OK, so it is possible that I may at some point play it again. But this will require some drastic changes that I don’t see happening. Let me start off by saying that I was a beta tester for this game, downloaded it the first day it was available, and have been hooked for the last 5 months. It is one of the funnest and most entertaining games I’ve ever played. More recently it’s been feeling like a bad relationship where you love someone but there’s that one nagging thing that you keep trying to overcome but just can’t get past. It’s hard to break up with someone or something you love and have invested time in, but the frustration has been building up so much recently that I just can’t continue.
But before I continue my farewell letter, I need to acknowledge that Golf Blitz has some amazingly good qualities that make it one hell of a good game.
What is Golf Blitz?
Golf Blitz is a new game from Noodlecake Studios, Inc., makers of the famed Super Stickman Golf ® series. Super Stickman Golf 3 may be my favorite all-time mobile game. My brother and I would (and mostly still do) play race matches against each other every day at lunchtime. The mechanics are fabulous, the levels interesting and well-designed, and the endless variety of hats, powerups, and game modes keep the game reasonably fresh. By this point, I have unlocked every single thing in SSG3 that is available, and generally don’t play much except for the matches against my brother.
Golf Blitz takes one aspect of SSG3, the race mode, and adds a new twist — ball collisions. This, along with a new quick-paced shooting mechanic, has made for super-entertaining game play. In addition, because there was rampant cheating in SSG3, the folks at Noodlecake redesigned the entire physics engine so that the game is run both on your device and on the server simultaneously. If there ever is a discrepancy, the server is authoritative. Even if someone hacks her client, the server should prevent anyone from cheating.
Noodlecake has done a great job making a multiplayer game that can be played across continents that appears to be super-responsive and have no lag. Indeed, as long as you have a decent connection with at most 300ms lag, you will not notice any differences or lagging (but when you do have a crappy connection, be prepared for some weird stuff). Put simply, the online experience is incredibly tight.
If you want to get a good idea of gameplay, you can take a look at my youtube channel where I’ve uploaded some game highlights and different tournament matches from my team.
Climbing the Ladder
The main play mode for this game is to enter your golfer into a “sit-and-go” style match. Your golfer’s abilities and self worth are all measured using a zero-sum system of “trophies”. Every match, you win or lose trophies to other players according to who finishes first, second, third, or fourth, and how the players ranked before they were matched. The matchmaking system tries to match people who are close in trophies, and does a decent job putting like-skilled players together. As you sit waiting for someone in your trophy range to enter, your window of how many trophies difference you can match against grows. At the time of this writing, the top players were in the 2600-2800 trophy range, and the amount you win or lose is roughly 16 trophies per person. This means in a 4 player match, you might win or lose up to 50 trophies, sometimes more. I won’t go into all the details here, as there is a lot that can be analyzed, but needless to say, the game is all about getting trophies, and climbing the leaderboard ladder.
In addition to trophies, you get packs. Each time you gain trophies in a match (1 trophy will do), you get a pack to unlock. Higher quality packs give you more, but also take longer to unlock. Which pack you earn is random. The packs contain bux (the in-game currency), cards for unlocking cosmetics, and cards for upgrading powerups. In essence, the way you progress in this game is to play ladder matches (matches where trophies are on the line). There are also “friendly” matches where you play people on your team, and nobody loses or gains trophies, but allows you to practice or construct your own tournament style games. These do not earn you any packs or other rewards.
Finally, every 12 hours you are allowed to earn a “star pack”. A star is earned every time you finish a hole in 1st place. You can earn up to 3 stars per match, and after you get 10 stars, your star pack can be opened. Star packs are worth quite a bit more than the standard pack, and they contain a different kind of currency — gems. The only way you will level up at a reasonable rate is to gain star packs. So your incentive to play at least 4 games a day is strong.
The main progression of this game is to upgrade your golfer’s “skills”, or stats. Every time you level up (either by unlocking cosmetic outfits or hats, or upgrading your powerups), you get to add one skill point to one of four categories. The four categories are as follows:
- Cooldown: This is how long it takes for your golfer to be able to shoot again after your ball comes to a stop.
- Power: How much power your ball has when you hit it. More power means more distance.
- Speed: How fast your ball will travel. In essence, the physics engine is “sped up”, making your ball go faster than it normally would.
- Accuracy: Higher accuracy means the spread of your possible shots gets narrower.
In addition to the 4 categories, each powerup ball also has skill categories just like the above (except cooldown), which get to be upgraded every time you level up a ball. The maximum upgrade level for each skill is 12 (well, there are 13 levels if you upgrade them all to 12, but that is well beyond the reach of anyone not dumping tons of actual cash into the game).
The most successful players use a similar strategy to upgrade their skills. The first category to upgrade is cooldown. This is because cooldown affects every shot, not just the regular shots. In addition, 2 balls coming to rest together usually reset around the same time. Due to the ball collisions, balls on the green must compete against each other to see who gets into the hole first. In this scenario, shorter cooldown is essential, as you will be able to blast the other ball away before he blasts you.
