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The Sports Desk – The E3 Wrap-Up Edition & Dangerous Golf Afterwords

by Matthew Kato on Jun 20, 2016 at 10:00 AM

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E3 has come and gone, and my colleague Matt Bertz and I had the chance to get our hands on a number of the upcoming sports games (FYI, some like NBA 2K17 weren't there). While there is plenty more info to come about all these titles, the show gave us a good idea of their main features and what to expect going forward. Me, Bertz, and fellow sports fanatic Kim Wallace chat about what we've seen.

Kato: One of the main things I noticed about this year's show was how much depth we're getting with a lot of these games. FIFA is adding The Journey story mode (shown above). Forza Horizon 3 is letting users make their own events. The Golf Club 2 now includes a full career mode and single/multiplayer golf societies. Even series like NHL and F1 that have previously dropped the ball in terms of features are bulking up.

Bertz: Yeah, it's nice to see the sports labels get a little more ambitious after largely playing it safe as they gained their footing on the PS4 and Xbox One. Comparing this generation to previous ones, you can tell the lack of competition has somewhat stifled the creative drive to try new things. It seems most of the development in the past few years has been more focused on refining gameplay and shoring up deficiencies, so new features like The Journey and Steep's build-your-own extreme adventure approach to snow sports were most welcome.

K: What single feature impressed you the most?

B: I'm probably most excited about the changes coming to NHL 17's EASHL. Giving players the ability to customize jerseys, build their teams' home arenas, and play with new classes should help make the mode more of a destination. We had a lot of fun grouping up last year, and with these changes I could foresee myself spending even more time in the mode.

K: For me, I think it's Forza Horizon 3's festival and race builder. Making races and challenges has been done before in titles like Burnout Paradise, but I'm really excited in how the whole creation aspect feeds into the festival itself. Speaking of features, what did you think of FIFA's story mode, The Journey?

B: Even though it has its failings, I'm a huge fan of NBA 2K's MyCareer mode, so it excites me to see another sports game venture into storytelling. Interactive entertainment is powerful because it can take people places they otherwise don't have access to, and modes like this give players a glimpse into the life of a star athlete. Should it capture the locker room dynamic, the complications that come along with celebrity status, and the cutthroat nature of the sports business, it could be a riveting experience. These developers don't have a rich history of storytelling, so there may be road bumps in this first year, but even if this year fails I hope they stick with it in subsequent years.

Kim: Let me preface this by saying I wasn't at E3 this year to get hands-on with any of these games, but I'm a big fan of FIFA. I love how NBA 2K has integrated an RPG story mode, and I'm happy FIFA is finally doing something similar. Do I expect it to go without a hitch? I'm sure there will be growing pains, especially with its inception, but I'm happy that EA is at least trying to get this off the ground. I like that it's telling its own story by giving you a scripted player. As much as I love NBA 2K, there has always been some dissonance between your created avatar and the story it's trying to tell. I'm curious how much choice will actually be in The Journey and how long it will actually be, but boy do I love a mode that captures the drama of sports. This is also a good move to bring in players who maybe haven't played the series in a while. 

K: Yeah, I agree. I'm not expecting it to jump out of the gate this first year. I fully expect it to evolve as time goes on. You bring up NBA 2K's MyCareer mode, and I believe – but don't have confirmation – that the two will be different in that The Journey doesn't seem to have all the customization options in terms of animations and gear that MyCareer does. Maybe EA will announce that later, but it just doesn't have that vibe to it. I'm fine with that for this year because I want them to nail that story, and as we all know there's a fine line there. The more you let players have control, the less the storytellers have to tell the story they've envisioned.

K: What was your overall favorite sports game at the show?

Bertz: I only got my hands on the EA Sports games, so I don't have a full picture, but I came away from E3 thinking Madden is in a really good position. The changes EA Tiburon made to gap logic, zone coverage, the running game, special teams, and defending deep balls all have me high on the prospects of this year's edition. I also love the approach the team is taking to broadcast commentary. Upping the amount of recorded hours from 40 with Phil Simms and Jim Nantz to 400 with Charles Davis and Brandon Gaudin should cut down on the repetition and breath new life into the presentation.

