Dangerous Golf is a sports game for those who prefer something a little more anarchic and aggressive than a slow-paced stroll to the putting green.
The game, which releases today, has you whacking a ball around various indoor courses that are stacked to the rafters with valuable and breakable knickknacks. Your aim is to destroy everything in your path, whether that be champagne magnums or a gas station. Racking up high scores through causing a cascading series of catastrophes is key
If that idea sounds familiar, it’ll make perfect sense once you realize that Dangerous Golf was created by the founders of EA-owned Criterion Games. “This style of game is kind of in our DNA,” explains developer Alex Ward. “It’s a bit like Burnout, it’s a bit like Black….”
Three Fields Entertainment was formed in 2014, and Dangerous Golf is its first title. Gamasutra talked to two of the studio's founders, Ward and Fiona Sperry, to find out more about the tech behind the heavily physics-driven game, and how being part of a smaller company differs from being under the watchful eye of a global publisher.
"We're using our own life savings"
Dangerous Golf is a highly personal project for Three Fields. “We’re using our own life savings,” said Ward. “We had the game the first day we founded the company and we trademarked it within, I think, two days.”
The idea behind the name of the studio is that all employees are knowledgeable in ‘three fields’ of business--design, art and engineering. “It was about having people who could turn their hands to multiple things,” says Sperry. “We do have job titles, but…it’s just not possible that one person has one very clear position.”
The team saw Dangerous Golf as not only the dream game they wanted to make, but as a game that could teach them things they were interested in. Ward points out that, “as engineers, we wanted to learn about physics. We wanted to learn about lighting, we wanted to learn about materials.”
Finding inspiration from different sources
As the trailers demonstrate, there’s a lot going on in Dangerous Golf. Glass objects smash into tiny pieces, towers of fine china topple, and furniture splinters. “We wanted to make a sports game and take the piss out of it,” explained Ward. Citing movies like "Tin Cup" and "Caddy Shack" as some of his favorites, he pointed out that Hollywood portrays athletics very differently from gaming. Trick shots are the focus, and that’s exactly what the team brought to Dangerous Golf.
Inspiration for the actual set up of each location also stemmed from movies. “It’s fun to see things break,” acknowledged Ward, mentioning his love of a chaotic scene in the James Bond movie, "Moonraker," in which a Venice glass museum was destroyed. Other inspiration stemmed from The Rock, "Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure," and Ward’s own experience at a corporate Christmas party at a castle in Scotland. The party organizers actively encouraged people to knock over suits of armor, and slide down the stairs on solid silver tea trays.
“Destruction is fun in a place where everything's expensive,” says Ward.
Picking the right engine
Originally, Dangerous Golf was developed in Unity. 10 months into prototyping, the game was switched to the Unreal 4 engine. It was a risky move given that no one in the office had worked with the engine before, and the team says that assistance from Epic in Guildford helped significantly.
The vibrant effects were created through the use of the Unreal 4 engine and the assistance of Nvidia. Engineers Paul Ross and Phil Maguire analyzed past papers from Siggraph, along with studying Nvidia’s PhysX and APEX frameworks, to see just how far they could push current technology.
The team was encouraged to look ahead to the future - something that they didn’t have the time for when working as part of EA. For instance, they discovered a technique called Voronoi Shattering, and considered employing it until they realized that the hardware wasn’t yet at that stage to realize it. “We started to play around with that now so that when the future arrives, we’ve kinda been there,” explained Ward.
Designing environments for maximum destruction
A lot of time was spent debugging issues to do with the Unreal and PhysX engines, ensuring that shattering statues and knocking things into pieces looked realistic. The focus here was ensuring that players continued to play in the mess that they’ve created.
"Game worlds are very static,” explained Ward. Look around any game and it looks stylish, but it’s effectively a film set that can’t be interacted with.
“PhysX is on the cusp of something we’re very interested in,” he continued. “The fundamental premise of our game is the mess…You can smash up a bookcase and all the books fall on the floor, remaining there.”
Unlike in other games, they don’t vanish, requiring some intense CPU usage to keep up with what’s going on on screen. “Obviously we’ve made games for years at 60 fps, so we know what a total challenge that can be,” Ward explained.
The benefits of a small team
The freedom to pursue such a daft and unusual concept on their own schedule was paramount for the team. “We wanted to make the decisions that we felt were right,” explained Sperry.
“We had full control over when we announced the game,” added Ward. “I recently came back from America, and we waited until we had the near-finished game to go show people.”
“We’re a team that’s happiest in the office making our game," he adds. "We’re not pop stars. We aren’t caught in an endless cycle of doing demos or having to go to shows and events and conferences. We just got our heads down and made the game, which is a lot better.“