EA Sports PGA Tour will feature a dynamic set of gameplay modes, players, and 30 courses spanning some of the world’s most famous golf venues. One of the main focuses within the game will be Road to the Masters, a new narrative progression mode where players will work their way up in the golf world through various championships. Players will be able to assume the role of pros like Scottie Scheffler and Cameron Champ or create their own custom golfer.
Whether fans are playing through their own career storyline through Road to the Masters and EA Sports’ LPGA partnership events or simply shooting a quick round, the courses they encounter will be more realistic than ever before. This is due to a combination of technology – particularly EA’s Frostbite Engine – and development techniques. Each course has been crafted through the use of things like photogrammetry and helicopters equipped with LiDAR scanning to create the more authentic golf experience possible.
EA Sports PGA Tour Producer Ben Ramsour and Gameplay Designer Craig Penner sat down with Screen Rant to discuss the course design process, the levels of realism within the game, and the courses they’re most excited about.
Screen Rant: What can players expect from the new courses in PGA Tour? How will the experience differ from past golf game experiences that they’ve had?
Craig Penner: I can kick that one off. I think 30 courses at launch is more than I believe we’ve ever done before. And they’re running the gambit on the kind of greatest variety that we’ve been able to provide as well, too, from kind of major championship courses – Augusta National, obviously is one that is super exclusive and we’re super excited to provide for players to be able to jump into that and feel like a major championship golfer. And different types of terrain and environments, from Tara Iti, a seaside course in New Zealand, to Banff Springs, a mountain course that will allow you to feel the altitude. And so providing all these kinds of different courses and levels of conditions and different challenges, they’re going to be able to test golfers, for sure. Anything to add to that, Ben?
Ben Ramsour: Yeah, I think just visually immersing yourself in this experience of being a PGA Tour LPGA professional, it’s very exciting. Like, for me, the level of quality on Gen five, you know, PS5, Xbox, the level of detail is crazy. So then the way that we’re able to authentically replicate how the atmosphere and the experience of being there feels. But then coupled with that, what Craig and the team have done to make each of these courses feel completely unique, so that St. Andrews feels so different than Augusta National. And like, as a gamer, you have to make really interesting decisions on whether I am going to set up my game to be really good at a course like St. Andrews or Chambers Bay like link style versus an Augusta National or Bay Hill that requires, you know, a little bit of higher ball flight.
And then also telling the stories of our pros, and letting users feel what it’s like to be Scottie Scheffler versus Nelly Korda. So as they’re making interesting decisions in the RPG progression part of our game, it actually tells the stories in the world of like, how Scotty is making decisions each week on how he’s tuning his own game. And so, ultimately, giving that simulation of being a professional athlete all the way down to every shot.
We were at the Phoenix Open last week and hearing a caddy talk directly to his player, about how he was going to hit the shot. Like, “Okay, I’m in the rough, so I could get a flyer lie, so I might take one less club, but I have the wind,” and so it’s like you’re you’re making those decisions like a professional golfer’s making using the tools that you have in your tool belt, which is very video gamey. So it’s a good combination of like an authentic golf simulation but also with very interesting progression loops and you know, honestly modality of how you play the game. A video game is supposed to be fun, right? [Laughs]
And you were talking about it being a really immersive experience, what elements do you think really help it feel that way?
Ben Ramsour: I think it’s a few different things. The graphics – with Frostbite in our graphics engine, the courses just look stunning. Like we tell the story of when we actually showed Augusta, it was hole 13, when we were pitching Augusta. It’s a picture that they have all over their property in the different buildings, and they thought they were looking at the picture. The accuracy of what we can do, and even beyond photography, like there’s things that we can do with the way like the sun comes through the trees, that is graphically better than even what photography can capture. So it’s like you’re actually there. And then the physics of each course, which we already talked about.
The other thing is representing what, from a broadcast standpoint, what it’s like to be playing The Masters. So like, the unique broadcast packages we have, you know, as you come into the tournament with like, intro videos, and each tournament has its own graphics packages. If you’re watching it on TV, it’s green and yellow for Augusta, it’s red and blue for the US Open, and then just like statistical things, everything you would see on a broadcast. And then the commentary on top of that, we’ve recorded hundreds of hours of commentary.
So you’ll get really cool Easter eggs, like I had a shot the other day where I hit the wood around the edge of the green, and the commentators actually talked about the hole I was on and the wood. And I’ve been in most of those sessions, I did not remember recording that. So it’s just like a surprise, the storytelling that we can do to help you understand, like, where you are in your career or where you are on the courses that just really brings the courses to life.
