For the longest time, a tie was as good as a win in the final round of a Tiger Woods PGA Tour event. The game's career mode did not simulate playoff holes if your golfer finished in a deadlock with one or more others. The tournament simply ended and you still got credit for a victory. But it was a glaring shortcoming, and if it happened in a Major, the lack of closure was almost agonizing.
Well, that changes in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14. Playoffs, in all of their formats—aggregate, sudden death, or the palpable dread of a full 18 holes at the U.S. Open—will be a feature of the game when it releases in March.
Designers at EA Sports' Tiburon studio will be the first to tell you it's a long overdue inclusion. "It's been something we've always wanted to put in the game, but with all of the complexities involved, we just never really had the time," said Mike DeVault, a senior designer on the game. "It creates a myriad of opportunities for problems—and we knew that going in. But when you have features like those in the discussion, they're usually the ones that land on the cutting room floor."
Why? Overtime rules have long been featured in every other major sports simulation, even the complex sudden death of NCAA Football or the varying outcomes of a soccer match in FIFA.
The answer lies in two realms: one is that a playoff—sudden death anyway—shifts the golf simulation from stroke play, in which the focus is entirely on your performance, to what is effectively match play, in which your opponent's performance greatly informs the risks you both are willing to take. Let's keep in mind the possibility of playoffs involving three or more golfers, too. Accounting for these possibilities introduces a great deal of complexity into the design, for something that would typically be seen only a handful of times in a single mode of play.
The second reason is actually an issue of licensing. While Tiger Woods PGA Tour career events feature a full leaderboard stocked with recognizable, real-world names, the vast majority of these golfers do not appear in the game. There are only two dozen or so real-world pros you may play as or against. There is no group license for the likenesses of all the PGA Tour golfers, as there is in the NHL or NBA, and a name on a leaderboard only is the limit of fair use.
So a playoff can't show you your opponent unless he's licensed to appear in the game. "We looked into having players represented by shot arcs," said Sean Wilson, the game's producer, "but simulating arcs, even, is a licensing issue. Technically, [showing just the trajectory of a shot] would be considered a part of their likeness."
Rigging tour events so that the same 24 golfers were at the top of the leaderboard, just in case you tied somebody at the end, shatters immersion more than simply not having a playoff at all. Wilson called that "cheesy," and it is. So for years, the combination of complicated design and prohibitive licensing provided very little motivation to address a playoff issue, especially if it is supposed to be an uncommon experience.
Playoffs in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 will not show you your opponent's shot. You'll be informed of his result at the end of each hole you play, which does deprive the game of some of a playoff's signature tension but given the limitations involved, is probably the only way it could be handled. Wilson said it puts the focus on playing the hole as aggressively and as well as you can. (Of course, this is moot for a full 18-hole playoff).
"If you're tied at the end of a tournament, you'll get a message that you're tied, and then a rules screen explaining the rules of that playoff," Wilson said. 'Then you'll see a leaderboard of names of people in the playoff. After each hole, you'll get a loading screen showing what the other player did. You don't know what they did until you finish the hole.
"It was better, we thought, to show you the result afterward, so you would try to make the best score possible on each hole," Wilson said.
If you're forsaking the opportunity to see your playoff opponents play their holes, it seems like an obvious solution. So why did EA Sports wait until now to tackle it?
Again, there are two answers. This year the game will feature something called "Quick Tournaments," a single- and local multiplayer mode which essentially takes an event from the game's tour schedule and transports all the players to the final round on Sunday, with tournament atmosphere, galleries and commentary (said to be getting a strong upgrade).
"In years past, when you'd pick up the game and choose Play Now, you'd pop into essentially a practice round with you and a scorecard, or whoever you're playing locally," DeVault said. "But if you choose Play Now in something like Madden, you're getting the NFL on Sunday, with the crowd, and the commentary and everything. We never had that."
Quick Tournaments will pit a player against a full leaderboard, the same as a career event. "Golf lends itself still to being a party game," Wilson said, "so if you're playing this in a room with friends, if you get to the end of a round and you're all tied, you should have a playoff." If they were building a playoff for local multiplayer against an AI leaderboard, they may as well do it for the career mode too.
The second reason is that, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 will be the first golf video game to feature all four Major tournaments under their real world names. And bringing those in without playoffs—and there are three different formats used—would have made the omission even more glaring this year.
Not that it hasn't been noticed before.
"There was a pretty heavy emphasis on our presentation coming from the community feedback this year," DeVault said, "regarding how we can build more emotion and add drama. The playoff system is a very important part of that. And if we build up all of this drama of Sunday, and you're tied, and there's no playoff, then it falls flat on its face."
So in The Masters, if you're tied at the end of the fourth round, you'll go play the 18th and 10th holes until someone comes out a stroke ahead. At the British Open, playoffs are a four-hole contest determined by aggregate score, then sudden death if necessary. The U.S. Open, one of the last tournaments, of any magnitude, to require a full 18-hole playoff round, will put you up to that, too. Non-major tournaments will also use the preferred playoff tournaments of their courses. "Each course has a set of priority holes for a playoff," Wilson said. "So if you watch The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass, they will start on No. 17, the Island Green, then play No. 18, then, No. 16, 17 and 18 until they get a winner."
But the historical presentation of The Masters, a feature getting top billing in the game, will not undertake playoffs by the old rules. Though you may play the tournament on the course as it appeared in 1934, any playoff there will alternate holes No. 18 and 10, by modern rules. In 1935, the second Masters, Gene Sarazen and Craig Wood dueled it out in a playoff—over 36 holes. This game won't subject you to that.
Though to most this would seem like a no-brainer inclusion, "it's not a small undertaking," DeVault said. "It was something we've been working on throughout the entire year. And it was one of the first features we were working on for this game."