Sid Meier's SimGolf
If ever there was a game designer qualified enough to make a seemingly dull and futile hobby accessible to the masses it must surely be Mr Meier. This clean shaven gaming pioneer single-handedly revolutionised the turn-based strategy genre so that Civilization now sits proudly as one of the most popular gaming franchises on the planet. Surely, if he can do it for turn-based strategy, he can do it for golf. Right?
Wrong. OK, first things first -Sid Meier's Sim Goff isn’t a complete let-down; in fact it's a fairly decent and occasionally humorous (if you like The Sims-type humour) game. Trouble is, it has absolutely no longevity. Once you’ve created a few courses the sudden realisation dawns on you that there’s virtually no variety. It’s all well and good creating courses and playing them, but where are the Rollercoaster Tycoon-type challenges? Non-existent sadly.
What’s more, Sim Golf has a careless tendency to ignore important details - a fact that’s blindingly obvious from the moment you select the first of a possible 16 landscapes (since when was Stonehenge a tourist attraction in Wales?).
Go Wild In The Country
Viewed using an isometric perspective, Sim Golf allows architects to zoom in and out as well as rotate the landscape through tour different angles. The blocky appearance of the graphics may not be the pinnacle of technical achievement, but on the plus side there’s still a surprising amount of versatility in the layout of courses you can come up with.
You can build daring water holes, ridiculous mountain holes, demanding bunker-ridden inks-you can literally let your imagination run wild. The interface is also a cinch to master; just position your tee-box and your flag and then fill in the gap with a crafty combination of fairway tiles, bunkers and trees. In fact, it’s surprising just how quickly your uninspiring field is transformed into a bustling little club full of corporate fat catsand bleating sheep.
However, Sim Golf is all about ambition and the ultimate tenuous goal is to create the kind of Country Club swanky enough to host the most prestigious golfing tournaments in the world. So, you need to buy lots of land off the local council and the way you do this is by impressing councillors who come to play your course. In short, if they enjoy their round of golf, they offer to sell you some more land. This means you need to adorn your early holes with plenty of colourful trees, scenic little bridges over streams and maybe the odd stylish landmark or two donated by wealthy heiresses.
The real key to success though is making money, and in Sim Golf there are two ways to make cash. The first and most obvious is through green fees. Each golfer pays a certain amount of cash after each hole depending on how much they enjoyed it. It may be a slightly unorthodox way to pay for a round of golf (especially when you pay anything up to $2000 per hole), but there’s no denying it's lucrative - too lucrative almost. Large sums of money can be amassed surprisingly quickly and even the most difficult of Sim Golfs four settings struggles to keep you financially challenged for very long.
Winning prize money through tournaments and championships is a further way to swell the coffers. The catch here is that in order to entice the SGA (Sim Golf Association) to hold tournaments, you have to design imaginative and challenging holes. Sadly, for your unskilled local hackers, lengthy, difficult holes are rarely enjoyable. The trick is finding that elusive, magical blend which keeps both your members and the SGA happy. One way to do this is to encourage your golfers to improve their game. Admittedly their skill will increase automatically each time they make a successful shot, but by purchasing special buildings such as putting greens, pro shops and driving ranges, you can accelerate that process. Buy these buildings quickly too. Crappy golfers whinging that the course is too hard really start to get on your tits after a while.
Cast Iron Bladder
Unfortunately all this is easier said than done. Keeping these miserable moaners happy takes up a huge amount of time -golfers are a complex, fickle bunch with many personality attributes to appease. If a golfer gets too angry then there’s a pretty good chance they'll lose the plot entirely. While amusing to watch as it often involves wrapping their club around a tree trunk or chucking their clubs into a nearby lake, it does tend to upset the other golfers. The only way to deal with these troublemakers is to get your warden to throw them out before a full-scale riot erupts.
