Golf games are usually standard on a new video game platform. But, they only work so well when you’re pretending to swing at a ball with a 16-button controller.
In virtual reality, however, you can get much more into the actual experience of playing golf, and that gives this style of game the potential to reach a much wider audience than many other VR titles. That’s what Futuretown is trying to deliver with Cloudlands: VR Minigolf, a new game coming soon for the HTC Vive. The title is one of a dozen releases that I saw for the HTC Vive that debuts in April on the PC. The system is Valve and HTC’s bid to be a player in what could be a $30 billion industry by 2020, according to tech advisor Digi-Capital. I saw the game at a Valve event in Seattle.
With the HTC Vive, you wear a VR headset, so you can see into an immersive virtual world. But, your hands are also free to be used in virtual reality. You hold independent hand controllers in each hand, and sensors in the room can track the full motion of your body with precision. The system also designates a safe area where you can walk without bumping into your furniture.
That makes the Vive a very interesting system for experiences like miniature golf, which require a lot of detection of subtle movement. Previous motion-based games on the Wii and Xbox’s Kinect systems are pretty inaccurate. With the Vive, though, your ability to move and be detected precisely is pretty good.
Futuretown used the sensor system to develop a physics-based mechanic around putting. You hold the controllers as if you were holding a real putter. You swing the putter back and then hit the ball. The sound of the putter hitting the ball is pretty good, but when I played, I got the sense that the force required to make the ball move the right distance was off. I hit the ball and my stroke was way too soft. Hopefully, the developers can adjust the force, so you don’t have to do a mighty swing every time you hit the ball.
The environment in the game and the creativity of the course layout are where the game shines. You’ll find cool natural landscapes and very weird contraptions like you would see in the best miniature-golf courses. You can hit a ball through the rotating parts of a windmill. But, you also have to send a ball down multiple levels and through impossibly small gaps in barriers. Don’t be surprised if it takes you 10 strokes to get a ball into the hole.
This title should appeal to players of all ages and all skill levels. It’s the kind of release that could widen the audience for VR.
Futuretown has raised money, but it isn’t saying how much yet. It has 17 employees in Taoyuan, Taiwan, and Vancouver, Canada. The founders are Johan Yang and Justin Liebregts, who started on the Cloudlands: VR Minigolf title after they visited HTC’s headquarters in Taiwan in March 2015. The game is expected to launch in April with the launch of the HTC Vive.
“We decided VR was the ‘thing’ we want to do for the rest of our lives,” they said.
The team is also working on other VR titles, such as a shooter dubbed Jeeboman. Cloudlands: VR Minigolf will also be available on the Oculus Rift.