardline players will be able to take part in the Rent-a-Server program, similar to the one in Battlefield 4, when the first patch for the shooter is released. Rental servers will come to both last and current-gen consoles, and CPU issues will be addressed in the patch as well, which PC players will be […]

  • Chip’s Challenge and unreleased sequel Chip’s Challenge 2 arrive on Steam next month

    Chip’s Challenge, the 1989 top-down tile-based puzzler created by Chuck Sommerville, is heading to Steam along with the unreleased sequel Chip’s Challenge 2. After the release of the first game, Sommerville spent two years developing the sequel, only to find the trademark had been sold. The trademark’s new owners wanted him to fund the publishing, […]

  • Pillars of Eternity patch betas hitting Steam, update 1.05 to drop in May

    Patch 1.04 for Pillars of Eternity dropped yesterday, and according to Obsidian Entertainment, players can expect the next round of fixes to arrive in May. According to a post on the Kickstarter page, patch 1.04 contained quite a bit of fixes, and going forward, the team plans to continue squishing bugs, adding additional polish and […]

  • Goat Simulator comes to Xbox platforms

    Goat Simulator continues its plan to dominate all platforms under the sun by releasing on Xbox consoles. Goat Simulator has been released on Xbox 360 and Xbox One. The store page for the Xbox One version is now live, but the 360 one is lagging behind. Don’t know what this game is or what it’s […]

  • Alienation: first co-op footage revealed

    We have our first look at gameplay footage from Housemarque’s Alienation. Housemarque has finally given us a look at their upcoming shooter project, Alienation. The twin-stick shooter will feature co-op and the new video shows it in action. It’s a short one but still manages to demo several environments. The game was shown off at […]

  • ReShade SweetFX supports GTA 5, user-made presets begin popping up

    GTA 5 modders started making presets for ReShade SweetFX as soon as they realised the tool supports it. To the modding community’s delightful surprise, shader-altering tool ReShade SweetFX was discovered to support GTA 5. What this means is that anyone can download the tool, mess around with the post-processing options, and inject them into GTA […]

  • Project Cars goes gold, full track list revealed

    Project Cars has finally gone gold. Project Cars developer Slightly Mad has announced that the racer has reached gold master milestone. “We know the wait for the game to be released was worth it, as we’re confident the quality and realism level we have achieved will provide our fans with the game they are all […]

  • Dragon Quest Heroes has a stupid subtitle in the West

    The Western release of Dragon Quest Heroes has been given the most absurd subtitle. Square Enix announced a while back that Dragon Quest Heroes will come to North America and Europe this year. Unlike in Japan, it will launch only on PlayStation 4. Earlier today, the Japanese publisher revealed what the game’s logo will look […]

  • Minecraft vulnerability allows users to crash servers remotely [UPDATE]

    A security flaw discovered in Minecraft’s code that could give perpetrators the ability to crash servers remotely has been fixed via a patch by Mojang. Update: Mojang has released an update to Minecraft patch 1.8, listed as version 1.8.4, and it is available now. It fixes reported security issues, in addition to some other minor […]

  • Official Bloodborne merchandise now available, including a limited edition statue

    The PlayStation gear store has added a new section dedicated to Bloodborne merchandise. The first set of items is as good as you’d expect. If you’re a fan of Bloodborne and want to make sure everyone around you knows it, you’ll be happy to know that Sony has added a few pieces of Bloodborne-branded gear […]

  • Destiny Xur update: should you buy The Last Word?

    Xur is selling one of Destiny’s top hand cannons today: The Last Word. Is it worth grinding the coins for? The answer is a resounding YES. The Last Word is one of Destiny’s best Exotics, and one of the best Hand Cannons in the game. Our Destiny expert Alex notes that it’s one of the […]

  • Destiny: Xur location and inventory for April 17, 18 – The Last Word edition

    What did our good buddy Xur bring for us this week? Xur: Agent of the Nine, Destiny’s weekend vendor is back with more Exotic offers. Xur is your guy if you’re after Exotic weapons or armour, provided you have the Strange Coins for them. Head over to the lounge in the Tower Hangar, you’ll find […]

  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt discounted for Gold members, pre-load now live

    The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt files are now live on the Xbox Store. Xbox One owners with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt pre-orders can start downloading the full game to be ready for launch. The file size was confirmed earlier to be just over 25GB. Those who have yet to pre-order can do so at […]

  • GTA 5 files accessed by modders, reveal horses, zombies, more

    Modders have managed to pry GTA 5′s file lock open and expose many of its interesting innards. GTA community modders have gained access to several of GTA 5′s archives on PC. These files were previously believed to be inaccessible. Popular modding tool OpenIV, which was used in editing files in GTA 4 (hence the name), […]

  • Bethesda’s E3 invite features Dishonored, Doom, Wolfenstein… but no Fallout

    Bethesda is going first at E3 this year with a showcase of games on Sunday night. What clues can we see in the press invite? Skyrim publisher Bethesda has sent out confirmation of its E3 showcase, taking place Sunday June 14. The invite includes a number of Bethesda game characters including Wolfenstein’s BJ Blazcowicz, a […]

  • Here’s Crytek’s VR demo, because dinosaurs

    Dinosaurs! This is precisely what virtual reality is for. VR demos are all over the place and CryEngine developer Crytek has produced one of its own, showing off how the engine is flexible enough t- Look, let me level with you: I don’t care. I only care about dinosaurs. Hush now and watch the dinosaurs. […]