Thursday, June 21, 2007

Total Pro Golf 2: Play Guide

I thought I would write up a short guide to gameplay in Total Pro Golf 2. Please note that this isn't intended to be an inclusive play guide, because there are many different choices you can make in the game. I'm just going to discuss how I play the game--hopefully, if you're already playing the game, it will be of some use, and if you're not playing yet, I hope the guide convinces you to give it a try.

One note: even with the "large" option selected in Blogger, these screenshots are a little small in the post. Just click on any of them to see them as a larger size.

Let's get started. At the opening menu, choose "Start New Career." That will take you to the Career Setup Screen, which looks like this:

There are a few important choices to make on this screen. First, you choose whether to use the tri-click control method (with the power meter) or go with the one-click "sim" style.

To get something similar to the experience I wrote about in my impressions post, choose one-click. Tri-click is fun, but it's much more of an arcade experience (and, if you've ever played a golf game, it's an experience you've probably already had). With one-click, shot outcomes depend on your player ratings, which is the heart of the game.

Finally, you can change the names of the tours if you like. You'll also notice that European Tours are also included in the game, which is the first time I've ever seen that in a golf game.

The next screen gives you the ability to modify sponsor information (in other words, you can add "real world" sponsors). That's self-explanatory, so let's move along to the next screen, which is the "Golfer Population" screen. Here's where you determine the nationalities of the players on your tour (on a percentage basis by country--note that you can do this separately for both the American and European tours). Again, it's pretty simple, so let's keep moving.

This screen is important. It's the Golfer Creation screen, and let's walk through the options, because they'll have a significant impact on your gaming experience.

After entering your name, age and starting tour, you'll see a box on the left that says "check this box if you want your golfer's potential ratings to be automatically determined when your golfer is created."

If you let the game determine your potential ratings in each skill category, your potential will be hidden. If you don't, you'll have a pool of skill points to allocate across the different skill categories, but you'll know, right from the beginning of your career, your highest potential ratings in each skill.

That's no fun. Let's wade in to the great unkown and let the game determine our potential.

Also, there's a category called "Ratings Base," and it's also important. You can choose from four options: Rookie, Average, Pro, or Superstar. If you choose Rookie, your initial ratings will 57 or 58 in all skill categories. Choose Superstar, and they'll be 61 or 62. Your potential rating can't dip below your initial rating, so choosing Superstar will ensure that the floor for your potential is a little higher. I usually choose Average, which is what I've done in the screenshot above.

When you've finished with your selections, click on "Save Golfer" at the bottom of the screen. When you do, you'll see a "Finish" box appear at the bottom-right of the screen. Click on it and you'll be taken to a screen where you can either load your golfer or go to the Commissioner's office.

Commissioner's office won't be discussed in this post, except to say that if you want to change from tri-click to one-click or vice versa, you can do it here.

Load your newly-created golfer. You'll see a help screen that reminds you to do two things before you start your career:

1. Go to the Pro Shop (in the row of options on the left of the screen) and buy clubs/balls. Equipment degrades over time, so you'll be buying clubs/balls two or three times a year. I like Terisco Golf--they're the bottom choice in the manufacturer list, so they're easy to scroll to, and their quality for both clubs and balls is very high.
2. Go to the Staff screen and select both a coach and a caddie. Select the "View Avail." to see a list of coaches/caddies. You can sort by any column, which is very convenient, because quite a few coaches won't work with a scrub like you, and the ones that will are seriously deficient in at least one or two categories.

You'll notice that the coaches are rated in five categories (long game, short game, putting, mechanics, mental), but there are ten categories of ratings for your player (power, woods, long irons, short irons, wedges, putting, recovery, mechanics, mental, consistency). I think that's a great bit of design, because a one-to-one skill mapping would far too easy to use.

Once you've bought clubs and hired your staff, you'll be in your home office, which looks like this:

As an aside, something else I really like about this game is that it doesn't have a dozen levels of deeply nested menus. In the office, you click on icons that represent different functions, and they're logical--e-mail (computer screen), weekly schedule (calendar), trophy case (duh--trophy case), sponsors (clothing in closet), club info (golf clubs), ball info (balls), and ratings info (click on your player name).

