If you're not a golf fan, you may find it boring, and indeed, golf tends to be a far more reserved endeavor than the bombastic pageantry seen in sports like football. But at its best — as in the final round of a major tournament, with only a few strokes separating the contenders — it can be as tense and thrilling as any sport.
Conveying the excitement of golf is an area in which Electronic Arts' Tiger Woods PGA Tour series has struggled for a long time. Although the past couple of entries in the franchise brought the grandeur of The Masters to life, the series as a whole has suffered from lackluster presentation.
Developer EA Tiburon is aware of its previous missteps, and according to lead designer Mike DeVault, everything will change this year with Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14.
In a recent phone interview, DeVault told Polygon that the previously poor presentation wasn't for lack of trying on EA Tiburon's part.
"It's something that we've strived for for several years, and we've taken a couple of swings at it," he explained, "and it never really reached the bar that we set for it." DeVault was quick to note that the developers never believed they got it wrong, per se. "You try something, and you think you're doing it right, and then you learn that there's a better way to do it," he said.
According to DeVault, feedback from fans and the media inspired this year's focus on presentation. EA Tiburon believes it has finally made major strides; DeVault told us, "Looking back at the evolution of our presentation package, this year feels so far superior."
This is the first year that the studio has the licenses to integrate all four major tournaments — The Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship — in the same game. Accordingly, said DeVault, "we kind of knew we had to step it up a little bit" when it came to presentation. He told Polygon that the developers went through footage of golf tournaments to ensure they had in-game camera angles set up the way television broadcasts do. EA Tiburon also implemented the same kinds of graphical overlays you'd see on TV, with relevant statistics updated in real time.
"Tournaments and major tournaments will be a heavy, heavy theme throughout the game," said DeVault. No PGA Tour game has ever featured the Open Championship, also known as the British Open, and DeVault told us of its big yellow scoreboard, which is an important element in providing immersion. "It just kind of sucks you right in," he said, adding that the British Open is "the one [major] that is, to me, the most strikingly different" from the others.
DeVault also said that PGA Tour 14's developers included "a ton of little details you'd see around the course on tournament day," minor items like signage and billboards that nonetheless combine to deliver a cohesive presentation that makes you feel like it's a special round of golf. "It really is going to have a different look and feel this year," DeVault said of tournaments.
That extends to the game's most basic mode of play. In previous years, selecting "play now" or "quick play" from the main menu would start a round of golf on a course of your choosing, but it would feel like a practice round — just you and the course.
DeVault pointed out that the exhibition modes in other sports games, such as those in the Madden NFL, FIFA and NHL series, still deliver the atmosphere and excitement of a regular-season contest. So this year, you'll have the option to select a "quick tournament," which will put you in the final round of a tournament with all the raucous cheering and presentation elements associated with that kind of experience.
"It really is going to have a different look and feel this year"
One of the most thrilling moments in golf is a playoff in a major tournament; the 2012 Masters Tournament ended in one, with Bubba Watson (who shares the cover of PGA Tour 14's Masters Historic Edition with Bobby Jones) winning in sudden death. But the Tiger Woods games to this point haven't included playoffs at all — if a round ended in a tie, the deadlocked players would all be awarded the "victory."
"It's always been a feature that we've wanted to include into the game," said DeVault. But it's no small task, since each golf tournament features unique playoff rules.
"Some of these features that seem pretty tame on the surface end up being pretty intricate to implement."
It took a lot of work to figure out the particulars of implementing playoffs; EA Tiburon had to overcome challenges like the method of displaying the other golfers playing against you. (The game features a limited number of playable licensed golfers, but in-game leaderboards list many other non-licensed golfers in name only.)
In a sense, said DeVault, adding playoffs "[required] its own mini-game mode." But since tournaments are "one of the driving forces" of development on PGA Tour 14, the studio did its best to "faithfully reproduce" the various playoff formats for the majors.
"We're looking to add drama," said DeVault.