“To us everything now looks like a golf game, so we’re no longer allowed to eat eggs for breakfast.”
– Tim Garbos, creative director of Triband, on What the Golf?
Last month, I wrote a feature for Eurogamer about non-serious sports games. From pared-back simulations (Sensible Soccer) to gentle parodies (Golf Story, and not-so-gentle ones like Behold the Kickmen), it was fun to explore how a touch of humour, a pinch of self-deprecation, and huge gobs of openness and accessibility often make for better sports games. It’s precisely because they’re not trying too hard, like FIFA or PGA Tour, that makes them so enjoyable.
There was one game I rather wanted to include, but because its crowdfunding campaign hadn’t launched at the time, I couldn’t. The sneak preview I’d seen told me it was perfect for the subject matter, but sometimes, the timing of these things just don’t work out.
That game is What the Golf? and yes, that question mark is in the name. I haven’t lost all command of grammar and punctuation.
Here at Thumbsticks we have a bit of an unwritten rule, about not covering crowdfunded games until they’re at least beyond their base funding target. That doesn’t mean people won’t still be disappointed by a funded game of course, and even the most promising and seemingly-sound projects can falter, but we at least sleep better at night knowing we’re not actively encouraging our readers to throw money into the pre-order/lottery hybrid that is crowdfunding.
Luckily for me, What the Golf? has recently been funded on business-focused video game crowdfunding site, Fig, so I finally get to write about it.
They say that the key to a successful crowdfunding campaign is to have something tangible to show off. Gifs are good and impressive trailers are important, too, but what people really respond to is a playable demo. What the Golf? has a playable prototype build – you can download it here – and it’s a beautiful slice of golf-adjacent insanity.
The prototype is only a handful of minutes long, but it’s some of the most fun I’ve had with a game in ages; not just to play, but to put in front of someone else and watch their reaction. What the Golf? is the video game equivalent of sitting your friends down and playing them your favourite YouTube videos – like these panda cubs being jerks, or a cat in a shark costume chasing a duck on a Roomba – and watching their face light up.
What the Golf? is also a game which understands its potential viral value, and the importance of engaging the audience’s reaction and desire to share in current video game marketing. See also: Wreckoons, Untitled Goose Game. It even includes a built-in gif exporter in the prototype build, which spits a compilation of your own personal pseudo-golf exploits onto your desktop, so you can share it via social media.
Here’s a short video of What the Golf? in action, if you’re not familiar with the lunacy of a game which originally had the working title ‘Golf All the Things’:
Good luck getting that earworm out of your head.
Playing the prototype of What the Golf? left us with more questions than it answered, however, so we caught up with director of Triband, Tim Garbos, to seek answers. We start with the important stuff, like how in the world did this come about, and wouldn’t ‘What the Putt?’ have been a better name? (It sounds more like you’re really swearing.)
“‘What the Putt?’ was a serious alternative title,” Garbos says, “but it ended up as a thing inside the game instead. At the office, we also call the characters in the game putt heads. The game concept started way less crazy, but we just kept wanting to develop crazier things and at some point, the game was full of cats, explosions, and ragdolls.”
It’s true that, to the untrained eye, What the Golf? looks like a game in which Garbos and the Triband team have thrown everything to see what sticks – quite literally, if you’ve seen the gifs – but he assures me it’s a more measured approach than it outwardly appears.
“Most things don’t work and we throw out more things than we keep,” Garbos tells me. “Some things also work great in gifs, but not in the actual game. This bug [below] is probably the most popular tweet from the game, but we have no clue how to use it.”
— Tim Garbos (@timgarbos) February 4, 2018
We don’t know what he’s talking about. That all seems perfectly reasonable! Especially after you’ve seen What the Golf? in action, including cute winks to other indie games like ‘Clusterputt’ (Clustertruck) and ‘Superputt’ (Superhot).
These additional levels, homages to indie games the Triband team admire, are being included as sort of hidden stretch goals for their crowdfunding campaign. The campaign does have more traditional, public-facing stretch goals, but when it hits a new (hidden, arbitrary, possibly entirely made-up) funding milestone Garbos puts out a call on Twitter, asking what game they should make into a golf game next.
But why crowdfunding in the first place?
“We’ve never tried crowdfunding and it seemed like a fun thing to do,” he begins. “Turns out it’s a lot of hard work.”
He should probably get that printed up on t-shirts. He’d sell them by the pallet at GDC. Crowdfunding does have its benefits, though. It allows developers to test the waters and get important feedback on their project in its formative stages.
“Making a new weird golf game every day is a tough and lonely process. We’ve slowly been driven into madness,” Garbos tells us, though we think you could argue that madness is a key component of What the Golf?’s potential success.
“To us everything now looks like a golf game, so we’re no longer allowed to eat eggs for breakfast. We need help! Not just with funding the game, but we also really need someone to talk to about weird golf games.”
In the case of video game-focused Fig, the benefits are (in theory) more than just financial. It’s more exclusive than say, Kickstarter or Indiegogo, with potential investments needing to be pitched by developers and accepted by Fig’s team before appearing on the site.
With the likes of Tim Schafer and Brian Fargo on its advisory board, and a remit that allows a mix of both traditional crowdfunding backer rewards and capital share investments – where Fig will handle all of the complex stuff like SEC filings – it’s more like a partnership with a board of investors than simply a way for fans of the idea to vote with their wallets.
You won’t be surprised to hear that Garbos has typically on-brand reasons for favouring Fig, though.
“When looking for a crowdfunding platform, we look for the most golfable logo.”
More hype! pic.twitter.com/rGXYfKeham
— Tim Garbos (@timgarbos) February 9, 2018
So there you have it. If Kickstarter’s ‘K’ rolled a little better, things might have turned out very differently.
The timescales for What the Golf? also seem short, especially for a crowdfunded game with a relatively low funding target and small team. It currently has a release estimate of Q2 2018, which given other famous crowdfunding delays might be raising alarm. But Garbos says they’ve been “working on it for about a year already, so we have a lot of content and we’re really looking forward to showing more of the game.”
Once they’re done with that, Garbos and the Triband team – developer of Progress to 100, an iOS game with a novel control scheme we loved – are going back to their other ongoing project, Keyboard Sports – Saving QWERTY.
Keyboard Sports – which Garbos assures me is “obviously not a sports game,” even though it has the word ‘sports’ in the title – is also to release in 2018, published by Humble Originals. It’s almost as deliriously silly as What the Golf?.