Golfers are also constantly thirsty, so unless you employ an army of drink sellers and strategically place them between holes, players will simply walk out. Interestingly, this particular breed of golfer must also possess some kind of superbladder because there are no toilets at all in the game. Their incredible ability to hold it in is made all the more impressive by the fact that for some reason it takes about five years of game time to play a full 18-hole course.
Why time passes this quickly (or slowly depending on which way you look at) is a complete mystery. Of course, it also means that a tournament starting in 2002 will actually end in 2007. Very strange.
Playing the courses you design with your own Simgolfer is by far the strongest element of the game. There’s also a surprising amount of skill involved in doing so. You can put backspin on the ball, draw and fade it and even punch shots from under trees. You always feel like you’re in control, which is amazing considering how crude the graphics are. There’s even a basic, yet effective, RPG element to your character. Like the other computer-controlled golfers on the course, your skills improve whenever you pull off a good shot, so the more games you play (you are often challenged by other players) the better you become. You can even specialise in particular shots by loading up the skill points awarded for good play in one particular area such as high backspin.
On top of everything the physics seem to work perfectly. Balls do everything you would expect them to; if there’s a hill - they roll down it, if there’s a bunker -they stop dead. Basically, the course you design always plays as you hoped and intended it would - and that's no mean feat. The biggest thrill of all though, is winning a major SGA tournament on a course of your own making. While the financial reward is fantastic and will doubtless help you buy another, more expensive plot of land in another part of the world, it is nothing compared to the true feeling that you have totally and utterly earned your victory.
While Sim Golf may have the fundamentals of golf in place, it certainly doesn’t have the spirit. Where’s the rain? Where’s the wind? And where’s freezing your nuts off on a bleak winter’s morning waiting for the fog to clear just enough so that you can drive off?
Even simple details like players getting thirstier on a blisteringly hot day would have helped. Instead we’ve got Mortimer Goth and Bob Newbie wandering around talking about alien visitations, farting and wearing women’s underwear. How does this enhance the game’s enjoyment? Answer: It doesn’t. To be brutally honest there’s more atmosphere inside a thermos flask than there is in Sim Golf.
We’d love to say that Sim Golf does for golf course design what Rollercoaster Tycoon did for rollercoaster design, but it simply isn’t in the same league. OK, it’s undoubtedly the most playable game of its kind, and it’s certainly a lot better than sitting around cleaning your balls. But, unlike Rollercoaster Tycoon, it isn’t going to win any new friends, and those it does win will disappear come spring when we cast aside our winter woolies and the true golfing action begins.
Download Sid Meier's SimGolf
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Take a break from building SimCities and hit the links. SimGolf adjusts its swing by doing away with the standard power bar; instead, you use the mouse to move the club and hit the ball. Naturally, golfers can create their own golf courses, and world-renowned course designer Robert Trent Jones is on hand to teach you how. Multiplayer tee time goes down over the Internet, and SimGolf's strong 3D graphics will enable you to look around and see friends playing on other holes.
It looks as if your ship has finally arrived. Your great uncle Harry has passed away recently and has left you a nice chunk of money. This inheritance comes with specific instructions, however: To build a world-class golf resort, a dream Harry never realized. So take that cash and buy up some prime real estate'you're going to take a shot at being a high roller in the golf world!
Sid Meier's SimGolf, brought to you from the people responsible for such gems as SimCity and Civilization, is the newest member of the illustrious family. A mix of simulation and action, SimGolf looks to be a very exciting game, at least on paper. Does it succeed? Read on, and decide for yourself.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
OK, get comfortable, this will take a while...
SimGolf is a simulation game in every sense of the word: You control aspects of building and maintaining a golf course, from layout and construction of fairways, greens and the like, to building and maintaining the infrastructure of your course and surrounding environment. Control over terrain, localized flora, and other aspects are all vital to the game and your success as a business mogul. You also have a "golf pro" to maintain and compete with other SimGolfers for both gains in skill and later profits for your course.
