“It’s a stupid piece of pure entertainment. It’s golf for people who think golf is boring. Think ‘hitting the ball in off the toilet in ‘Tin Cup’ or Tiger Woods scoring a hole-in-one playing out of a tree,’” said Alex Ward, Founder and Creative Director of Three Fields Entertainment.
It’s March 3, 2014 – “Day One,” not just of Dangerous Golf, but of Three Fields Entertainment. Ten of us are gathered in a small, beautifully formed wooden hut in the middle of the Surrey countryside. Even though I had worked with everyone for the previous 10 years, I had those first-day-at-work jitters. Three Fields Entertainment is owned by us; there is no safety net of external investment or publisher backing, and we succeed or fail based on the quality of our games. Hearing the pitch from Alex, my jitters turned into excitement. What do we need to do to get started? We’ve got laptops and power, but we are still waiting for Internet access, and we’ve run out of milk for tea, and we don’t know where the nearest shop is. I headed home at the end of that first day, head spinning with ideas, having spent the entire time talking about what would eventually become Dangerous Golf.
Before leaving to become a founding member of Three Fields Entertainment, I was a Technical Director at Criterion Games. The first game I ever worked on was Burnout Paradise. Given our team’s experience and the types of games that we all like to create and play, Dangerous Golf had to be about high scores, destruction, trick shots, and spectacle – it was never going to be a dry simulation of real golf! This was going to be our first game on Xbox One, so we were excited by the possibilities of more power for destruction and making a mess. The game had to get across the naughty excitement of destroying something expensive, ruining something priceless, or making a lot of work for someone else to come home and clean up. We started development with a great concept, and very clear ideas on what the game experience had to be. The devil, however, was most certainly going to be in the details…
In hindsight, we had set ourselves a task that a team 10 times our size would probably have baulked at. The experience of the game hinges on satisfying the itch of making a mess. It quickly became clear that we didn’t just need a few high fidelity, big-ticket things to smash; we needed lots and lots of items in our levels that would cascade, spill, fracture, crack, slide, and topple. All the better if they could be piled up in a small amount of space for maximum reaction when hit by the ball! Everything had to react to everything else in a physically believable way and look photo-realistic. What is one of the most CPU-intensive things that you can ask the Xbox One to do? Turns out, it’s exactly what we were attempting!
Dangerous Golf has some of the most ambitious physics simulation in any video game ever made. Any given level has thousands of objects in it to make a mess with, hundreds of which might be cascading into one another and breaking, bursting, or shattering, all at the same time. We have gone to extreme lengths to ensure that the experience of making a mess is as satisfying as possible. We have looked up the density of all the materials our in game objects are made of – ceramic, glass, plastic – to get the most believable reactions possible. We went so far in doing this that we hit a kind of “Uncanny Valley” of physics; all of our objects were reacting too uniformly, and so falling and breaking in an unrealistically similar way. It turns out that in the real world, two identical-looking objects (from suits of armor to priceless antique vases) will fall slightly differently, due to variations in their density. We even modeled this, to make the physical reactions as gratifying as they can be.
Ridiculous destruction and mess-making is not a great game in and of itself, though; that’s a just physics demo. Some of my favorite moments of the last two years have been crafting the gameplay to take advantage of the incredible physics simulation that we’ve built. I never thought I would come to work and have a serious conversation along the following lines: “I think if we put some suspension on that mop bucket, we could SmashBreaker the ball out of it and fire the bucket into that stack of oil cans,” “What do we score for that?,” and “Do I get a bonus if I can fire the ball out of all the buckets in the level?”
A day of tweaking the strength of some springs on a bucket later and the first version of “Bucket Blast” was born, and we were iterating it and changing what it would be. We also wondered what would happen if the ball could stick to walls; that would become the glue shot. It seems so obvious now that a laser-guided ball that would obliterate anything it passed through, was coated in glue, and could drop bombs to explode in its wake would be great fun. And that’s the name of the game: Dangerous Golf serves up pure, stupid fun at every opportunity.
To really set it off, it had to be fun to hit the ball and pull off ridiculous trick shots. What good are all the physics and stupid game mechanics in the world if I can’t beat all of my friends and top the leaderboard, by pulling off a blind quadruple ricochet off the 4th wall putt, or dropping the ball out of mid-air straight into the hole for a huge “Airstrike” kicker and a re-tee to go again? Base camp was hours of painstaking research hitting golf balls off concrete, carpet, tables, and TV cabinets, as well as measuring bounces, and thinking about reactions and spin. I studied Mathematics at university and I had no idea how involved it was going to be to make a believable, physical ball that was also fun to play with.
Skip forward a little over two years, and I’m writing this two days before Dangerous Golf is set to release; the journey from high concept to game is complete. We have made our “stupid piece of pure entertainment” and had a great time getting there. Dangerous Golf tees off on Xbox One and Windows PC today, and I hope to see you online for some eight-player Party Golf!