It all make sense, and it's far easier than going through menu after menu. Oh, and as a bonus, when you've reached certain career thresholds (total winnings, etc.), your office will automatically upgrade, which is just one of many nice touches in this game.

One other note about the home office screen. In the bottom right-hand corner, notice the "Money Available." You start out with $50,000, and if you go bust, your career is over. Good luck pumping gas if you can't manage that bankroll successfully.

Click on the computer screen and let's check e-mail. You'll find a message from the Tour Commissioner as well as some tips on playing the game. Once you're done, click on the calendar and let's go to the Weekly Schedule screen.

The pop-up screen is your weekly schedule. If there's a tournament scheduled, you'll see it listed on Thursday--Sunday. Since it's the beginning of the year, the tournaments haven't started on the minor tour yet.

It looks easy, doesn't it? Well, the devil is in the details--it is easy to use, but it's not easy excel.

Here are your options for each day (in order of how they appear on the screen): rest, practice long game, practice short game, or play a practice round. Each day you practice or play in a tournament, your energy will go down, and if you get into the low 80's and below, your fatigue will start to affect your play.

Practicing (no matter how) costs you 1 point of energy per day. Resting for one day restores 2 points, while resting for two days will restore 5 (an extra point because of the effect of consecutive rest days). The schedule I usually follow when I'm practicing all week is to practice the long game for two days, the short game for three days, and then rest on Saturday and Sunday. If I started out with 100 energy, I'll be back at that level after Sunday.

Why don't I have practice rounds in my schedule? Practice rounds improve all your skills instead of focusing on just one, but the skill increases are much smaller. I don't usually play practice rounds, because I can sim several months of dedicated practice in the time I can manually play one round.

This isn't intended as a one-season game. You won't see ratings improvements in your golfer after a week of practice. And it could easily take you a decade to max out all your golfer's skill ratings--not only do you have to squeeze in practice while earning enough money in tournaments to keep your tour card, but you also have to keep a close eye on your coach and hire a new one if they're weak in categories you need to improve. Coach's ratings also change slightly over time (something else I really like), so the coach you hired in January may not be as good in July.

Plus, your ratings can decrease over time if you don't practice them. Don't think you can get your power skill up to 85, then work on putting seven days a week. Sorry. Your skills will also degrade if all you do is play in tournaments.

So it's a fine balance between tournament play and practice time. It seems so simple at first, but the more you play, the more you realize that if you want to be one of the best golfers on the pro tour, you can't play in every tournament (or even most of them). You need to be working on your game and selecting tournaments carefully.

Then there's money. You need to play tournaments to increase your budget, but unless you get better ratings (which you do by practicing), you won't win very much.

Like I said, it winds up being a fairly complex balance to manage all these different elements. What I did in my current career was practice my entire first season (there's a "Sim Season" option that will sim from your current point to the end of the year). When you're on the minor tours, your expense rate isn't nearly as high as it is on the top tours. I simmed a full season (changing coaches in mid-stream to compensate for the first coach's weaknesses) and didn't start playing tournaments until year two.

I had another career, though, where that blew up in my face. Even after accepting some low-dollar sponsorship offers to increase my remaining cash, I trained too long and started playing too late--I didn't make enough cuts and wound up going bust.

So no matter your strategy, there's risk--another nice design feature of this game.

Don't ignore sponsorships while you're on the minor tours, by the way. They'll arrive via e-mail, and given the low burn rate of playing on the scrub tour, even ten or fifteen thousand dollars a year could really help out your cash flow.

Last topic: playing a round.

Gee, if all I'm doing is selecting a club and a target, that doesn't need any guide, does it?

Well, you'd be surprised.

Let's take a look at the in-round screen:

That little white box in the middle of the screen, by the way, will tell you how far the cursor's current position is away from the hole.

