Back to the Future!
Ahead of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14’s release on March 26th in North America and March 28th elsewhere, we caught up with Executive Producer Brent Nielsen to about what’s changed this year, what he thinks could work for the franchise with the next generation approaching, and what his dream Legends matchup is.
CLICK: Just to start things off, why is Legends of the Majors such a focal point of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14?
Brent Nielsen (BN): Well it kind of combines two of the biggest additions that we’ve got to the game. One being the fact that we got eight, well, nine if you include Tiger as a modern day legend, but eight of some of the greatest legends of the game of all time. And the fact that we have, for the first time in the history of our franchise, all four of the major championship licenses and everything that goes along with those. We didn’t just want to incorporate these majors into the career mode and that be the end of it.
We wanted to do something special around that and we thought, what better tribute than recreating and reliving some of the greatest moments in major championship history and then going out and licensing some of the golfers that were a part of that great history. We wanted to bring them together in a way that allows you to be transported through time and feel what it was like to play through different eras of golf. That was a major undertaking for us this year. We also didn’t want it to just be a visual treatment or the way we presented the game was different. We wanted it to feel and play differently as well. So it was a pretty big undertaking to add all of the different real equipment and clubs for each of the different eras, and then work on tuning the physics to be different based on the era you’re in and the clubs that you’re using at the time as well.
CLICK: And how will these various eras affect players and the way they approach each shot?
BN: So going back to the equipment that was used and the way those physics tied into how players would approach those shots. So let’s say you’re playing in the late 1800s, early 1900s and even more into the 70s and 80s the ball trajectory, especially early on, was a lot lower and they rely a lot more on the bounce and the roll. Versus modern technology in today’s game where players can hit a lot further, but the trajectory is a lot higher with a bit of a softer landing…The courses also didn’t play as long back then, so you could do more of a roll the ball up on the green versus being able to do those longer shots and having it land softer. And then courses lengthened and stretched out…
One of the new features that we added this year builds onto the total swing control, that was a big success and well received for us last year, is the addition of swing styles. What that means is not only can you can basically choose do you want to be a power control, a controlled golfer, a draw or a fade golfer, have a high, medium or low trajectory golfer, and then right or left handed. And so in addition to being able to create a golfer and set up their swing styles, you can then play to your strengths where it’s easier to execute shots if you’re a draw golfer and you’re hitting a draw shot, it’ll be a little more forgiving to execute that shot. We’ve now matched those up with all of the real players, the licensed players in the game as well as the legends, so they will play based on what their actual style of play is in real life.
CLICK: How did you go about doing the research in terms of how each era felt and how shots played?
BN: We certainly did a lot of research online to be able to come up with some of the greatest moments in Majors history, we looked at the courses we had licensed and the new courses, obviously the Masters is hosted at Augusta National every year…but between the other three we had a lot of courses that gave us a lot of opportunities to bring this history in. We spent a lot of time, our artists went back and researched what was the clothing of the day, our designers researched what equipment they used. We also brought in golf historians to work with us on this to make sure that we’re getting the accuracy when it comes to reflecting these eras.
Another thing that we did this year is we completely built from scratch the original 1934 Augusta National course when it was first built and that we had members from Augusta National as well as some golf historians because nowadays we go and scan the course, but obviously we can’t go back in time to scan that course so we worked off blueprints, we worked off of aerial photography, used historians, and recreated the course back when it was initially designed and initially built. Augusta National has really changed over the years; they’ve really lengthened it, a lot of the trees have really grown in, so when you go back and play ’34 Augusta National, it’s like you’re playing a brand new course for the first time.
CLICK: One of the focal points of the Tiger Woods franchise is the online multiplayer, but previous versions have found themselves victim to players using modded controllers who can achieve ridiculous scores. How is this being counteracted?
BN: We got a lot of hardcore players that have played the franchise for years - even introducing a new swing mechanic into the game, it gave them even more tools to create different shots and they were still able to get their scores down and have incredible…you know like people winning tournaments with 20, 25 under par. So, one of the things we knew this year, based on feedback from the community – that was a lot of the gameplay improvements and enhancements we’ve made were based off of community feedback – but we’ve also added a difficulty mode that we call Simulation difficulty.
We do a number of things to make the game a lot harder. A couple of examples…We introduced the strike meter last year where you could set the crosshairs on the ball, select whether you wanted to shoot under it if you’re digging out of a bad lie, or to hit it on the top half of the ball to keep it under the trees, this year we’ve added left and right. Well, when you’re setting up those crosshairs, it stays there on the easier difficulty levels, on the harder difficulty levels you have to hold it in place with the Right Analogue Stick and then execute the shot with the Left one. On the simulation difficulty, the crosshairs actually fade out so not only do you have to hold it in place, it’s disappearing straight after, and you have to strike the ball in exactly the right spot. There’s also the feature in the game where you can zoom out, and be able to see where you’re going to land the ball, what’s the contour of the green, and can take into account all those factors. Well, we’ve removed that element from the Simulation difficulty, so you can only see like a real golfer would from where you’re standing. We also take out the wind displays. Now all you see is kind of an arrow pointing in the direction. Because these guys could figure out based on a 5, 10, 15, 20 mph wind how far they need to alter their shot. Well now they’re not going to have that information. They’re going to have to go on how much the wind arrow is moving to judge how wind will affect the shot.
And then there’s a few other things like turning off the green grid and things like that. We actually brought some of the best players from the community in when we were developing the game to test out this new difficulty mode, and after playing for a few days the scores that these guys were winning with was two or three under par was a great score. And these were the best players in the community. We feel like the simulation difficulty is going to give even the best players in the Tiger Woods franchise a real test.
CLICK: We’re finally hearing about the next-gen of systems with more graphical and processing power, so what does that lend the Tiger Woods franchise then?
BN: So…not much I can really talk about as far as the next-gen consoles. We just saw, as everyone else did, what Sony’s got cooking up. So don’t really have much to talk about. But going off what you said, being able to push graphics, with more processing power being able to do more things physics related. There’s some interesting ideas I think around the controller. And the big thing that stood out for me is giving us the tools – and we’re already doing it with the online enhancements we’ve made with the game this year in Country Clubs and our Connected Tournaments – to probably push the social envelope of the game even more with the tools that it looks like we’re going to be getting with the new system. So the future looks bright.
CLICK: Taking advantage of the Legends aspect, what’s your dream matchup that you’ve been living out?
BN: I would have to say probably, my favourite one and my dream matchup - it was the first one I wanted to try - is Tiger from the 2000s when he was really in his prime against 70s era Jack Nicklaus. You’ve got Jack, with 18 Major championship wins, the most of all time, and Tiger chasing him at 14. That was the one that really stuck out for me. It’s like, how would both these guys in their prime using the same equipment, whether it’s modern technology or the equipment from back in the 70s, 80s. So that’s probably the one for me that was the coolest to try out.