Computer Graphics World

MARCH 2010

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n n n n Web Gaming Web sand traps that have handicapped other Internet golf titles, and using a host of tools within the Adobe Creative Suite, has built a game that features photorealistic courses mod- eled after some of the world’s most prestigious golfing locales. Founded three and a half years ago, World Golf Tour’s strategy has been to create an on- line sports destination, starting first with golf. “In sports, there are always those who play professionally and the huge fan base that wants to get involved by somehow participating and following the action,” says YuChiang Cheng, CEO of World Golf Tour. “Fantasy sports is a very large market, and sports games on consoles have been successful, as well. We view the next step as the creation of large, online communi- ties where people can play sports together.” Te company spent the first two years in R&D, trying to figure out how best to achieve its two main design goals. First, the game had to be visually compelling. “Tere is a visual standard that people are drawn to; games on consoles like the Xbox 360 and PS3 are really beautiful,” says Cheng. “We knew that if we were fighting for a person’s time, we needed to be as compelling visually as games on those platforms.” To tackle that issue, World Golf Tour’s chief scientists and engineers believed they had found a picture-perfect solution by using high-resolution photographs. Says Cheng, “We made a mental leap. If you want the imagery to look beautiful and photoreal, why not start with photographs and work your way backward?” And that is what they did. In fact, the team merged a few techniques for its big-picture solution, including the grow- ing concept of generating a real-world setting in 3D by stitching together large amounts of satellite imagery, aerial photos, and more—a la Google Earth and Microsoft Photosynth. Second, the title had to be easily accessible for a mass audience; thus, the game had to be online and playable without requiring special plug-ins to be downloaded or a large software install—traditional obstacles for online game companies. On the Green When re-creating the greens for a specific course, the World Golf Tour team begins by gathering data that literally gives them the lay of the land. Using aircraft and helicopters, and armed with various surveying equipment, the group laser-scans the entire course. Te re- sulting 3D point cloud is then transformed into an Autodesk Maya 3D model, on top of which the photo textures are placed. Typically, the crew acquires more than 42 March 2010 100,000 high-res photos of the entire course from all angles, while a proprietary system records the exact location of each shot and matches it to the virtual camera view during the world construction. However, dealing with so many pictures can be unwieldy. So, for importing, processing, and managing the plethora of pictures, the crew turns to Adobe’s Photoshop Lightroom. Not every photo, however, is picture-perfect; after all, the pictures are acquired from real- world sources. Tus, the group uses Photoshop CS4 Extended to clean up and color-correct on the player’s input. While the courses are the main attraction, the game also features player avatars, which are modeled, lit, and textured in Maya, then ex- ported as sprites and modified within Adobe’s CS4. According to Cheng, enhancements to the JavaScript API in Flash CS4 Professional helped simplify the process of piecing together avatar parts, while improvements to the blend meshes made lighting the avatars easier. World Golf Tour currently features a num- ber of courses, including: Te Old Course at St. Andrews Links, Kiawah Island Re- World Golf Tour’s digital courses are realistic representations of actual locales. The crew laser-scans the sites, creates a 3D model from the point cloud, and adds photographic textures atop the geometry. the imagery, such as smoothing out divots in the grass and removing unsightly power lines. Lightroom is used for color-balancing the im- agery, after which complex scripts are used to automatically tweak the photos, giving them a consistent look. To determine how the ball reacts when “hit,” the group runs various tests and simula- tions, gathering real-world data from impact and collision models, and then feeds that infor- mation into the company’s proprietary physics engine. Te engine calculates the correspond- ing ball velocity and angle of flight with each player’s stroke, determining how the ball rolls and collides with the various surfaces. “Our greens are extremely accurate. Our contours are within 1.5 inches of accuracy, so when you roll the ball across the green, it acts and looks like it does in real life at that course, which is really important for a golfer,” says Cheng. In addition to the physics engine, the title employs Adobe ActionScript 3 programming to provide unique gameplay responses based sort, Pinehurst #8, Wolf Creek, Edgewood Tahoe, Bethpage Black, and Bali Hai. Realistic effects, such as adding sunshine to the Ocean Course at Kiawah, are added through the use of the 3D transformations and the bones tool in Flash Professional. In a Flash To tackle the second challenge, accessibility, World Golf Tour chose to build the game on the Adobe Flash platform. “Flash turned out to be an excellent game engine and display cli- ent,” explains Cheng. “Its flexibility allowed us to merge our course photos with the 3D geometry, and that is really what made our company happen.” And integration is done, well, in a Flash. Te World Golf Tour team uses Creative Suite 4 Web Premium integration capabilities to direct- ly import the files from Photoshop Extended into Flash Professional. Prior to World Golf Tour, the closest online golf game in terms of experience and aesthetic

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