The second skill generally upgraded is either speed or power. Having fully upgraded power allows you to save strokes, flying over obstacles that take un-upgraded players 2 shots to overcome. Having fully upgraded speed means you can outrun your opponents, leaving them behind. Top players upgrade these in different ways, but around level 34, you see most people have fully upgraded cooldown, speed, and power.
What about Accuracy? Surely top players need to be accurate to win? We’ll get to that in a minute.
The Good Parts
I want to say that I did have quite a bit of fun playing this game. The powerups are awesome (grenade ball is my favorite), and the level design is superb. There are so many close matches, so many times where I would blast an opponent off, or I would get blasted off, and I find myself laughing and enjoying myself, even when I lost.
The team system is great. I was on one of the best teams in the game (PrestigeWrldWyd), and ran the team tournaments. We did this by playing friendlies in a bracket-style tournament format, and I have to say this was my favorite part of the game, even though it’s not an official game feature. We played best of 3 matches, and usually the person who won was the better player, and even when they weren’t, the player who did win did so with some amazing skills and clutch shots. The ball collisions and competitive nature make this game super-unpredictable, and very fun. You have to think on your toes when you get into unfamiliar situations, and make sure you have stock of which powerups should be used when. There are mind games to be played (If I putt now, he’ll just blast me. But if I putt short, knowing he’s going to try and push me over the hole, he’ll push me in).
As with most games or competitions, playing the game enough gives you a good idea of how you rank (i.e. how many trophies you should have). As long as you stay around that range, moving up or down 100 or so trophies seems satisfying. And for the most part, that described me. I would play for my star pack every day and finish roughly 10 or 20 trophies away from where I started. When I’d level up, a bump in my average trophies was expected.
But occasionally, I would lose every single match I played, and gaining a star pack meant losing 150 to 300 trophies that would take a few days to earn back. This was the most frustrating part. My blood would boil. I looked into phone insurance plans. I would finish my star pack and feel a sense of loss and disappointment that made it hard to justify the last 30 minutes of playing.
And it wouldn’t just be losses. It would be losses where I had outplayed my opponent for 2 holes, going up 2-0, only to lose the next 3 because the game decided to screw up some of my shots.
I started to dread earning star packs. I would take breaks from the game for a weekend. It did help, but eventually the same stuff would happen. And when it did, I could not help but thinking, “this isn’t working, it’s not fun, why am I wasting my time playing this game?”
The Biggest Mistake
Remember the accuracy skill? This is the source of all the problems with this game. I’m going to analyze this for the next few sections, because I don’t think many people realize just how bad this aspect of the game is, and it deserves a good pondering and thumping.
First of all, nobody in the top tier of players has upgraded accuracy significantly. I had to go down to the 41st player on the leaderboard to find someone who upgraded accuracy significantly beyond level 3, who didn’t already fully upgrade their other stats. If accuracy were a stat that gave players an advantage, then you would think that more top players would have accuracy upgraded. This in itself isn’t exactly proof, but it is a good indicator that accuracy doesn’t win you games.
You also don’t get to actually see any advantage of accuracy from other players. If you play against another player with high accuracy, it looks no different than playing against someone with low accuracy. You don’t get to see the other golfer’s preview, so accuracy is invisible to opponents. For the most part, low accuracy can be overcome by maximizing the power on your shots. Due to the way the accuracy is implemented, the stronger the shot, the more accurate the beginning part of the shot is. This means, you don’t need full accuracy to make it into small slots 90% of the time, or hit small targets.
Let’s take some examples from the portal land course. Here is a shot that aims for a tiny portal on the wall, when done with a targeted shot, vs. a full power shot (this is with 8 power and 3 accuracy):
Note how the full strength aim negates almost all ill effect from having low accuracy. It turns out also, that aiming full strength is generally better. It is a game of speed, after all, and the faster you get there, the better.
Here’s another example, also from portals. Here, I’m lobbing onto a small green porch, where if I miss the hole, I’ll have to wait for cooldown and then putt again, giving my opponents plenty of time to get in first. However, if I take a full shot against the ceiling, the accuracy is pretty much indistinguishable from the sniper ball (almost completely accurate) for the contact point, and can be faster to the hole to boot.
Every time you upgrade accuracy, it means another point cannot go into power or speed (cooldown is a given, everyone should always upgrade cooldown to 12 immediately). When you play against people with more power or speed than you, it is crystal clear that they have an advantage and are winning the match because of that. If you spend points on accuracy, you will not beat those people, even if they are inaccurate. An inaccurate shot that goes over a hump that you can’t clear will beat you every time. A slow accurate shot meandering down to the green just to watch the other guy putt in before your golfer shows up isn’t very satisfying. Yes, you can upgrade all 4 categories to maximum. But this will take either an insane amount of time (things get really expensive bux-wise as you level up), or actual dollars. And I’m talking hundreds or thousands. This just isn’t going to happen for me.
