Walkabout: How Great VR Mini Golf Started As An iPhone Game
One of Oculus Quest’s best multiplayer games, Walkabout Mini Golf, launches on Steam this month with a final beta testing period underway ahead of its July 15th release.
We interviewed the lead developer on the game, Lucas Martell, who revealed Walkabout actually started as a game for iPhone and Android where you swing your phone like a putter. When Oculus Quest released, they realized it would be a perfect fit for true standalone VR because they’d already done a lot of the work optimizing it for that kind of chipset. It debuted on Quest in late 2020 and, after releasing for SteamVR on July 15th, Martell says they’re still planning to release the phone version this year. With cross-play supported across all devices, that means pretty soon you’ll be able to go golfing with your friends no matter what kind of device they’re using.
Check out the 18-minute interview with Martell below as we trace the unusual path this VR game took from Mighty Coconut, a company that was primarily known for working in film and animation prior to this release. We’ve got a full transcript of the interview below as well if you want to read along.
Ian Hamilton: [00:00:00] Hello, everyone, Ian Hamilton here, I’m joined by Lucas. Tell us who you are and about what you do.
Lucas Martell: [00:00:07] My name is Lucas Martell. I am the lead dev on Walkabout Mini Golf. I created the project as it was kind of a solo quarantine project. I had a little bit of help but then after we released it, it’s gone very well and we’ve now added to the team. So I’m running a team now of seven basically, adding more courses and just making Walkabout bigger and better.
Mighty Coconut: From Spies In Disguise To Walkabout Mini Golf
Hamilton: [00:00:26] So Mighty Coconut that’s the name of your company? I was trying to investigate it last night and I was surprised to see Spies In Disguise and animation movies. You’re an animation company and a game studio?
Martell: [00:00:42] So I’ll give you kind of my personal history. I created a short film called Pigeon: Impossible. And then I sold that to Fox and that became the basis for Spies In Disguise. So yeah Walter Beckett was the character in my actual short. And so I was involved quite a bit more early on in the project with that one. But then when Blue Sky came in, they did an awesome job with it. It took five years to make the short and that was really how I taught myself animation and so many things that have kind of gone into this game as well. But yeah five years to make the short and then 10 years to make the feature. So that’s been sort of a long, long time coming. And then in the meantime I’ve done a couple of other shorts and up until more recently, I was mostly in the film world as a writer, director, animation type and, yeah, Mighty Coconut was largely an animation studio. We started doing games a few years ago, but it was kind of a little side thing for us. And now games is really our main focus. So we’ve kind of pivoted over to that.
Walkabout Mini Golf For iPhone And Android
Hamilton: [00:01:39] Tell me about the reception that you found for Walkabout Mini Golf. The news here is you’re doing a private beta for the Steam version of Walkabout Mini Golf and it has full cross platform play. So you can log into a Quest and you can log on to Steam, get a room name and find several other friends to go mini golfing, anytime, any place. That’s a pretty huge feature. When you put on a headset and have a really, really spot on mini golf trip, that’s one of those killer features in my mind for VR in general. What has been your overall reception to your product and your platform? Was it hard to get on Quest and have you been surprised by how well it’s been adopted?
Martell: [00:02:23] It’s definitely been a bit of a surprise. We were very lucky and that we launched a couple of weeks before the Quest 2 came out and we had no idea that that was even coming. We were doing it as a mobile game. We actually have a version that we haven’t released yet, but it should also be coming very soon where you play on just like an iPhone or an Android and you actually putt by just swinging your device, it works surprisingly well. So we actually had that working already when the Quest 1 came out, and when the Quest 1 came out, we were like, wait, we’re already on mobile, we’ve already done one of the hardest things, which is optimizing for Quest. So we basically got it up and running pretty quickly on Quest and showed it to Oculus and they were very into it, but that was really within a few months of the Quest 1 coming out that happened. So it came in from a very different angle. The VR version has blown up and the social aspect that you mentioned of the presence, even us like being in a virtual studio, you really do feel like you’re in the same room with somebody. So we’ve really wanted to focus on that. So almost all the features that we’ve been adding lately have been 100% VR focused, but we do still have that iOS and Android version that it’s pretty much done and we’ll be releasing it soon. We just wanted to make sure that we didn’t ruin that sense of immersion, that full VR people get when they’re playing. But for a lot of folks who just have a single headset or something, the fact that that’s also full cross play. So you can have three people on a phone and one person in a headset all play on the same game at the same time.
