Chatty Q&A: HB Studios discusses The Golf Club
by Ozzie Mejia, shacknews.com, Jun 24, 2014 8:00AM PDT
HB Studios has been itching for a good round of golf and have gone head-first into creating a true alternative to EA's long-running PGA/Tiger Woods series of games, now known as The Golf Club. With the promise of procedurally-generated courses, golf fans have found themselves intrigued by this Steam Early Access offering. But when it comes to getting a good accurate game of golf on PC and consoles, the studio is only just beginning.
Shacknews took some time to speak with the developers of The Golf Club. Executive Producer Peter Garcin was happy to answer our questions about the decision to jump into Steam Early Access and about the upcoming console iterations of the game. He was also happy to answer questions from Shacknews' Chatty community, who have also found themselves taking to the course for a round of golf.
Shacknews: What have you been able to add to the most recent update for The Golf Club? What specific issues does the update address?
Peter Garcin: The most recent update focused mostly on bug fixes and performance improvements. We've been updating weekly since launching on Early Access and we've had a number of significant updates throughout the process – including the introduction of the Tours and Tournaments mode and Turn-Based Multiplayer. We're pretty heads-down preparing for console submission at this stage though so all our energy is going into fixing bugs and improving overall stability of the game.
Shacknews: Which bugs have been reported most frequently by Early Access players and what steps are you taking to fix these issues?
Garcin: Early on we had a lot of framerate related issues but we've been making steady progress in that area and most folks seem to be getting good framerates now. We also had a lot of feedback around gameplay tuning of shots and the UI related to how you can shape your shot. It seems like we've also landed at a good spot where this is working well for everyone. The feedback from the community was invaluable in getting the feel of the shots in the game just right.
Shacknews: How do you feel The Golf Club has improved since it first arrived on Steam Early Access?
Garcin: I think it's made pretty big leaps since that first version – like I said we've had a number of pretty big updates along the way, and every week has made significant improvements to the game and the overall experience. Being able to get feedback from actual people playing the game and seeing the content that they're creating rather than it just being us in the studio has been extremely useful.
Shacknews: How are the console versions of the game progressing? Are there any major issues the development is encountering in making the transition from PC to the new consoles?
Garcin: We're really close to submitting these for approval on both consoles – so pretty soon they will be "done" and off to certification and then onto release! Really, the biggest issues are platform-specific optimizations and then ensuring that each platform's unique requirements are being adequately met. The game will be going out to players on consoles as a full release, rather than Early Access, so we've also got to smooth out all the rough edges before it goes out the door.
Shacknews: How do you plan to distribute player-made courses on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One? Is this process more or less than difficult than working with Steam Workshop?
Garcin: It will work exactly the same on console as PC – user created courses will be available in the "Play Round" menu just as they are on Steam. We’re also very hopeful that users will be able to share content between Steam and Console so that all the great content created on each platform will be available to everyone regardless of their home platform – still a few logistical details to work out there – but we remain cautiously optimistic that this will be a reality!
Shacknews: In what ways has Steam Early Access benefited the development process?
Garcin: Having access to an audience of players who are highly engaged with the game and giving it a real run-through in real-world conditions has been invaluable. It helps us not just tune the game based on a useful sample-size, but it lets us hear first-hand from players what game they actually want to be playing, and then it also lets us load-test servers and our procedural generation using actual courses created by players. Looking at it in contrast to the usual process of build an entire game and then ship it out and cross your fingers that you've made the right game – you wonder how you'd ever go back to doing it that way! Getting things into the hands of our players early is definitely something we will want to do whenever possible moving forward.
As mentioned before, Chatty also has a number of avid golf enthusiasts and they were eager to get their questions into Garcin, as well.
Haxim asks: Are you looking to support DirectX 10 hardware in the future?
Garcin: Yes! We are already looking at how we can target non-DX11 hardware and hope to be able to ship this as an update later. The thing is that the game heavily leverages compute shaders to achieve certain features, so we need to port all of that back onto the CPU and that has some impacts on the experience so we need to make sure that works for everyone.
rosewood asks: What are the golf ball options like? As a real-life golfer, balls need to suit different styles of play, so will the game capture this feeling?