K: Madden's commentary sounds like a small thing, but when I heard it in this year's game, I was very impressed and immediately appreciated the difference it made from previous outings. Madden's definitely up there for me as my sports game of the show, but I give the slightest of nudges to Pro Evolution Soccer 2017. Like Madden they've addressed some specific fan complaints, such as shoring up the defensive channels and the keepers, and I'm really excited to mess around more with the new tactics. There's a lot to fiddle with, but after three or four games I was already starting to get comfortable with a few of them. I'm also hoping the new deadline day focus and budget tweaks add some juice to the Master League career mode.
On the flip side, while I'm glad that none of the games I saw were actual poor, I'm disappointed that we're going to have to wait for an overhaul of Madden's franchise mode – specifically the mode's approach to draft and free agency. They've chosen to concentrate on more accessibility and tweaking the gameplanning, and there's nothing wrong with that, but I wish the effort was put elsewhere. Anything you'd categorize as a disappointment this year? 

B: I was surprised to see the NHL series is still stubbornly clinging to its forgiving player ratings; pretty much every player in the NHL is still rated 80 or above. This series struggles with player differentiation, and I would like to see it spend more time working to make a true star feel much different than a fourth liner fighting for minutes. I also noticed there weren't too many new authentic player face scans.

Kim: NHL has the biggest hurdles to overcome and the most to improve upon. It's largely behind other sports games in terms of innovation, which is to be expected as it doesn't have as large as a staff as FIFA or Madden. Still, I've grown frustrated by a lot of the gameplay, so I'm hoping for not only improvements, but the new elements to make it feel new and exciting. I'd love to see more realistic hitting and better A.I. awareness. I'm hoping that net battles give the gameplay some oomph and new strategy. I worry a bit about this element as I've found the A.I. is often overpowered in hitting, but as long as it's implemented fairly when you're playing against real players that's all I care about. Jostling in front of the net is such a big part of the game, so it's a smart move on NHL 17 to capitalize on it. I'm also hoping My Pro and Franchise modes receive some type of overhaul. They've both become so stale. The drafting and morale system especially need tweaking. I didn't see much hope for both modes, but at this point I'm more concerned with the gameplay feeling better.

B: On the Madden front, the one thing I've been requesting for years is formation substitutions, and they still aren't in the game. I would love to be able to design my nickel/dime packages and move receivers around the field in specific formations outside of a live game so I don't have to scramble between menus while the play clock is running.

In case you missed last week's Sports Desk – where I gave my hands-on impressions of EA Sports' games at E3 – here it is.

THE DANGEROUS GOLF AFTERWORDS

I grilled Chris Roberts, Phil Maguire, and Fiona Sperry from developer Three Fields Entertainment about some of the decisions they made during development, what they're working on fixing, and what's next for the company.

Why can't you steer the camera on the tee shot? Can you talk about the team's decision on this?
Chris Roberts: We never really felt we were making a golf title. There were lots of reasons why we didn't play golf games. We wanted to try and simplify things as much as possible. So that's why there aren't a choice of clubs, or a three-click swing mechanic or anything like that. The game starts off with things as simple as possible and then the player unlocks abilities like Pistol Putt and Pistol Tee as they complete the World Tours in the game. Pistol Tee lets the player move the camera around on the Tee and fire the Ball as if it's being fired from a gun.
We don't follow the ball off the Tee shot because we want the player to see what they have smashed, and see any chain reactions that they have caused. This approach also shows the player the bigger picture of where they are in the hole layout itself.