Hamilton: [00:03:46] I’m trying to wrap my brain around how that will work. I can’t wait to see how that cross play will work with a phone. Do you overlay the augmented reality or, how does that work?
Martell: [00:03:55] Really it’s more like, some people have called it monoscopic VR, we’re using the AR tracking to basically give us a single 6DOF window. It just happens to be with golf you only need one controller so your putter is attached, you’re looking through your putter essentially. So after you putt, you kind of have to look up to follow it. We are technically using all the AR features under the hood, but we’re not actually showing any of the camera feed unless it loses tracking or something like that.
DLC Course Packs For Walkabout Mini Golf
Hamilton: [00:04:21] That’s wild. I can’t wait to try that cross-platform play. I’ve also been surprised you’ve been here adding a lot of updates. You’ve been pretty regular with the changes. Tell me about how much you’ve added since launch and what your plans are for the next six months after you get the Steam version out there.
Martell: [00:04:36] We originally launched with four courses. They also had their hard modes, but since then we’ve added three more courses. We added the Flyabout update. We added smooth locomotion. There was a lot of under the hood stuff, like there was a lot of work that was done where we kind of had to rewrite a lot of the architecture in order to make it so that you can basically leave a game at any time and come back in and it still remembers where you’re at and knows if you were in that same multi-player session. So there was a lot of those quality of life things that it became clear we needed to do because games with four or even five people were sometimes going like an hour of people in there and so the odds of someone setting down their Quest to go to the bathroom or something like that and it disconnecting, there was a lot of that sort of stuff. Foxhunts were also a big one, the Foxhunts that you can do in the hard modes to collect the putters, were also something that was all new. Music has been added. We’ve been very aggressive adding more stuff. And we’re planning to do one more course of the base game is going to have eight courses, and then we are going to start doing some DLC. The first DLC is looking really good and that’s going to be three courses. We’re not quite ready to announce exactly what that is yet, people have been saying, yes, yes, we want more courses. And so we feel like the best way to keep giving that to people is to sort of like, ‘okay, we can, we could start doing small DLC packages basically.’ So those who want to keep adding more courses and keep playing new mini golf courses can do that.
Hamilton: [00:06:00] How big of a launch do you expect Steam VR to be for being able to connect across devices?
Martell: [00:06:06] I don’t really know because I’ve never even done Steam release before. I have brought in a friend of mine’s company, FarBridge, who’s done a lot of Steam work so they are actually helping with the port. Also just making sure all of the different devices and all that sort of stuff works. It does seem like the Quest seems to be the most popular headset by quite a large margin at the moment. We also launched Walkabout and there wasn’t a whole lot of marketing behind it, it was very difficult to get people to get super excited about a mini golf game until some people got in and played it because that social aspect that you’re talking about, just like how fun it is to sort of have that shared space. And it’s a very simple game but it’s all about the nuance of getting the physics just right, getting the course design to be just really, really nice. A lot of those factors meant that it was a relatively soft launch on Quest. Now I feel like there’s a lot of people who have been playing on Quest or have friends who are playing it, but they are wanting to get it through Steam so they’ve been waiting. I think a lot of it just comes down to that as sort of like how many folks are actually wanting to come over from the Steam world who’ve been seeing people playing on Quest.
Is PlayStation VR Support Planned For Walkabout Mini Golf?
Hamilton: [00:07:11] Are you looking at PlayStation as well?
Martell: [00:07:14] We are, I can’t commit or say anything too much but we’re actually looking at several other platforms. The iOS and the Android thing is already out there but we’re looking at some other VR options as well.
Is Walkabout Your First VR Game?
Hamilton: [00:07:24] I’m blown away by the onboarding experience, being able to select the courses back nine, front nine, get in there really fast with another player. I guess I’m surprised that this is your first VR game, is that right?
Martell: [00:07:39] Yes. Yeah. I guess it is. There was another game that I had kind of started playing around with, but we didn’t actually release that. It’s actually something I would like to get back to once this feels like it’s up on its feet and all the new courses and all the new features and stuff are sort of like once that’s in a bit more of a groove and the team is able to sort of handle that and I’m able to step away a little bit from it. Yeah, this is really the first game, other than the two mobile games, 57 Degrees North and Laser Mazer, both of those are sort of like AR/VR-adjacent though. 57 Degrees North actually was one of the old mobile VR things. And Laser Mazer actually won an award at Indiecade Europe, but it was built off that same phone thing that I was talking about but you’re actually physically walking around in the real world dodging lasers, but it’s a very physical game that you need to have a very large like outdoor space, ideally in order to play it. So it’s all sort of like VR adjacent stuff.
