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20090815

Gimme Some Golfing

Entry 1591 posted in: 3. Gamebits


Some days ago I got a mail from an Internet publicity agency that wanted to use my site to promote a new online golf simulation game. I politely thanked for that, not that I’m rich enough but a cent per click will not pay me for a Ferrari, and I meant the sunglasses. But I promised I would have a look at the game. Promise kept.

I used to be a kind of a golf lunatic in the past, not the real thing of course, as a real computer nerd I hate green open airy spaces, but the digital pixelised version of that. Over the years my favourite golf game became Shot Online that combines sport simulation with MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) elements. I even developed my own little Shot Online Distance Calculator utility that is still downloaded from time to time. I needed this utility, basically an Excel sheet with a lot of formulas inside, because Shot Online uses quite a sophisticated method of calculating the distance of the shot and takes into consideration different weather conditions, such as temperature, wind speed and direction and even air humidity (next to the club and balls you are using, of course, the different levels you have acquired as a player and the shoes you are wearing).

I haven’t played Shot Online for a while, basically because my old PC is getting rather sluggish and creates unnecessary lag between holes, but a second reason is that a 18-hole game in Shot Online with four players takes well over three hours. Games are played in real-time, each player takes his turn and one has to wait for the others to finish the hole before the game proceeds to the next one, just like in the real golf-playing world. So for 75% of the time you are looking at the screen, watching how the others are screwing up before you get a chance to screw up yourself.

Shot Online is free to play, and here is the secret addictive ingredient, with every game you get some virtual in-house money that you can spend to buy some gear. It is logical that an expensive set of golf balls will fly longer distances and land more accurately than the free ones. The makers of the game know that humans are an impatient species and instead of having to play hundred games in order to buy a decent set of professional clubs, which come in dozens of colours and sizes, you can also buy these immediately with real-world money. Like in the real world you have the have-nots who have played every single day of the year in order to get to level 35 and you have the haves who have obtained level 35 in a week thanks to a bucketful of cash.

There are some vanity issues involved as well, the initial characters look all the same, are wearing the same clothes so the game has a shopping mall were you can, à la Sims, change clothes, shoes, hats or gloves. It goes beyond saying that these have to be paid for as well, in virtual or real currency. Some of these attributes will also have an influence on skill, stamina, impact, and power settings so choosing the right set of clothes can improve your gameplay. I wasn’t kidding about these shoes, you know.

Gimme Golf made my appetite for online golf grow again and so I tried it, simple as that. The website promises thousands of players, more than 500 tournaments and hundreds of winners. But whenever I logged in there were never more than a dozen players around. I literally mean a dozen, like in twelve. It made me feel like Judas on the last supper, read further why.

Gimme Golf is free to play but as there is nothing like a free lunch the money must come from somewhere. The cash comes from (optional) tournaments where each player pays an entry fee, using a Paypal account, and can collect the fee of the others, provided he/she finishes on top of the list. As a teaser you get a 1$ account, but when I entered a 1$ tournament I found out that I had to enter a second dollar to play the top nine holes. I should have seen this coming, at the Skill Technology website the developers all have the second hand cars salesmen grin and if there is one certainty about second hand cars salesmen it is that they are always trying to insert a financial butt plug while claiming to be your friend. Scallywags! (Update: a recent post on their forum complains how one can enter the same tournament twice - or more, always against an entry fee - but the price money is only paid once, even if you hold first, second and third place.)

Download is pretty easy and takes only 100 MB, (as a retro-gamer I am a bit ashamed to write only 100 MB, some of my preferred golden oldies can be placed upon a floppy), turning into 130MB on the harddisk. The game is Java-driven and installs in the Application Data folder (if you happen to run XP, like I do), there is no uninstall option, but the FAQ explains that manually deleting all files does the job. The website is simple and easy, perhaps a little too simple, because at the time I write this the game-server is down but that isn’t mentioned anywhere.

Now for the game itself, that I managed to play a couple of times before (and after) their server exploded. The graphical quality is lower than Shot Online, but that last one is at least 5 times bigger (their download now takes over 500MB). There are only a few characters and courts to choose from and these are all relatively easy. Gameplay is simple comme bonjour, you take a club (obviously), choose the direction you want to aim at and hit the ball as hard as possible. There is no state of the art tuning as in Shot Online where you can add back- or sidespin to the ball, neither is it necessary to train on an accurate 3-click movement to get your ball flying where you want it to go, basically one click does the job. Rather than a simulation I would describe Gimme as an arcade game version of the noble game of golf. I’ve got nothing against that, of course.

