This week, EA Sports officially announced its next big golfing video game, EA SPORTS PGA TOUR, set to release next spring in 2015. I recently got a chance to chat with Brent Nielson, the executive producer of EA SPORTS PGA TOUR as he prepared for the game’s debut and this year’s E3 Expo. We discussed the decision behind including both real-world PGA TOUR courses and fantasy courses in the game, as well as what benefits the use of the Frostbite 3 development engine provides for the franchise.
PH: Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. I’m very excited about EA SPORTS PGA TOUR.
BN: It’s exciting to be able to talk about it after having to keep quiet about what we’ve been working on, and finally being able to share it with the rest of the world.
PH: So let’s get right to it. First up, what was the biggest factor for you and your team when deciding to go with the Frostbite 3 engine for EA SPORTS PGA TOUR?
BN: When we knew that we were going to be making the jump to the next generation consoles, we asked ourselves, ‘What does golf look like on a next gen console?’ – everything from the features to the way it’s rendered. So we started looking at which engine we should use. As we looked into Frostbite 3, which is an engine based on rendering beautiful environments, we started digging a little bit deeper.
As you know, sports like hockey and basketball are mostly a fixed environment. Football and soccer are fixed stadium environments. Golf is more of an ‘open world’ environment, where the environment is the experience, and Frostbite as an engine handles that amazingly well. The more we dug into it, the more it made sense for golf to use the Frostbite 3 engine. What it meant for us was that we are now able to streamline the environment, which was literally a game changer for us. In the last-generation game, we had to load each hole individually, which meant that after you finished every hole, you would have to wait 30-45 seconds for the next hole to load. Going to Frostbite 3 meant that we would save 30-45 seconds per a hole and we would immediately shave 15-20 minutes off your rounds.
PD: Pace of play solved.
BN: Exactly. The other thing it allowed us to do is that you can now hit the ball anywhere on the course, and if it’s in play on a real course, it will be in play in our game. Before, you would hit the hole off the beacon path and we would say that was out of bounds. We would put you back on a tee or a drop spot. Now, you can hit onto another fairway and if it’s in play, you can play it there. With respect to fantasy courses, as you’ve seen in our trailer, we built a course based on one of our Battlefield maps from Battlefield 4. Streamlining among the fantasy courses will give you a sandbox to explore each course and discover the most direct route to the greens, that may not be the obvious path.
PH: That’s pretty awesome. I was excited to see the fantasy courses available. Does your team have a count of how many fantasy golf courses will be in the game?
BN: We don’t yet, though it’s very early for us because we’re not releasing until spring of 2015. In the upcoming months, we’ll know a lot more details about a final list of authentic courses and fantasy courses. So stay tuned. We’ll have that information as we move along.
PH: So when you were developing this game, did you think about some of the competition out there such as Mario Golf: World Tour? Or what were you and your team thinking about as you developed EA SPORTS PGA TOUR?
BN: What I will say about competition is that it inevitably pushes you to raise your quality bar. I’ve always liked having competition. But as far as the design and where we wanted to take the direction of the game, we looked at our history. Our golf product has been most successful both critically and commercially when we’ve really hit both the core golf fan and the casual fan. Back in the PS2 and first X Box days, we had core elements such as the analog stick, which made for a more authentic golf swing, and we also had online tournaments. But then we also had managed courses and characters, which kept the game light-hearted and appealed to both audiences.
Then with the last generation of consoles, the 360 and PS3, it became a more core golf game for them, and the Wii was the more causal golf gaming system. So we want to bring some of that lightheartedness back. Even though the core golf gamers have an expectation of the physics and authenticity of championship golf courses, they also like to have fun with the other elements of a video game, like fantasy courses. It’s not about making two games for two different audiences. It’s about having a fun, unique experience where you can call up one of your friends and have some fun with it.
PH: I can relate to that. Recently, we’ve launched a few alternative approaches to golf such as the 15-inch-hole and footgolf at some of our locations, is there a possibility that we could see footgolf or bigger holes in the game or as a downloadable add-on in the future?
BN: Nothing that I can specifically talk to right now, but in a couple of months I’ll be able to share more details. What I can share is that you will have a lot of different ways to play the fantasy golf courses.
PH: What would you say to the Tiger Woods fans that followed the franchise when he was your cover athlete and working with EA Sports?
BN: What I would say to them is that everything that they would expect from a Tiger Woods game and from an EA Sports golf game in terms of visually-centered graphics, authentic physics, and great golf game play is absolutely going to be here. And they will have an opportunity to explore it in a fun and unique way. I knew that people would be excited about the shots in the trailer, which were all taken in game from the engine. I’m excited about all the time we have left in development and where we are going to take the game.
PH: Any predictions for the U.S. Open?
BN: You know, I’m a left-handed golfer myself, so something about me wants to see Lefty (Phil Mickelson) complete his career grand slam. I don’t know if it’s a prediction, but I think I’ll be rooting for him. Jordan Spieth looks like he’s the real deal too. Just how he competed at the Masters. So I think he’ll be heard from as well. I’ll probably be going for those two guys.
PH: I appreciate the interview. Once again I’m excited about this game and look forward to what’s to come in the next few months with EA SPORTS PGA TOUR.
BN: Right on. Thanks for the time.