Held at the upscale Presidio Golf Clubhouse, far-flung from the hustle and bustle of downtown San Francisco, publisher Bandai Namco hosted a press preview event of its newly minted beta version of “Winning Putt”, for several dozen gaming and tech press. In the wood-paneled clubhouse, speaking to the tradition of the game, brightly colored signage dotted the area around the check-in and attendee lounge area.
A gamut of beverages and light appetizers were set up to carry attendees through the wait before the preview and into it. Inside a green-themed and brightly lit tented pavilion, complete with the view of a part of a course and a sand trap behind it and a putting green-like surface inside, next to the clubhouse, Bandai Namco and Webzen Onnet, the developers, let the attendees in and announced and profiled the game on stage. Throughout the evening, golfers would stroll by on a pathway, with their golf bags behind them and glance inside, one of whom was curious about “Winning Putt” and remarked to a friend with him that he’d even like to try it.
At each corner of the pavilion, the media could test the game at stations decked out powerful gaming PC laptops and headsets. From there, they could dabble with equipping their players, take on a birdie challenge, go for the practice range or try the full 18-hole freeplay — which was where we were able to sample the game after the announcements on center stage. All in all, the event was a very smart way to debut “Winning Putt.”
“Winning Putt” could be described as something other than a completely new game. By that, I mean, the heritage of this game goes back more than a decade into the annals of massively multiplayer online gaming history. “Shot-Online”, an MMO golfing game I once helped publicize many years ago (by way of disclaimer), is a distant relative to this slicker version of multiplayer online golf. “Shot Online” was developed by OnNet, which was acquired by Webzen in 2015. The developers stress that “Winning Putt” deserves to be seen as a creation in its own right. At the start of 2016, after about an estimated three years and a large developmental push, Webzen’s OnNet’s collected experience has been catalyzed to develop and launch “Winning Putt.” I felt a touch of deja vu playing this game, because the fundamental golf and MMO experiences were familiar, while still a generation of development removed.
Graphics are powered by the CryEngine, which brings more than enough juice to power the courses and character visuals. The graphics, foliage, weather effects and so on look and animate perfectly cleanly, but there’s only so much to be done to render this ancient Scottish game. To the game’s credit, character creation is very robust, very thorough, covering the fine points of facial and body construction details. Think “Elder Scrolls” or “Age of Conan”-level customization experience.
“Winning Putt” is an online golf gaming experience with all the familiar upgrade, customization and social trappings like chat, messaging, guild-joining and group play of an MMO. So, one does not simply log into “Winning Putt” and play like a pro. The class you take, the experience you log, and the apparel, accessories and items you buy or earn shape the performance curve of the game for each player, which should sound familiar to MMO veterans. So, starting out, playing “Winning Putt” will be more like walking around like a fantasy MMO in rags with a stick, compared to the ready-to-go experience of “Super Mario Golf.”
Players can look forward to instanced speed runs through courses and new content past the seven courses to start with, such as a wild lunar level and other fantasy levels. Even at this stage, I feel the game could be an interesting fit for eSports tournaments, because the game feels more fun with a group playing party-style, even if everyone is dropping shots.