Showing posts with label Virtua Tennis. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Virtua Tennis. Show all posts

Exploring Physics Through Play — Virtua Tennis 2

Virtua Tennis 2 encourages us to be curious about sports-science, through play.

When I play Virtua Tennis 2 in 2024, all I can see is physics. Once considered cutting edge graphics, Virtua Tennis 2 (also known as Tennis 2K2 in the USA and Power Smash 2 in Japan) on the SEGA Dreamcast presents the sport of tennis in a brightly colored visual format. The visuals emphasize its gameplay with sharp color contrasts, clearly defining the boundaries of its world in-play. My attention naturally narrows in on the action.

Perhaps more notable, is the tennis ball, traced with shadows and motion blur. It contrasts well with the matte-painted courts. There is minimal visual distortion and so the ball is easy to track. In turn, Virtua’s batted-ball physics have unexpectedly captured my attention and my imagination. And so I ask: what kind of shots can I pull off in this old-school arcade game?

Agents of Science

As game players in VT 2, we inhabit its Virtua world through the agency of digitized tennis stars. We not only compete in matches, but we experiment — with different shots, we leverage different angles, and we impose varying levels of force upon the spinning green globe. We can explore what is possible within the game’s white-painted lines.

In a way, us sports gamers unwittingly become sport-scientists, probing the hidden laws of gravity embedded within the source code of this SEGA Sports tennis universe. We can study the game engine’s rules through trial and error, akin to scientific inquiry in a digital medium.

The ball’s physics stood out to me the moment I powered on the game this past May. Now, it is all I see. Perhaps I’ll never glimpse Virtua’s actual source code, nor would I comprehend it, but games like VT 2 encourage us to ask questions about what’s achievable simply by playing.
Virtua Tennis 2 upscaled in 4K on PC via ReDream software. SEGA | Hitmaker | 2001.

Play and Discover

Virtua Tennis, with its smooth 128-bit color pallets, has a way of presenting the game of tennis in an elegantly clean form. The gameplay screen has just the right amount of information. Free from noise and commentary, VT 2 allows players to play tennis from a bird’s eye perspective — one that hones in on the fundamentals of tennis. Consequently, the game’s clean virtual court feels like an ideal test environment for game players to search for new ways to manipulate the ball and score points.

Further, when us sports gamers test new animations or explore game mechanics, we inadvertently sample the physics of the virtual world we inhabit. If we think about it, SEGA Sports gave us the ability to hypothesize and actively observe what is possible on its digital tennis court. Hence why the game can be viewed as a sports science sandbox, and the different shot types are the center of our experiments.

I once read that the beauty in sport can be found in its improvisation; and what is improvisation? Is it not a spontaneous hypothesis and inquiry into what is possible in a given moment; in a given circumstance? Virtua Tennis has glimmer of this magic.
Serena Williams, Virtua Tennis 2. SEGA | Hitmaker | 2001.
I think it makes sense to think about games as our own test environments when we consider how the games are built. The development kits of the games themselves may speak more directly to the idea of 3D sports games as sports science test environments. For example. engineers test locomotion and physics in test environments before installing into the final build of a sports game. Scientific inquiry is already taking place at this stage.

To provide a specific example, we can look at one engineer’s public doctorial research. Data Scientist Sebastian Starke researche(s) data-driven character animation and deep learning as a part of his Ph.D. program at the University of Edinburgh, School of Informatics. Stark tests animations and physics in 3D test environments such as Unity engine, attempting to simulate the human body and its movements. Circumstantial evidence suggests Stark’s research contributed to Electronic Arts’ HyperMotion technology for their industry leading EA Sports FC and Madden NFL games.

Taking it one step further, I cannot help but wonder if sports game engines like Stark’s can help researchers study real-world sports-related phenomena. In theory, if we input the properties and physics accurately into a 3D modeling system such as a sports game engine, perhaps the game can become something else entirely. “Legend, Mr. Wayne.” Speaking of which, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom’s in-game engineering mechanics are being used to teach masters students about machine structure and design at the University of Maryland. The precedent for real-world application is there. Games can teach us things.

