Last year, I was joking with an EA Sports PR representative that they lose out on all of the cover athlete talk/controversy by only featuring Tiger on the front of their "Tiger Woods PGA Tour" box. "Can you imagine what kind of coverage you'd get by putting somebody else on the cover?" I asked her.
Imagine no more as EA Sports is set to announce that for the first time in franchise history, Tiger Woods will share the cover of his game with European phenom Rory McIlroy in order to showcase the newest mode in "Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11," the Ryder Cup.
For fans of video game golf who have yet to experience the Ryder Cup in real life, the tournament pits a team of 12 golfers from the United States against a team of 12 European golfers in series of competitions that include the following:
Foursomes: Two two-man teams compete together with each team using only one ball. Golfers must take alternate shots on the course until the hole is completed, with golfers alternating tee shots. Team with the lowest score wins the hole.
Four-ball: Two two-man teams compete and all four balls are in play. The team with the golfer who has the lowest score wins the hole.
Singles: One golfer competes against a member of the opposite team. Game is won when one golfer is leading by more holes than are left to play.
"Obviously, it's a Ryder Cup year, and the Ryder Cup is a very unique event in golf as it brings in a team element to the sport," explains associate designer Travis Sailer. "We have Celtic Manor, the 2010 Ryder Cup course, in the game this year, so you'll be able to play the Ryder Cup on that course in the game. But the thing about the Ryder Cup is, you're not just playing, you're the team captain in the game, so you're even selecting your roster and the pairings.
"Another thing you can do is select what kind of format you want, and this is all customizable, from traditional Ryder Cup play with foursomes, four-ball and match play singles, or you can do a shorter session or even just have all singles if you wanted. It's really up to users to create their own Ryder Cup."
Also on tap for "Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11" are two new swing mechanics to the Wii version of the game. According to EA, the Advanced Plus difficulty will assess rotation and swing angle, while the Tour Pro swing mechanic will assess rotation, swing plane and point of contact. Tour Pro will also feature a new view for each swing, giving golfers a first-person camera angle from the tee box called True View. In addition, "Tiger 11" will also support Sony's new PlayStation 3 motion controller, but no details have been released at this time.
Jon Robinson: When playing the Ryder Cup, are you only playing as the team captain or can you switch and control other golfers?
Travis Sailer: As you're playing, you can switch between matches after each hole. It really becomes part of the strategy because you're trying to figure out which match you want to switch to. So if you're playing as Tiger and you see Anthony Kim is down against Ian Poulter, then you can jump to Kim in between holes, play a few holes as Kim and hope to get him back in the match. Then once you take the lead with Kim, you might want to switch back to somebody else.
Getting the team aspect of the Ryder Cup in the game this year is cool because it really changes the way you play the game. Talking to players, outside of the majors, and some, even more than the majors, they're telling us that there's no pressure greater than standing over a putt in the Ryder Cup. You know, you not only have to make it to win your match, but it's for your partner and for your team. If you miss, you're not just hurting you, you have a lot of people depending on you as now, you're playing for your teammates and your country. To bring that to gaming and to bring in the social atmosphere online should get people fired up this year. We're really excited about it.
Jon Robinson: How will the Ryder Cup work online? Can you actually play 12 versus 12?
Travis Sailer: Yeah, and this goes along the lines of people who are into online shooters where you hop in and everybody plays at once. This definitely has a death-match feel to it where you go into the online team play lobby and hop in and play and you can play anywhere up to 12 versus 12. You're totally connected and all of the matches are going on concurrently and you see streaks of your team's balls and the other team's balls and they're colored specifically to each team. And then you can also talk to your team the whole time over voice, so you can strategize about whether you should play aggressive or safe, and there will also be tournament updates going on as you play so you always know where you stand throughout the match.
Jon Robinson: Are you adding any new pros to the game? People who might not have been featured in "Tiger" before but who might be a big part of this year's Ryder Cup.
Travis Sailer: We have agreements with some new golfers and courses this year, but we're not releasing all of that information just yet. The only announcements we have in terms of new courses are Celtic Manor and Scottsdale. We're not releasing any news on new golfers just yet, unfortunately, but we do have some new golfers.
But we already have a pretty good group of players in the game as far as the Ryder Cup goes. We have Tiger, Jim Furyk and Chris DiMarco on the American side and on the European side we have Rory, Luke Donald and Poulter.
Jon Robinson: Did you plan all along to feature two golfers on the cover of "Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11," or is this a reaction to the whole Tiger marital mess that is going on?
Travis Sailer: Last October when we figured out that we were going to get the Ryder Cup in the game and that this was going to be one of our main features, we were pretty excited about that and how we were going to add the online team play. So from that perspective, it sort of just made sense to have somebody else on the cover with Tiger to accentuate the feature and embody everything we're trying to do. So we were looking for a European golfer, somebody to go against Tiger, and Rory made sense with all of his success. He finished second in Dubai last year and he's only been on the Tour for a few years now, but he's already top 10 in the world. We just think he's a very talented star, and he really reminds me of how Tiger was. Nobody has really been this consistently good so early in their careers since Tiger, so it made sense to have Rory dueling with Tiger on the cover.
Jon Robinson: So making Tiger share the cover of his own game has nothing to do with the controversy?
Travis Sailer: No, not at all. Like I said, we had plans all along to do that, since really, last October when we figured out we were going to roll with Ryder Cup. We just thought that would fit perfectly on the cover. "Madden" did it last year and it worked out great for them, so we thought it would be perfect. It's not often in golf when you get to feature team play, but with the Ryder Cup, this just worked out perfect.
Jon Robinson: But don't you think people are going to see Tiger sharing the cover and instantly think that this is just step one of EA Sports distancing themselves from him?
Travis Sailer: They might, but I can't speculate on what other people are going to do. But this truly was decided last October before all the events. That's when we thought about the Ryder Cup and adding somebody else on the cover. It had never been done and we wanted to focus everybody on the team aspect of the game. That's what we wanted to do regardless of anything else going on.
Jon Robinson: What other improvements can gamers expect from the series this year?
Travis Sailer: Some of the other things we're talking about right now are just some of the little fixes. One of the big things this year was listening to all the feedback we've been getting from our community. We got a lot of really good feedback through our forums on gameplay that needed fixing, and we had a community day where we brought people together to get an early look at the game and hear what they thought about the new features. These guys know our game as good as we do, especially when it comes to the core gameplay, so we really value what they have to say.
Listening to that feedback, we went in and added variable wind gusts, so now it will be a little harder to judge the wind when you're hitting, making the game more realistic. We also added an approach green grid. So now when you're hitting your approach, you can see the grid you'd normally see when you're putting so you can judge the slopes better. Now you'll be able to see where you want to hit the ball to leave you with the easiest putt.
And then visually, we added animated skies this year, and they are going to be time of day specific per course, so you'll get different skies on every course. We also did a lot of work with characters. We added an all-new animation system and completely remodeled the characters. We even have dynamic clothes this year that will flap in the wind, and Rory, with his big old mop, you'll see his hair flapping around when you're playing on a windy day. The characters definitely look better than ever.
We also worked a lot on our cameras and presentations so that the flow of the game just looks a lot smoother. There are so many little changes that we're excited about there's a whole new look and feel to "Tiger 11."