Our minds haze over the flaws of games gone by, so that they remain in a fuzzy stage of nostalgic remembrance. In that place of memory, you recall the fun of the game and not its technical shortcomings. It’s better that way. Bringing your mind to bear on fondly recalled titles today might just leave you bitter, as you begin to recognize the limits of their time’s technology. And yet, the unquestionable underlying quality of certain games seeps through even the archaic abilities of consoles and PCs gone by and shines through to the present. These are the titles that don’t depend on technology, but instead use it to bring already great gameplay to life. LinksĀ® is one of these titles. It’s the elegance of the game and not some newfangled chip that makes it great; so we look back now on the history and evolution of this storied golf franchise.
Before it was Links it was Leader Board, and before it was published by Microsoft it was created by a little company named Access Software. Leader Board was the genesis of the franchise and stood proudly as one of the very first realistic and faithful presentations of the game of golf. In fact, it virtually pioneered commentary in sports titles (no pun intended). Using its patented “RealSound” process, Leader Board could actually use the PC speaker to offer voice commentary about your game.
Links: The Challenge of Golf
A new decade, a new gameā – 1990 introduced the use of 256-color VGA graphics, improved physics modeling, and a name we’ve all grown to know: Links. This installment, the first one sporting the Linksname, cemented the series’ reputation as the ultimate golf simulation. It also introduced the C-style swing meter, which has become a staple of almost all golf games and can still be found in the latest PC version of Links.
Of all the genres and subgenres of games, you wouldn’t think that a golf simulation would be the one to push video cards and hardware to their limits. You wouldn’t think that a golf game would spark the SVGA revolution, but that’s exactly what Links 386 did back in 1992. Links 386 came complete with near-photo-realistic (for the time) graphics, male and female golfers, and a special treat for those who had the CD version (remember, games still came on 3 Ā½-inch floppies back then). With this new technology, you could listen to the comedic stylings of comedian Bobcat Goldthwait, who lent his talent to the “caddie” that came with the CD version.
Links LS (Legend in Sport)
The Links LS series, which spanned multiple versions between 1996 and 1999, included a number of firsts for the franchise. To the excitement of series fans, Arnold Palmer joined the family, further legitimizing the Links franchise. The LS series also introduced a brand-new graphics engine and employed Access Software’s Virtual World technology. This allowed the player to take virtual tours of Mr. Palmer’s trophy room at Latrobe Country Club and the clubhouse at Kapalua Plantation. With the release of Links LS 1998 came the Links Tour, which allowed for online competition and stat tracking (including leader-boards), and helped establish an active community of online competitive golf addicts.
Links 2001 once again represented a substantial evolution for the franchise. Like the first installment of Links LS, Links 2001 retooled and rebuilt the game’s graphics and physics engines. The new graphics tools gave course designers the flexibility they needed. No longer would course environments and designs be restricted by technology. Links 2001 also included the much anticipated and exhaustively feature-rich Arnold Palmer Course Designer.
In some ways Links 2003 marked the end of an era. This was the final version of Links to appear exclusively on the PC. Links 2003 introduced the real-time swing, whereby the movement of your mouse determined the accuracy and power of your shot. You would trigger your player’s backswing by pulling the mouse back; then swing and connect with the ball by pushing the mouse forward. Not only was this simple kinetic motion more realistic, but it made for a much more personal experience as it directly mimicked the action of your character.
That brings us to the present ā¦ and to LinksĀ® 2004, which is poised for release. Links 2004 is the first appearance of this venerable series on the Xbox, and while that may end the franchise’s near-exclusive existence on the PC, it also begins an exciting new chapter for both the series and Xbox owners. The grand tee-off is only a few short weeks away, so don’t worry. You’ll be able to grab that driver and school some fools in the art of golf very soon.