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Top Spin 4: Exclusive ITST Interview with 2K Sports
Written by djarvik
27 Feb'11 - 06:55

The ITST was recently granted an exclusive interview with the Executive Producer of Top Spin 4. Our questions were graciously answered. Following is the posted interview, complete with an introduction to the ITST.

Let me start by introducing myself. My name Alon Brik (djarvik) and I am a Manager at ITST, the International Top Spin Tour. The ITST is a large gaming community comprised of devote fans of the Top Spin series; fans who have been playing and supporting the game since Top Spin 1 was released in 2003.

The ITST is unique in that it follows, exactly, the ATP and WTA tours; hosting tournaments that parallel the real life tournaments contested by tennis professionals. The ITST ranking system also mirrors the ranking system of the ATP and WTA. In short, we do our very best to blur the line between gaming fantasy and tennis reality.

As a sign of the Top Spin passion exhibited by our members, Top Spin 3, a game that was released almost three years ago, is still being contested with vigor at the ITST. Tactics and strategy are still being discussed on our forums - and argued over - even today. Our fan base genuinely loves the Top Spin series.

Despite our members devotion to Top Spin 3, everyone at the ITST was ecstatic when publisher 2K Sports released news that another installment of the game, Top Spin 4, was being developed by 2K Czech (a division of 2K Sports) and set for release on March 15th. When the announcement was made, the bulk of our members, including myself, reacted very much like a child on Christmas morning.

As habitual prowlers of the Internet - constantly searching for any tidbit of information about Top Spin 4 - we at the ITST were thrilled, and honored, when granted the opportunity to actually speak to 2K Sports. Specifically, François Giuntini, Executive Producer of Top Spin 4, was kind enough to answer some questions for our many fans of the game.



GAMEPLAY

[ITST]: We heard that the risk shots will not make an appearance in Top Spin 4. Top Spin 3 relied heavily on these shots for its errors and winners. Seeing as this is a major change in the Top Spin series, we are wondering if Top Spin 4 will still be as realistic as former installments in the series, in terms of in terms of errors and winners? What are the major changes in the gameplay compared to Top Spin 3?

[FG]: Risk shots as a combination of buttons and triggers are gone in TS4, except for the drop shot (RT + slice button). However, the notion of risk is actually more present now than before. Thanks to the updated control scheme where each spin button can be used in control, normal or power configuration, the player decide the amount of risk he takes on every swing. But we also made sure that the context (incoming ball type and difficulty, player positioning, fatigue, etc…) would alter the risk taken in a realistic way. As an example: if you receive a very slow, shallow, easy ball you can safely try and send it back with a Powerful shot – it will not be too demanding on your skills with the pad and the likelihood of it ending up as a winner will be high. On the other hand, if you receive a very fast low ball, and you need to reach a bit to get it, you’d better decide wisely on your shot. Trying a powerful shot there would have a huge chance of going out or in the net; only some perfectly timed swing may prevent that.

SERVE

[ITST]: One of the biggest issues for competitive players, like ourselves, is the fact that there is very little (if any) difference between 1st and 2nd serves in Top Spin 3, making the serve percentage unrealistic. It was possible to serve well and have 90%+ first and second serve percentage. Was this addressed in the new version, and is stick serving still available?

[FG]: Serve is a very important moment in tennis and we reworked it quite a lot, even though the mechanics work the same as before. You still have access to stick serve and that would still be the control of choice for a player who wants to dominate at serve. In terms of balance players should feel that the overall risk/reward is higher than before. You can serve better and stronger, but the risk of fault is also increased significantly. This would have an impact on the feeling of 1st and 2nd serve. However, more than emphasizing the difference between 1st and 2nd serve we decided to focus on the opposition between server and returner. What was crucial for us was to ensure that, as a good/strong server, you would feel you could dominate your serve game, including being able to ace efficiently your opponent. On the other hand we also wanted to make sure that player with strong returning capacities (baseline and reflex attributes for instance, plus some skills) would regularly be able to take advantage in the game as soon as their opponent has served.

ONLINE MODE

[ITST]: TS3 featured a new and improved online mode with regular scheduled tournaments and realistic rankings. Will Top Spin 4 build on this system, or do you guys have anything new in store? Also, a lot of the PS3 players complained about being unable to invite their friends into private matches. Will this issue be addressed?

[FG]: We upgraded the World Tour mode in Top Spin 4 to make sure the experience will be even more dynamic. Now seasons last one week of real time, and every week the available tournaments change. You have a champion every week and so the challenge is always renewed. Also we track way more stats for every player that you can consult in the game. We also updated the matchmaking system to make sure every match would be more interesting for each participant. This applies to both tournament matches and quick/direct matches. And we also wanted to better inform each player on where other players were. So if many users are playing in a given tournament (some already in match and some waiting for opponents in the lobby) you will see an indicator of strong activity next to the tournament icon. This makes finding your next match much easier. Regarding the features available on each platform, be assured that they are the same and that you can invite friends easily.

CAREER MODE

[ITST]: The career mode in the Top Spin series has changed a lot in each version of the series. So you could say fans have absolutely no idea what to expect from it in Top Spin 4. Could you fill us in about the new career mode?

