Now this is how you start off a work-week! Cort has some great impressions from the recent EA sports summit which took place in California. Enjoy his thoughts on Grand Slam Tennis…he’ll have impressions of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 later in the week. As for me, I’m off to bed. I’ll see you guys in just a few, short hours. - RMC
Thursday, March 12, 2009 EA invited us to attend a little pool party—fortunately minus the pool or bathing suits. Actually, replace “pool” with an upscale sports bar along San Francisco’s Bay-facing Embarcadero, and replace bikinis with two-piece business casual suits and other gamer garb. The occasion? EA Sports line showing off some of their upcoming games, including three near-future releases for the Wii: Grand Slam Tennis, Tiger Woods ‘10, and EA Active, two of which are new “franchises” for the company.
One disclaimer before we begin: as a guy who isn’t exactly the poster child for sports or their electronic gaming counterparts, my athletic vocabulary and context may be limited, but I can still give you an objective, critical impression of them because luckily, golf, tennis, callisthenics and video games are things I can actually understand.
The first of the two new faces in their family I checked into was Grand Slam Tennis. On hand was the game’s producer, Thomas Singleton, who offered great enthusiasm, detail and insight for his project. What GST is about is bringing a genuine, authentic experience true to the spirit of tennis unlike anything that’s been available—or possible—before, but also one that can be enjoyed by players of any skill level. Real tennis stars past & present, real venues; they even went so far as to capture audio at each one to assist in the immersion, as well as recreating players’ signature fashions and mannerisms (”you might catch some scracthing their arse” according to Tom).
I’ll be completely honest, the vast majority of my experience with tennis on the Wii has been with its namesake pack-in, so you know my point of reference. Frankly, while Wii Sports Tennis was fun for everyone, it left a lot of longitude and latitude for how the sport could be done, and that’s exactly where GST comes in.
Continue on for specifics…
Where Wii Sports Tennis was concerned mainly with your swing timing, now your speed, force, timing, and more come into play. For example, holding the B trigger is a modifier for doing specific types of returns: (top) spin, lobb, slice, etc. Add Wii Motion Plus into the equation and instantly pile more variables onto the experience. Normally, the game will set you up to take a swing (either fore- or back-hand), but with WM+ you can force/manually do whichever you choose, so technically you can do a back-hand when your court position would indicate you do a normal forward swing, making you face the wrong direction and completely miss the ball. One beautiful little touch I couldn’t get enough of was they added rotational sensitivity to WM+, meaning you can twirl the wiimote in your hand (similar to a doorknob), and the character will mimick the action on screen. You can even do it mid-swing while returning the ball!
During my hands-on time with the game (and WM+) I found it to be very responsive; albeit also very sensitive. If you’re not a regular tennis player, you may find yourself a little bewildered by that sensitivity and facing/swinging the wrong direction; of course this describes my racket prowess to a “T”.
Another thing some fans/critics of Wii Sports wanted was the ability to control the player’s movements, which is a real strategy in tennis. Moving side to side is a basic necessity, but moving forward and back can drastically affect how each player handles the ball. GST gives a few options for player mobility: automatic (do nothing), using the D-pad to move left or right (even when serving), or plug in a nunchuk for full analog control. Of course the tethering of a nunchuk wire may limit your own personal mobility, but at least the choice is yours!
Also of note, Tom was sure to clarify that the game wasn’t intended to be like wielding a 3D racket a la virtual reality; it is more about the spirit of the sport and being true to the experience of playing. So while things like the accurate handling of the ball and wirestick plus added detail of Wii Motion Plus give a very authentic experience, you won’t be nicked for holding the racket too high or low and miss the ball.
Upon seeing screens or video you might wonder why a game so concerned with delivering authenticity has been made to look so unrealistic; a fair question I posed to Mr. Producer. It turns out that by really playing to the Wii’s strengths (motion control) and understanding its limitations (graphics hardware), they’ve been able to focus energies where it counts in the game play instead of things like detailing the sheen of a player’s shirt fabric or blades of grass on living courts.
It makes sense to me. If you can’t compete with the visual horsepower of *ahem* other consoles, don’t. Instead, they are offering very competent, stylised graphics—something developers are learning can really help level that particular playing field. So although we get the equivalent of caricatures for the professional players, their fashions and overall essences are fairly represented.
On a semi-related note, there will be a custom character creator. I was told that while it won’t be quite as deep or real as the Tiger Woods creator, it’ll let you express yourself pretty satisfactorily. If there’s one thing that Miis, XBL avatars, etc have taught me, it’s that creating more of myself—even if only digitally—is extremely satisfying.
I was really happy to see EA branching out to create a new franchise/IP, and appreciate the extra effort to back Nintendo’s new Wii Motion Plus accessory. It looks to be a title that gamers of all disciplines will be able to enjoy on their respective levels. I also heard some quiet rumblings about online features and a player fatigue system, which ought to add even more fun to the mix, so definitely keep your eyes and ears open for more on this one!