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It's All in the Hips - Talking PGA Tour 2K21 and Golf Videogame Development with HB Studios
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 04:58pm 15/10/21 | Comments
We chat with HB Studios creative director, Josh Muise, about what it takes to make a great golfing videogame experience...

The golf game is a staple in our industry and covers everything from unlikely plumbers-cum-pro, to post-apocalyptic wastes converted into courses. Of course, amidst the creative twists are the expected realism-leans, of which there have been many over the journey. The most recent Triple-A driver is the freshly-minted PGA Tour 2K series (kicking off with PGA Tour 2K21), from HB Studios who itself has been pulled into the 2K Sports stable. And while the studio’s most recent outing has been doing the rounds for a while, it continues to be iterated upon even until now, with the recent announcement of the Baller Edition release.

Ahead of that announcement though, we were given a chance to chat with HB Studios’ creative director, Josh Muise, who was kind enough to fill us in on some of the sand traps that come with golf game development, alongside its many wins.

AusGamers: Now that the studio is officially 2K Sports in-house, what’s changed (if anything)?

Josh Muise: Not much has changed in our day-to-day work. Having the 2K machine behind us will open new doors and we have some big things to announce in the future which are made possible by being part of the 2K family. We can’t wait to tell you more!

AusGamers: How has the pandemic altered the studio’s approach to design? We’ve learnt that different studios are combating obstacles in unique ways, how has HB Studios gone about it?

"Everyone did their best to overcommunicate and keep a very high level of contact going each day...”

Josh Muise: We were very lucky that our team was able to shift over to remote work about as smoothly as possible. Sure, there were some learning moments along the way, but overall, the team adapted quickly, were flexible, and most importantly, supported each other, and were patient with each other adjusting to our new workflow. Everyone did their best to overcommunicate and keep a very high level of contact going each day. It also provided a good opportunity to think through some ideas we could implement once we are back in a studio setting.

AusGamers: Golf where games is concerned looks like an easy sell from the outside. But the world of golf lives in peaks and troughs from an expanded audience perspective where you have ‘hardcore/elite’ players and fans, versus the more ‘casual’ audience who chime in when there’s a cool underdog story, or an unknown or very young gun breaking through. And then when you have that newer, maybe less-informed audience, as a goal to draw into your core experience, how do you approach making a game that meets that core expectation, without scaring away potential new punters?

Josh Muise: It’s a delicate balance, for sure. We’ve worked to create elements of forgiveness and flexibility for newer and casual players, while allowing the game to still be challenging and require a great degree of skill. 2K’s approach to marketing the game has embraced the new, casual, “cool” golf fan but we’re also staying true to the fundamentals and integrity of golf and the PGA TOUR by capturing true-to-life courses, players, gear and other elements of the game.

AusGamers: We’re in a transition phase in gaming where tech and accessibility are concerned, how do you utilise these Moore’s Law-level leaps in power and tools to make the game even more precise? Is it hard keeping up with those tech changes?

Josh Muise: I feel like, given our subject matter of choice (simulation of a real-world, outdoor sport) we can always continue to strive for realism, and measure our current progress against the real thing. As technology continues to evolve and grow, we will continue this practice, hopefully narrowing the gap more and more. In terms of the power available, and the tools themselves, these are the things that get our technical team, designers, and artists very excited. The ability to offer a deeper, more accurate experience to our users is our primary goal. Keeping up with the changes can be challenging, but it’s a challenge we embrace.

AusGamers: And in relation to the above, is there such a thing as having ‘too much’ realism in a videogame when you put into account all the above questions?

"Meanwhile, for veterans and those looking for an extra challenge, Legend mode is crushingly authentic...”

Josh Muise: So long as we feel we’re accomplishing our goal of appealing to a wide range of experience levels at the same time, we’re consistently aiming to push ourselves closer to a more authentic golf experience. With PGA TOUR 2K21 in particular, we feel we accomplished that goal by featuring a clear path for beginners across six difficulty settings that adjust every aspect of the swing system, with the option for further customisation should players want to fine-tune their experience. Meanwhile, for veterans and those looking for an extra challenge, Legend mode is crushingly authentic.

AusGamers: And in keeping with the realism of golf as a theme, I’ve played a lot of golf over my life, both on the course and in videogame form, and I haven’t come across any games that have delved into representing the history of the sport. Has there ever been a time during ideation where “what if we did a golf course, scenario and club set from 100 years ago?” has emerged as something to toy with? I know personally I’d play something like that; black and white old film grain super-8 projector sound style...

(That’s a freebie if it’s never been raised before.)

Josh Muise: That’s certainly a creative thought! The game of golf has such a deep and rich history with iconic players over the decades. We’re always ideating on new content themes and changes. I wouldn’t say “never” to just about any fun concept that’s been dreamt up.

AusGamers: What’s the number one request from community members you get all the time?

Josh Muise: By far the most common request we would get is for Tiger Woods, and we’re beyond thrilled to work with him moving forward as Executive Director and consultant. We can’t wait to tell you more about our partnership with Tiger in the future.

AusGamers: Now what’s the number one request you get that you CAN’T put in the game?

Josh Muise: We’ve got an incredibly dedicated and creative community. We work closely with them and listen to their feedback to tweak different aspects of the game and plan for the future. At least in the short-term, it’s usually requests for certain tour pros, celebrity guests or brands that we’re unable to include due to licencing issues.

With that said, by joining forces with 2K, we have not only licensed PGA TOUR courses but licensed pro players, gear and apparel brands, as well as some great celebrity partnerships already. So you never know. We’re certainly planning some big things for the future of the PGA TOUR 2K franchise.

AusGamers: Have you ever come across a pro you’ve worked with who’s been unhappy with how their stats translate in the game?

"As golfers and PGA TOUR fans ourselves, the eSeries has been really exciting to see...”

Josh Muise: While licensed pro players do appear in PGA TOUR 2K21, their stats/rankings aren’t set up the same way they might be in an NBA 2K or WWE 2K game. So at least thus far, we haven’t encountered that issue.

AusGamers: Who is the best pro at the game (so far)?

Josh Muise: I’m not certain I’d be able to make a clear call on who is best, but as golfers and PGA TOUR fans ourselves, the eSeries has been really exciting to see. Watching pro players, including Colin Morikawa, Carlos Ortiz, Harold Varner III and Max Homa enjoy our game, plus tying online competition to the real-life schedule of PGA TOUR events is a dream come true!

Read more about PGA Tour 2K21 on the game page - we've got the latest news, screenshots, videos, and more!