Last week we were invited to the presentation of the first proper tennis game to land during this current generation of consoles. It was about time: it's been seven years since the release of the last Top Spin, and that's why French studio Breakpoint has fully embraced the project, they sense opportunity.
Creative director Etienne Jacquemain and producer Romain Ginocchio were at the presentation to show off this new and much-anticipated game, and they opened by explaining how they wanted to make a simulation, something more like Top Spin than Virtua Tennis. More difficult to develop than a simple arcade game, sports sims are based around physics, with the quality of the animations reinforcing realism, something that Breakpoint seems to understand. Indeed, they explained their desire to create the most fluid movement possible, the most credible effects, all at a non-negotiable 60 fps. To achieve their goals they teamed up with both motion capture studio Mocaplab and some professional tennis players.
The studio has a relatively slender budget for an undertaking of this magnitude, and this is most keenly felt in terms of the licenses. Some great players are absent from the game, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray to name but two. On the other hand, current number one Roger Federer, along with Stanislas Wawrinka, Gael Monfils, and Lucas Pouille will all be in the game... At launch it will offer something like thirty players and, given how they're tennis fans themselves, they have focused their choices towards promising young players.
"We wanted to integrate players of the new generation," Ginocchio told Gamereactor at the event. "Some have really managed to rank well during the last tournaments. Particularly at the Australian Open, where three of the four finalist players are already integrated in the game, or the masters [at] London, where they were five out of the top eight."
In other words, if the game enjoys long-term success, the players chosen could work out well. As for women's tennis, the studio only offers five players at present, including Caroline Wozniacki and Garbiñe Muguruza. The producer told us that the studio wanted to add more, but for now, talks are ongoing and they will most likely arrive as part of a paid-for DLC coming after the release of the game.
It was equally difficult for the studio to license the official tournament courts. To overcome this obstacle the studio went straight to the people who designed them in the first place, and in doing so they have recreated no less than 18, each one different from the last. From Wimbledon to the US Open with surfaces of various kinds, each one will be unique:
"We talked a lot with tennis players, especially about the different tennis courts. Some remember high altitude games. At this height, breathing is more difficult and the ball [moves through] the air differently. Or the famous blue court in Madrid that the players hated so much. We tried to integrate the maximum of subtlety to the courts with their own physics. Same for carpeted and wooden courts."
Tennis World Tour will feature several game modes, including an exhibition mode, competitive online matches, and a career mode, with the latter set to be extensive. You will play as a character you have created, dressing them in gear drawn a collection of 500 unlockable items for both men and women. You will have to choose different coaches from a wide range of options, and they will help you customise your character through the acquisition of skill cards. We know what you're thinking, but no, the cards won't be found in loot boxes; it's only by advancing in your career and by hiring coaches that you acquire them. Each coach has their own cards, and you're free to choose your coach according to the skills that best suit your style.
These cards add passive skills as well as abilities linked to particular moves. Rest assured, the studio wants to find a good balance to avoid ending up with five cards that outperform all others. Thus, the game will have plenty to unlock, and your character will be unique according to their appearance as well as their special abilities. However, the customisation options don't stop there, you can also increase the ability of your character across a trio of areas: defence, attack, and serve / volley. Each point spent will increase your abilities accordingly, but you can't always spend your points in the same area:
"Services, for example, are extremely important both in the game and in real life. If a character is too good only in this area, it creates an imbalance that we want to avoid as much as possible, a bit like an RPG in short," Ginocchio told us.