It follows that sports gamers are just one step removed from the technical side to sports gaming science where scientific inquiry clearly and purposefully takes place in the development stage. Comparatively, I contend that VT 2, with its hyper-efficient gameplay, would make for an amazing starter development kit in 2024 to trial new physics and animations.
Animation testing by data scientist and sports game engine developer, Sebastian Stark, 2021 — in Unity.
And so Virtua Tennis 2 is more than a game to me. It is an example of what was possible in 2001, and simultaneously a promise of what our sports games can be. Maybe games like Virtua Tennis had more utility than many of us realized when it was released.

I like to romanticize about sports and gaming. And the potential for sports games to take on a new form and function — to support scientific inquiry — is one of my favorite possibilities for the genre.

Stick It to the Man: Playing Games That Aren’t Fighters With the Dreamcast Arcade Stick

As with everything Dreamcast, the official arcade stick is something I have noticed has increased in price in the last so many years. Having been looking to add a second stick to my setup, I've discovered its average listing price on eBay now clocks in at well over £80 (close to double what I paid for mine back in 2018 when I finally decided I should get one for my beloved white box), although at the time of writing, it appears UK second hand retail chain CEX are currently selling them at a much more respectable £65!

Despite being a fighting game fan, I am the sort of fan that doesn’t actually fully understand the concepts of blocks, cancels, charge characters, spin characters or laser tappers. Okay, I made those last two up, but they definitely sound like the sort of things I imagine people on modern online fighting lobbies mutter to themselves as I lose my 115th game in a row: ‘this guy is trying to play a spinner like a lazerT, the idiot!’ Probably.

Anyway, I do own a number of different sticks - mainly for Xbox consoles, but also for some others - but not because I'm some sort of fighting purest as evidenced in the intro. It’s mainly because of my love for arcade games, which leads me back to the Dreamcast. With its focus on arcade conversions or at least arcade-style home gaming, I decided to bypass the merit of discussing the DC's fighters and go straight to discussing the games of other genres in my collection that offer arcade stick compatibility, which is normally indicated by a handy logo on the back cover of the game (thanks, Sega). However, this isn't always the case, I'm looking at you, Midway. Come see me after class, please...
I hope this piece proves to be useful for anyone who hasn't yet purchased an arcade stick and wants to know if it's 'worth it' for games other than fighters. Or maybe if you have one sat in a cupboard collecting dust, hopefully this article will give you the drive to get it out and give it another go, as it's frankly a glorious piece of kit.

Virtua Tennis 
This was one I was instantly drawn to try when I first got my own arcade stick. Its inclusion here offers a rare chance for me to give a shout-out to anyone who ever played the Virtua Tennis arcade machine that was in the Scream pub "The Pulpit" in Cheltenham during the years of 2001 and 2003. Unless you are the person who broke the lob button on the player two side, in which case I hope all the hinges fall off your PAL Dreamcast cases because you are a monster.

My first ever experience of Virtua Tennis was on said arcade machine, and I remember actually being disappointed when it appeared in the pub, as it was a replacement for my beloved Virtua Striker. I reluctantly had a go anyway, and then another, and then the next thing I knew, I'd bought Virtua Tennis for the Dreamcast (later that day, if my memory is correct).

The arcade stick is obviously perfect for this game. I’ve always felt the standard Dreamcast controller was a tad unwieldy for the game and that this is one of the very few drawbacks that the Virtua Tennis series has against it. But with the arcade stick, the smooth movement of the stick and the really effective yet simple amount of buttons offers a perfect way to play, to the extent I now want a second one for the rare chances I have a second person in the house willing to play Dreamcast. The arcade stick also has the added benefit of not causing D-pad indentation on your hand like the standard controller can. Surely that alone makes it worthy of purchase?

Final verdict: Get your stick on! Stick > Controller > Fishing rod (in that order).