Craig Penner: I can add a little bit on the gameplay side of things too, because there’s the feature that we added in shot types – which we’ve had some elements of shot types before in other games, but by adding in 20 now so in every kind of context, you’re able to choose not only your club but what type of shot you’re going to hit was a really big bar and threshold that we crossed with this game. So now when you’re on the tee, it’s not just pick my driver and hit, it’s “Am I going to hit a power drive, which is a little less accurate but goes further, or am I hitting a stinger shot that’s kind of out of the wind and lower?”
Those aren’t decisions that you used to have to make in previous golf games, and by now adding that here we’re starting to more closely resemble conversations that players in their caddies have before every single shot. If you’re watching golf on TV, you’ll hear them talk, they’ve got these great segments now where they’ll mic up a player for a hole and they’ll be talking about off the tee or you know, hitting an approach shot in, or like “Oh, I’m gonna hit this wedge in but take a little spin off.” And we have now a knock down shot where you can take some spin off, that’s not something that was in there before. So getting really deep into the kind of golf strategy thing. But again, doing it in a kind of a video gamey way where you unlock these things, you learn about them and kind of making that more accessible to the golfer so that you’re feeling like a professional golfer when you’re learning a bit more about golf too along the way.
I know there was a lot of really cool tech behind all of this. Can you kind of walk me through what the process was like from start to finish for recreating the courses in so much detail?
Ben Ramsour: Yeah, for sure. So we use several different pieces of tech along the way, so it’s basically a three part process. The first part is getting a terrain map, that’s the undulations up and down, and we do that with LiDAR, but it’s not just like LiDAR. We could have bought it from the government, but it wasn’t as detailed as we wanted. So we’ve used this laser that’s designed to find like gold mines and oil reserves, and it’s 30 times more dense than we could even buy from the government. And so we’ll go and we’ll scan either on a helicopter or an airplane or on a drone. It’s how we get that data.
So that’s step one to create the terrain map, and then we’re boots on the ground for a couple of days with our artists or art directors, taking photography, doing lighting conditions of like, where in the sky the sun is supposed to be is different at Augusta compared to St. Andrews, right? So like you get the natural rays of light where they’re supposed to be coming from, for the coloring we have this color chart so that you can see that the green of the grass is accurate to what is like there, if the colors of the azaleas are accurate to the shade of pink that they are. Then we also do photogrammetry, which is essentially a lot of pictures at once that then give 3d models so that we can see like the bark of the trees – it’s that detailed – or the rock formations.
And then the third aspect is meeting with the superintendents and this is where Greg comes to talk – like, we’ve got to play most of the courses, and we’ve got to talk with the superintendents to understand that Bermuda rough feels different than ryegrass. So like, we were playing Bay Hill, for example, and I really wanted to go for a shot and Arnold Palmer’s son-in-law was playing with us. And he’s like, “No, no, you can’t hit that shot. You’ve got to take your medicine, you’ve got to take a short iron and just hack it out here, instead of trying to take longer iron, because it’s not gonna go anywhere.” And so we’re able to get to that level of detail.
So it’s a matter of undulations, how it looks, and then how it plays. And it’s all various different technology. And that’s for courses, we do players in a different way that’s kind of similar when it comes to like photogrammetry. But like, we’re seeing how the muscles in their face move, or how their swing moves, so that when it gets put in our animation engine, their faces actually move naturally to the way that they do in real life.
But that’s not like a mo-cap situation there, right, it’s a different sort of technology?
Ben Ramsour: So that’s a combination, right? So for the licensed pros, we’ll bring them in – during the pandemic, this was actually pretty cool, we got to get inside the PGA Tour bubble, which was a lot of COVID testing, as you can imagine – with this trailer that has 130 cameras on it, and it takes a type of simultaneous photo. So we do a bunch of different poses of their base golf swing and their base putter swing. And then our animators can take our mocap data, which are the guys in the suits that we have who are former professional golfers that try to mimic it, and then the animators can then take their body, this mocap that has tons of data points, and then video and tune it so that Scottie’s swing, not only how it looks, but the pacing of it, is impacted in gameplay as well.
And then the facial stuff, it’s a lot of crazy poses, it’s actually pretty uncomfortable when you have a player that’s like screaming or like opening showing us all their teeth. Like we had one player talk about how he was glad that we were taking all these pictures of his teeth, because he spent, as he said, quote, “a shitload of money,” and his manager was like, “Well, you haven’t spent enough,” because I guess the day before his tooth had fallen out while he was eating a sandwich. [Laughs] You know, the level of detail on it’s just crazy. And, you know, I’ve been at EA for 11 years, and even five years ago we were doing a similar thing, but it was only with 12 cameras. And so it’s just – even on this project alone how the technologies evolve, just the level of detail we’re able to get to is quite incredible.