First, let's look at the in-round options (one of the choices on top of the screen):
--Putting Cam. This is enabled by default, and gives you a nice close-up of the screen and the path of a putt. Turn this off, and you won't see a putt, just the outcome. I always leave putting cam on--some of the putts are high drama.
--A.I. Shot Movement. Also enabled by default. Turn this off and you won't see shot paths. I like seeing them (again, quite a bit of drama), so I leave this on.
--Stop Sim For E-mails. This is on by default as well, and will say "you have new mail" when something hits your in-box. Convenient, and I leave it on.
--Show TPG Tips. If you're a new player, I'd recommend leaving this on. You'll get some helpful tips as you play the game.
--Ball Travel Speed. If you don't like how fast the ball travels on shots, you can change the speed here. This is a very, very nice option, and I always choose to slow the ball down one or two notches.

Once you start playing a round, you'll notice two things right away:
--rough, particularly medium and deep rough, have a big effect on distance (and on which clubs you can even use).
--the wind can have a significant effect on distance as well.

In other words, selecting your aiming point is far from automatic. Golf a thinking man's game, after all.

Don't forget the "shot options" icon at the bottom--you can choose to hit a draw or fade, both of which can come in very handy, depending on the path of the fairway.

Also, and this is probably the most important tip I can give you about playing the round, where you place the aiming cursor determines both direction and swing strength. In other words, if you were a hundred yards from the green, you'd need to aim at a different point if you were hitting from the fairway as opposed to hitting from deep rough. From deep rough, you'd need to aim 30-40 yards beyond the hole to compensate for what the rough will do to the distance of the shot.

There's no automatic effort adjustment, in other words. If you aim for the flagstick from deep rough, the shot will be well short. You must calculate the extra effort required.

Wind? Same thing--you must gauge the effect.

Again, it's a thinking man's game. And it makes playing a round much, much more challenging.

Since the course is rendered in 2D, if you get in the trees, your shot options will change from "normal/over swing/easy swing" to "chip/punch/flop." That helps you "see" that you don't have a clear path to the hole. You'll also see "chip/punch/flop" if you're within about sixty yards of the green (or closer).

All right, we're almost done here. When you reach the green, the shot options change to the three putting choices: normal, aggressive, or safe.

It may not seem like those choices translate into useful decisions, but here's how I use them. On rainy days, I'll use the aggressive choice more often, and particularly on putts inside ten feet. If the two players in my group land near me on the green, and they're both long/short with their putt, I'll use choose to adjust the putt based on their outcomes (assuming the A.I. would do the same with my putt).

I mentioned in the impressions post that I thought wedge play (and chipping) were more inaccurate than they should be. Gary dropped me an e-mail and said he was looking into it, and I tried out a new patch yesterday that improved wedge accuracy by about 20%. He's still tweaking it, but the issue is being addressed.

So when do I play out rounds instead of simming them? In terms of playing rounds during tournaments, here's what I do: I only play out the fourth round of a tournament, and only if I'm within five or six shots of the lead. I'll also play out the last round of Q-school if I'm trying to qualify for the top pro tour.

Playing the last round when you're near the lead is very dramatic, particularly with the updating leaderboard and roars from around the course (you'll only see this feature if you're in the top 30). Plus there's no "instant win" from simming the round and winding up in first--you have to earn it.

So there you go. That should get you started on your career. It's a terrific game, and it has absolutely nailed the "just five more minutes" that makes it so hard to stop playing.

Here's the site for the game: Wolverine Games.

Oh, and a note about courses. There are an absolute ton of excellent courses (over fifty in total) at the TPG community site here. Just download the course, unzip into your main TPG2 directory, and it should be automatic from there. What you'll wind up with is a course file with a .CRS extension in the "TPG2/Courses" directory, and all other files in the zip will be in a sub-folder that matches the course name in the .CRS file.

And if that's clear as mud, just look in your directory structure--you'll see how it works with the stock courses.

One final note: once you download new courses, there's an outstanding feature that helps you put them into the tournament schedule with a minimum of fuss. Just go into the Commissioner's office and select the "Edit Schedule" option. You'll be taken to a screen with the full year's schedule for the tour you're editing. In the bottom-right of that screen, you'll see a "Random" button. That randomly assigns all the courses you have in the TPG2/Courses directory to tournament events. That's excellent, but after doing that you can still assign specific courses to specific events (which I use to assign specific courses to the four majors).

Plus, and this is just a random data point that I forgot to include elsewhere, the annual schedule includes both the Presidents Cup and the Ryder Cup.

That's it. Have fun.

Site Meter