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7 questions for Desert Golfing creator Justin Smith

Independent game developer Justin Smith has a knack for creating games that have a simple aesthetic, but with mechanics that make you go "hmmmm."

Kris Graft, Contributor

September 26, 2014

4 Min Read

Independent game developer Justin Smith has a knack for creating games that have a simple aesthetic, but with mechanics that make you go "hmmmm." (Apologies for the C&C Music Factory reference.) Whether it's games like No Brakes Valet, Enviro-Bear 2010 or most recently his iOS and Android game Desert Golfing, Smith's games are more than simply charming - they often exhibit his conscious effort in identifying conventional video game designs, and his willingness to turn them upside down, sideways, backwards, and inside out. I recently asked Smith seven questions about Desert Golfing over email.

Can you give me a little background on how you ended up making a game about golfing in the desert?

JS: It started with this article: Art movements in video games: Justwalkingism Scroll down to the screenshot of Journey. Notice the similarity with the Desert Golfing color palette. I love the concept of Justwalkingism. I love that it exists. But those games do kind of bore me. I know it's unfashionable to admit it. Wouldn't it be great if you had more of an immediate challenge. How about golf! Those beautiful landscapes are just begging to be turned into fancy country clubs. 3D golf sucks though. There's too many variables, and trying to accurately gauge distance on a screen is headache-inducing. I'll make up any excuse to not do 3D. So that's about it. I thought more people would compare it to Desert Bus. I should have had it end in Las Vegas.

It seems like game developers in particular are really intrigued by this game (just judging from what I see on Twitter, there's a lot of discussion happening about this game). Do you notice that? If so, can you speculate as to why that is?

Because most of my Twitter followers are other game developers? Actually, I've noticed that with my other games too, particularly Enviro-Bear. Game developers probably have more refined tastes than the general public.

Can you explain a bit more about what exactly is procedurally-generated in Desert Golfing, and how it all works? I saw some folks trying to figure this out, and I figure you might know the answer, possibly possibly.

Well I can't give away all the secrets. Every hole is definitely procedurally generated. I never manually place a vertex. There is a certain amount of orchestration though, where I tweak the high-level parameters to the algorithm for stretches. The most obvious being a long flat section, and all the holes number 2000+ are noticeably trickier. Had I known the level of interest in the game, I would have put more thought into orchestrating the "ending." Procedural generation is a survival technique. How many golf holes could I design by hand before going loco? Not many. There were a few conspiracy theories on Twitter when people first noticed that the palette subtly changes, making inferences about the difficulty curve based on RGB values. I cannot confirm or deny such things at this time.

Why are you so dang mysterious? Is watching people try to figure you and your games out kind of...a game to you?

It's not just a game to me, it's a game to everyone. The mystery makes it fun. Isn't that why we're here?

I've heard this described as a "trollcore" game disguised as a "normcore" game. Is that what you were going for?

Bennett Foddy is who said that. I think he was disappointed that Desert Golfing was an incomplete artistic statement to him. I certainly don't consider myself to be trolling.

Was this really inspired by Journey? The more I think about it, the more I just don't know if you're f'real.

It's true that Journey was the spark of inspiration. I wasn't thinking "Journey Journey Journey" the whole time I was developing though.

Last thing, then I'll let you go -- the persistence of this game and the fact that you just basically turn on the game with no loading or anything makes it kind of feel like a golf course is living on your phone, waiting for you to return. And the way that you are "stuck" with past performance, with no real way to re-do is also interesting. Why did you go with this approach, versus the more standard framework of retrying sections of a game in smaller intervals?

I wanted people to feel like they were on a journey. It's the Desert Bus influence I guess. It also appeals to my refined sense of laziness. I'm actually really happy about the reaction to the no menu, no restarts thing. I wasn't sure it was going to fly, but most people seem to dig it. It also means that you can make progress in the game if you have literally 10 seconds to spare. It feels really good to have a game with such an affinity to its platform.

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