I have seen the first video game that mixes golfing with machine guns, an upstart developer's wild idea with a real life R&B twist.
Chuck Brungardt described the first game he's ever developed -- the one he was showing publishers and MTV Multiplayer behind closed doors last month in San Francisco -- as "Billy Madison" meets "Friday."
That's a novel pitch. But may we propose a different description?
Try "Grand Theft Auto" meets "Tiger Woods PGA."
Get ready, world, for the first video game to mix gunplay with golf clubs -- and possibly the first video game to be inspired by the childhood hobby of an R&B superstar.
"Ghetto Golf" has its roots in Oakland California where Raphael Saadiq, former star of 1990s R&B group Tony! Toni! Tone! used to play golf on the streets, improvising golf holes with whatever he could find.
Decades later, Saadiq has his own Denver-based video game company, Illfonic, co-founded by his studio engineer, Brungardt. Their first project is "Ghetto Golf," a planned downloadable game featuring a scrappy young guy named Vonte in the Bay Area who has to find and complete tricky holes of golf that are set in the wilds of the city -- and in the line of fire of gangsters, cops and enemy golfers.
"We thought this idea would be cool," Brungardt said as he and Illfonic's lead designer, Kedhrin Gonzalez, ran through a build of the game made from a mod of "Unreal Tournament 3" in a meeting room in San Francisco last month. They were in town to woo publishers visiting their booth at the Game Developers Conference.
One of the playable scenes they showed involved the hero Vonte needing to use his exploding golf ball to blow up a car that someone was ghost-riding. The player could sheath Vonte's machine gun, flick past his spiked golf ball and his rubber golf ball to try his explosive golf ball and aim it with a swing at the car.
This isn't golf at the Master's. This is golf in the hood.
"Golfing is why the player is there," states a line in the materials Illfonic distributed to publishers at GDC. "Golfing for combat, world interaction, or just trying to get cool shots down is very entertaining as well." Brungardt estimated that players would spend about half an hour looking for each golf hole before getting the course layout, the par, tackling the challenge and sinking their shots. He described the flow as "Zelda"-like: explore the terrain and talk to other characters in order to find the dungeon/golf-hole.
At last, a game that asks its hero to knock trick shots through dumpsters, off of exploding gas stations -- and woe to the disapproving hoodlums in the neighborhood who would interfere with this display of sport. They get machine-gunned.
Vonte's success in in this sport of underground golf brings him from the mean streets of not-Oakland to nicer neighborhoods where cops and hippies are obstructions. The climactic level, of course, will take place in a nice country club by which time our ghetto golfer will have arrived.
"Ghetto Golf" has myriad influences. The golf controls involve a thumbstick back-and-forth swing, the aiming or arced trajectories and other trappings of golf games. The shooting is third-person "Gears of War"-style combat. A fat caddy gives you some missions. Your golf cart can be tricked out. Throw a spoiler on it. Your guns can be upgraded, "like in 'Resident Evil 4,'" Brungardt pointed out. Drugs -- they'll have to change this -- can be taken to slow down time for precision aiming and invincibility.
"I didn't know if it was too edgy," Brungardt said while demo-ing it for me, the first reporter he'd ever shown it to. One executive he'd brought by thought the game should be toned down. Others were pumped by what they saw. Epic's vice president Mark Rein liked it enough, Brungardt said, to shout out Illfonic in a speech about developers using the "Unreal Engine" in interesting ways. Microsoft, Namco, Atari and Midway were all scheduled to come through. A man from the "Postal" team sat in during my demo, witnessing that his is not the only video game celebrating the disruption of civil society.
Saadiq aside, the principles behind this game are young men. They are in their mid-20s, hoping they have an idea just mad enough to find an audience. If 50 Cent could be a terrorist-shooting jeweled-skull-hunting rapper-commando in not-Iraq, then why not?
"Ghetto Golf" exists now as an "Unreal Tournament 3" mod. Illfonic wants a publisher to support its development into a standalone downloadable game for Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, and Steam.
For more information, keep checking the official "Ghetto Golf" website.