Oxygen and Gusto Games will imminently release World Tour Golf on PC, Xbox, PS2 and PSP. With the golf genre currently sewn up by EA's mighty Tiger Woods series, David Wiltshire, Producer, explained why there's room for another player.
Q: How can World Tour Golf compete with the other golf games out there?
David Wiltshire: There are some fine games out there, many of them are good, fun introductions into playing golf on PC and consoles. But they tend to give golf an arcade-style treatment; often you have to put some real effort in to making a bad shot; they tend to add in lots of extraneous elements, like explosion sounds when you hit the ball, and similar intrusions of "bling" into the golf; others add cartoon graphics, wacky characters and in one case even a combat element. Sorry, but that simply isn't golf. Where World Tour Golf differs is that this is an absolutely faithful adaptation of the sport.
Q: It's obviously going to be hard to compete against the might of EA's Tiger Woods series. Do you have any star power attached to the game?
DW: We do have players like Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose featured in the game, we're also announcing a few more in the next couple of weeks. For the record, though, I'd argue that the real star power of any game is the gameplay. I mean look at the Pro Evo series a few years ago. I'm confident that the real star of WTG is going to be Pro stroke.
Q: So how do you make a computer game more like real golf?
DW: This is clearest in the way that you take your shot in the game, the Pro Stroke system. You won't be choosing any of your shots from a menu. Instead our control system provides a genuine evolution of analogue control, offering each player the ability to shape and adapt a shot in an infinite number of ways. Players will discover that they can play each an every shot just how they want to - the game isn't going to force them into a set selection.
Q: And how do players achieve this level of control?
DW: Everything a golf player does is in the swing. Adding backspin. Punching through under some branches. All those different shot choices are the result of an aspect of the swing itself, not something that can be chosen from a menu. Pro Stroke gives that kind of control over shot control to the player. How? We give the player total control over their golfer, the distribution of weight on each foot, the position of the ball relative to the feet, and the swing itself.
Q: Won't that be too tough for the average gamer?
DW: Not at all. The game features a tutorial that will have your driving the ball over 250 yards within minutes. Those with experience of real golf will get to grips with the control method even quicker. It really doesn't take long before the World Tour Golf control method becomes second nature. And then you'll be wondering why it's taken so long for golf games to offer this level of control.
Q: How does Pro Stroke work in practice?
DW: After determining the relative positions of his feet and the ball, the player takes the shot using two analogue sticks instead of one. The first is your traditional swing of the club, it works like other golf games you might know. A smooth straight movement means a straighter shot. However, you'll only ever be able to put 90 percent of the power into a shot using this stick alone. To get some real power into the shot you'll need to make use of the other analogue stick.
Q: How does using the two sticks in combination offer more control to the player?
DW: As I said, if you only use the right hand stick you'll only ever achieve about 90 percent of the maximum distance of the club because you won't be using your weight to help power the shot. Moving both sticks simultaneously will achieve 100 percent power, while moving them a fraction of a second apart (with the left analogue stick finishing first) can give you as much as 110 percent power but your accuracy will suffer as a result. Timing with this move is crucial - if you finish with the left analogue stick too late you'll be leaning back thus hitting the ball higher and shorter, or moving the left analogue stick too early will result in a low trajectory shot.
You can use these effects to your advantage though. If you lean your golfer onto his back foot you'll open up the clubface and apply more loft and backspin while at the same time shortening the distance the ball will travel. This is the ideal stroke for playing over nearby obstacles such as bunkers or water features.
And if you lean forward you'll close the clubface and lower the trajectory of the shot, handy for getting the ball under overhanging branches. The ball will have a tendency to bounce and run on some distance too, so this is the stance to choose for a chip and run.
Q: It sounds like physics play a very important part in the game?
DW: It certainly does, we've had to write our own physics engine to give us the control we needed to create a convincing game of golf. The engine is very detailed, down to the level of a ball's dimple pattering affecting its flight. The hardcore golfers will appreciate that we take account of the greens' accurate Stimpmeter measurements and that clubs have accurate Coefficient of Restitution (COR) measurements. Even if you don't' know what these are, you'll appreciate a game that looks and moves like real golf.
Q: That brings us neatly on to the topic of animation, are your players motion captured?
DW: Yes, we've called in the assistance of a local pro for motion capture duties. We're lucky in that an awful lot of literature has been written about the golf swing which really helps nail down accurate and believable golf swing animation. Motion capture really helps players feel immersed in the game due to the natural movement. Realism is our aim, so the presentation of the game echoes quality TV presentation, the sort of thing you can expect from a BBC broadcast from a major, rather than the bullet-time and over-the-top effects of other games. We believe we've created a very good looking game that stands up against any other in the market.
