Sunday, December 17

Miniature Golf Course Design (a Discussion About Designing a Fun, Playable Course)

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I’ve found a toolset which I’m using to build basic mechanics for a multiplayer miniature golf game.  The basic concept is to make one that is rich with animation and visual detail, much like 1990s PC titles “3d Ultra Minigolf Deluxe” and “Minigolf Master: Miniverse”… I got interested in doing this while looking at recent digital miniature golf games and thinking, they’re all realtime 3d or cartoon-style, but not only that, they’re all fairly low in detail…

What I thought was that it’d be interesting to build a miniature golf video game in which the graphics were made with a combination of miniatures and CG, both realistic and highly detailed… a miniature golf video game which looked as real as, well, a physical minigolf course, with just as much character and charm.

Thus, “Miniature Minigolf”.  Once I had this seed of an idea, I searched high an low for minigolf course design concepts, and found very little – and much of what I did find, was scattered all over the place, piecemeal…

I’ve assembled what I have found in one place, here… and sprinkled in a few common sense game design ideas.

Course structure: Vary difficulty of the holes… but start with a fairly easy hole.  The first easy hole is good for drawing the player in and not alienating them up front… but if all the holes are easy it makes the course boring.  A string of hard holes all in a row may likewise frustrate players.

Diversity.  Make each hole interesting and unique… make the scenery beautiful to look at, and have a variety of interesting obstacles. 

Balanced courses.  Give the player a choice of what tactic to use, which direction to go, etc.  Give them a variety of ways to get to the hole, but make all of those tactics about equally valid… and don’t make a route that’s clearly preferable to all others, and DEFINITELY don’t make it so that that route can only be used by one of the players in a group.  3d Ultra Minigolf Deluxe did both of those things, which made some holes inherently unfair.

Vary obstacle types.  As far as I know, these are the basic obstacle types:

-Reflective.  The ball bounces off of it, i.e. the walls of the hole.

-Acceleration.  Slopes are a common example – they speed the ball in a certain direction.

-Friction.  Sand traps, for instance.

-Transportive.  Picks the ball up and moves it somewhere else.  Like a chute.

-Destructive.  The ball is out of bounds, or destroyed, or lost, and there’s a penalty stroke.

-Mobile.  The obstacle is moving from place to place, or is intermittently present.  For instance, the classic windmill hole.

-Narrow.  The challenge is to get the aiming as precise as possible.

-Distance.  Sometimes getting from point A to point B is hard just because the route is so long.

-Chance/Luck.  The obstacle will take your ball and do one of several possible things with it… You can’t predict which.

Really, it’s a matter of mixing these up and making them as interesting as possible. 

Sometimes you can combine these components and scenic them in a way that’s really unique.  Common minigolf course elements include water features, multiple elevations, plants of various kinds, and scenery that is imaginative and at times outright crazy.

Modern designs are an attempt to blend classical angular forms with more organic curved shapes, and mix in scenery which is interesting and creative, yet not overly kitschy… in other words, basically just good design.

This is what a miniature golf course design should be… something that looks nice, not ugly, and which offers balanced, fair gameplay to the players.  I wish I could give you something clearer than that, but course design is an art, not a science, and there isn’t a precise formula for it.

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