It’s another summer of tennis, and this year we can play along with the Australian Open in AO Tennis 2. STACK spoke with Big Ant Studios CEO Ross Symons about their latest sports title.
What’s the biggest challenge that you’ve found in bringing a real-world sport into the realm of video games?
It’s all about meeting the expectations of the fans. It doesn’t matter what sport it is, fans want to see realism and authenticity – they want to see their favourite players, playing on their favourite courts, and the action needs to look and feel just like it does in the broadcasts. Of course, achieving realism and authenticity is the most challenging thing you can do in video games, and the team at Big Ant Studios certainly love that challenge.
What would you say is the biggest new thing for players to look forward to in AO Tennis 2?
The biggest addition that we’ve made to AO Tennis is a true, narrative-driven career mode. In AO Tennis you had the challenge of working your way to world number one by playing tournaments all around the world. That’s included in AO Tennis 2, but in addition you now also need to deal with the fans, attend press conferences, plus keep your sponsors and your manager happy. It’s the first time that Big Ant Studios has worked on a genuine narrative mode in one of our sports titles, and it adds a lot of depth to something that fans already play for hundreds of hours.
We’ve got a reputation system in place. How you behave on the court, as well as in press conferences, will influence how the crowd and media respond to you in the future. You can choose to be one of the nicest people on tour, or a bit of a firebrand, and that will influence some career opportunities that you may get – whether you are offered the opportunity to participate in charity events, for example, or which sponsors might want to take you on.
You’ll also need to juggle training, travel, fatigue and injuries. Tennis players in the real world have to find such a delicate balance in their schedules, so it was important to us to reflect that in the career mode too.
“One of the things that Big Ant has always been renowned for is our in-depth player and stadia creators.”
What are the biggest gameplay improvements that players should expect?
We have significantly increased the amount of animation, so the game plays much more smoothly this year. Tennis fans are passionate, and we got so much great feedback from our first AO Tennis game that we’ve been able to create a comprehensive checklist of improvements, and in going through that we’ve deeply refined the physics, mechanics, movement and shot-making systems.
Is there anything new to look forward to in the popular content editor?
One of the things that Big Ant has always been renowned for is our in-depth player and stadia creators. That’s no different with AO Tennis 2, with millions of possible combinations within just the default player creator. Add in the ability to create your own uniforms and logos, and you’ll truly be able to put yourself into the game.
Some people found the controls a little complicated in the original AO Tennis. Have these been updated in any way? Have any provisions been made to allow simplified “pick up and play” for newcomers to the franchise – perhaps along the lines of an arcade mode?
We took a new look at the difficulty settings for AO Tennis 2. On the higher settings the game has been designed to be a challenging tennis simulation for deep fans of the sport, however the lower difficulty settings are very pick-up-and-play and forgiving – it’s very hard to hit the ball out on the easiest setting, which allows more casual fans to leap in and have an almost arcade-like tennis experience with big hitting and lots of pace.
There’s also a wealth of gameplay modifying sliders that people can use to adjust just about everything in the game, including the speed of the ball and player movement. This allows people to tailor the experience to their own comfort level.
What can we expect by way of presentation enhancements?
We’ve implemented a wide range of presentation enhancements. In addition to the fully voiced and acted cutscenes in career mode, there are so many more response animations while on the court – right down to being able to break a racquet.
We’ve also included some new fabric technology, which is particularly noticeable in the women’s game. Skirts move with much more realism and feature many more details now.
Finally, there’s a new lighting system in place, which makes Melbourne Park and the players really shine, no matter what time of day they’re playing!
Did you do much monitoring of social media and general feedback to get ideas for possible improvements for AO Tennis 2?
We always read, log and distribute feedback from the community, regardless of where it comes from. With AO Tennis, we ended up releasing dozens of patches, on a nearly weekly basis for a while there, and that was entirely driven by player feedback. AO Tennis 2 is an extension of that, and very much a product of the community. We can’t wait to hear what they have to say about it this time around!
Finally, do you have any fun stories from motion-capturing any particular players for AO Tennis 2? Are they generally amenable to the process?
It’s hard to beat the energy and excitement that Thanasi Kokkinakis brought to the studio. The minute he walked through the door and screamed, “I can’t believe I’m going to be in a video game!” we knew it was on!
BIG NAMES, BIG PRIZES!
AO Tennis 2 launches with 26 fully licensed players, including world number ones Rafael Nadal and Ash Barty. According to Ross, “We’ve got a great cross section of heroes and up-and-coming stars, and we’ll be looking to add some more as the Australian Open kicks off.”
AO Tennis 2 releases January 9 on PS4, Xbox One and Switch.