Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Sports: The Executive Course - a golf microcosm


An "Executive" or "Par 3" golf course is one where the distances to all the holes have been shrunken down from normal golf sizes (200, 300, 400-odd yards) to usually nothing over 100 yards. It's an exceptional example of how to boil down the essence of a game into something that requires much less resources but still requires the strategy and skills of the original version. For an amateur game designer like myself, there are some interesting consequences that result from the size reduction.

The most apparent is time commitment - a course like this can be played in an hour and a half, instead of half a day. While a lot of this is because there is simply less distance to walk, the fact that holes take fewer strokes to complete also means that a small course like this can handle bigger crowds better, leading to less waiting. You see this aspect of design mostly in MMORPG settings - when a bunch of people are in a cave trying to do something simple, like kill X monster, instead of the convoluted missions of normal RPGs.

Another nice characteristic of an executive course is that you require fewer clubs. In regular golf, you usually haul around a bunch of clubs to deal with the myriad situations you might encounter - very long drives, driving up and over obstructions, multiple irons to get to the green from a variety of distances, etc. For most executive courses, you'll only need a putter, a wedge, and maybe a 9-iron. This is analogous to a handheld video game port of a more complicated console game - since the game is often simplified to be more suited to portable play, you have fewer controls to work with.

Why isn't miniature golf an even better condensing of golf? I submit that mini golf ignores one very important part of regular golf - the notion that the ball is going through the air, and all the subtleties that accompany that action. In mini golf, there is seldom any jumping the ball over an obstacle, and the limitations of putting mean that you'll probably never deal with deep rough or a bunker, even on a serious mini golf course. Of course, mini golf is extremely cheap to play and thus is much more popular than regular golf, but it's less like "golf" and more like its own separate game.

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