British Open Championship Golf Preview

The golf sim to end all golf sims is on its way! FORE!


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Golf was born in Scotland, and the Scots (along with the British) have always been seen as the grand old keepers of the game. Those first courses were laid out along the linksland: the stretches of barren, sandy soil linking the coastline to the interior farmlands. Blasted by high winds; characterized by flat ground, rough scrub, and hidden bunkers, the links are completely unlike the lush resort courses Americans are familiar with. They are demanding, punishing courses, unmatched in their merciless challenges.

Golf's Mecca, its Holy Land, are the links at St. Andrews, and its oldest running competition is the British Open. Now in its 125th year, the role call of open winners reads like a who's who of golf: Harry Vardon, Bobby Jones, Seve Ballesteros, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, on and on. It is the ultimate golfing competition, and Looking Glass Software, creators of Terra Nova and Flight Unlimited, is directing its prodigious talents towards bringing it to the computer.

British Open Golf is the brain child of Rex Bradford, the father of the computer golf simulator. If you've ever played a computer golf game, then you're familiar with the three-stage power bar: click three times to swing; each click controls some element of swing power and direction. Rex created the power bar for Mean 18, the first real golf game (Access soon followed with Leaderboard). Unfortunately, Rex didn't see it as the innovation it truly was, and in his failure to patent it, opened the door for every subsequent golf sim to use his ideas.

Rex went on to other projects, including Terra Nova, but he always knew he'd get back to golf sims. "I know there's some good ones out there," he comments, "but there are some things left undone. No one has done a major championship tournament, putting the whole audio-visual feel into it. The crowds, the sounds, the structure of tournament play, even the caddie. If we weren't doing something different like this, we wouldn't have done it at all, because Links is a very good golf game and PGA Tour has a little of what we're talking about."

Rex cites three key areas that are making British Open different. The tournament look includes animated crowds, grandstands, broadcast areas, camera cranes, and little men with "Quiet Please!" signs: All are unique visual elements that create an immersive experience. Another area of concentration is a detailed running commentary, with a sophisticated announcer and color commentator who offer a steady stream of patter on lie, conditions, what the shot means in the scope of the tournament, and so on. An onscreen animated caddy is another signature element, providing not only club selection, but also acting as a guide to the course. Because each links course is so different the caddy is a good way to access information on how to play a hole, as well as some historical anecdotes and general information. With all the blind bunkers of St. Andrews, this will be an essential element of play.

Two courses are being included as the first stops on the Open tour: Royal Troon and St. Andrews. This is the first authorized sim of St. Andrews, which will certainly lure golf fans who want to play the mother of all courses. Because links courses tend not to be as scenic as other courses, Looking Glass is putting a lot of effort into the details of the surrounding buildings and town. Instead of trying to push the res levels up to 1600x1200 (as Links LS does), they're holding the line at 640x480 and 800x600, using the extra horsepower to animate the crowds and bring the screen to life.

Obviously, we can expect a strong physical model of golf ball dynamics and flight from Looking Glass, master of real-world physics (as proven by its Flight Unlimited algorithms). Another feature will be a custom shot designer that allows changes in stance, club position, height, and other elements. Unlike other games, British Open Golf will use visual feedback to make clear just what these changes will do to your shot, and you'll be able to save shot profiles and call them up at any time. A standard power bar will be used for control, as well as a unique new putting power bar, and a Virtual Pool-like mouse-swing control.

Putting the computer golfer at the center of the British golfing tradition, and at the center of the most important competition in the world, is what British Open Golf is all about. Few developers are as skilled at creating immersive environments as Looking Glass, so we can expect a whole different feel from Links LS and PGA Tour 96. (With the popularity of golf, it won't be surprising to see PC owners picking up all three.) Besides, no other game will put you at the 18th at St. Andrews, facing the the Royal and Ancient clubhouse, crowded bandstands to either side, the Valley of Sin waiting to snare your approach shot, and only you and your mouse standing between success and crushing defeat.

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