App review: Desert Golfing

I don’t know what it is. I don’t enjoy playing golf. I suppose it’s okay if you’re among friends and have a few drinks in you, but, all in all, it involves a lot of waiting and then a couple of minutes spent hitting a ball, followed by numbing repetitions of the same process with multiple bouts of yawning in between. On the other hand, thanks to my son, I really got into EA’s Tiger Woods’ Golf because of its absolutely non-stop action. Now there’s Desert Golfing, a simple, straight-ahead golf game, sort of. A simulation game, it takes you to a two-dimensional infinite desert that seems to go on and on into perpetuity. Your aiming tool, a sort of custom-engineered catapult, is right out of Angry Birds in a more or less ‘hit and hope’ way. Using a catapult-style aiming mechanism, the sort you may remember from Angry Birds, you pray and blast the ball in the direction of a small hole. Ultimately the wee ball will fall in the hole and you’re off for a new one. There’s no secret. It isn’t chess, to be sure, but folks who play it seems to get just as nutty, or so I read in the blogs, as if they were going bonkers playing, umm—yes, I’m going to say it again!—Angry Birds.

The thing is, Desert Golfing is known to make its players weep and moan. Many may begin feeling detached, and just think it’s a slow ride. Like a real game, so to speak, thrills and relaxation being the premium expected. For the first 18 holes, the game and its 80s-style, retro-Atari-like minimalism truly seems to be fun. Yet success, by its very nature, makes a player ambitious. You are no longer content stroking the ball into the hole. You need to do it in less shots. Nothing to it, but start to read the power meter, gauging the force you use and start thinking about angles. A hole-in-one, umm, maybe. Of course, as with modern games and success in real life, players are surely bound to pout with a lust to start over. Unfortunately, Desert Golfing offers up no restart button, no option to quit and start all over again. Menu? No. No menu. As if you are an orphan baby, born to a sickly mother in a debtor’s prison, your history is in the now. Out in the desert, baby, you and your mistakes are eternally melded together as one.

After, say, 250-odd holes, you are remarkably matured and calm. Like a latter-day Arnold Palmer you go through the process with decorum and care. Now, when you’re not playing, at work, in bed, writing, the game has taken over your life completely. Now you set targets. Like that workhouse orphan you begin to mark off the holes. You even obsess on Facebook and Tweet on it.

Indeed, Tweet upon the game and you can read a darn soap opera of fun and broken hearts, including its creator who loves to weigh in. The curmudgeonly Canadian lout who created this game, Justin Smith, is an independent developer from Vancouver, B.C. The idea came to him, he says, while he was playing another game, Journey, one of those medieval mystical-type PlayStation 3 games set in, yes, an abandoned wasteland. Adding golf to a terrain game coupled a kind of zen concentration with a kind of holy grail purpose. What also pealed to him was the kind of stark yet graphic color palate available in 80s games.

At first Smith wanted to make it 1,000 holes. Instead of drawing out a game architecture, he wrote an algorithm to create that sense of desert-set randomness and then extended matters further to make the thing play out in a calculatedly repetitive, deliberately super-tedious way.  Designed in just eight days, natural instincts to add in curved areas, hills and wind interference were resisted. Consequently, the game simply shows no end because Smith’s algorithm has made for infinite, never-ending courses.

So, what makes Desert Golfing really work is the player’s crusade of self-improvement, so that it’s all set in the life of the mind. Think of it that way and the infinite sands of the desert-scape are a set-up, a mere bagatelle. It’s really about guts. Who has the cöjones to keep on keeping’ on from inside the laughing maw of defeat and perseverance in the face of hostility or futility. Desert Golfing is about endurance.

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