2023 will see EA Sports making a grand return to the world of Golf with EA Sports PGA Tour, the first game in the series since 2015, and we’ve got a chance to interview three of the developers given the task of bringing the series back: Lead Producer David Baker, Producer Ben Ramsour and Gameplay Designer Craig Penner.
David Baker got his start at Activision as a Quality Assurance Lead before coming to EA where he is now a producer. Ben Ramsour got his start as a Product Marketing Intern before making his way up to a producer role. He’s worked on several EA Sports Projects including several Madden titles and previous PGA games. Finally, Craig Penner has been a Technical Designer at EA for over 9 years. As you can see each of them has a lot of experience in game development and has worked at EA for a number of years, making them a good team to bring the PGA Tour back to the forefront of next-gen gaming.
In this interview the three-spoke primarily about revitalizing the EA Sports PGA Tour, what they wanted to add to the game, and how they have enhanced the PGA Tour based on the desires of fans and what they wish to see in a new golf game.
Why did EA Sports decide to bring the game back now?
David: We were looking at the landscape. And we just figured that with frostbite and the advancements in the Frostbite engine, we wanted to make the most spectacular-looking golf game possible. So we are able to use the latest version of Frostbite, and really create something magnificent for what the golfers really want to see and feel and play. So that’s why we did it.
Ben: Also, golf is incredibly popular right now, there are a lot of insights that said people are eager for an EA game to come back. And then on the technology front, our ability to authentically represent golf using ShotLink and TrackMan. And our ability to use all of the technology for how we scan the courses, how we visited each course, and our relationships with the superintendents to really make sure we get it right. Games always look good in frostbite. It looked good seven years ago. Now it looks amazing. And it feels amazing and feels just like like it does in real life.
Will there be multiplayer to play with friends together?
Craig: Yeah, there are multiple ways to play locally you can we always want to make sure that we prioritize couch Co-Op. So you can just use one controller and play together on the couch or multiple, lots of different ways to play online. We have matchmaking modes as we mentioned as well, but there’s also a private match mode. So even if you guys aren’t in the same place, you can invite your friends online and, and all play together.
Ben: I think there’s a lot of compelling ways to write as you see in real life golf, in go out and play, match play, or you can play stroke play. So we have those features. And I’m pretty excited about the 16 players simultaneous, just a really new way to play and have fun and, and not only play and see players, but also kind of show off all the gear. The really cool gear that we’ve added to the game, allows people to show off their personality.
What was the process for choosing specific courses in the game?
Ben: we did some consumer insights research first, to just kind of understand what users want to play in a video game. And the things that came to the top were, of course, the iconic hosts for major events, like they see on TV, stuff that shows up in the Golf Digest Top list, or the golf.com. As well as the iconic stops on the PGA Tour. So we’re really lucky to have some very exclusive places that, frankly, in the past have not wanted to be in video games, our ability to authentically replicate their course and, and pitch that to them got a lot of them excited.
The fact that we have all of the majors from 21 through 23. In the game, if you look at some of the courses that are involved, was a lot of work. But we got it done. And I think at the end of the day, those partners saw that it’s in all of our interest to grow the game of golf with the next generation of golfers, and where are the next generation of golfers, a lot of them are playing video games. I know, for me, I got really into it because of the EAA games of old and golf and learned a lot about the actual sport. So I think, working with those partners to create just this absolute bucket list of courses for players to experience. It’s been a really fun process and excited about the partnerships that we’ve developed in putting the course list together.
Is all the gear for clubs cosmetic only? or are there differences in “stats” making one club better than another?
Ben: Yes, the cosmetic side of things, it’s all cosmetic. The shot types feature is where users will upgrade their skills and attributes. But as far as the specific gear goes, it’ll be purely cosmetic.
Craig: We do have a club blueprint system that will allow you to change the attributes of that club, but there’s nothing that specifically ties that system to a certain manufacturer or a certain type of club. So there is still some customization in there for how you want to tweak and tune your clubs to fit your playstyle.
Will elements such as the types of grass e.g Bermuda grass, etc, impact the shot as a whole?
Craig: We went really into the details when I mentioned before how we conducted interviews with superintendents at these various courses. And that was definitely one of the questions that we went through what type of grass do you use on the green on the fairway on the various cuts of rough, not the only type of grass, but how high are the MO heights are things like that? The biggest way that that affects gameplay is depending on the type of roof, Bermuda versus ryegrass, what we learned is that Bermuda produces more uneven lies where you can get a ball that’s really sitting up or really sitting down in the grass versus ryegrass. The ball is more typically going to drop to the bottom of that grass.
So when your ball gets in the rough the way we represent that in gameplay if you’re in a course that has Bermuda grass, we have a larger range that we’re showing for that lie. It’ll say 80 to 90%, or something like that to kind of, you don’t really know how that line is going to come out when you’re in Bermuda, whereas ryegrass is going to be a tighter window. So it might be 80 to 3%, for example, let’s say, but it’s really core specific. Everything that we’ve done as far as the physics tuning on, is all course to course dependent. And but yeah, that’s the kind of a good example of the kind of level of detail that you went into on handcrafting each and every one of these courses.
What other styles of swing mechanics are there?
Craig: The primary way that we’re our swing mechanic and our game are analog. We know that from previous golf games, that’s the kind of most sought-after or used swing mechanic that we have for players, it’s the most natural for you to interact with the ball and kind of feel the swing when it comes to using the controller as your input. The one thing that we know is that certain players will still be looking for. That’s something that we’re going to be looking to add post-launch a three-click kind of classic swing mechanic. So even though it’s not the kind we know it’s not the primary way that a lot of people like to play golf games is definitely something that a subset of users will really enjoy playing. And so we’re going to look at addressing that post-launch.