The main difference with Shot Online is how the multi-player games are handled. In Gimme Golf every player plays his round at his (or her) own pace and he/she doesn’t have to wait for the others to tee off or to finish a hole. A plus point is that you can quit in the middle of the game, reload the course a while later, and continue without penalties (there are some time limits involved though). A Gimme Golf is very fast paced and I could play 18 holes in less than twenty minutes.

The backside of this all is that basically you are on your own. There is no interaction with the other gamers, apart from the ubiquitous chat screen, and all you get to see is the scorecard between each round with the results of the others. In Shot Online you observe your opponent’s moves and if his ball lands in a bunker it gives you the chance to adapt your hit and decide to go for an alternative swing. That kind of in-game tactics is impossible with Gimme.

The ideal online golf simulation lies somewhere in between. I once proposed the idea to Shot Online to have semi-simultaneous games where the 4 participants, each at their own computer screen, would swing at the same time. A par 3 would only be a couple of minutes shorter but a complete match would benefit from 60 minutes or more. (There are some issues to consider: normal gameplay should perhaps be resumed when a ball lands out of bounds, in water, sand or the rough. Personally I like to watch the ball in-flight movies, as this is where the fun is, but others could prefer split screens, etc…)

Shot Online is quite overwhelming for beginners with its abundance of settings and statistics, but Gimme Golf is perhaps a wee bit too simple. That all players are equal and use the same sticks and balls is nice, at least you’re fighting with the same weapons, but sometimes the arcade has really taken over the simulation. Here are some buggy things I found…

Heights
There are no height indicators, but the landing point is different when the fairway is lying much higher (or lower) than the tee. Height differences are even more important on the green. The graphics make it difficult to see if the green is going up, going down or if the path to the flag is tilting to the left or the right. (I remarked this myself when I saw, to my amazement, that my ball was rolling back to me instead of disappearing in the hole!)
Update: the developers told me they are working on a grid system.

Measurements
I’m a bloody European, I confess, but distances are given in yards on the irons and in feet for the putter on the green. This got me totally confused when I tried the AW swing on the green and couldn’t remember how many foot were going in a yard (don’t bother, I looked it up now). I would like an option to use the international standard for measurements, metres and centimetres.
Update: the developers told me they are working on a system to avoid confusion on the green…

Drop Ball
The drop ball isn’t always activated (I came into a situation on the fairway where I could have used it) and when it is it doesn’t let you decide where to drop the ball. At the 13th hole of Lakes of Sogndal the ball was dropped at least 100 yards away from the place it had landed.

Lobby
The server doesn’t always react adequately. I tried to enter a (free) tournament because the lobby screen read there was an open spot. I got the warning that the game had already started. These things happen from time to time when several people all try to log in at the same time. But more than five minutes later the game was still on the list asking for people to join.

Scorecard
After each hole the scorecard should appear with the overview of the previous shot. But this fails every so often, I have witnessed it in solo and in tournaments games. This could of course be related to the previous point.

What is the verdict then? Gimme Golf is a quick arcade style game without a lot of bells and whistles, perfect for the lunch hour. But if you have patience and a fast machine the real thing still is Shot Online, which is also free but has the advantage that it shows you your evolution from day to day.

These kind of games live by what the players want, as they pay the bill, and if Gimme Golf is still around in 2010 it will probably be quite different from now. For the moment nobody can predict in what direction it will evolve, although I’m pretty sure that there will be a ranking system soon with goodies attached if you attain a certain level.

A final thing about the name. The game is called Gimme Golf but that particular shot can’t be chosen. Perhaps that would be a nice addition as well…

Note: The previous was written before I found out that the game isn’t really so new after all, a beta test was launched in April 2008 and the game was officially released in November of last year. It puts the many promises to do fast upgrades into a different perspective….

PS: A last word on problem gambling. Gimme Golf describes itself as a game of skill, directly matching ones intelligence and ability against that of online competitors. In US states it is completely legal to play these kinds of games for money, in other countries this may not be the case. But legal or not, it still means that you can pay up till 25$ entrance fee for the bigger money tournaments. You are warned.


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