Q: You mentioned TV-style broadcast presentation. Does this include authentic commentary?
DW: Defiantly. World Tour Golf's commentary team features the voice talents of Sam Torrance, Ian Baker-Finch and Alan Green. These guys are the voices of golf anywhere you look for it. Plus I'm a big fan of Sam, so working with him was a definite highlight for me. You won't mention that will you?
Q: How will the control method translate to the PSP, which only has one analogue stick?
DW: Well obviously the PSP needed something different - it's a different kind of console and it obviously lacks a second analogue stick. We've managed to come up with a hybrid analogue and digital system that still allows you to control your weight distribution to get more shot power whilst giving you control over the shape of your shots.
Q: So let's move on to the courses, how many can we expect to play?
DW: How many courses have we got? How about infinity! But I'll come onto that in a minute. There are eighteen courses in the game at the outset, which have each been included for a variety of reasons. The Belfry's Brabazon is a lovely course, and we were very keen to get that in the game. Lake Nona, in Florida, is less well known, but it's associated with one of the golfers who appears in the game (Garcia), so we wanted to get that in. Then at the other extreme there are courses that we designed ourselves because we wanted to provide particular challenges to the players.
In addition to these courses, which we've 'built' in the game from the ground up, as it were, we've also created a very powerful system to recreate courses, which is something that we've built into the game for players to toy with.
You'll be able to re-create your favourite courses or let your imagination run wild with fantasy holes. Our tools allow you to raise and lower the landscape in real time, adding set shapes from a selection of fairways, bunkers, tees and greens. Or you can draw your own shapes, adding landscape features, grass surfaces and tweaking to your hearts content. Our course designer really is very powerful and we're looking forward to seeing what exciting courses players will come up with.
Q: What makes this course designer especially powerful?
DW: It's a lovely, simple little tool, that allows anyone to intuitively and quickly edit or create a hole or course. For a gamer who enjoys tinkering, or for a golfer who wants to experiment with course design, there are hours of fun to be had here. But there are two key elements that we're really pleased with.
First, unlike many 'level building' tools in games, which stand apart from the main game, we've allowed players to 'edit as they play'. The distinction is this: in a traditional editor, you load up the editor, fiddle with the environment, save the environment, load the hole to play it, test it out, then exit the hole and start up the editor to make changes... so there is a lot of loading and saving and waiting for the computer or console to let you change or test anything. In World Tour Golf, you can play a course as you fiddle with it, moving trees, adding bunkers, changing gradients, removing ponds, and so on, all while knocking the ball around the evolving course.
Second, there is some extremely complicated compression technology behind he game, that allows us to get all the data for a course down into a tiny file that you can email from you PC, or transfer between PSPs without any significant pause to send or receive. This makes it very easy for players to share courses that they have designed on the PC or PSP.
Q: How limited is the course designer for the consoles when compared to the PC game? What systems can share courses with one another? Can Xbox users share courses via Xbox live, for example?
DW: One of the cool things about the course designer is that it's equally powerful across all platforms - the technology allows it to scale very nicely. PC and PSP users can share their courses with one another over the Internet and PSP Wi-Fi games will share user courses automatically when needed. The Xbox Live course sharing is something we looked at but decided to leave out for now because we really wanted to concentrate on the fundamentals this time around.
Q: With World Tour Golf set for release on PlayStation 2, PSP, Xbox and PC, how can you ensure that the game isn't just based on the lowest common denominator?
DW: Firstly, when you see the game running on any platform you'll be impressed how good looking it is. All the realism in the world wouldn't matter if we couldn't convince you that you're on a golf course about to take a shot.
However, the game has been built on a cross-platform engine that has allowed us to quickly bring the game to all four platforms. Each version of the game has its own programming lead working on optimising the game for each platform. We're aiming to play to the strengths of each format.
Q: One of the big problems with PSP golf games in the past has been load times. Are players in for a long wait in-between holes in World Tour Golf?
DW: Don't tell him I said this but the main PSP engine guy is pretty smart, you won't be waiting too long for the next tee to become available.
Q: Golf is traditionally played in groups. Are there any online modes included in the game?
DW: PSP users can play local Wi-Fi multiplayer and PC users can play network play, but there's no online play in this version. This is a new franchise and we wanted to get the gameplay right this time around, so that's where we've put the majority of our focus.
Q: Many people still play Links on the PC, not only because it's a great game, but because it has a great community that is dedicated to creating new content. Do you have a system set up to allow easy access to all of World Tour Golf's user-created courses?
DW: There will be an extensive web community full of new courses (some our own, others created by gamers), hints and tips, leader boards and so on. I can't say much about it now, but once we launch but the Microsite I can tell you more about it then.
World Tour Golf is currently scheduled for release on PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox and PSP in July.