Miniature Golf Day - Walkabout Mini Golf Interview!
21 Sep 2022 at 00:02 | Published by: PatPenguin | Views: 18408 | News search
Walkabout Mini Golf (Photo by Walkabout Mini Golf)
For Miniature Golf Day 2022, our editor Pat Sheridan wanted to reach out beyond the “in-real-life” forms of miniature golf we traditionally cover. A little more than a year ago, he had his first chance to play a virtual reality game called Walkabout Mini Golf. Beyond being immersed in the environment, he was struck by how real the putting felt compared to all the video games he had played before. In December 2021, he committed to buying an Oculus (now Meta Quest) and spending a lot more time on the virtual mini-links. While he hasn’t gotten much into the large competitive community that has grown around the game, he plays it often and is struck by how well the game can pair fantastical with realistic for an experience that’s great any time of day and on any day where it’s tough to get to a real-life course. » Walkabout Mini Golf
One of the things he always sees about minigolf that is beautiful is the adaptability of the sport to all situations - not only disabilities, but education, arts, charity events, etc. With eSports continuing to be on the rise across the world, there is an opportunity for minigolf to be on the leading edge coupling the virtual with the real to broaden our community and reach. To talk about that relationship and understand more about the world of virtual minigolf, especially when it comes to how it pairs with competitive IRL minigolf, Pat sat down (virtually via email) with some questions for Lucas Martell the creator of Walkabout Mini Golf.
Check out the links below for more information on Walkabout Mini Golf, including their Discord community.
Pat Sheridan (PS): Tell us about yourself and what you do with Mighty Coconut. What was your relationship to minigolf as a whole prior to Walkabout?
Lucas Martell (LM): I am the executive producer at Mighty Coconut and the creator of Walkabout Mini Golf. I grew up playing mini golf with my family mostly on vacations but also designing my own homespun courses at home using found objects.
PS: People not familiar with VR tend to think that Walkabout is "just another video game" and we have seen a lot of minigolf ones over the years, all with pretty much the same mechanics and gameplay. What do you think the biggest hook is for Walkabout that appeals to those folks who spent a lot of time with real putters in their hands?
LM: Two things that make mini golf the perfect game for virtual reality are the physics of putters, balls, and obstacles as well as the shared social experience. While a game can never reproduce the exact aesthetic or experience of a physical experience like miniature golf, we have taken great care in obsessing over the physics of the sport for Walkabout Mini Golf. Velocity, bounce, spin, even carpet thickness have been engineered in such a way that mastering the courses we’ve designed are very satisfying… largely because we have not cut any corners. At the same time, we have a few VR-specific concessions such as a dynamically extending putter shaft and the ability to swing through borders to make for an exceedingly comfortable experience.
As for the social immersion, the ability to customize your avatar features and collect custom balls and putters combined with voice chat and the expressions you can do with your putter and head nods mean that player feel very much together with whomever they play with—if they choose a multiplayer match. As with real mini golf, the Walkabout Mini Golf experience is greatly enhanced with the conversation, observations, teasing, and encouragement that happen in between strokes as much as the sense of achievement with gameplay.
On of the many lost balls available to find
PS: Walkabout doesn't directly do competitive play but there has been a huge community that has grown around the game, some of which includes tournaments and other competitions. Can you tell us a little bit about how that has worked and what that has meant for the game in general?
LM: I designed and developed the game solo during the initial lockdown of the pandemic and added multiplayer in the final month pre-launch at the urging of the people at Meta Quest (then Oculus) and that feature has been huge for the experience and growth of the game globally. Today, there are not only hourly games people can join, tournaments (for fun and for charity) happen weekly as well as different modes of play like “speedrunning” which is essentially playing through courses as quickly as possible. Leagues have formed and many, many players participate in weekly matches with colleagues, family members, mates, couples, and strangers. We’ve been overjoyed to see that players also meet up for real-world mini golf and we’ve been happy to sponsor some teams to compete as well.
PS: Can you talk a little bit about how international and diverse the community is? How many countries is it now available in?
LM: Our player community consists of hundreds of thousands of people spread out across 40 nations and the game is currently localized for English, French, German, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean. While some groups congregate around physical location or language, we have other groups that form around topics of discussion, style of game play, skill level, and identity. We like to call Walkabout Mini Golf “a place for everyone” not only because of the real sense of place our players find in the game’s dozen+ courses but also because of the community's exceedingly inclusive and friendly culture. We intentionally don’t use “open lobbies” in our game meaning that unless you choose 1-on-1 random matches, you are always opting in to play with people you know or groups you choose.
PS: eSports in general have grown a lot in the past years and while some of them are connected to real life sports, like Madden tournaments, not many can really replicate the real-life experience the way Walkabout can. Do you see a world where we might have things like mixed-reality tournaments (some rounds in person, some rounds virtually) or other ways of integrating virtual competition into the existing IRL structure?
LM: I think the skills of VR mini golf and IRL (in real life) correlate and because not everyone can afford to get time off work, travel, enter competitions, eSports provide another way for people to try their hand at tournaments. I do think that, for some, a game like Walkabout Mini Golf could be a qualifying event for IRL tournaments or could be a companion activity. At minimum, VR mini golf provides a year-round and globally available experience bringing more people to the sport and allowing mini golf lovers to stay in touch when they can’t physically be together.
PS: What is your favorite course to play both in Walkabout and in-real-life?
LM: Ooh, it changes to typically be whatever we’re working on the most. Quixote Valley is up there, along with all the Lost Cities courses and of course Labyrinth. I still love going back to some of the early courses like Seagull Stacks, which I ironically don’t get to play very often. For IRL, we love Dreamland in Dripping Springs. It’s well kept and spacious, and has a great feel to it with some long holes that take some skill.
Quixote Valley Hard
Editor’s Note: My favorite is probably Labyrinth now, but Original Gothic is always up there, especially the hard version as it’s just very close to my normal aesthetic.
The Throne Room
PS: Part of the appeal of Walkabout is the fantastical nature of the settings/courses - but do you think we might see a future where we get VR replication of classical courses or maybe courses that no longer exist so we can "play" them again?
LM: We have a dozen courses in active development and over a hundred more on our list, so needless to say, a lot is possible… and coming. While replicating specific courses is certainly plausible, we have hundreds of thousands of players spread across the world, so what is familiar and nostalgic and “important” to one set of players might be a head scratcher to others. Certainly, we have an opportunity to stretch people’s imaginations and mini golf knowledge, but we want every course to be both fun and challenging to players who have zero prior knowledge of the references.
PS: Anything else you'd like to tell our real-life minigolfers about the world of VR?
LM: First, virtual reality does not require a technical proficiency or any sort of special skills. I encourage you to set aside any preconceived notions and try it out. We’ve designed Walkabout Mini Golf to be comfortable and simple to learn. Furthermore, your real life mini golf skills are totally transferable and while this game is meant to supplement (not replace) physical mini golf, I think you will find that this sort of experience offers you a type of discovery and escape you might not have imagined before. What’s more, VR can be a lot of things, but the way we’re wielding it, the courses and gameplay are familiar while letting people play courses that wouldn’t otherwise be possible engineering-wise, legally, etc. Come on in!
We’d like to thank Lucas for his time and would like to encourage everyone to give Walkabout Mini Golf a try and to connect with their wonderful community of players from around the world.
» Walkabout Discord