At a press event, EA Sports designer Daniel Castorani said the new caddy mechanic is only part of a bigger overhaul to the game's AI, which he admitted has been a bit wonky and unpredictable in the past. He explained that caddy isn't an all-knowing intelligence, but rather this supporting character "learns" over time how to make the best recommendations for each shot, supposedly taking into account the courses that the player's played and the player's performances on those courses. Unfortunately, I was unable to test this out, since I only played a few holes of the Augusta course during a short preview session.
"We saw through play-testing and focus-testing that there were people who were coming into our game -- they were excited to play -- but they just didn't know what to do," Castorani recounted. The issue actually affected two kinds of would-be players, Castorani explained: not only the non-golfing gamers, but the non-gaming golfers.
"We're unique because we get a lot of people who don't typically play games, but they want to play golf, and so we get people who don't understand the controls. So we took a step back, looked at our game and said, 'You know, sports games are generally complicated, but our game is really complicated.'"
I can't believe the caddy hasn't been a component of the series all along.
It's true. Golf games are among the most exclusive of sports sims -- if you're not well-versed in shot placement or "bad lies" (and I'm not talking about knocking a couple strokes off your score), it can be tough to enjoy them. Likewise, if you've been known to tee off at the driving range now and again, the transition to a gamepad (or even a motion controller) can be awkward. With the new caddy system, EA hopes to appease both rookie golfers and newbie gamers.
It works like this: Before you take your first swing, the caddy will offer a few different shot suggestions for getting your ball to the green and into the hole, each color-coded to correspond with a perceived difficulty. If the fairway doglegs left, for example, then the caddy will set up an appropriate shot with the right amount of draw (a shot that gently curves from right-to-left for a right-handed golfer). Of course, players can skip the caddy's advice and choose the custom shot option, setting up their own route to the hole.
Suuure ... blame the sand trap on your caddy, why dontcha!
Having played plenty of golf games before, I found there was some getting used to the caddy system. Once you select one of the caddy's recommendations, you can't alter that shot plan -- if you want to change anything, you have to back out to the recommendation options. (Protip: Longtime Tiger players will probably want to stick with the custom shot option, which is how you map out your fine-tuned shot path the old-fashioned way). Once I got used to the new shot selection mechanic, however, I couldn't believe it hadn't been a component of the series all along. It's a simple and effective way to remove the barrier for non-golfing gamers, as well as non-gaming golfers -- once you've selected a shot, you've got one button to worry about: just swing!
The only drawback to the caddy system I noticed was in its lack of actually tutoring the player. The system doesn't seem to share with you any insight into how it determines its shot calibrations, so it's not going to necessarily make you a more knowledgeable golfer -- on or off the couch. The character will simply offer a few lines of basic dialog as you set up to take the shot.
For me -- a person who's enjoyed not only the Tiger series, but also the Hot Shots games, and at least once a week says a prayer, asking, "Let there be another Links game, oh powers that be!" -- the new caddy feature is somewhat of a lost function. But its value to both non-golfers and non-gamers is really apparent. The caddy will help anyone overcome golf's steep learning curve and enjoy Tiger 12, for sure -- just don't expect that success to translate to the real world. You won't always have a caddy by your side, after all.