Those of you familiar with SimCity 2000 and later iterations will be comfortable with the sparse, yet familiar control settings. Very simple, ergonomic buttons are all in the lower areas of the simulation field, which utilizes the "three-quarter" style of game view so prevalent in today's simulations. A quick glance at the manual will give you all the information that you'll need.
Once you begin building your course, your main source of revenue will come to play. SimGolfers will play your course, pay green fees per hole, purchase drinks and food, and buy memberships if they enjoy your course enough'all generating revenue. While playing your course, SimGolfers will keep a running commentary going, with the text either in green, white, or red depending on their mood. This is a valuable tool for improving and modifying your course. If a SimGolfer is not enjoying a hole because it's too easy, drop in a couple of rough spots or sand traps. Are they getting tired? Hungry or Thirsty? Frustrated? Excited? Paying attention to this detail will help you make a better and more valuable course.
There are quite a few buildings and improvements available in SimGolf. Putting greens and driving ranges will improve your SimGolfers' game skills, snack bars will feed them, and tennis courts keep them happy. There are many other buildings, each with specific values and price tags intended to make your course the best. One nice thing: If you decide to remove parts of your course, you will receive the money back that you invested in it. So if you mistakenly drop a bit of green in the middle of the fairway, don't worry, you can reclaim the land and the lost funds. A nice touch.
You are also in charge of hiring a staff. You'll need groundskeepers to keep the grounds clean and free of dandelions, rangers to help speed up straggling golfers, beverage carts for thirsty SimGolfers, and even possibly a celebrity greeter to give your SimGolfers a little ego boost. Each of these employees draws a monthly salary, so be sure to use the ones you need when you need them.
Now let's discuss the really interesting part of this game, the golf pro. Your course will have its own local pro, who will take the role of greeter and groundskeeper when not actively playing. You are in charge of all aspects of the pro, from skill set to modifying his/her likeness (the game ships with tools which allow you to import your own photographs). The pro can play practice games to improve (or decrease) his skills and can later enter SGA sponsored tournaments or "skins" games with other local pros for large cash prizes. This is where SimGolf separates itself from SimCity and the like. In most of those games, there's a period of time where you just have to sit and wait for your cash to build back up. SimGolf avoids that by allowing you to actively play your course with your pro. After allotting a certain number of skill points to your pro, you are then able to take control of driving and short iron play. No, you don't get to do any chipping or putting, the computer takes care of that for you. And just because you click an approach shot doesn't mean that's exactly where the ball's going to land. There's a large fudge factor, at least early on when your pro doesn't have a lot of skill or experience. However, the more points you gain, the better your pro becomes until you are challenged by another pro or are entered in an SGA-sponsored event.
Ah yes, the Sim Golf Association. They'll be watching your course as well. You may be offered to host a prestigious tournament for a large cash prize. Weigh this option carefully early on, because while the tournament is on, you will gain no greens fees or membership dues money, just a bit from concessions and whatever purse money you (your pro) end up winning. Holding a tournament at your course will also raise your course's (and from there your SimGolfers) prestige and allow more buildings to be built.
You will also have special golfers come to play. One of them will donate landmarks to your course if she likes it well enough. One will allow you to purchase more land around your existing course, so that you can expand and place more holes. Be on the lookout for these SimGolfers, and try to make their stay as enjoyable as possible.
There's still much more I could write about this game, the sheer amount of detail in this game is staggering. I haven't discussed game modes, silver and higher memberships, building lots for homes on your course, or even becoming a worldwide golf mogul on other continents, but they and many other unmentioned parts of this game make for a rich, stimulating simulation.
I must mention, there were a few bugs I have noticed while playing the game. Some speech bubbles had odd text in them and often structures I placed either were removed or changed into something else entirely. Hopefully, the first patch will fix these problems.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of this game, although not as important as you might think. Graphics follow in the vein of SimCity and the like, and are very pixilated at times. While the scenery is varied and interesting, small character motion and movement is not. There are only two view modes, and while zoomed out to get a more "bird's eye" view, you really can't do anything besides look at your course. The best resolution is 800 x 600, and often times the screen can get cluttered with "busy" graphics, such as help screens and the like. Not the best work, but adequate for a simulation such as this.
