Golf Scope‘s Pro Putt by Topgolf is available now for Oculus Quest and promises players an in-depth golfing simulation that uses real data to deliver a realistic experience. It’s arriving at the perfect time as many golf courses are currently closed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. As a safe alternative, players can better their short game from the comfort of their own home.
VR Fitness Insider spoke with Golf Scope President Jason Clevering to learn more about the title. While it’s currently just slated to release on Oculus Quest, he hopes to support all major virtual reality platforms by the end of 2020.
Real Data Makes the Difference
As one can guess from the developer’s name, this isn’t the company’s first foray into golfing. Golf Scope previously put out an augmented reality app that let users read the greens and put out a game called Simply Putting. The data it captured for its previous offerings has proved important to making Pro Putt by Topgolf so great.
“Having real-world examples and a physics based approach to putting, prior to starting Pro Putt, has helped a lot,” Golf Scope President Jason Clevering told VR Fitness Insider. “In order to successfully launch Golf Scope, our AR green-reading app, we carefully studied how golf balls roll on a real surface, and how the speed of the green impacts the roll of the ball. I had a green installed in my backyard, and then had that green laser scanned, in order to test our model vs. the real thing.”
Clevering says that bringing the putting model into virtual reality immediately felt right, which was a relief for the development team. However, they still looked to improve upon putting by making it so that the ball can catch air.
“Usually when you’re putting the ball doesn’t leave the ground for a significant period,” Clevering explains. “In Pro Putt we have holes that launch you over ravines, and even an island green that you can hit onto, which means we had to nail the physics of a golf ball in the air, and how it bounces off of the green, as well as trees, rocks, rough and sand traps. Thankfully those area of physics are pretty well understood and studied so we were able to adapt known models and we’ve continued to tweak them to feel just right.”
Brought to you by Topgolf
Pro Putt also sees Golf Scope team up with Topgolf, a popular golfing entertainment company that has specialty driving ranges with balls that keep score via micro chips installed in them. Golf Scope previously spoke with the company about a collaboration with its previous efforts and were able to finally team up for its foray into virtual reality gaming.
“We love what Topgolf is doing for the sport,” Clevering said. “Our mission statement is to grow the game of golf and we believe it starts with making golf more accessible, and fun, which is exactly what Topgolf has done and continues to do.
“Replicating their games and adapting them to be focused on putting versus full swing has been a fun challenge. We feel there’s a natural advantage that comes with putting, because it’s a motion that takes far less physical coordination than full swing, but is also incredibly difficult to master, so it adapts well to gaming. Some people may be apprehensive about picking up a Driver and swinging it, but almost everyone can hit a ball with a putter every time. We hope people like our adaptation!”
Creating a Fun and Social Experience
Golfing is often a social experience played with groups of friends and Pro Putt by Topgolf looks to emulate that by featuring online multiplayer. Players will be able to chat using the headset’s built-in microphone, although players can be muted if you don’t feel very social. Golf Scope put a lot of work on making sure the mode was fun for everyone.
“When playing real golf it can be frustrating if your playing partner is taking too long, or hitting too many shots,” Clevering said. “In order to mitigate that, we have a turn-based approach, where each player has two minutes to hit a shot before they lose their turn. Two minutes is still plenty of time to have a conversation between shots, but if one player just stands there and does nothing, the other player will only have to wait a couple minutes for their turn. Since it’s turn based, you’re never in a position where you watch a player hit the ball multiple times in a row before it’s your turn, like you might in real golf. And as soon as one player gets the ball in the hole, the other player only has one shot, at most, to match. We really wanted to keep down time to a minimum and we feel like this approach accomplishes that goal.”
While golfing is competitive, Pro Putt has a fun presentation. Due to the lack of eye-tracking, they went with a simple hat and putter as the player’s avatar. “The nice thing about a hat is it’s easy to see which way the player is facing, and the putter is surprisingly expressive when it comes to chatting and pointing,” explained Clevering. Players will also be able to explore holes and can turn into a giant in order to get a better view of the course.
