Why Rockstar's Table Tennis was even more important than GTA 5

10 years old today, this oft-forgotten ping-pong sim quietly changed gaming history. 

Remember that time Rockstar surprised everyone and released a table tennis game neatly called Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis? Well, that day was actually ten years ago to the very day, so we thought we'd look back at what was one of the most influential Rockstar Games titles. 

What caused Rockstar to make a table tennis game? Well, here's what Rockstar co-founder Sam Houser said back in 2006 when it was created.

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"Our mission brief at Rockstar has been clear to us from when we founded the company - to make titles with innovative gameplay about subject matters we were interested in," he said in an IGN interview. 

"We have always been a company that likes to take risks, and do things differently from everyone else. For us this does not just mean gangster films, or car chases or westerns (much as we still love them), but anything that we think is interesting and has not been successfully handled elsewhere in a video game. From our perspective, table tennis fitted the bill perfectly."

Plus, it was well known that the Rockstar team played table tennis at the Chateau Marmont when scouting out LA locations - as referenced in Daniel Radcliffe's The Gamechangers - as well as it playing a huge part in generating their creative flow at their New York offices.

Surprisingly, the game was well-received critically and turned into one of the publisher's hidden gems.

And here are the four reasons Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis was even more important than GTA 5.

1. IT MADE GTA 4, RED DEAD REDEMPTION AND MORE POSSIBLE

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Rockstar Presents Table Tennis started life as a simple tech demo for the new Rockstar Advanced Game Engine (RAGE) that was made prior to the launch of the Xbox 360 and PS3. But the table tennis simulator was so good that Rockstar decided to release it as a fully fledged game. 

It was the game that allowed Rockstar to finely tune the nuances of its new gaming engine, which went on to power games like GTA 4Red Dead Redemption and GTA 5

Table Tennis was developed by Rockstar San Diego, the studio well known for pushing a new engine to its limits - and the team behind GTA 4. Coincidence? We think not.

"[Table Tennis was born from] an obsession with detail and with creating a more immediate, more physical, more emotional experience," explained Houser at the time. "Rockstar San Diego is known for being able to create engines to push hardware further than anyone else, particularly at the beginning of its lifecycle.

"If you remember Midnight Club was the first (and still is the only true) open city racing game that allows you to go anywhere you want in an entire city, and Smugglers Run was a huge open environment that stretched with incredible draw distances as far as the eye could see and allowed you to go absolutely anywhere. These were also the only two original titles for PS2 launch.

"Although Table Tennis has been created focusing on detail, concentrating the hardware's entire power on one activity, rather than on size, the same principles apply."

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We imagine Table Tennis was also a massive influence for the vast amount of side activities to be found in all future Rockstar games too. 

2. THE ANIMATIONS AND GRAPHICS WERE ON POINT

When Table Tennis launched nearly six months after the Xbox 360 launch, it really showed off the shiny new graphics capabilities of the console. It might not have been an open-world, monstrous affair, but its simple, clean-cut design, excellent character models and fast-paced twitch gameplay were at the forefront of the new generation of gaming. 

It was the character models in Table Tennis that influenced the look and feel of the characters of GTA 4; a practice shot if you will for Niko Bellic and other characters to come. 

The game was also well known for accurately representing real-time sweat, some seriously silky T-shirts and the fabric physics in general - we don't get to say that often enough. 

It all looked impressively realistic and it felt like the first time anyone in the gaming world took table tennis seriously, presenting it with realistic player characters and the frenetic action you'd expect from a table tennis match.

3. IT WAS THE FIRST ROCKSTAR XBOX EXCLUSIVE

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Table Tennis was actually the first Rockstar game to launch exclusively for an Xbox platform. The publisher was usually affiliated with PlayStation, so Xbox gamers suddenly got the preferential treatment and boy was that appealing. 

It was even technically classed as one of the Xbox 360 launch titles, but it actually launched in the May of 2006, six months after the Xbox 360's November 2005 release date. 

However, it offered something very different from everything else playable on the Xbox 360 at that time and had the Rockstar name behind it - and its uniqueness was something that Rockstar was very aware of at the time.

"Unless new games try to do something fundamentally beyond the scope of current games at a level beyond merely providing prettier versions of a current-generation game design, consumers will not feel compelled to buy new hardware," said Houser.

That said, it was also much cheaper than any other launch title, priced around £10 less than any other game available at the time. 

4. THE AUDIO WAS BETTER THAN MOST SPORTS GAMES OF THE TIME

Sorry other sports games, but we always felt like the audio in Table Tennis was much more immersive than anything else out at the time. The dinky crowd surrounding the match always reacted to everything that happened in the match, especially when you managed to claw back a victory from nine points down. It was the most pumped we'd felt in years.

Parallel 9 - Dominus // Music Man 2005
Chica Wappa [Mejor Edit]
D'Malicious - Alive (Original Mix)
Deleted video
Blu Mar Ten-Coloratura
Deleted video
Los Hermanos-In Deeper Presence
Morph - Stormwatch E.P. Our Future
Pluto - A : xus
Aril Brikha - Prey for peace

And that techno soundtrack - which saw Rockstar shift away from the big-name GTA radio licences to somewhere more thematic - helped too, leading the way for Health's awesome ambient-electro score to prop up the atmospheric Max Payne 3. Top marks all round, guys.

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