In a title update scheduled to arrive on April 20, gamers with Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 and a Kinect sensor will be able to face the screen as they execute a golf swing, a more natural way to play video game golf, and a feature whose absence at launch made for some nonplussed reviews and gamer reaction.
As it is now, one 's swing is parallel to the screen, swinging away from it, usually facing a wall at the end. That mode of play will still be necessary for using Kinect on the game's top two difficulty levels, Tour Pro and Tournament. But on the bottom two, Amateur and Pro, gamers will be able to square up perpendicular to the screen, swing away, and follow the ball's flight in a more natural posture.
"Every time we play tested the game, the first thing people would do is turn sideways [and swing into the screen]," Mike DeVault, a senior designer on the game, told Kotaku today. "That's sort of the natural instinct, and you see the golfer on the screen doing that. It's what you gravitate to."
However, at the time they were building the swing control for Kinect, the device wasn't able to capture the data that they needed to make that swing a meaningful challenge. After receiving updates to the Kinect development kit, and the tuning of difficulty at Amateur and Pro, DeVault's team realised they could do a face-the-screen swing, but they would be unable to get it on the disc at launch.
"When we started developing the game, our preference was to make it the sideways swing that everyone gravitates to," DeVault said. "But we could not get the data points we needed for the simulation."
The gameplay change will arrive via free title update over Xbox Live. Swing control for PlayStation Move, which has been part of the game since Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11, will remain the same: The player will swing parallel to the screen, not directly into it.
When I visited DeVault and the Tiger Woods team last week, the disappointment that the Kinect feature wasn't better received was apparent. The swing position was my biggest gripe with the mode when I reviewed the game, too. DeVault hopes that this update will encourage gamers to give the mode a second look.
Gamers will be able to swap between facing the camera and standing parallel to it at will, DeVault said; Kinect will recognise and apply both types of swings. "So if you prefer to putt facing into the Kinect [with your line pointing left of the screen], the game will recognise that, plus a traditional drive where you end up looking at the screen," DeVault said.
When virtual golfers try this out, DeVault hopes they'll give the harder modes a try, too. But he has some advice: Hold a real golf club when you do.
"When you play as Amateur or Pro, it feels like the Tiger Woods game you're used to, you're just using your body as a controller," DeVault said. "When you crank it up to Tournament, it really starts to feel like golf. So, just having that club in your hands starts to autocorrect what you do when you're swinging without a club.
"Tiger Woods comes in here and swings without a club, and it looks as beautiful as his swing does when he's holding a club," he continued. "But for the majority of us, without a club, it looks like some sort of newfangled game swing. Plus, if you're looking to get a workout in, play a couple of rounds with a short iron or a pitching wedge. You'll feel it in your arms the next day."
What was evidently disappointing to EA Sports was how few people really tried to play the game at the higher difficulty level with Kinect. DeVault repeated that the sensor captures more than 1,000 data points and then uses that, plus logic formed from hundreds of captured swings, to analyse your motion and create a shot authentic to it. Playing golf in this way is not easy, and will require practice and patience, just like the real sport.
DeVault himself shoots "in the low 90s", when he plays real-life golf. In the video game they themselves created, the office's course record at Augusta National on Tournament difficulty is 84, held by Brent Nielsen, the executive producer. "And Brent's a pretty good golfer," DeVault noted. "That'll tell you how much the difficulty scales up."