Mellow background music, interspersed with human-like conversation. While not as annoying as the adults in a Charlie Brown cartoon, it still can begin to grate on your nerves after a while. I found that this game was as easy to play with the sound off as it was on.
I was a bit worried when I received this game, as I was expecting more of a golf playing simulation, and frankly, I haven't enjoyed one of those since Mean 18. SimGolf was surprisingly good, however, and before I knew it, hours had passed and I was sitting on top of a small 9-hole course, screaming at my pro to sink a 5-foot putt. This game can really entertain,, and is a strong recommendation for all hardcore simulation and avid golf fans. Bugs, as well as problems with the audio and graphical aspect drop the score, but overall, this game deserves to be in the mid- to high 80's.
According to Maxis and the SimGolf Tutorial manual, "there are two parts to SimGolf: 1) SimGolf -- a three-dimensional interactive golf game, and 2) The Course Architect -- a golf course design tool." No, this is not a sim as in the traditional definition of a Maxis sim. There is no money management, no resource management, and no waiting for trees and/or other objects to pop up on the playing field. There aren't any cute graphics of a miniature golf course in bloom. What SimGolf gives you is exactly what it claims to give you. You are given two golf courses, Rancho La Quinta and The Prince Course, created by the famed golf course designer Robert Trent Jr., who will give you a tip whenever you ask him for one. Along with the two included courses to play on, SimGolf comes with a pretty impressive course architect tool you can use to create your own playable courses. This is actually one of two strong points that make SimGolf stand out from other golf sims.
The second thing that makes SimGolf stand out from the rest is a new Swing Indicator (I love this thing) instead of the traditional powerbar swing. Basically it's approximately a two-inch wide, three-inch high grid with a picture of the golf ball and the golf club head at the top center. To activate the head, you simply click on it. Once activated, you can move it about the grid as you like. The swing consists of pulling back and then thrusting forward to hit the ball. It takes a little getting used to, and you can miss if you swing too quickly and off to one side, but it's awesome. You actually feel as if you are swinging. The response is really well done. The amount you pull back, how fast you thrust, as well as what angle you hit the ball, all affect how the ball is hit. Although it takes a little getting used to, it is pretty intuitive and a lot more interactive than the triple click Powerbar. (I always hated the Powerbar. I always felt like I was testing my reflexes rather than my form.) For those of you who must have the power bar or want to start with it, you can turn off the Swing Indicator and a Powerbar will come up instead. Although realism is a tough thing to cover in a golf sim (how close to the real thing can computer golf be?), SimGolf's new mouse swing is a better analogy to the real thing. I'd like to see it implemented in computer baseball as well. That would be cool. Or imagine controlling punting or a full-force swing with the mouse. Try it.
As far as gameplay out of the box, SimGolf takes a hit with only two courses and no computer opponents. All you get from Maxis is Rancho La Quinta and The Prince Court, which you play against par, previous scores, or other players. If you're looking for a golf sim with a good number of courses to start with, and the ability to take turns with a computer, SimGolf might not be for you. On the other hand, what makes SimGolf great is that you can build your own courses, which ultimately means unlimited courses. The second part of SimGolf is the Course Architect. This is really cool. You start by selecting the size of the course, the ratio between the highest and lowest points of the terrain, and how hilly you want it to be. Once done, your are presented with a map of your course, toolbars, and different windows. This is where you put in all the personal touches. You can choose from 154 plant types including ferns, flowers, and trees, 41 miscellaneous items including rocks, mountains, buildings, and golf carts, four tee markers, one flagstick, and one panoramic view consisting of blue sky and backdrop mountains. As you can imagine, the variety of objects you can use to personalize your course is quite impressive. The tool bars are pretty intuitive, and just about everything can be moved or sized to your liking. Let's just say the course I built on my first sitting only took me about half an hour. Yes it was pretty simple, but it was really neat to actually play on it when it was done. And yes, creating your course is actually as much fun as playing the course. As far as competition, SimGolf does offer multiplayer support and you can add up to four players in a stand-alone game.