Garcin: We have a consistent standard set of equipment including balls for all golfers to keep the playing field level. We didn't want equipment playing a role in the social competition side of the game, so we very strictly stood by the common set of equipment/attributes in the game.
JohnathanDoe asks: Are there plans to add different swing options, since it gets difficult to putt/chip and get a sense for how hard you're swinging?
Garcin: I think in the later versions of the Early Access builds, the swing power has really settled on something that is pretty close to the "sweet spot." It's unfortunately hard for it to meet everyone's different needs but we think it's in a good spot. It's definitely a bit of a learning curve to play a game without a power meter – but we've done a lot of tuning on the swing animations and the backswings – and you really can get a consistent feel to how hard you're swinging and start to master that short game and putting. The putting marker (Left-Stick) is your friend – especially on long putts!
MercFox1 asks: What was the driver behind having the analog stick control a swing speed and direction instead of an actual arm position and swing angle?
Garcin: When we started out we really wanted the game to be strategic and to be about "feel" rather than meters and markers and timing mechanics that we felt were all a bit in need of a refresh. We did originally have a power meter in the game, but after playing without it – didn't miss it – because once you get a feel for the animation and the swing, it was extraneous. So what we've got in the game now is a setup where there's nothing distracting you from your shot – you've got to think about your clubs, your power, and where you're aiming – and then without a meter just focus on the performance of your shot on the stick – just like real life! And to mirror that, at the simplest level, swing "harder" and the ball goes further, swing "softer" and it doesn't. It's simple on the surface, but there's a lot of skill and nuance there – and the players who play strategically and focused are definitely rewarded.
MercFox1 asks: Are there plans for adjustable practice greens? (Where players can adjust speed, slope, wet/dry, pin location, etc.)
Garcin: Right now we don't have those in the plan – but we have spoken about other practice modes like a driving range, etc. – although I'd expect to see those things come as a post-launch update, rather than at release.
MercFox1 asks: What are your favorite player-made courses so far?
Garcin: There are so many actually! We've been blown away by the wide range of courses and the level of care and detail put into all of them so it's really hard to pick favorites. There's this fantastic Haunted Forest course with these dramatic rock walls which is just such a creative use of scale in the course creator to take small rocks and build these huge facades out of them. There's also the other end of the spectrum – wacky courses – including one that is crafted to allow you to shoot the ball 500 yards and have a chance at a hole-in-one. For us, what's exciting about these is the amount of effort and care that users have put into the courses – really amazing to see.
harvord asks: In what ways do you plan to improve the multiplayer?
Garcin: Well, we've already made a lot of improvements including the introduction of a turn-based mode which we think pretty cool and flexible. You can just turn it on and off at will – regardless of what your friends do. It even works against ghosts. We've also made improvements to the wind model in multiplayer so that wind speeds are more consistent for players playing courses at the same time. And we've been continuously improving notifications, messages and the general experience of getting in/out of a game. Adding rivals to your game even mid-course is extremely easy.
harvord asks: What are your plans for stat-tracking and leaderboards?
Garcin: We've already got really elaborate leaderboards that are tallied per course – as well as a global ranking board – and tracked on some crazy number of stats. So you can go into Course Rankings and see how you stack up globally or just against friends in tonnes of different stats. We do have personal stats that aggregate your lifetime stats that are coming soon as well.
MercFox1 asks: How often do you yourselves get a chance to go out and play an actual game of golf?
Garcin: Well, once the weather co-operates there's a number of folks on the team who play really regularly! We've got a couple of great courses right nearby – including a really nice one right on the harbour here in Lunenburg. Right now everyone's pretty occupied trying to get this game out the door, though!
The Golf Club is set to come out on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 soon. Meanwhile, it's available on Steam Early Access and is currently discounted as part of the Steam Summer Sale.