When Will The iPhone Version Of Walkabout Mini Golf Release?
Hamilton: [00:08:33] Do you have a timeframe for how far off the iPhone or app version release will be?
Martell: [00:08:39] We haven’t announced anything yet. We’re actually kind of looking at timeline now. It’s like 95% of the way there. It’s just those last few little things that we need to get the Steam version out so that we can fully focus, because we are a very small team. It’s difficult for us to do more than a couple of things simultaneously. So I think once the Steam VR version is out that will likely be the next thing that we really sort of sink our teeth into. So I don’t have an exact timeframe, but we’re looking at getting it out this year, sooner than later.
Is Walkabout Better Than Physical Mini Golfing?
Hamilton: [00:09:07] You’ve got some design choices in Walkabout that I think are really interesting. It’s one of the few games that you can play with one-handed. You’ve also got very interesting use of the buttons on the controller to be able to teleport, then there’s that feature where you’ve got sort of an Easter egg hunt on our courses with the hidden balls everywhere, and you can press the down stick on the controller to basically vacuum up the ball wherever it’s hiding. And it’s kind of like an Easter egg hunt in there as well. How did the Foxhunt treasure hunt feature and the ball hunting feature, how did those come about?
Martell: [00:09:47] So the ball hunting feature was something that was in the original version of the game and it was sort of a kind of a later add in development. I knew I wanted to do something along those lines and it just seemed kind of like a nice little thing. I did not expect that to become such a popular one. We do kind of have a roadmap on our Discord of like all the other things that we want to add but I do think that just in general, a big part of mini golf and our game. Yes, you’re playing mini golf, but the environment that you’re in is also a really big part of the feeling and just the whole experience. So we wanted to find ways of taking advantage of this whole world that we’re creating that is largely set dressing. So having lost balls, encouraging people to get out and sort of explore this wider sort of course. The Foxhunts actually came out because Henning Koczy, who has actually taken over a lot of the level design for me. He actually has a game that he’s been working on for a while called Foxhunt. And he’s done a lot of basically real life Foxhunts where you sort of set it up within a small area and they’re super, super fun. So I had actually talked to him about doing those, the very first thing that he came on board to do, just knowing that I wanted to do something, but I didn’t want to just scatter more lost balls across the hard mode and that seemed like a nice, different way of kind of doing the same thing but with a very different feel and yeah, it just mixes it up and it’s a nice way to do some fun collectible stuff that people actually want to collect but it’s not just like grinding or a chore to complete them.
Hamilton: [00:11:12] I find it interesting the timing you chose to come into VR and really get this game up and running. There’s people I talk to in VR development who been here for five years and it’s almost like they’re a battered soldiers, because they had to go through this period of market shattering, when it was realized that PC VR wasn’t going to be as big as it was. As someone who entered the VR market at the time you did, how big do you see VR becoming over the next few years? I know you’ve got a lot of reviews on Oculus. Steam’s going to be a whole other market there. When I play Walkabout it’s removing even the little things that are painful about real life mini golf, like when you get a ball too close to the wall you have to put your foot down and move the ball out from it. I always had that house rule of you can move it out one club length from the wall. You don’t have to do that in VR. You can just move your putter through the wall. Getting rushed by the people behind you, you don’t have to worry about that. Things like that are just gone. And it’s just pure, really fast moving from hole to hole. Even being able to go start at the next hole, stand at the next hole while the previous person you can look over and see them finish the hole. And as soon as they’re done, you’re started on the next hole and it’s really fast moving. I guess I’m just curious how big you think this platform will become in the next few years.
