Tiger Woods might be bummed about his recent second-place finish at The Masters, but don't start feeling sorry for Eldrick just yet, he's still the top-ranked golfer in the world, he's married to a model, and his video game is by far the biggest-selling golf game year in and year out. EA recently held a press event at the EA Tiburon offices to talk about the latest version of the popular video game franchise--Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08.
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Why show the game at EA Tiburon? After all, the series has previously been developed at EA's Redwood City studios. Change is in the air, and development has been moved to EA's Florida location to "further establish Tiburon as an EA Sports hub," and the game is in the hands of the folks from Hypnotix (now owned by EA), who brought you the Outlaw Golf, Tennis, and Volleyball games. The move will also allow EA to work more closely with Tiger himself, since he lives just 15 minutes from the studio.
Tiger Woods 07 established a solid base for the franchise on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, so don't expect a total overhaul of the series just because it's in the hands of a new developer. Many of the changes EA detailed at the event centered on the customization and community aspects of the game. When you mention the word "customization" in reference to the Tiger Woods golf series, the thing that immediately comes to mind is the in-depth character creation tool. Even though the rest of the gaming world has yet to catch up when it comes to giving you nearly total control over building your own character, EA isn't content to sit idly by and has introduced a new feature tentatively called "photo face." Using the Xbox Vision camera on the 360, the EyeToy on the PS3, or even a regular digital camera (you can upload pictures via PC to a digital locker), you can now import your photos into the game and then transform them into an accurate 3D model. You can use only a head-on photo if you wish, but you'll get the best results if you use a shot of yourself facing the camera as well as a profile picture. Once your picture is in the game, you simply place a few reference points on the photos, and you're done. You'll need to pay attention to lighting and a few other simple guidelines, but the entire process is incredibly easy and takes just a few minutes, and the results are outstanding--your character can blink and even move its mouth to talk. Once you've got your spitting image in the game you can customize it as if it were any other golfer. Yes, guys are able to put their heads on the body of a woman. No, you won't be able to take a picture of your butt and put it in the game--the program is too smart for that.
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EA is also focusing on the community aspect of the game, particularly user-created content, with a new online feature called "gamernet." You'll be able to share your greatest moments with the rest of the world, be it a single shot, an entire hole, or an entire round. With gamernet, people won't be limited to watching your feats of skill; they'll be able to try to re-create them or improve upon them. When you think you've done something cool, you simply save it, give it a title and description, pick a thumbnail, and upload it. EA sees players not only uploading amazing things they did in the single-player career mode, but also creating their own challenges from scratch. There are challenges for single holes, long drives, 18 holes, and more. You can go the serious route and challenge people to drive a certain distance, to get within a certain distance of the pin, or to shoot a specific score, but the door is wide open for you to be as goofy as you want when it comes to creating challenges. You might try to see how many times people can bounce the ball off the cart path, or you can channel your inner Gerald Ford by seeing who can hit the most fans along the fairway--there's plenty of freedom. One thing that holds true for all challenges is that the harder they are, the more points they'll be worth. You'll earn points for beating a challenge (double points if you're the first to do so), and these points determine your standing on the leaderboards. There will be a separate leaderboard that will show the top course creators, so you can see not only whose challenges are the most popular, but how many times those challenges have been beaten.
EA wasn't willing to spill the beans on everything it has in store for Tiger Woods 08, but we were able to find out a few more details on what to expect. There will be three new courses (TPC Boston, Cog Hill, and Westchester), which brings the total number of courses to 15. Each course has been reworked and features more realistic terrain thanks to the use of normal mapping. We noticed improved shadows and ground textures, as well. Sadly, it doesn't sound as if EA's focus on customization will carry over to a true course creator, but you'll still be able to create your own "dream 18" using existing holes. We also noticed a new meter in the top right corner of the screen that seemed to indicate you can add draw to the ball by pressing the left bumper and make the ball fade by pressing the right bumper. When we pressed an EA rep for more details, the rep said EA wasn't ready to reveal that information just yet.
Even though it's not due in stores until late this summer and there's much yet to be revealed, Tiger Woods 08 appears to be shaping up nicely. The new ability to import your own face into the game opens up a world of customization possibilities, and taking on challenges from players around the world with the new gamernet feature should give the game more replay value than ever.