Virtua Striker 2 ver 2000.1
I am overly fond of this game. Even though it has numerous flaws and actually plays a terrible game of football, I still love it. I love playing it on the arcade stick even more than the standard controller as it controls in the same stuttering and janky way that the arcade did. Oddly, the game itself would only let you use the D-pad when using the standard controller and not the analogue stick, so getting to control the game with the stick is a much nicer feeling all round, and is a clear improvement over the controller, as long as you can forgive the game for all its other issues.

Final verdict: GOOOOAAAALLLLLL!!! *ba da bum ba*

Virtua Athlete 2K
Those who know me, know I love track and field games. I can see that they are ultimately dumb and shallow, yet still they have been responsible for some of my best competitive and multiplayer memories on virtually every console up to the Xbox 360, which was when those kinds of games (and the people who’d play them with you in person) all seemed to vanish.

Prior to officially joining the staff for the Junkyard, I made an overly elaborate comparison of the three athletics games that found their way onto the Dreamcast and that was actually the first time I ever played Virtua Athlete 2K.

I was not overly surprised to see it had arcade stick support, as it is effectively a more serious reskin of the Sega Saturn great Athlete Kings/DecAthlete (originally of the arcades). So is it any good with the arcade stick? Well, not really no. The button mashing is more satisfying on the arcade stick due to the larger buttons, but the game is significantly harder with this control method. I tried to adjust to compensate, thinking this might be from my many years of using the standard controller for these kinds of games, making me unfamiliar with the arcade controls, but it isn’t. For the quick precise nature of this sort of game, the wider spread of the buttons and control on the arcade stick isn’t ideal.

Final verdict: Controller or bust if you want to go fast.

Dreamcast On The Go With Nintendo Game Boy Advance

We recently took a look at the PS Vita, and more specifically some of the titles that are available for Sony’s sleek yet neglected handheld which have their roots on the Dreamcast. While many of the games in that article feature alterations and improvements over their originators, they all keep the same basic gameplay and – most importantly – allow a whole new generation of gamers to experience the magic of the Dreamcast. It’s true that many of us in the Dreamcast community take it for granted that we were there the first time around and got to experience the Dreamcast when it was new and exciting, and in a way the re-release of certain Dreamcast titles on contemporary platforms allows younger gamers the opportunity to enjoy what we felt back then. Probably why there’s so much call for Shenmue remasters…but that’s a whole different topic for another day.
When I wrote about the PS Vita’s small but perfectly formed Dreamcast-derived library, I also mentioned my love for the Nintendo Game Boy Advance and here I will repeat what I iterated there: the Game Boy Advance SP is my favourite handheld of all time. While I do own a Game Boy Micro and an original Game Boy Advance, it is the SP (or more specifically the AGS 101 backlit model) which is my go-to handheld whenever I want a break from my Vita. For me, it is the greatest handheld ever crafted; there’s just something about that amazing screen, the pleasing form factor and the superlative library of ‘perfect for handheld’ first and third party games.

That said, the Game Boy Advance is also a console that offers a multitude of titles that could be seen as extensions of games that first appeared on the Dreamcast. When you consider that the console was released into the immediate power vacuum after the Dreamcast’s demise (with the PS2, Gamecube and Xbox all circling over the corpse) it was a smart move on Sega’s part to allow IPs that were still fresh in most peoples’ minds to receive ports and spin offs on Nintendo’s seminal handheld - even if the majority of them weren't actually developed or published by Sega. The most intriguing aspect of this glut of semi-sequels and supplemental releases, is that a lot of them were so technically ambitious and eschewed the familiar 'top down' or 'side scrolling' approach usually afforded to similar releases on the Game Boy Color, for example.
Developers embraced the limited 3D capabilities of the Game Boy Advance and let their imaginations flourish, heralding a whole new era in console-to-handheld ports...with mixed results. Some of the console to handheld ports are marvels of their time, with cunning workarounds and developer technical expertise laid bare; while others tried to capture the essence of their console brethren and lost something in the jump from the TV screen to the pocket (something that is no longer an issue thanks to the Switch). Anyway, let’s put the kibosh on the procrastination and take a look at some of the Dreamcast games that got a second shot at glory - for better or worse - on the Nintendo Game Boy Advance...