Andrew Jones from Perfect Parallel speaks to TPG about their golf simulation title, Perfect Golf. You will read about how the company turned their failed Kickstarter into a positive, the struggles of a long Greenlight campaign, information on upcoming content, and Andrew’s personal favorite golfing moments.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Perfect Golf.
I am not a game developer by trade. I spent most of my early working career working in consulting and specializing in corporate finance. I am responsible for a lot of different areas with Perfect Parallel as is always the case in small independent companies, with my days split between managing development, to business development and strategy.
Every once in a while I get to write some code too. It’s great to have a job where one minute you are negotiating a deal with The PGA Tour or Nicklaus Design and the next getting to implement handicapping into the game logic.
How did you get started in developing PC games?
Back in the halcyon days of PC Golf I got to know the guys at Microsoft due to my consulting duties at the time, who were responsible for Links 2001. I was invited to test the new game and the new course designer. A friend and I established a community site to support the PC golf course design community and this lead to a full online tour and most importantly a number of modifications we made to the game itself.
Back in those days we were creating new physics for the game from the binaries since we did not have access to the source code for obvious reasons. That led to building a number of relationships in the golf community and that led to an opportunity to join Perfect Parallel to create Perfect Golf.
Where did the idea for Perfect Golf come from?
Back when we started Perfect Parallel the last decent golf game for the PC was Tiger Woods 2008. We all felt that there was a significant gap in the market for a golf game that was basically built from the ground up by the community. Perfect Parallel basically exists of people from within the online golf community who banded together to say lets build a new golf game that takes the best from the EA games and Links and puts it together in a new game. Our goal was to create a game that would continue to be developed over time with new features requested by the community funded by the community through purchases of the game.
We don’t want to bring out Perfect Golf 2015, 2016, 2017 etc and charge everyone the same price each year for the same content made slightly current. We want to add a really good career mode, a really good online multiplayer that works across multiple platforms, a live tournament site and so on over time. Perfect Golf should be the perfect golf game built by community members for the community so that there is no need for any other golf game.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Perfect Golf?
I don’t know where to begin with this one they are all so numerous.
Communicate the Vision Every Day
In terms of development, we quickly learned that a small team is a productive team. If you do not or are unable to communicate the vision for the game to everyone on the team eventually you will spend time building functionality that does not enhance your vision.
Don’t upgrade Unity every time they release an upgrade
We found that Unity have a habit of removing functionality at the same time they add it. Some of these losses were costly in terms of having to take a completely different approach to certain parts of the game following changes.
Communicate but don’t promise
Communicating with the community is important but you also need to be careful not to make specific promises as we have always been clear that we will not release a product just to meet a release deadline.
In its current form, how close is Perfect Golf to your initial vision?
Everything we have today is consistent with our vision for Perfect Golf. However the overall product is only the start of our overall vision so I would say it’s a long long way away from our initial vision. But we did not want to just develop it all the way to its end without getting it into people’s hands to play with. By being part of the early access we have learnt a lot about what is good and what is not in the game and we continue to address as much of that as we can while moving the game forward.
Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being a video game developer?
You have to realize that you cannot please everyone all the time. But I think the hardest thing with PC game development is the sheer variety of machines out there with different configurations and set ups. We can run the game smooth as anything on our end ant yet there are still some people experiencing stutters or performance issues and trying to understand why when you don’t have access to their machines is very very hard.
How much of a blow to your confidence was the failed Kickstarter campaign? How did you keep up momentum and morale afterwards?
None really. We went about it as a way to get the game out to the community quicker. When it did not raise the required funds we had to take a slower approach focusing on other areas of our business with a more immediate revenue flow. Having said that expanding our offerings into TV and Golf Course Architecture enabled us to build some excellent relationships and develop a more mature business model. In the long run those relationships will also benefit the end product.
Did you receive financial or emotional support from friends and family during this time?
We have all received a lot of emotional support from our families, as getting the game to release has been at times difficult to say the least.
Not counting the 2012 Tiger Woods release, PC golf fans waited over 8 years for a standalone, offline golf game. Why do you feel there was such a long time between available PC golf titles?
I know for a fact that there was planned to be a 2007 version of Links that was all but built and ready to go when Microsoft sold the gaming studio. So if you think about the various golf titles in the marketplace they really coalesced around the old Headgate / EA golf games and the Links series.
When EA made the decision to go to console only and Links fell by the wayside due to the above mentioned sale there was a vacuum. We felt that the only way this was going to change was an independent community driven game developed from the ground up and that is what we have tried to do.
Did you encounter any resistance from Valve during the initial setup for the Early Access offering?
None at all in fact. The hardest part was getting greenlit which took us almost a year. We spent a lot of time getting the core game ready for early access so it was a complete golf game just lacking in bells and whistles.