[FG]: It’s true we usually change a lot the main single player mode with each version of Top Spin. This time around we think we come with a proposal that combine the best of what we did before while removing the tedious parts. The main idea is to propose a big variety of events and unlocks to the player so the interest is always renewed and that there is always something more to get. You unlock new tournaments, events and challenges as you progress in your career; you compete on several rankings and need to make choices in what event you will participate. A vast amount of detail can be found in the Dev Diary on Career.

[ITST]: The recently published achievements list makes a mention of the Davis Cup. Does this mean it will be featured in the career mode? If so, how is it set up?

[FG]: Actually, the Achievement refers to the International Competitions. There are 2 different International Competitions in the Career of Top Spin 4:
• Continental Cup - 3 different competitions here for US/Europe/AAO (Africa/Asia/Oceania).
• Tennis World Finals
Only the best players of each nation can participate in these competitions (8 best players for Continental Cups, 16 Best for the Tennis World Finals). Needless to say it may be hard to take the seat of Nadal or Federer if your player is from Spain or Switzerland.

[ITST]: The old stars (Legends) in Top Spin 4 are a completely new asset to the series. Being able to play as them or against them is very exciting. Will you encounter them in the career mode as well? If so, in what manner will you meet them on your path to glory?

[FG]: You will be able to face the Legends in Career through events that you can unlock. They are clearly on your player’s path to becoming a real Legend of Tennis.

CHARACTER CREATION

[ITST]: In the previous version of Top Spin, it was possible to maximize certain stats like; power, forehand and backhand - creating a super player. We heard 2K Sports changed the character creation process. Can you shed some light on what are the limitations of the new system? How does it work and can the limitations be pushed or abused?

[FG]: In TS4, players gain XP (experience points) for every match they play. Obviously, the more competitive the match the more XP you gain. Those XP allow you to reach levels. You start at level 0 and can end up level 20. You need to decide how you ‘invest’ each level gain. You can select to either gain a level in:
• Baseline Offense
• Baseline Defense
• Serve and Volley
Each level distributed into one of these tennis strategies will give you a ‘pack’ of attribute bonuses. By combining levels however you want in those 3 tennis strategies you will end up with a final player with clear strengths and weaknesses. Even if you put all your 20 levels in one only tennis strategy, this will not result in you creating an overpowered player. You will have some very strong points but also very important weaknesses.

[ITST]: A big part of the ITST experience is to create your own player and take him all the way to the top. Most players love tinkering with their character to make it fit perfectly with their playing style. Will there be a way to quickly edit your custom player in Top Spin 4? How long must one expect to play a career mode to have a relatively competitive player?

[FG]: The systems we describe above allow users to actually create and develop their own play style. But we wanted to go deeper and allow further tinkering and manipulation of that play style to make sure it would be unique. This is why we introduced the new Coach system in Top Spin 4. There are more than 100 coaches available throughout the development of your player that will help you refine, and reinforce your play style. Coaches have objectives for your player to fulfill. Once you fulfill them you unlock some of your coach abilities. The most important ones for altering your play style are the Attribute bonuses and the Gameplay Skills. These would allow you to either maximize your strengths even more or maybe compensate your weaknesses; and also give you that extra edge on the court when you are in specific context.

[ITST]: What do all these changes in the character creation translate to on the virtual courts? For example, will you notice a lot of difference if you are playing as a serve & volley player on a clay surface, as opposed to a defensive baseliner on the same court; or a serve & volley player on the grass courts? Also, in Top Spin 3 height and weight did not seem to make a huge impact on how a player behaved on the court. For example, a 6’9’ 340lbs player would not be much slower than a slim and small player. Will TS4 address this issue?

[FG]: One of the key goals of this new Character Development system in TS4 was to guarantee a strong balance of play styles once on the court. We did a lot of play tests to make sure that any player build you can create can be competitive when used in the proper way. There is NOT ONE player build/template that is better than the others. What makes a strong player of Top Spin is his/her ability to use the new gameplay in accordance with the play style developed for his/her player. The visual appearance of your player has minimal impact on his gameplay abilities. We want to let users free in the way their player look. However that’s true that in this version the range of modification is for believable pro tennis players.

[ITST]: Will there be downloadable content (DLC)? If yes, can we expect clothes/courts, maybe even additional pro players?

[FG]: No plan yet

STATS

[ITST]: One final question: forehand winners, backhand winners, net points, errors. In TS3 these were fast overlays seen in mid-match but inaccessible during post match report. The stats were also dis played in between-the-points animations, causing them for the most part to remain unseen as players skipped through these animations. Will there be a section in after the match report where one could assess his performance with expanded stats?

[FG]: Part of the revamp of the match presentation was also to better include the statistics during the match. So on top of stats appearing between points you now have a full statistics recap in between sets and also at the end of the match. Then you have way more statistics available for you in the Player Stats section for both Career and World Tour.



I want to thank 2K Sports and 2K Czech for allowing us to take a peek inside Top Spin 4 - and for their continued support of the best tennis game series ever! Also, a special thanks to François Giuntini for taking the time to answer our questions.

We can’t wait to get our hands on Top Spin 4!

-Alon Brik, ITST

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