Clevering says even the most casual of players will be able to have fun, noting his 65-year-old father has become an avid player of the beta. “He isn’t a gamer or tech person and stopped golfing years ago, but he got me into golf and we would play every weekend. After buying the Quest and getting our beta setup he has been one of our most devoted players. It has been awesome playing with him, especially these days. We get to share moments like we used to on the real course and talk about our rounds and shots, which is really cool.”
Pro Putt by Topgolf has positively changed due to pre-launch testing and Clevering believes they have finally nailed a balance between the fun of Mario Golf and the realism of Electornic Arts’ Tiger Woods titles. “Initially we focused entirely on physics and the feel of the putter, without many fun moments, and our beta players said they really enjoyed putting, but that something was missing,” Clevering told us. “We took that to heart and once we nailed the physics we focused all of our attention on making the game fun, outside of when you hit a putt.”
Getting a Workout In Pro Putt by Topgolf
In real life, golf isn’t just a physical workout but a mental one. I asked Clevering if there were any good ways to stay fit inside the title. He gave us the full details on how it can be used for fitness.
“We developed a 10,000 square foot practice green where you can place golf balls and hit pretty much any putt you can imagine,” Clevering said. “It’s a great way to practice a specific shot that might be holding you back, like five foot putts, or 50 foot putts. We haven’t built this yet but we’ve talked about a friendly reminder to stand up and stretch during sessions.
“One thing we didn’t anticipate is how many times people would restart a hole to master it. We’ve seen some beta players(our team included) restart a hole hundreds of times in one session to try to hit the perfect shot. Since you’re typically bent over while putting it can cause some back strain over time so we really want to help with some simple stretches in game.”
He also explained that a swing analyzer has been prototyped and is looking to be added into the game at a later date.
This is Just the Beginning
Exciting for golfing fans is that Pro Putt by Topgolf will look to continue to grow over time. Clevering says the game will be added to over time. He wants to start with organized matchplay events, tournaments and spectating to help build a competitive scene. “It’s a lot of fun to play against opponents at your skill level and sometimes it’s even more fun to watch the best of the best battle it out. We think spectating in VR will be a big deal, both for virtual sports, as well as live action sports.”
More customization options are also likely on the way as players can currently only change their golf ball. “We’d like to add hats, more custom golf balls, custom putters, shirts, shoes, etc. Apparel is a big deal in real golf and we think people will want to bring their own unique style to VR as well, especially if you have to earn certain items that you can then show off to your friends or playing partners.”
The plans don’t stop there as Clevering wants to add more custom courses and even believes licensed golf courses are a possibility. “There’s some work to be done to figure out exactly how they work in the game since our current courses are designed to be putter-centric,” Clevering explained.
“Eventually we plan on creating a full swing experience, but we might do something like chipping and pitching in between. A full swing relies heavily on the weight and balance of the club to create moment”
Creating a Golf Game that Stands Out
This is Golf Scope’s first virtual reality title and that meant dealing with some challenges. “We found many designs on paper or in theory didn’t translate to a VR experience,” Clevering explained. “Testing and iterating on prototypes in VR became critical to the design process.”
Course design was also a challenge. “We wanted to build challenging holes that didn’t get old over time and looked great no matter which way you look. In VR there’s a natural tendency to want to explore and look at things from different perspectives so we tried to design the courses with that in mind, knowing that a big part of the draw would be the environments and escapism.”
However, the end result has made something the team is really proud of. “We think it’s fun enough for gamers and accurate enough for golfers,” Clevering declared. “That has been the goal from day one. We want to help grow the game of golf and making it fun and approachable is a must.”
He’s also confident that the focus on putting makes Pro Putt by Topgolf standout and allows them to create challenges unique to virtual reality.
“It is the hardest part of golf to simulate and by having a putting only game it forced us to get it right,” Clevering said. “Putting is also an activity that many non-golfers have experienced thanks to minigolf, and it’s less intimidating but incredibly hard to master so it never gets old, assuming you keep it interesting, which we hope we have.
“The only way you’re going to play a 150 yard putting focused hole with over 100 feet of elevation is VR. We can build courses that are epic and insane and totally unrealistic in the real world, but awesome to play in VR. Pro Putt doubles down on the crazy side of golf, but still requires skill to win.”