How do you toe the line between hardcore golf simulation fans and those who want a more arcade style of gameplay?
Options. All along we have felt that the best way to navigate the simulation v arcade argument was to provide people with options to set the game up the way they want to play it. That is why we went down the path of having aids rather than modes of play.
We moved away from the Amateur, Pro, Elite, Tour player and adopted a more driving game style of difficulty which we will continue to develop. Right now we have two aids but a lot more are planned from replacing the wind meter with a grass toss to replacing the top view with an on screen yardage book etc. This way people can still play the same game but in different styles. In addition we plan to introduce a lot of mini games around the golf game that will give people lots of different ways to play the game.
What is in store for Perfect Golf fans in terms of tournaments, career modes and additional content?
Lots… Additional content will probably come first. Our goal is to get to 10 courses by the time of Retail Release so the retail game will come with 10 courses. Through our TV deals we have every course on the PGA Tour built and its just a case of working through whether we want to license those courses. We actually have over 70 courses built for the game already.
In addition we are anticipating some really new content to come via our relationship with Nicklaus Design. Then of course there will be the release of Course Forge along with th Retail game which will open up the ability to build courses to the community which will see an explosive growth in the number of courses and content for the game. The exact revenue model around that has not been finalized yet but Course Forge will definitely NOT be a paid add on. We will be developing a career mode in due course.
Are there any future plans to add licensed players, equipment or other items?
Absolutely. We plan to add a whole range of equipment that will change the game in both look and feel. However we have always stated that you will not be able to buy a better game, so no buying drivers that allow you to hit the ball 30 yards further or any of that. Instead we will stay true to our strategy and provide options to people to tailor the game to their wants. For example we may offer different balls with different spin characteristics or drag coefficients to enable people to play a different game much like in real life.
We will offer different shafts that have different characteristics all founded in the real world of golf, equipment and technology. As for players I am not sure that this brings any real value. We have always set our long term strategy around this as being able to play with the pros rather than as the pros. To this end licensing lots of PGA Tour players to put their animations in the game is nice but the money could be spent on making the game better. One of the reasons we fully georeferenced our golf courses is so that when the data becomes available we will be able to integrate real world golf data and shots into the game with ease.
Can you tell us why you chose not to release a demo for Perfect Golf?
Very simple really. We priced the early access at a very affordable price and second we did not want to invest the time into a demo that was basically throw away development. With the internet and YouTube and Steam and everything else people can quickly get a feel for the game and whether they would want to play it without downloading a demo.
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Perfect Golf would run on the various PC system configurations?
The real challenge is trying to figure out the right minimum specs to put in the store. We tried to set them high enough that people would have a good first time experience but low enough that we did not discourage people. We only have one MAC and one linux box so developing for those and bug fixing issues those users had was and is particularly difficult.
How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Perfect Golf professionally?
All reviews are important although it is a little disheartening when you see a negative review from someone who has played the game for less than 1 hour and probably never read any of the getting started guides. But since we strive to be community led in our development we have to take reviews seriously. We actually believe that the early access reviews on steam have been very favourable considering it is in early access. If a reviewer feels an area of the game play falls short those are things we take a long hard look at. It does not mean we always agree though.
How do you feel about individuals posting videos and receiving monetization from streaming Perfect Golf?
The hardest thing for a small independent game developer like ourselves is getting the word out to people that the game exists. Communities building sites and posting videos of the game only help promote the game and we have no issue with this. One of the things we will be looking to develop is an API into the game to allow tournament sites to connect directly to the game and have the game report scores directly back to the tournament sites. We will of course have our own tournament site later this year.
How do you feel about the online modding community in general and specifically if mods were created for Perfect Golf?
Personally I am a huge supporter of the modding community. As someone who got into computer programming and game development by doing just that I know how much time and effort this community put into improving games and their lifespan. I have no idea what sort of mods people would want to come up with for Perfect Golf, but we will do our best over time to make their life easy through the release of API into the game and other tools.
We have already written an application to allow people to create new and interesting game play types which we will ultimately release. At the current time the code base is no where near stable enough for us to offer any of these things as they could stop working days after release. But we hope to support this community fully in the future. The release of Course Forge our course design tool is also planned to accompany the retail release.
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
There is always room for another game, but get a good understanding of what your game will be, who your target market is before starting development.
What is your personal favorite golf moment live or on television?
Really? I have no idea… Watching John Daly win again at Torrey Pines was pretty cool, as was watching the way Cabrerra congratulated Adam Scott after he lost in a playoff in the Masters.
Pick your ultimate all-time foursome.
Although it lists all time I would focus on the present, who would I want to go out and play with today? Michael Jordan, Darren Clarke, Butch Harmon and Me. Now that would be a fun round of golf.