DEV DIARY - PROCESS IS THE KEY
The blizzard that blasted New York and Boston also made its way up to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia this week. With a population of under 3,000, I don’t think you heard about it as much on the news, probably. It wasn’t really that big of a deal. Canadians are used to this kind of thing and we only lost a couple of people on Tuesday, which means that our velocity towards the next update target didn’t really take a hit.
As I said last week, the majority of the team is pushing full steam ahead with the forthcoming Season Mode. Jordan is ironing out last minute design details and Josh is putting his UX knowledge to good use laying out all the new screens that are needed for the mode. We’ve also been following the forums, as usual, and there’s been a lot of discussion on there about how we prioritise what order to add features, including why haven’t we started work on a multiplayer lobbied system when people are asking for it, so I thought I’d address that this week.
Right from the outset we have had a prioritised list of everything we ultimately want to do. For example, this list does include a multi-player lobby system. This prioritisation took into account what game we could make with the budget (time and financial) that we had and also our own, creative values for what we wanted from a golf game.
- We had to have a game with tight, polished gameplay controls that was of a high graphical quality – without that there wouldn’t be a game that could grow a following.
- We wanted no loading times between holes and minimal, if any, loading time into a course.
- We wanted procedurally generated courses of a high quality that could be generated with a few button presses and minimal loading / processing time and shared with your friends.
- We wanted a strong social aspect where you see and attempt to beat your friends’ achievements, playing against ghost or live balls in the process plus the aforementioned course sharing, Tournaments and Tours.
- We needed a UI that was simple, aesthetically pleasing and gave you the ability to find the content created by other users quickly and easily.
- We wanted to hit all 3 high-end platforms – PS4, Xbox One and PC – with exactly the same gameplay and features.
The things above basically took up the whole budget, and more, up until release and you will probably note that the Greg Norman Course Creator was not in our original mission. It became apparent during development that the course generator was an incredible piece of tech and we wanted to extend it even further to enable users to have pretty much full control over everything that the CPU automated in the procedural generation process. (In turn files sizes have progressively grown but we have done a ton of work on this to try to get back to the minimal course loading times goal for the next update.)
It is important to state that our vision for multiplayer, as a team, was Asynchronous multiplayer and this was to address a fundamental problem that there has been with golf multiplayer over the years – waiting around for your opponent to take a shot. Sitting there as your opponent chops and changes through the menus and the options, looks at the overhead view, the side view, checks the wind, changes clubs, changes loft, lines things up, performs some practice backswings, changes their club again, adds some fade, practices some more and then plays their shot didn’t seem fun. In fact, it was tedious. It was a conscious decision on our part to create a new kind of online experience that was different from the traditional lobby systems. The ghost / live ball system means no waiting around, you can still see how your opponent did / is doing on a hole, have an exciting and challenging competition yet be done in half an hour.
This was backed up by our experience of the development and user participation in real-time, lobby-based multiplayer. We have built a lot of sports games, over 40, including golf games, and, thus, have experience in the enormous chunk of budget that lobby based real-time multiplayer takes, especially on console, and, also, we have been able to see the user participation figures in real-time, lobby-based multiplayer. It is extremely low as a percentage of the overall user base. Usually low single figures. We believed, and still believe, that our method of ghost ball / live ball action would entice many more people to enjoy the multiplayer experience. In fact, we wanted every TGC member who is connected to the internet to be involved in multiplayer action through our system. Seeing this come to fruition is thoroughly gratifying and has brought a lot of very positive feedback from people who wouldn’t ordinarily play multiplayer.
Admittedly, we succumbed slightly when we later added turn-based asynchronous multiplayer to this feature to enable users to emulate the real-time multiplayer but only because it was a very quick and low cost addition. (We have done a little work to optimise it some more recently for those that do use it. The length of time it takes to upload their shot, download it to your game and then view it is much better in the next patch.) However, it definitely wasn’t part of our original vision.
Anyway, at full release we had a very solid foundation of a game, if we didn’t have that we’d have lost our community immediately, and we priced the game accordingly. At that point we could all play the game, us at HB, the community, reviewers, publishers, distributors, etc. and we could see what people were asking for, what they thought was lacking and what would make big difference. If you look at the build that was used for closed beta on PC you’ll see how much feedback we’ve taken onboard and how we’ve improved the game over the last 11 months. The amount of scorecards being logged, time spent in the course creator and retention rate is quite astounding. There are a lot of people that have put in hundreds of hours in The Golf Club which you don’t see in many games. We have to be doing something right, I guess?
We made a decision prior to the original full release that we wanted to have regular updates of the game, post release. For each update we look at our own, prioritised list (quite often reordered due to feedback), look at the key requests from the exiting community, look at the time and resources we have and pull in what we can do. The key goal each time is to bring in more players to the TGC community at the same time as enhancing the experience for the existing players. Lobbied real-time multiplayer has been mentioned a fair amount on the forum and social media, as has out of bounds, drops, new themes (tropical anyone?), more game types and a single player mode, but the latter outweighs the others by about 5 to 1 in requests or feedback via email, reviews and face to face at shows.
There probably will be a real-time, lobby-based multiplayer system implemented at some point in the future because it is a tangible thing to bolt on and will, at some point, be a logical addition but it won’t be in either of the next two updates (February-ish, May-ish). However, the timing of that potential implementation further down the line depends on what, from our original prioritisation list and subsequent user feedback, we deem is the most valuable to the course of the game with the budget available. For example, implementing it at this point would swallow the whole budget from now until April which would mean no more themes, no out of bounds, no drops, no single player experience, no optimisation and none of the other items we are adding to the game. In our opinion it isn’t more important than those features especially as there is a valid and well received multiplayer system already there. This doesn’t mean we’re not listening to you. We are and we’ve all got our eye on the same destination. We’re just choosing our route carefully and in a way that will grow the community at a steady rate.