Level Design: Hole 83 in Desert Golfing

Hole 83 in Desert Golfing.
Hole 83 in Desert Golfing.

Above is an annotated screengrab of Hole 83 in Desert GolfingDesert Golfing is a minimalist game with a surprising amount of subtlety. I’ve seen a lot of comments about it on Twitter, but little discussion of the level design, so I figured I’d give it a go after I grabbed this screenshot to show a friend a particularly devious hole.

First, a short explanation of Desert Golfing. Desert Golfing has essentially the same interaction as Angry Birds. You drag your finger to create a vector that defines the direction and speed at which you hit your ball. The object is to get the ball to stop in a hole, noted by a flag. If the ball leaves the screen, it is warped back to the original tee location. If you make it into the hole, the hole rises up to become flush with its surroundings, the screen pans to the right, and a new hole is revealed. Unlike most golf courses that offer 18 holes, Desert Golfing appears to be endless. Yet nonetheless, it keeps the player drawn to its simple presentation and physics interactions by varied and often maddening level design.

Hole 83. Hole 83 frustrated me so much that I deleted Desert Golfing. Then I redownloaded it and played the first 82 holes again just to get back to this level.

The first thing most players will try to do on this level is to shoot at about 45 degrees in order to hit the “green” area near the cup. However, in order to reach the green and not the slope before it, the player has to put so much force onto the ball that it will always end up overshooting the green and fall down the slope to the right, resulting in an out-of-bounds.

So what are the players options? I’ve annotated the surfaces above to show dangerous places to place the ball.

If the ball lands in the red-lined area I’ve marked as “Zone 1”, then abandon hope. Due to the vertical right wall of this chasm, there is no way to get this ball out of the chasm to the right. The only hope you have is to hit the ball out into the V-shaped chasm to the left of this area. This will likely cost you a few strokes or an out-of-bounds.

“Zone 2” above is placed under an overhang of the green. If the ball ends there, again there is no hope. The overhang prevents players from hitting any shot in the direction of the hole from that position. At this point you must hit the ball gently to the right to the yellow area. But don’t hit it with much force or the ball will land in “Zone 3” which is guaranteed to end in an out-of-bounds.Any shot with too much force is likely to hit Zone 3.

The yellow area of the green and the early part of the slope to the left of the green (between zones 1 and 2) is dangerous territory. Given the correct momentum and angle, the player can hit the slope and roll onto the green. However, most opportunities to do this will either be too slow and steep (leading to falling into the Zone 1 chasm) or too strong and flat, leading to falling off the green to the right and into Zone 3.

My strategy for this hole is to take one stroke to position myself in the chasm left of Zone 1, then hit a light arcing shot that lands on the flat part of the green. If this second shot is too light, it will fall into Zone 1. Chances are that most shots will roll off the green to the right, but a second-best scenario is that it ends in the small part of yellow-lined area off the ledge to the right of the green (right of Zone 2). From there, it is possible to hit a light chip-shot back onto the green, but God help you if you overshoot any of these parts.

The first time I played this hole, I rage-quitted after getting a +45 or so. After calming down and analyzing the hole, I was able to finish it with a +5. The hole made me think about it after dozens of straightforward holes where guessing-and-checking was sufficient strategy.

Worth noting is the amount of tactical decision making needed from very simple components. What are the pieces of Desert Golfing? There are holes, land, tee spots, and out-of-bounds triggers. That’s it. The ball is fired and controlled by implicit, consistent rules of physics. The land is variable in shape, but consistent in friction. The holes are consistent in shape, but variable in location.

There are thousands upon thousands of Desert Golfing holes, which leads me to believe that the holes were designed by algorithm. If this level’s design is due to chance alone, then bless the random number generator that created it as it provides a depth of play that is missing from most mobile games.

22 thoughts on “Level Design: Hole 83 in Desert Golfing

  1. It’s likely that the procedure is crafted such that the first N holes are fairly simple. But I have no idea what N is or how that would be done.

  2. A common technique would be to have a complexity rating for generated holes that gradually approaches some cap as the hole number goes up. This rating could feed into any number of subsystems in the terrain, but it’s probably something fairly simple to keep it from blowing up and making an impossible level

  3. One other technique that works on this hole is to use, or arguably abuse, the game’s friction rules. Balls that are on a slope, and lightly hit in a trajectory parallel to it, will often stick to the slope and not roll back down, even if the slope is fairly steep. This trick works on this hole. It allows the first shot to be placed in Zone 1. A second shot can be made up the slope to the ball’s left, which if done lightly enough, and parallel to the slope, will stick to the ground, leaving enough room to shoot the ball to the right, without being entirely obstructed. The third shot can then be aimed for the leftmost part of the yellow area, for a shorter, and relatively easier shot (than from the tee).

  4. You should be able to make the ball ‘stick’ to the left slope of zone 1. From there you can make it ‘stick’ to the right slope of zone 1 , and then roll it in.

  5. Have you considered hitting out of zone one very hard into the top of the vertical wall and bouncing it back toward the cup? Since your goal here is to come onto the ‘green’ as vertically as possible that should work well.

    Many holes lend themselves to more of a putt-putt approach like that.

  6. I was dreading coming upbto this hole… and then i got it in one! I willvnever achieve anything greater in my life.

  7. For like 10 levels straight around stage 311 you get just a bunch of flat levels, then it increases rapidly again. You also get to see the cactus in the background again. Which seems to disappear in later stages.

  8. Yeah using the sticky ball thing is the key to a lot of holes, I didn’t really see it as abuse but a built-in game mechanism… I’ve finally just done hole 2303, that’s the only one that’s taken me over a 100 shots so far (and I thought it was impossible until about shot 90, finally did it in 102).

  9. Maybe I just got lucky, but I managed to do it in two strokes. My strategy was to aim straight for the hole and hope that it stays in there or bounces onto the neighbouring flat. My first shot hit the flat and bounced away. My second shot stayed in, which was very lucky.

  10. @Nick – Any tips for 2303 please? I’m struggling to do it and I’ve done well up to this point. Any help is greatly appreciated! What a great game, eh? 🙂

  11. @JB: 2303 wouldn’t be the one with the drop off, would it? If so the only advice I can give is to take it VERY VERY SLOWLY. I think I peaked +80~ before completing that one.

  12. That hole is easy. Hit into zone 1,fall down the chasm. Hit the ball lightly to the left up the steep slope (it’ll stick to the ground if it doesn’t bounce) then a medium tap upward to the right and you’ll have done the hole in 3 shots.

    2303. Nightmare. 139 shots before it went in but that’s been the worst so far. Averaging about 2.70 shots per hole.

    Any ideas how many levels this game has? I’m on 2758 at the moment.

  13. Here was my breaking point. Astoundingly hard hole. Required a high vertical shot from that ditch to the left of the hole and if it had even the slightest hint of too much lateral movement when it hit, it would roll off the screen. It basically had to hit once and STOP.


  14. This hole had nothing on 1496 which completely hosed my (meaningless, admittedly) shot average. I had about 150 goes. The stuff of nightmares.

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