Do you guys have a favorite course?
Craig Penner: It’s so hard to choose, because we’ve got so many good ones, it’s hard to pick a favorite. I think, you know, aside from the obvious ones, the one that hits close to home for me, I really like fast and firm golf. It’s a lot of fun to play where the ball is rolling and running, and you really got to plan out how you’re going to hit each shot. So maybe one that’s not so obvious is Chambers Bay, which is up not too far away from where I’m from in the Pacific Northwest, originally, and that was just great because of the elevation changes and those kind of fast and firm conditions. So you’ve got to be careful around the greens and any shot the ball is just kind of running away and it really makes you pay attention on every single shot.
Ben Ramsour: So, for me the same in terms of like, obviously, the big ones of being in St. Andrews is just bucket list incredible, walking across the Swilcan Bridge. I really enjoyed Kiawah, the Ocean Course, not only for the golfing experience, but just kind of the brilliance of Pete Dye architecting that and like the time that he architected that of like, “I can see technology is changing and these guys are going to be hitting massive bombing shots, so how can I make this fun for Ben as a five handicap, but also the hardest course in the world for Scottie Scheffler?” And they did a brilliant job of setting that up.
Plus they used a lot of sustainable products there to be good for the environment, and kind of just Mr. Dyes’ overall brilliance in how he designed that course. And then it’s southern hospitality, so the interacting with the caddies in the off-course experience was just absolutely world class. You know, it helps that I got a lot of money from Craig on that, you know, in our gambling. [Laughs] The golf went very well there so I might be a little bit biased on that one.
In general, what was the hardest part of recreating these courses? Were there any in particular that were especially difficult to make?
Ben Ramsour: Top of the Rock was challenging just because of all of the different rock formations, and the unique structures. So it’s a nine hole course, but it took us as long to make that as it does an 18 hole course, just because there’s a church on the course that’s got really intricate rock patterns. And so that one was definitely a challenge to make. But I think it came out stunning, it was certainly worth the effort.
Craig Penner: On my end on kind of more of a physics gameplay side, the fast and firm courses like St. Andrews and Chambers Bay that we mentioned were really challenging because it’s not something that we’ve really gone to the full level of realism before in previous golf games. When we now have the stinger shot, which comes out much lower and the balls stops bouncing and starts rolling on the ground. The problem that you get into is it gets into this uncanny valley kind of effect, where you see the ball perfectly rolling really fast on this terrain, where you’re expecting it to start bouncing and hopping if you were to see it on TV or in real life, because that terrain might is not as smooth as we have it in the video game.
Typically, there’s inconsistencies in the grass and the dirt and things like that, so in order to get that instead of in previous games where you probably would have made the ball bounce a lot more when it should start rolling, or just not have it go that fast, it’ll just stop. Instead of doing that we added in new layers of physics to add some random inconsistencies to this so now the ball will actually bounce and roll on those fairways in kind of a random pattern that mimics real life. And so that’s a little detail that maybe goes unnoticed just because it looks realistic, and that’s actually kind of a good thing. And so we can talk about it and we’re really proud of it, but at the end of the day we just kind of hope that it’s something that is not noticed, because it kind of should be that way.
Is there just anything else you want players to know about PGA Tour in general or these courses?
Ben Ramsour: Yeah, for me, it’s recreating that fantasy of being a professional golfer and the decisions that you make, and doing it in a fashion where you’re very immersed in a fun video game way. So it’s quick and easy to pick up. My four year old loves it, my seventy year-old dad loves it. But it’s hard to master, and so you’re making decisions like a professional. Which like, I would love to be a professional golfer. I’m too old now to really chase that fantasy and can never hit as far as these guys. This is where I can go to have that fantasy, and I can have it in a manner where I can chill out and have fun, and it doesn’t have to be super intense, like I’m playing Call of Duty or something. So that’s what I’m most excited about.
Craig Penner: For me, it’s that 30 courses at launch is an absolute ton of courses and more than we’re adding post-launch, the 2023 major courses as well and the Ryder Cup course Marco Simone. And each of these is kind of a hand-crafted experience that if you’re coming at it not from a golf angle, but from a video game level, they are all kind of like their own individual levels that you get to play, there’s a lot of love and care that has gone into each of them. And with the major championships being kind of the boss battles in the game, where they’re going to be tough, they’re going to be different than the other ones, and they’re gonna challenge you in the same way that they’re challenging the pros.
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EA Sports PGA Tour will release March 24 for PS5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.