The SimCity series is best remembered for its city management, but developers Maxis deserved just as much praise for turning their simulator skills towards the world of golf. And that was a wonderful time: it allowed a younger me to dream.
A dream of building the most hellish, dickish golf course imaginable.
Resort Boss: Golf, which pleasantly popped up towards the end of last year, initially seemed like it might meet this promise. On the surface, it's a sim about managing a golf resort.
The Resort Boss title isn't for show. The early access of the game, which launched this week, includes hiring and firing privileges for landscapers and builders. The volley of mayors, actors, journalists and other "famous" people will result in a metric shit ton of emails to scroll through, which you can't sort or file away in any organised manner.
You're supposed to build paths for your members to get from place to place, a clubhouse for them to stay at, and later a hotel, restaurant, and expanded golf facilities. The game will let you build three holes from the beginning until you become more established, which really just translates to building a hole competently enough that the golf internet doesn't hate you for existing.
And despite my best efforts, that didn't seem to matter.
Once you've made a clubhouse, Resort Boss: Golf takes you through the basics of creating a hole. Decide what you want the plot - the playing field, basically - of the hole to be. Work out where the tee and hole will be, add fairways, rough, greens, bunkers as necessary, adjust the formation of the land (read: make vortexes of death that the golfer AI is too dumb to escape from), and once you're done, your landscapers will start laying the necessary work to bring your hole into being.
There's a bit of shock with the holes, in that you spend the whole process building exactly what it'll look like - and then you have to wait for it to be built. Which could take a while early on, since you only start with two landscapers and they're probably busy fixing up a bunker you asked them to work on somewhere else. There's a fast-forward button, although it never seems to move quite as fast as I'd like.
The hole building process - in principle and practice - is the best part of this game. There's some bizarre quirks, like when the game suddenly decides to remove half of the green from the allotted playfield simply after moving the hole.
The biggest kicker at the moment is that the golfing AI is too simplistic to work its way around a course. Working with the smallest possible sandbox to start with, I designed a second hole as a dogleg - one with a fairway that curves around a corner before going over a small lagoon onto a raised green.
I'd mucked with the placement of trees and the fairway, but Resort Boss tends to calculate the path to the hole as directly as possible. You can't, for instance, put a couple of trees on the fairway. Or really account for slices and hook shots - punters will aim straight as the hole as much as possible, never taking the safe route or an extra shot to make par.
You also can't set what the par for a hole should be - that's automatically determined by the length of the hole, irrespective of how hellish a designer you want to be.
Playing a hole, at this stage, is pretty simplistic. There's no neat SimGolf style mechanics, or even traditional video game golfing skills required. Once you pick a hole you want to play, you wait for someone to approach the tee, select a club, pick a point on the course, and your peep will hit a perfect shot. They trot up to the ball, and you repeat until either you finish the hole or get bored and opt to retire.
There were plenty of bugs with my playthrough though: menus would overlay each other, the main menu bar occasionally disappeared forcing me to restart the game, or punters would get stuck meaning I couldn't play my own hole. It's improved over the last fortnight, particularly when it comes to construction staff getting lost in their own project or behind a wall somewhere, but it's still very early in development.
Resort Boss: Golf launches in early access Friday morning local time, so there's a ton of development down the road that's still required. Key features on the roadmap include custom player/managers that appear on the course, Steam workshop support for Rollercoaster Tycoon-style scenarios for players to work through, cloud saves, different algorithms for map generation to avoid always starting on completely flat sandboxes (think more mountainous courses), more advanced management settings for each hole, an entire round of golf, budgetary restrictions, staff ranks and more advanced contract negotiations.
But what's available from this week is pretty simple. It's not SimGolf and nothing close to what a spiritual successor would be. Instead, it's just a light set of tools for building a set of golf holes with some management sim trappings on the outside. The management elements aren't the meat and potatoes of this game, but the amount of money I accrued by erecting a hotel as soon as possible meant that I could effectively ignore that aspect entirely.
Resort Boss: Golf could be more interesting if there was a more advanced golfing model - what's the fun of building your own golf course if it's not fun to play? - or more refined building controls. As it stands, neither of those things are quite there.
Sadly, my dream of getting lost in a diabolical hellscape of a golf simulator, remains just a dream.