Were alternate control methods for the Smashbreaker considered? Why did the team choose the one they did?
CR: We've always liked games that feature twin stick controls. That goes back to playing games like SmashTV in the Arcades, to Geometry Wars on the Xbox 360, but also going back to driving the Warthog in the first Halo game. They're not for everyone, but we find them strangely appealing. Both real-life golf and golf video games share one thing in common – and that's a sense of precision. You have to precisely hit this ball and put it in a very precise place. But that didn't work for the flaming exploding ball of fire we call the Smashbreaker. Controlling this is like trying to tame a wild animal, and we deliberately wanted the player to feel as if they are on the edge of control. It's a really delicate balance, but we're quite proud of it. To be good at the game, you have to be successful in three areas: the opening tee-off, the Smashbreaker AND the putt. We wanted a game where it's fun for both novice and expert players alike. But also, we think that a lot of gaming is way too serious at the moment. So we quite like the fact that you might be really, really hard trying to hit that jar of pickles or smash that toilet, but then miss and have it all go a bit wrong. You can then try and make a save with a huge trick shot.

There are hints and a control map, but did the team consider putting in a dedicated tutorial?
CR: Yes we did consider it, but during the early playlists we did, no one seemed to struggle with how to play. In hindsight, that was a mistake. We're rectifying that by adding an introductory video tutorial sequence. This is coming in our first update.

Are the physics or outcome for some situations fudged? For example, on putts it seems like the ball generally wants to find the hole. Can you talk about any behind-the-curtain determinations when it comes to how the ball bounces around?
Phil Maguire: Dangerous Golf runs one of the most complex pure physics simulations out there. It's why there hasn't been any games made like this so far, that allow you to play with thousands of dynamic objects in a game world. It's very CPU intensive and works the consoles very, very hard indeed. In putting, we based this around making trick shots on a pool table. There you can hit a hard solid ball very hard and bounce it off the wooden rails. The same thing happens in our game. We hit the ball FAR, far harder than in the Tee Off, and we've made the walls and floor objects to provide a high bounce. This lets the ball deflect at a good angle and allow multiple ricochets to happen. Putting just wasn't fun when we weren't upping the power of the ball. It's fun to make a trick shot and it's all about judging the angles. We've set things up to allow great trick shots rather than do as much as we can to not let them happen.

What patches are you currently working on, and can you talk about any things you'd like to patch/update in the future?
Fiona Sperry: It's really important to us that we support our customers and provide them with timely updates with features that they want. We're just finishing our first update. We listened to our customers and got to work on the most requested features.
Instant Restart – This is the most requested feature. Our game is a high score-based game, and people want the ability to hit restart and get immediately back into the action and have another go. It involved reengineering a lot of things but we've managed to pull it off. We hope that this is a game changer. All credit to our amazing engineers Paul and Vealy who took this challenge head-on and worked speedily to make it happen.
Keyboard and Mouse support on PC – We should have had this ready for launch. We did not. It was a mistake. This has now been implemented and is already live on the Steam and Humble stores.
Control changes – we heard a few things here that we could act on:

  • 1. Camera – People wanted a more responsive camera, one that cut to the ball much more quickly from the tee, and which could not get stuck inside the ball. We've addressed that and made a bunch of changes there.
  • 2. Smashwave – People also commented that sometimes all of the rubble from the destruction was obscuring visibility when putting. We've added a new feature that we call SmashWave. This provides the ability to send out a small shockwave from the ball which clears anything nearby your ball. We think a few players at the recent U.S. Open would have liked to use that!
  • 3. Improved Button Mapping – We know that dual stick controls can be challenging, especially when having to use both triggers. We've added the option for players to switch to using a single button to drop into putting. We've tested this extensively, and we're confident it will remove the problem that some players have experienced of dropping into putting accidentally – usually when on the path to setting a massive high score!
  • 4. Smash Landing Improvements – Players asked for more predictability when smash landing onto buckets, trolleys, and jacks. We now display an onscreen prompt when you're in range.

