Normal, everyday mini golf courses are so… dull. Why not play in the clouds? With Cloudlands: VR Minigolf you can do just that (and don’t have to worry about the rain, either). With the latest update debuting on Viveport, we talked to Justin Liebregts, co-founder of Futuretown, about the latest developments.
Hello! Let’s start with the origins of your development studio, Futuretown and Cloudlands: VR Minigolf.
Myself and a colleague from college founded Futuretown several years back and had the opportunity to participate in the initial launch of the Vive and what we consider the dawn of commercial VR back in 2016. When we first got our hands on an early HTC Vive prototype, I coded about a dozen different test game mechanics in Unity to see what would be fun to make into an actual game. One of those early prototypes was a golf driving range simulator, which ended up morphing into Cloudlands: VR Minigolf.
And the rest is history! For anyone who hasn’t experienced it, can you tell us a bit more about Cloudlands: VR Minigolf?
We’re positioning Cloudlands: VR Minigolf as the premiere mini golf experience for virtual reality. It’s a really family friendly game, built from the ground up for motion controls. You putt the ball through fantastical levels as you would in real life – there’s no swing meter or power bars. My favorite part of the game is the 1,000-plus user created courses. Our team built one of the first VR level editors and you can build courses as you would build something out of LEGO pieces.
The most exciting part about our latest addition is that now, all platforms can create and share courses. Prior to this update, players were locked onto the Steam Workshop platform which was only accessible for Steam buyers. Now, all our players can create and share their amazing courses with one another.
While mini golf isn’t quite as demanding as golf, it’s still a real-world simulation. How did you try to simulate a golf club swing?
I’m a golfer in real life and as I mentioned earlier, we had started with a driving range simulator. It was super satisfying but we found several technical and user related challenges in the mechanic of swinging in VR. Players would often swing under, over, or through the ball. Game engines can have difficulty detecting collision between two small objects moving fast and there were challenges getting ball hit detection to work well with high velocity swings. There was also the issue of having no weight or being able to “feel” where the end of your club was. Many early play tests left players frustrated. These issues weren’t too difficult to resolve, but as a VR launch title, we felt that mini golf made more sense because the courses would be easier for us to build as a team, and probably be more entertaining while also being more accessible for all ages and skill levels to play. Not everyone plays full on golf, but almost everyone can play mini golf.
In your opinion… do you prefer mini golf or ‘real’ golf? (Virtual or real world…)
Haha. I’ll probably always prefer real world golf, but I recently went golfing for the first time this season and I realized that all of my putting practice for the winter season came from Cloudlands. Swinging a virtual putter vs a real putter still has its differences and it took me a few holes to re-calibrate to a putter that has weight to it.
Did you research actual mini golf courses for inspiration, or did everything come from your imagination?
As a team we went to Castle Fun Park, a mini golf / kids entertainment centre in the Fraser Valley, close to Vancouver. We were looking for things like how the ball hits off of the wall, or bounces over elevation changes, and how a course as a whole feels like a cohesive package. The first few holes we designed were heavily influenced by our real life mini golf experience and searching online. However, once we became comfortable prototyping we let our imaginations run free and this is where you get some of the more non-traditional hole designs.
Tell us a little more about the level editor. Is it easy to put together a course? How much control does a user have over course design?
It’s super easy to put together a course. We have several hundred “pieces” that we’ve organized into categories such as floor pieces, hole pieces, props, landscape etc. The pieces have snap points and you can snap pieces together intuitively using the motion controls – watch this video for reference:
If you don’t want to conform to the snap points, we also have a free-mode where you can just place pieces anywhere without any constraints.
Have you considered integrating Vive Trackers into Cloudlands?
This is a tough one. We love what the Vive Trackers are enabling developers to do. As a company, we’re hesitant on building any types of third party peripherals. We also feel that for golf specifically, you could essentially have the same functionality but with some kind of putter-to-Vive controller adapter, without the need for the tracker since there’s a 1:1 relationship with the controller to the putter already.
Good point! We’ll make our own solution. Finally, an important question… who has the best ‘par’ in Minigolf at Futuretown?
Haha, I’d say our producer Adrian Ng is the best at the game. When we were creating the first holes and testing the multiplayer, he’d always be a few strokes ahead of me and I haven’t really managed to beat him yet, even with all the user created content.
Thanks for talking to us, Justin!