Jack Nicklaus 4
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Jack Nicklaus 4 is a 1997 sports golf video game. It was published by Accolade. The original Microsoft Windows version was developed by Santa Cruz, California-based Cinematronics and the Apple Macintosh version was developed by Austin, Texas-based Eclipse Entertainment.
The game includes four courses designed by Jack Nicklaus: Muirfield Village Golf Club, Colleton River Plantation, Country Club of the South and Cabo del Sol. It also includes one course created especially for the game. In addition to the course layout, weather is also a factor in play.
Play is similar to the previous games in the series, but the graphic quality and realism are greatly enhanced. For example, water hazards no longer look like "blue tar pits", but instead reflect the surrounding environment realistically.
The same course editor used by the developers comes with the game. It can be used to create new courses and modify the included ones. Courses from the previous Jack Nicklaus Signature Edition game can be loaded into the editor, as can user-designed ones from the older game. As with the previous games in the series, user-created courses abound on the Internet.
Before contracting with Cinematronics (not to be confused with the arcade game developer also named Cinematronics) to develop the game, early development of Jack Nicklaus 4 floated aimlessly around Accolade for years. Accolade had fairly good success with its Jack Nicklaus line of golf games (which itself followed Accolade's popular Mean 18 series of games), but hadn't released a game in the line since 1990. Instead of upgrading its existing game's code base, Accolade decided to start development anew. Their previous games were all DOS-based, and Accolade wanted their next Jack Nicklaus game to run on the emergingly popular Windows 3.1 operating system.
The game, like its predecessors, would consist of two applications: the game itself and an editor, with which users could build their own courses or modify the courses delivered with the game.
In 1993, Accolade had one in-house programmer who knew how to program for the then-new Windows operating system, a tools programmer, Gary Strawn. They selected Strawn to develop the course editor and another off-site programmer, an avid golfer himself, to develop the game. Incidentally, Strawn was also the only Accolade programmer who knew C++ and understood OO methodologies.
Despite the effort of the two programmers, the project lacked direction. The project was bandied about from producer to producer, all the while the game made little progress. Strawn worked on making the editor import the old DOS-based courses, but lacked direction on a feature set to implement. The limited communication he had with the off-site programmer of the main game portion didn't help matters.
Eventually, Strawn was joined by another programmer to handle the load of the course editor work. Strawn recruited a tester, Chris Nash, from the QA department. Nash was at the time a software engineering college student and his knowledge of the Windows programming environment and OO methodologies made him a prime candidate for the job. It was decided that Nash would do the GUI work for the editor while Strawn continued to handle the back-end work (such as file reading and course construction).
Though they still lacked a clear design, work on the course editor progressed. However, the state of the actual game was in question. The off-site programmer made infrequent trips to the office and, when he did, the "game" he demoed looked exactly the same each time. While it looked fine for an early prototype, none of the bugs (such as rendering rocks in red, instead of gray) were ever corrected.
Eventually it was determined that the code base for the game had to be scrapped and the off-site programmer terminated. Because of speed considerations, the programmer had developed the game in assembly from the beginning. However, the complexity of the assembly language code eventually overwhelmed him and he was unable to determine the cause of bugs, nor how to fix them. It was evident that it would be impossible for him to ever make significant progress on the game, much less finish it.
About this time, in 1995, the game's current producer, George MacDonald, started searching for an outside developer. He eventually determined Cinematronics would be a prime developer for the golf game. Not only did they have a good track-record and a knowledgeable staff, they were located in Santa Cruz, fairly near Accolade's San Jose, California main office.
Originally, it was determined that Strawn and Nash would continue to develop the golf editor while Cinematronics would develop the main game. Eventually, however, Accolade requested Cinematronics develop both portions of the product and development of the editor was also assigned to them.
Shortly after Cinematronics took over the development of the game, Accolade brought in Mike Franco to be the in-house producer. Meanwhile, Cinematronics had moved from Santa Cruz, California to Austin, Texas and the close proximity advantage was lost. In addition, feature requests by Accolade greatly extended the development scope of the project and pushed out the completion date. In the meantime, Cinematronics had been purchased by Maxis, which meant that one of Accolade's major competitors was now developing one of their products. This did not, however, prevent Cinematronics from delivering the product on time—indeed, Accolade's test team was unprepared to receive the product at the end of 1996, delaying code release and putting the developers in a holding pattern for a couple months.
None of the source code from the original game was used in the final Cinematronics-produced product.
One of the issues that had to be dealt with early on was the desire by Cinematronics to create a more realistic physics model than the competing products of the day. In Cinematronics' view, better physics meant a game that felt more like real golf. While this was ultimately borne out, it took weeks of research, as there was very little information available concerning how the golf ball would fly under different weather conditions, swings, etc.
Just when they thought they had it solved, they ran into a major problem: with short putts the ball would bounce out of the cup. Nothing seemed to solve the problem. Finally, in frustration, Brad Fregger, the Cinematronics producer, suggested that, with short putts, they "Just put the ball into the hole ... this is, after all, a computer program." The programmer rolled his eyes and left the room. The next day the programmer announced, "I've solved the problem! I just moved the metal cup down one inch below the top of the hole and now the balls go in properly. And, I didn't have to fudge the physics to make it work!"
Brad immediately called Franco to announce that the "short putt" problem had finally been solved, "He moved the metal cup down an inch from the top of the hole... sure hope that's okay." There was silence on the other end of the line. Finally he said, "Sorry, Brad, I forgot to tell you that that's what they do on real golf courses."
Jack Nicklaus 4 for Windows was completed and released in 1997. Immediately after being relinquished of the duties of programming the editor for the game, Strawn was recruited by the Deadlock team to help program for their game. Eventually Strawn would go on to be lead programmer on some of Accolade's subsequent titles.
Nash stayed in the tools department, by now a college graduate. After developing some marketing tools, Nash left Accolade for the ill-fated game developer Morpheus. Eventually, however, he landed at Engineering Animation, Inc. where he became lead programmer on two titles.
Macworld's Michael Gowan wrote, "Featuring five courses, network play, a convincing physics model, and the ability to create your own courses from scratch, this golf simulation has only one bogey: the delay between swinging the club and the corresponding animation."
The physics engine for Jack Nicklaus 4 was written by Dennis Clark. Mike Sandige wrote the 3D engine. Jim Mischel created the editor. Brad Fregger joined Cinemtronics in 1996 as a senior producer and managed the project. The Jack Nicklaus 4 design was written by Kevin Gliner, with later additions by Fregger.
- Gowan, Michael (February 1999). "Name Your Game; From Goofy to Gory, Macworld Reviews 48 Ways to Play". Macworld. Archived from the original on August 10, 2001.
- Jack Nicklaus 4 at MobyGames