This is (not) a golf game
Find out how a shared loathing of golf inspired Triband to create one of 2019’s most bizarre games, What The Golf?
there’s a growing band of indie game makers who are looking to break free of the constraints of genre convention, free of the pressures of hardware optimisation and, most importantly, free of the shackles of any kind of natural law of logic. These are developers who want to create something silly. Something absurd. Something strange. And at the forefront of that push right now is Triband from Denmark with What The Golf? scheduled for release in 2019.
“Our goal from the beginning was always to make something that was out there and to push the barrier in what computers games could do,” Triband co-founder and COO Rune K Drewsen tells us. “When we start on a project, we strive to make people who play it feel like ‘why didn’t I come up with that?’”
Triband’s story is a peculiar one in some respects, but perhaps not so unfamiliar. It was founded by Drewsen along with Peter Bruun and Tim Garbos. Drewsen comes from an advertising background, and met developers Bruun and Garbos while working in an old school in the heart of Copenhagen run by a feminist art collective. It was seeing how the game developers were interacting with each other and sharing expertise that drew Drewsen in. “I’ve only been in the game business for three years, and one of the things that got me excited about this business in the first place was actually the shared sense of community that we especially have here in the Scandinavian countries,” he explains. “When I first saw this I was very excited because I have a background in advertising, and in advertising everyone is competing with everybody, even within the office. Everybody is the best at everything. When you leave the company you try and get so many of the clients to follow you over to a new company, and everybody is claiming that they’re the best at everything. And it’s kind of tiring. When I saw this hospitality or shared community feeling or whatever you would call it, I was really excited and thought ‘Wow, I need to switch now, because this is just amazing’.”
And so, as Drewsen explained at the start, the mission was put in place to try to surprise and push beyond the conventional thinking. This was certainly evident in Triband’s debut game Keyboard Sports. This mixture of sports and point and click control used the entirety of the keyboard with it all displayed on screen, and with your character moving to whatever key you pressed. It was a pretty innovative take on using the keyboard as a controller. “We felt it was a shame that everybody had this awesome game controller in front of them and everybody was only using like four keys,” Drewsen tells us. “We really wanted to make a game that used all of the keys, even the ‘taboo’ keys like Home and Escape, those keys that you never get to press. The idea was really that when people sat down in front of Keyboard Sports they should have that feeling that you have as a kid when you see a keyboard for the first time and
when we start on a project we strive to make people who play it feel like ‘why DIDN’T i come up with that?’
you just press all of the buttons and the typewriter or computer or whatever it is, makes inputs and you’re amazed by it.”
It holds up very well, and captures the spirit of what Triband is trying to achieve, turning conventions on their head, rethinking norms, but also working within recognisable fields, so as not to scare too many people away. “I think the good thing about both Keyboard Sports and What The Golf? is that you don’t need to be a hardcore gamer to enjoy the game,” Drewsen adds. “They’re fairly easy to pick up, and I think I could even get my mum to play it. A lot of the references in What The Golf? she won’t get at all because she’s not into videogames, but I don’t think that’s a problem because I see the whole project like a Pixar movie where it needs to work on two levels. It needs to be fun to play, and if you get the references and all that then you will enjoy it even more, but it’s not necessary that you get the references.”
So what is What The Golf? Well, on the surface it’s a golf game, not surprisingly, but when you actually play it and see it in action you’ll come to understand that it’s really only a golf game mechanically. While hitting a ball with a club towards a hole is where things begin, moving objects towards an end point by any means necessary becomes the real mission. It begs the question, how did all of this get started? “We were sitting around discussing games, and I can’t remember which games we were discussing, but it turned out that nobody in the office liked golf or golf games,” Drewsen tells us, but that just seemed to spur them on. “So we thought that it would be obvious to make a golf game. Can we make a golf game that we would find fun? Can we make something that’s funny? How come it has to be this boring? Can we change that?”
There was, however, one small snag in that plan. “Unfortunately, nobody who works here knows anything about golf,” Drewsen continues. “We’re good at making games, but we’re not good at golf, so we just started making what we thought was a golf game.” What followed sounds like a free-wheeling journey through different concepts and creative directions that allowed the team to experiment and test out what kind of feel and challenge it wanted to take on with its interpretation of a golf game for people who hate golf.