In addition, upgrading your accuracy shrinks your range towards the middle of the shot preview. This means that if you need power or height, increasing accuracy will actually reduce the chance that you will succeed on those shots. The famous example is from shipyard, the hole with the big pole you can hit over with enough power. With full accuracy, your chances of going over that pole are actually reduced.
When my shot doesn’t go where I’m aiming, it does not feel like it is me missing the shot because I didn’t upgrade accuracy, it feels more like the game is picking the other player to win. It feels like a slot machine instead of a skill-based game. Even when you make shots and see the other player mess up, did they really mess up? Or did the game just pick you this time? Once you are in the upper tier of players, one missed shot means a loss. And when that is decided for you by the game, it feels like someone stole the match from you. This is not a good feeling. The answer has been “well, just upgrade accuracy instead.” This basically just means forfeiting wins against equally skilled players who have chosen speed or power over accuracy. Neither route is appealing. Imagine a sporting game where the refs would occasionally trip one of the players. The means they used to decide when to do it were not disclosed, but “totally random.” How fair does that seem? What if the same player got tripped 3 times in a row (yes, random numbers can do that)?
What does “Fully Accurate” Look Like?
One of the largest problems with accuracy is, as you upgrade accuracy, it doesn’t make enough of a difference! Because I was quitting the game, I spent 500 gems that I had accumulated to respec my golfer for full accuracy. I took a series of before/after screenshots to show what 3 accuracy (I had early on in my post-beta career spent 2 points on accuracy) and 8 power looks like vs. 12 accuracy and 12 power. Below are the results, along with an analysis of each situation.
Above you can see the same hole (one of the most annoying holes of the game, IMO) with 3 different trajectories. The first is with 3 accuracy, which has you possibly hitting the second island. But add full accuracy, and you still can’t guarantee a hit on the pink spot (which honestly, aside from miracle swishes is the only way you win this hole). Only with sniper ball accuracy (BTW, this is with NO upgrades to sniper ball accuracy) can you hit the target you need.
Above is the same shot from portal land into the small portal, but I’ve added the 12 accuracy into the mix. Is this worth the 9 extra skill points? You will make the small portal about 90% of the time with 3 accuracy. But having lesser speed than your similarly leveled opponents will cost you.
Surely accuracy helps with the short-porch green right? Wrong. You can see above you cannot guarantee even with full accuracy that you will hit your target how you expect, especially when lobbing. In fact, I took the shot shown, and it bounced over the hole onto the other side. The second shot I took off the ceiling went in exactly as expected, because I can predict exactly the trajectory (the accuracy of the early part of the shot is way way better, plus a higher angle of attack increases accuracy).
I’m going to throw this out there, even though I fully expect it to be ignored by the developers. But there is one sure-fire way to fix the accuracy problem. That would be to replace accuracy with something else. I have always suggested a better spec would be shot preview distance. In SSG3, you had the red toadstool hat, which showed a short preview, and a green toadstool hat that showed a longer preview. This kind of mechanism would not take away from the skills of the players, not let the game decide who wins and loses, and would provide a useful, tangible, and obvious thing to upgrade. Some people may be really good at following a short rendering of a ballistic trajectory to its destination, but most people will see the benefit from the sniper ball (which should have a nearly full shot preview).
As I said, I don’t expect this to happen. It would be such a drastic change to the game, that I don’t expect them to even entertain doing this. But it’s good as a thought exercise to get people considering alternatives to fix this problem. If this dream came true, I would be back playing this game tomorrow.
The further advantage is that people will start paying more attention to this upgradable stat, vs. the one they ignore completely today.
What about some tweaks? I can think of a few that might help. First, the shot selection within the preview is supposedly a uniform distribution. Put simply, you have an equal chance of shooting the minimum shot as you do the very center. Noodlecake could change this to a more centered distribution. In other words, make it more likely you shoot where you are aiming than not. I don’t expect this to fix the problems with accuracy, or make it more desirable for upgrading, but at least it would lessen the “Black Magic F**kery” (as one of my teammates puts it) that this game inflicts on you. Maybe that would be enough to lessen the frustration, I don’t know.
Another possibility is to improve the improvements. As you upgrade accuracy, tweak the spread so it’s more satisfying. When you spend a skill point that otherwise could have gone to power or speed, it’s disheartening to see it didn’t make much of a difference.
It’s Been Fun
Well, for the most part anyway. I’ve enjoyed the community, and Noodlecake has been awesomely responsive to problems and feedback. I can’t say enough about my teammates, that has been the only thing keeping me in this game for so long, PWW forever! I hope Noodlecake succeeds, and I know they have a new mode coming out (challenge mode). It will not draw me back, as I expect the main mechanism for progressing is still going to be the ladder matches, but who knows? I wish I could say that the last 5 months have been more fun than stress, but really the day I decided I was not going to play this game again was one of the most refreshing days I’ve had in a while. Can’t argue with that feeling, regardless of the reasoning.