When PGA Tour Executive Producer Brent Nielsen told us his game uses the same engine that runs games like Battlefield 4 and the upcoming Battlefield Hardline, it didn’t make a lot of sense at first.
When you look at EA’s library of sports titles, it’s easy to see right away how golf sticks out as being a bit different from the others. Whether it’s football or mixed martial arts, many sports have guys running into and bouncing off each other. Soccer, hockey, basketball, and football all take place in stadiums and arenas. All four are about a ball interacting with a bunch of people on a field.
But then there’s golf. It’s one man and a wide open field; there are no stadiums or human collisions (unless you’re playing golf with Bob Barker, I guess).
“We quickly realized that porting [our previous PGA title] as a starting point was not going to work,” Nielsen says.
So they had to start over from scratch. The first step to building a game is to look at what you’re working on and pick the right engine for it.
“We looked at Ignite, the engine our sports teams use, and there were a lot of things that made sense,” Nielsen says. “But we wanted to look at everything, so we looked at Frostbite.”
“When you think about our sports titles, golf’s on a bit of an island,” Nielsen says.
Golf, he explains, has more dynamic, open world environments that define the experience – not stadiums. Frostbite 3 opened up options that fit golf perfectly, things that wouldn’t matter to the other sports EA works on.
“Frostbite 3 allowed us to have streaming environments,” Nielsen explains.
“In the last console cycle, we had to load holes individually, with 30 or 45 seconds between holes. Now we have no load times.”
That might not sound like much, but it adds up to 10 or 15 minutes per round of golf. That’s more time playing and less time waiting.
“Because we can stream the environment, we can stream in the entire environment,” he adds. Previous iterations only pulled in the hole itself and some of the visual surrounding area. If you knocked the ball off the beaten path, it would often just retee the ball or put it in a predetermined drop spot.
“Now, wherever you hit the ball, you’re going to be able to play it from that spot. If it’s in bounds in real life, you can play it,” he says.
When it comes to the sport itself, Nielsen says Frostbite 3 is already giving them options they didn’t have on the previous generation of consoles.
“We’re able to get to more different types of physics rolls based on spin, club, loft, and where you are,” he says.
Using the engine that runs some of Electronic Arts’ action and shooting titles started to get the team wondering about the fantasy courses players could download in previous titles.
“We started thinking – what would be some cool environments to play golf in? EA has some pretty cool games that use the Frostbite 3 engine,” he says.
The team looked at Battlefield 4 and decided on the Battlefield 4 map ‘Paracel Storm.’ The team got the assets from DICE and did a few tests.
“We started building a golf course on Paracel Storm,” he says. “The literal map from Battlefield 4,” he says.
The next logical step is to look at what makes Battlefield 4 unique and Nielsen’s team found they were able to get Battlefield‘s Levolution working as well.
Now you don’t just have a straight shot – or even a dogleg – to the green. Suddenly, you have a battleship in the middle of the course.
“It was an a-ha moment. We can have these cool experiences where these fantasy courses can become a sandbox. The best path… may not be the one you’re staring straight at,” he says.
The team is still exploring how dynamic that can be. Whether or not these will lead to dynamic experiences or more scripted ones is up in the air. Nielsen says the focus is on how to make this craziness meaningful to the game rather than just making a Battlefield-themed golf course.
What other games have they looked at? Nielsen can’t say. But we can list off some of the games running on Frostbite 3 while you let your fantasies run wild: Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare, Star Wars: Battlefront, the upcoming Mass Effect game, and Dragon Age: Inquisition are all running on Frostbite 3. Again, Nielsen couldn’t comment on any of these, but they’re all technical possibilities. Endor, Ferelden amd the Krogan homeworld could all see a golf course popping up when PGA Tour hits next spring.