“It was originally something completely different and was much darker and more complex, in a way. The working title at the time was Golf Versus Evil because we wanted to have a golf game with boss fights, so it kind of had this Dark Souls feel to it, in a way.” But that direction didn’t seem to chime with Triband’s aesthetic and mission of fun, irreverent and accessible gaming, so it had to pivot. “We said, ‘It’s not working. It’s not fun to make and it’s too gloomy and too dark. We need to spice it up’. Then we rebooted the whole project three times, and in the end we came up with What The Golf? and at this time we had so many different golf mechanics that we thought, ‘Can’t we just put all of them in a game?’. Then we just started developing this crazy prototype that we put in the game.”
That might sound like it would create a rather anarchic or disjointed gaming experience, but What The Golf? holds itself together with its singular commitment to abstract thinking and art style. The former makes a virtue of constantly changing, evolving and surprising. The later creates a welcoming atmosphere that plays well against the physics engine, helping to soften the edges that might otherwise emerge.
i think when flash Died i feel that a lot of creativity also Died. Now, with unity, that creativity is blossoming again
“Basically we used the same artist as we did with Keyboard Sports,” says Drewsen. “He’s a Swedish guy called Simon Post, and he lives in a cabin in the woods. He just has this creative energy and this awesome art style, and he’s very quick, so when you tell him to do something he’ll do it fast, which is important I think. So the art of the game is based upon his art style, and then it’s super interesting when you do that kind of art style with a physics-based game, because you get something that’s not ‘out there’ as much, but it plays with people’s expectations, and if you have bright and solid colours they expect something that’s not so serious, which What The Golf? definitely isn’t, and they’ll expect something silly and safe, and they might even explore more and do more crazy things that they wouldn’t do in something more polished.”
A great example of this is one of the earliest events that lets you know What The Golf? is not going to be like your typical golfing experience. Having been introduced to something that looks pretty easily identifiable as a mini golf course, you drag back from the ball, an arrow appears that grows as you drag further, you release, and the ball moves in the direction of the arrow, hopefully towards the hole. The ball goes in and you move on. So far, so golf. But then on another attempt a golfer is now on screen. He wasn’t there before. You drag back from the ball once more and release… but it’s the golfer that goes flying. Do the same again towards the hole, and the moment he hits the flag you’ve completed the course. Our description really doesn’t do it justice, but that one hole has proven to be a real litmus test of players for Triband.
“It’s interesting because with that level, when we showcase that, five per cent of people think they’ve done something wrong and broken the game, and the rest will just laugh and have fun and play around,” Drewsen reveals. “I find that super interesting. How come they think they’ve broken it? I think it’s a balance. We don’t want to lose them and we don’t want them to think they’re bad. We want to encourage them that they’re doing good.”
That’s now the challenge for the team; making sure that people don’t have those moments of confusion and feel invited to experiment and explore with the mechanics. “I think there should be stuff
Ribbit King 2003 On the surface of things this is a golf game, except you’re hitting a catapult with a mallet to fire a frog around a level to interact with as many objects as possible and put up the biggest score. But other than that, clearly golf. goofball goals 2014 We like to think of this one as the QWOP of football games, as two sides of players who are animated a lot like they have their shoelaces tied together attempt to knock a ball into the opposition goal. Beyond that, the rules of the game do not apply. sportsfriends 2013 A fantastic multiplayer experience, especially when you can get four players on the go at once and preferably locally, this PS4 and PC title has all of the trappings of great sporting competition, but nothing we could easily identify as a real-world sport. behold the Kickmen 2017 Created by a team that admits it doesn’t really know much about the rules of football, never the less manages to harness some of the mechanics of with a satire of the beautiful game rather well. Behold The Kickmen Sensible World Of Soccer blood bowl 2 2015 A great example of real sport turned into something completely original, Blood Bowl has transitioned nicely from the world of tabletop gaming to videogames and the crazy tactical battle and violence, on offer here can be quite engrossing.