Ben: One other thing on the swing mechanics, we look at our game and we want it to be approachable and fun to play. When we first started this project, I had a four-year-old son who’s now six and my seventy-year-old dad was in and the game is easy enough for them to pick it up and play and have fun. My dad doesn’t play any games, my son had no idea how to play a game at the time. So it’s easy to pick up but the level of detail we’ve gone to it makes it really hard to master. So we can sort of make the most elite players kind of be able to separate themselves, but allow anybody to drop in and start having fun and experience the game.
Was implementing ShotLink and TrackMan into the game something you envisioned from the beginning? Was it difficult to implement and if so, why?
Craig: I think from the start, we’ve really seen I don’t know if you’ve seen the last 10 years, the evolution of data and the kind of track men evolution in golf itself. Players using launch monitors, I think 90 of the top 100. pros use TrackMan. Everyone’s using a launch monitor of some sort. And you even see it in the broadcast. And in PGA events, there’s shot link integrated, you’re seeing every, every shot, on screen, ball speeds, things like that. So we knew that that was something that we wanted to represent in the game as well from the start.
So yeah, TrackMan was a natural partner, when we were looking at pure strike and implementing shot types. They provided data for their probes so that we could replicate in our end-game engine, the ball speeds, launch angles, and things like that, to make sure that all of our shot types are using or outputting data that’s as close as possible to real-life numbers. So that was huge for us. And then yes, ShotLink was also for the validation on the back end understanding, being able to see specific holes carry and roll distances, being able to replicate that in the game. And then for when we’re creating challenges as well for ShotLink later in the post-launch content.
How many female golfers can you play in the game?
Ben: We’ve already announced that you can play as genuine Ko and Danielle Kang, and the core does, but we also have with our creative player system, you’ll be able to create a female character and play them everywhere. We’ll have some more licensed LPGA pros that we’ll be announcing as we lead up to the launch. But yeah, there are a lot of great experiences, I think also really highlighting the Evian Championship. As, as one of the pinnacle majors LPGA golf will be a cool experience. It’s a really unique course compared to a lot of the PGA Tour courses set in the mountains above Lake Geneva and France. So that’d be a fun experience for our users. And we have some other stuff up our sleeves for celebrating our LPGA partnership.
A lot of what is being shown is driving home the realistic nature of the game. But past EA Golf games have had fun game modes, will we see anything like those mini-games in this title?
Ben: Our challenge system is giving us a lot of tools to create very compelling different ways to play in the game. So I think we’ll definitely lean into that, you’ll never see 16 players playing on the same hole in real life, in most cases. So that’ll certainly be where we expect a lot of our players to go and have more of a social experience.
I also think our tournament tech, and the kind of limited-time events that we can do there, we have some flexibility on how we create some modes like that priority one was making authentic real-world golf. But we know it’s a video game that needs to be fun and approachable and have some of that stuff that you may see golf authentic offers doing on the week off between events, right, so it’s not always just 72 holes over and over again. So we want to try to lean into that authenticity, but we will also have sort of those quick-to-fun, more bite-size experiences that users can drop in and play as well.
How diverse is the commentary we will hear during games?
Ben: We’ve recorded hundreds of hours and we’ve developed a great model. Having worked on Madden before golf here, where we have our commentators in the booth multiple times a week and with a pandemic, we were actually able to set up home studios for each of our talents so that they didn’t have to get on an airplane and come down to Orlando to record so we’re able to actually record a lot more content that way. Yeah, as I said, hundreds of hours and I think the underlying tech for it is really interesting. So the putting tech specifically instead of just like it’s gonna break a little bit left for this a little bit, right, like, we go in great detail of how each pot is going to break.
We’ve also developed a tech where we can circle different parts of the course and tell stories from that. So if you get into the Seven Sisters bunker at St. Andrews, you will get special lines for that. I had a crazy line when I was playing yesterday and I didn’t even remember recording where I hid it and it bounced off the woods stanchions around the pond, and it actually triggered a line that we had recorded on that. So it’s super detailed. The interaction and rapport between our commentators are incredible. They work very well together. So we expect that to further bring to life as if you’re watching your vet in a normal golf broadcast.
Xbox Series X & PS5 have 4K with 60fps?
Craig: Yeah, 4K 30 FPS. And that was just to be able to get the kind of visual quality targets that we’re looking at, for all the courses.
What can we expect in terms of post-launch content?
Ben: We’ll have each of the 2023 major host courses. So Oak Hill, la Country Club, and royal Liverpool coming into the game over the summer, we’ll also be adding Olympia fields and Marco Simone, host of the Ryder Cup and the BMW championship will have a lot of challenges as we talked about with shot like where it’s, it’s based on what you’ve seen in those majors or in PGA tour events, to give users a fantasy of trying to recreate so if somebody hits a crazy hole in one on the island green will be able to recreate that for them to try to go get some exclusive rewards and try to match what they see in real life.
We’ll be progressively adding more and more social ways to play the game. So whether it be new shots, new game formats, those online modes, or tonnes of gear, we’ve been lucky enough to get some of the 2023 stuff kind of ahead of time but there’ll be more stuff drop in along with the majors and throughout the summer and we have great relationships with all of those partners to be able to get that gear early and in some cases drop it the day that it comes out in real life or maybe even a little bit earlier.
We’re thankful to David, Ben, and Craig for speaking to us in this interview. From the interview, we can see that the devs put a lot of effort into not only learning from past PGA Tour games but also the greater culture around golfing, in general, to make the most authentic game possible. We wish them the best of luck and can’t wait to see the final result.