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A big name like Nicklaus is a gate-crasher in video game golf

Bartered deals helped bring Jack Nicklaus Perfect Golf to life

Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

"We're not really a game company," says Andrew Jones, "we're a golf company." It sounds like the usual suspender-popping elevator pitch new (and small) players in a market bestow upon themselves, but Perfect Parallel is, genuinely, a golf services company. Their experience is in making tools used by top broadcasters airing major tournaments, and by multimillion-dollar real estate ventures planning golf courses and selling the houses around them.

It just so happens Perfect Parallel's tool set can make a respectable golf video game, too, one with a heavy course-creation appeal. That's how we ended up with Jack Nicklaus Perfect Golf for Windows PC at the beginning of last month, a strangely low-key launch (currently on Steam) for a sports title with such a big name attached to it.

A version for Xbox One is expected "definitely by the end of the year," said Jones, the president and chief operating officer for Perfect Parallel. PlayStation 4 is hoped for, too, but still in the discussion phase. This weekend, just in time for The Memorial, the game added Muirfield Village, the club and course Nicklaus founded and designed almost 50 years ago, to the game.

"Every deal we've done over the past two years has been a bartering deal," said Jones. "The initial deal with Nicklaus was a bartering deal, our initial deal with the PGA was a bartering deal. So we've managed to acquire a lot of stuff that would cost us an absolute fortune otherwise."

"We're not really a game company."

Other real-life courses are on the way to Jack Nicklaus Perfect Golf later in the year, Jones said, also through some combination of connections or a prior relationship. For example, after 112 years, golf is an Olympic sport again. Perfect Parallel has rendered the Rio 2016 course (Campo Olimpico de Golfe) for its broadcast partners, which involves things such as hole flybys and replays. Thanks to that, they have it ready for Perfect Golf, and expect to have it included in the game later this year. Royal Troon, scene of this year's British Open, is also already built and awaiting approval. Perfect Golf hopes to have it available in the game by the time that event tees off in July.

nicklaus golf inset

Jones said that, if at any point any PGA Tour stop elects to opt in to Jack Nicklaus Perfect Golf, he and his comrades are ready to go at a moment's notice. They've already rendered these courses because they had to do so in the other work they do, whether it was for planning and management purposes or for a broadcast.

Yet while any game with such a heavy user-generated-content side is going to invite knockoffs and inspired representations of real-life venues, Perfect Parallel has to tread lightly in what it offers among its fictitious courses, because a fig-leafed ringer version of someone's links could alienate that club from video games for good.

As sincere and professional as Perfect Parallel have been, Jones acknowledges the gate-crashing aspect of his studio's video game. They've managed to slip in to a very private event gated by high licensing and development costs and leave with hors d'ouevres stuffed in their pants pockets. Jack Nicklaus Perfect Golf's distinctions from competitors The Golf Club and Rory McIlroy PGA Tour are also a little more subtle, or seen over something more long term, such as building a course or learning how to properly play a fast green according to the game's demanding physics.

"There's only one swing animation in it," Jones readily admits, and it wasn't motion-captured. There's no career mode and no announcers, either. While Jones is very proud of the game's ball-rolling physics, he acknowledges that the game lacks 3D grass, as it would deliver too much of a performance hit. "We know it's something we need to add, but we won't until we find something that really looks good and isn't too much of a performance hog.

Something called the MOP, or Method-of-Play editor, allows players to construct 18-hole outings according to all of the scoring methods of social and professional golf, $5 Nassau to modified Stableford. Perfect Parallel is hoping that kind of variety, absent a career mode, can provide a substantial enough lure once a golf fan finds their game, knowing that they won't encounter something as formal or rigid as Rory McIlroy PGA Tour when they first plug in.

"There's no lipstick on the pig, but you've got a really good game of golf, and ours is the first game that has implemented the full drop rules of golf," Jones said, the shrug almost apparent in his tone.

Other golf video games have streamlined these rules as they can be difficult to code and, ideally, are rarely used. In Jack Nicklaus Perfect Golf, however, with the course design so fundamentally a part of the overall game, hazards can be sectioned off so that one part can be considered a lateral hazard and another part is a full-on water hazard, with the applicable rule enforced wherever the ball lands.

Still, that's not the kind of bullet-point marketing that golf fans are looking for in a video game, and Jones knows. "We wanted to build a game that has some longevity to it," he said. "Because we're not in the gaming industry, our goal is not to build a game, release it, come back to the game later and do version two. That's because we have all of this other work." The continuing, iterative work on Perfect Golf will still go into the original version.

That's partly because, even if Perfect Golf goes nowhere, its components — licensed by Sky 1, by Nicklaus Design and others  — provide enough traction to keep Perfect Parallel in the game.

Roster File is Polygon's column on the intersection of sports and video games.

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