Martell: [00:12:43] So on the mini golf side of things, then we’ll jump back to VR. I’ve played a lot of real life mini golf and especially lately. I hate to sort of like knock real mini golf but one of the things that always frustrates me, unless you’re playing on an amazing course, it always feels a little random because the carpet is never quite smooth. Then there’s all these little, just like rocks and little things that sort of muck it up for you. We’re trying to be very, very realistic, but yeah, I agree there’s some things that you can simplify and get rid of that are really, really nice about playing it in VR, as well as being able to do larger environments where we’re not constrained by just how much land we have to work with. Lets us do some really, really fun designs. And also not having to worry about the safety of someone getting hit by a ball if someone’s whacking it at a hundred miles an hour, we get to do some whole designs that you could never do right in real life for that reason. As for the VR side of things, I definitely think it feels like we are at a tipping point. I think definitely the Quest 2 is one of the things that really sent it over the edge. We have been seeing a lot of people said that they’ve picked up Quests specifically because I think that Walkabout is a really good intro game for a lot of people. We even have a lot of folks in their eighties and nineties who have played with their kids or grandkids. They happen to have a VR headset, they put it on, played it, and then they went right out and got one. It’s a comfortable experience because, although we do have smooth locomotion and flying, you don’t need to do that. It’s a natural movement that you don’t have to teach someone how to play. Like they understand what golf is and all you have to do is swing your hands. You can really play it with just a single trigger. I feel like this is a very good intro game for a lot of people, but it does have that element of once you get into it, it’s also easy to pick up, but difficult to master. So we’ve got some people who have really spent a lot of time perfecting trick shots and just like really mastering the nuances of every course. InnerPrincess, one of our regulars has some amazing guides where he breaks down the strategy of each course and analyzes the different routes and the couple of trick shots and different things like that, it’s so much fun to see people take the courses that we have designed and find out things about them that we didn’t even know were there, because a lot of times some of those trick shots weren’t intended, it’s just something that people found.
Dynamically Changing Club Length And Accessories
Hamilton: [00:14:54] One of the features I love that it was eye opening the moment this happened when I realized the club length dynamically changes based on how close down to the ground you get. So you can have a super long club or a very small club if you really want to get down there, that’s really, really cool feature, but also missing the weight of a real club. Have you explored accessories for the controller?
Martell: [00:15:22] There’s actually several accessories out there and it pretty much works with all of them. We’re going to be dialing in a couple of things to just allow things to visually be a little better, because a lot of them will put the controller a little bit further away from where you’re holding it. So we have the angle control in the menu specifically for that, so that you can adjust to make sure that it lines up with your putter. There’s a couple of visual things we could do, but I will say that playing with the weighted accessories, that are cross compatible with pretty much all the other golf games that are out there, that really does address exactly what you’re talking about in terms of like the weight, even the vibration that you get because the way the controller vibrates and sort of sends that up the putter shaft, it feels amazingly realistic. For people who are really, really into Walkabout, just like VR golf in general, picking up one of those putter accessories is a really nice thing to do.
Hamilton: [00:16:10] Given that you’ve got cross play enabled it’s very important that it’s the same experience across devices, but I also have to ask is there anything different about the Steam VR version? Are you able to do anything with PC power that you can’t do on a Quest?
Martell: [00:16:23] We’ve already had the Rift version out so it’s really going to be the same as the Rift version. And we do turn up some rendering settings and we do improve the visuals overall, but we have not gone through and sort of like really changed the underlying assets. It’s still essentially sort of what you’re seeing there with the low poly look we. We’ve opted to hold onto that just because we would much rather make more courses than basically spend two or three times as long doing multiple versions of the same course for different platforms. So really fundamentally it is going to be pretty much the same experience regardless of what headset you’re playing on.
Account Sharing And Multiple Copies Of Walkabout Mini Golf
Hamilton: [00:17:03] One final question, how does it handle multiple users? How many copies of the game do you need to buy if you’ve got that multiple user system set up on a Quest?
Martell: [00:17:14] So our multiplayer system is totally independent of the platform. So like on Oculus, if you’ve got five people who are all on the same account and they could basically all play together. So the only limitations would be whatever the platform limits you to. So I don’t even know exactly what the Steam limitations are, but like if you’ve got someone with the shared library, the game itself will work as long as Steam lets you launch however many copies of the game at once.
Hamilton: [00:17:41] Is there anything else you want to get across to readers, listeners, viewers out there about a Walkabout and your plans for it?
Martell: [00:17:49] Yeah. I guess all that I would say would be to wishlist it on Steam. Our Discord is a really, really good place both for updates about the game, but also we have a lot of tournaments. A lot of the community is basically on the Discord and it’s also just a really good place because there are a lot of people who play regularly and it’s a good positive place. If you’re looking for games, if you’re looking for folks to hang out with regularly, that’s a really, really good place. You can just do discord.mightycoconut.com and it’ll get you there. Other than that, July 15th on Steam.
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