Friday, September 15, 2006

Total Pro Golf Impressions

I've been playing quite a bit of Total Pro Golf, Gary Gorski's new simulation, but I hadn't put up impressions because I was waiting for the final patch to be released. Now that it has, let me just say this: this is a breath of fresh air from the grinding text-sims that we've seen so much of the last few years. It's colorful, it's interesting, and I think the game has a very promising future.

The concept is simple (as most sports games are): you create a new player, put him on the Nationwide Tour, and try to qualify for the PGA Tour. You can even play on the Champions Tour one day.

The game ships without "real" player names, tour names, tournament schedules, etc., due to licensing restrictions, but all of those things are easily moddable, and full PGA player rosters and accurate tournament schedules are already available at the primary community site: There are also 30+ user created courses already available for download, so you can play a full PGA tour schedule with very few repeats of courses.

That's one of the design features I've always emphasized when writing about games: the community wants to help improve your game. Let them. That's what Gary has done, and that's why there are so many high-quality courses already available for download--because the course architect (a critical feature of any golf game) allows an excellent course to be created with a minimum of hassle. TPG isn't moddable to the same degree as Shaun Sullivan's Pure Sim Baseball (which is the apex of user flexibilit), but golf as a subject for a game is naturally conducive to mods because of the infinite number of courses.

This is also not a text-sim. It's a sports role-playing, turn-based strategy game, and the game's graphic layout emphasizes that distinction--it's bright and colorful. The graphic layout is one of the most appealing I've seen in a sports game in a long time, and I play them all, generally, so that's a strong endorsement.

The screenshot you see is from Harbour Town Golf Links, a real course recreated in the Course Architect by "Tiger Fan" (who is unquestionably the premier architect right now, with incredible renditions of Augusta and St. Andrews also available). That's clearly a cherry-picked screenshot--not all the courses are going to look that good--but there are 30+ courses available for download now (in addition to the courses that originally come with the game), and easily 2/3 of them are very, very good.

There are two primary play modes: an off-course mode, where you manage your weekly schedule, plan practice sessions, hire (and fire) coaches and caddies, and buy equipment at the pro shop. You do this from your home office, which will get progressively more luxurious as your career fortunes improve. The interface is simple and cleanly designed, and also very appealing graphically.

The second mode is course mode, where you'll actually be playing rounds (although you're not forced to play every round--you can sim through if you like). TPG offers a thoughtful and interesting contrast to the Tiger Woods series in that the focus isn't on shotmaking, it's on course management. You manage target area, club selection, and aggressiveness, and your strategy must include both sound course management as well as be appropriate for your golfer's skill level. And skill ratings will change as your golfer trains and ages, and as his skills vary, your strategies must adapt as well.

If you've played golf games in the past, I think you will find that TPG is an interesting and entertaining departure from what you're used to. And anyone who enjoys strategy games in general will find an interesting time here.

Most importantly (to me, at least), this is a new franchise with enormous potential. Exclusive licenses have killed the development of new sports games, and this franchise has real promise--it's a fundamental departure from any other golf game available for the PC, and it's well-designed and thoughtfully executed.

Here's a link to the demo as well as a link to the home page for Wolverine Studios.

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