The graphics for SimGolf are a mixed bag. The foliage is all excellent, but there is something slightly off with the rest. The sky is kind of gritty on all resolution and color settings. I thought it might have been my 3D accelerator, so I tried it on a system with a 1M Cirrus Logic display adapter. Same thing, so I know it was the game and not the card or display drivers. Also, the grass is just too toy green. It looks more like Astroturf than real grass. The player and his or her movement, on the other hand, are well done. One really cool effect is that when you pull back and move forward with the mouse Swing Indicator, so does your player's swing.
The audio for SimGolf was somewhat of a disappointment. It pretty much consists of birds chirping now and then. I don't know if they were computer generated or sampled, but I do know that they sound pretty unnatural and downright annoying at times. For the most part it was bearable and at times soothing, but every now and then a single seagull would appear overhead and a wail of annoying chirps would rush out my speakers, making me almost cringe.
SimGolf supports up to four players over the Internet or Local Area Network play and two players via modem.
The coolest feature of SimGolf is the mouse-driven Swing Indicator. I can't begin to stress how much more interactive it is than the Power Bar used by basically every other golf sim out there. You just have to try it to fully understand how dynamic and sensitive it is. It actually makes you feel like you are doing something. With the Swing Indicator, Maxis is the first to finally introduce a dynamic, interactive form generator that has been lacking in all other computer golf sims to this date. Other cool options include various view modes that can be sized and positioned alongside each other, anywhere on the screen. There is a Top (map) view, a Ball view that follows the ball, a Pin view, Landing view, and a Profile view which is really cool.
The documentation for SimGolf is well above par. Ba ha ha. Par. Get it? Yeah, I'm stupid, but so was the humor in the manual which I'll get to in a bit. As far as gameplay and getting you started, the manual does a great job. The first thing you'll notice is that it is actually titled a "Tutorial" instead of a manual, and that's just what it is. It actually walks you through everything in the game step by step. Although it's meant to be viewed while in front of the game, it has plenty of screenshots to follow if you are away from the game. This is simply awesome, and I hope to see it in more games. One warning, though: The manual is full of really corny jokes and a few really cool quotes. Here's one regarding the Swing Indicator: "Like a Swiss army knife, the Swing Indicator is filled with helpful tools that you didn't even know you needed. (Sorry, no corkscrew on this one)." Ba ha ha ha. Yep, that sure was a good one.
SimGolf requires Windows 95 with a Pentium or above, SVGA display, 16 MB RAM, 2X CD-ROM drive, and mouse. The PC I tested with the Cirrus Logic card was a 486 with 16 MB of RAM. It worked, but don't go there. I actually commend Maxis on this one. Instead of saying it does work and bringing in the 486 market, they didn't. You really do need a Pentium to enjoy this one. One more note -- there are only two install options for SimGolf: a minimum install of 50 MB and a maximum install of 75 MB, which is the default.
SimGolf is a mixed bag. On the downside, you only get two default courses, there are no computer opponents, the chirping of the birds can be annoying at times, and the grass could have been a little more natural looking. On the upside, you do get to create and then play on your own golf courses (meaning unlimited courses), there is good network support, and overall, even though the grass might look like Astroturf, the graphics are crisp and refreshing. I can't say that SimGolf has the edge with the only course design option because Jack Nicklaus 4 will also have one, but one thing I can say is that Maxis does have an edge with the Swing Indicator. I can't stress how much more interactive it is compared to the PowerBar. In time, you actually feel like you are developing form, something I've found missing in all other golf sims. Out of 100, I give SimGolf a solid 75.