Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 135 / NOVEMBER 1991 / PAGE 118

In the course of human events. (golf software)
by Orson Scott Card

All one-player computer games are like golf. You aren't playing against another player--what he does has no effect on where your ball lies. Instead, you're playing against the course designer. When you face a sand trap or a water hazard, these obstacles were set in place by the person who plotted the course. However, despite the similarities between good gold courses and good computer games, there aren't that many really good golf simulations around. One obvious reason is that there's no way the computer can give you the sun on your back; the wind in your hair; the feel of the club swinging, dragging your arms along; the thwack of the club on the ball; and the sense of public humiliation or exultation when you see how close you have landed to the green.

The best computer golf simulation right now is Links, from Access. From the way Links got the built-in IBM speaker to sound like birds chirping and your player-figure to say things to the caddy like "I think that'll play' to the gorgeous real-world gold courses and the lifelike swing of the golfer, the illusion of playing golf is as good as it gets on the computer screen.

Pretty pictures are often offered as a substitute for quality gameplay, but not here. The simulation is excellent, and the computer does all the hard work, leaving the fun decisions and the final hand-eye coordination to you. You get help when you want it, but then, as in the real thing, during the swing itself you have to be focused and hit now, with just the right force.

By contrast, even on the Amiga (where I played it), Accolade's Jack Nicklaus: Greatest 18 Holes of Major Championship Golf is just not up to the competition. While the Amiga's sound capabilities allow Nicklaus to offer real speech, Links makes better use of the miserable IBM speaker for speech and everything else. Much more important, while the Nicklaus graphics are good and the play of the game is easy to learn, once you've played with Links, you'll feel positively crippled going back to the simpler game.

For instance, Links handles aiming with a stick that you actually move around the course and lets you switch to a top-down map whenever you want; Nicklaus gives you the top-down view only at the beginning of ach stroke, and you aim with a little ball along the top of the screen. This makes putting artificially hard because the ball is so far above the hole itself that you can't be sure, as you could on a real course, whether you're lined up properly.

Even the way the two games handle the stroke is telling. Both of them graphically represent the backswing, the forward swing, and the moment of striking the ball--you click to start, click (or release) at the top of the swing, and then try to click again exactly when the club reaches the original ball position. Quite a hand-eye feat, but learnable on both. However, where Nicklaus uses a vertical bar, on which your stroke rises straight up and comes straight down, Links uses a C-shaped graph that gives far more of the illusion of the movement of the head of the club during an actual swing.

Both games offer several excellent courses, and Nicklaus allows you to create your own courses, even offering trees and other features as clip art to make course construction easier and more realistic. But even the best of the Nicklaus courses pale beside the Links courses, which were not only videotaped, but also analyzed by computer so that when you shoot through foliage, the game can tell whether the ball was deflected by a major branch or just slowed in the leaves. Indeed, Links may be the most realistic simulation I've ever seen on a computer. This is the standard for everybody to meet from now on.

My son Geoffrey has pointed out that Nicklaus is easier to learn and play and win. He is almost always under par in that game, whereas Links is still tough after many plays. Maybe, then, you could use Nicklaus as an intermediate golf game, for kids who have outgrown Digitek's delightful Hole in One Miniature Golf, with its wonderful courses (including the insane Fantasy course). The three games do make a good progression--my daughter likes Hole in One, and her big brother likes Nicklaus, in larg part because they can often beat par. But Links gives me everything I want from golf; endless challenge and beautiful scenery, without sunburn, bugs, lost golf balls, or weariness.