Rockstar Uses Xbox 360 Technology To Take Ping-Pong To The Next Level

'Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis' is the spiritual successor to the gaming classic 'Pong.'

The last time the makers of “Grand Theft Auto” announced a new game, the project involved a private school student violently rebelling against the bullies in his school. And although the game, “Bully,” has yet to be released, critics howled.

This week Rockstar announced its next new game: “Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis.” And now fans are simply scratching their heads.

The game, which will be released on May 22 for the Xbox 360, represents a dramatic shift for a company known for sprawling and often-controversial titles. But Rockstar founder and executive producer Sam Houser said that it reflects a desire to promote a unique vision for next-generation gaming.

“We wanted to use the power of the new hardware and the resolution of new televisions to give the game an immediacy, an intensity and a sense of physicality and reality, resulting in a purer, more visceral experience that simply was not possible previously,” Houser said in a statement.

For the game that put Rockstar on the map in the PlayStation 2 era, 2001′s “Grand Theft Auto III,” the company shocked gamers by spreading the PS2′s polygon processing across the unprecedented open landscape of Liberty City. Now Houser claims that an inversion of that approach and a focus on the confined landscape of a Ping-Pong table and a couple of players can present an equally notable achievement. “It is a distillation of game-design philosophy, focusing on removing the traditional areas of compromise inherent in managing size and scope and concentrating the hardware’s entire power on one activity with the aim of doing that better than it’s ever been done before,” he said.

The desire to showcase next-gen muscle by pumping up graphics in a tightened playfield echoes the manner in which publisher Electronic Arts championed the Xbox 360 boxing game “Fight Night Round 3″ last month. Because of boxing’s basic setup, the game’s creators focused on rendering the two opponents in eye-bruising detail. It also follows the approach EA and Rockstar parent company Take Two used to showcase the graphical fidelity possible in the one-on-one or player-versus-net demos of the companies’ basketball games.

But the word from Rockstar is that, as with “GTA III,” the company sees its graphical philosophy with “Table Tennis” as something that won’t just make the game look more convincing but will have a direct effect on play. Company representatives said that the game will push graphics engineered by the 360′s hardware that employ nuances in character animation relevant to how the game is played, including additional actions and responses over which players can hope to have some control.

The game will be developed by Rockstar San Diego, the team behind the publisher’s “Midnight Club” street-racing series and “Smuggler’s Run,” a sprawling vehicle-based adventure about the transport of illicit goods. Prior to Rockstar’s purchase of the studio in 2002, the San Diego team had developed a Ken Griffey baseball game for the Nintendo 64 and a surfing game for PS2, Xbox and GameCube, the studio’s only previous sports outings.

The San Diego team does not work on the “Grand Theft Auto” games, which are handled primarily by the Scotland-based Rockstar North. Rockstar’s recent “Warriors” game and the still forthcoming “Bully” are handled by other studios (see “Rockstar Games’ ‘Bully’ Won’t Take Your Lunch Money Until ’06″ ). But the maverick publisher’s New York headquarters sets the vision and shapes the company’s ever-interesting publishing slate.