Those address the top requests we've had from our players. We've also made a lot of small fixes and fixed some smaller bugs as well. Thanks to all those who gave us feedback. We were listening and it helped to guide us along the way. Overall the stability stats we receive from both Sony and Microsoft were very good. We've also tightened up how trophies and achievements are reported to avoid issues caused by players who lose internet connectivity.
Finally, we know that there are a lot of folks out there who are fans of our previous work. We also heard a lot of people wanting a clearer tutorial to help them understand the different abilities that are unlocked during World Tour play. So we've called an old friend of our to help us explain everything.

Are you planning to have any DLC? If so, will it be free or paid?
FS : We're a small indie team, and currently we have no additional content in the works for the game. However, we love hearing feedback from our players. If there is enough demand, then this is something we'd be open to considering. So please keep that coming either via Twitter or our Facebook page.

Have you begun work or thinking about the team's next project? Will it still be a spiritual successor to Burnout? Any plans for revisiting Black in some way?
FS: We are waiting to begin work on our next game, and we think that making a spiritual successor to Burnout could be fun. However, being a small indie studio we're entirely dependent on Dangerous Golf being successful so that we can continue doing what we all love, which is making games! So if the fans can support us by buying the game, then this is something we want to make.

Click here for my review of the title.

A COUPLE OF YOUR QUESTIONS FROM E3...

From Frib On Fire
Q: The coolest part about Fight Night's story mode is that the story actually affected how you had to play. And the worst part about 2K16's story mode was that the story seemed completely independent from what you did on the field. Where on the spectrum should we expect FIFA's The Journey?

A: I think your gameplay is going to be taken more into account and be the foundation of how Alex Hunter is treated by the club(s), so less like both. I've only played a sliver of The Journey, but my prediction having talked to the developers is that you will have decisions to make about your career at certain crossroads, but I bet these will only occur from time to time. More of your decisions will take place during conversations and interviews, which determine your personality. But, that's just my prediction.

From Lane
Q: Any new leagues, international teams, or divisions for Pro Evolution Soccer 2017? 

A: Any announcements on this kind of information will come later. The developer has announced, however, that any fan-made kits can now be imported via a simple USB file on the PS4 (sorry, not for the Xbox One). This greatly simplifies the process of last year.

THE TICKER


Hands-On With The Impressive Pro Evolution Soccer 2017 

Steep Is Ambitious, But Misses the Mark

F1 2016 Returns With Renewed Vigor
Codemasters' recent F1 games have been fine in the driving department, but lacked features. This year the game has bolstered its career mode significantly. My favorite part is how you influence R&D for your team. By completing challenges during the pre-race segments during the race weekend, like practice and qualifying, you gain R&D points that apply to various car and team upgrades. Moreover, there's always a rivalry to consider, whether that's being the #1 driver on your team or out on the track. Finally, the presentation adds some luster, whether in the paddock or via your career interface.

Infinite Air's World Builder Is Impressive, But The Tricks Are A Question Mark
The snowboarding game from HB Studios, the makers of The Golf Club 2, is remarkable for its generation of mountains and the ability to create events and runs at any time. However, the physics-based trick system doesn't feel as smooth as it does when simply carving down the mountain. In my brief hands-on time with the title, some landings were muddled with the ragdoll physics, and while performing the tricks themselves is easy, I need more time with the title to see how consistently they can be initiated and landed.

The Golf Club 2 Swings For Distance

Forza Horizon 3 Puts You In Charge Of The Horizon Festival...And Australia

GT Sport Is Playable At E3
I attended a presentation for the game with the creator himself, Kazunori Yamauchi, but it was the same one he gave in London in May. I asked him, however, if GT Sport was different than an eventual GT 7 and if GT Sport's competition focus would carry over to GT 7 when it came out. Yamauchi replied that people naturally think that GT Sport is a stop-gap title when in fact it has just as much content as a normal, numbered Gran Turismo game.
I played a demo of the title featuring some arcade mode races, and while it felt as good as previous titles, the graphics really stood out. I don't know if the beautiful Scapes photo mode has anything to do with it, but once again the series has raised the bar.