I spent most of Sunday on the golf course. Me being me, the golf course was a virtual online one in the game Shot Online. Or rather the German version of it. There is a German company called Gamigo which always sends me a newsletter when they get a new game, and many of them are free to try, so that's always a good input. Like most Gamigo games, Shot Online is a Korean game, first translated into English, then (badly) into German. But while I'm not a big fan of the Korean style of MMORPG, Shot Online is actually pretty good.
In Shot Online you play a golfer. You start by choosing one of 5 avatars (there was a sixth on the opening screen, but somehow I couldn't select him) of level 1. After a tutorial and some training, you can start playing golf on various golf courses, either alone or with up to 3 other players. And for every hole you play you earn experience points and money, in a currency called "ng", presumably for "not gold". :) With the experience points you go up in level, and with every level you can distribute points on your stats. With the ng you can pay green fees or buy yourself clothes, golf clubs, balls, and various other items. The golf game itself is well done, even if the resolution is limited to 1024 x 768 the game is pretty enough. You choose a golf club, check where the ball is likely to land with the CTRL or TAB key, and you can even select a spin if you want. Then you click once to start your swing, click a second time when the power bar is at 100% and click a third time ideally when its back down to 0%. Of course you can swing with less than 100% power, or even with more, but then it gets less exact. And how far before or after 0% you stop determines how far your ball drifts to the left or right of where you wanted it. Then your ball hits a tree and bounces off into a sand bunker or into water. :)
The interesting aspect here is that the result is a mix of your stats, your skill in hitting the ball, your ability to take weather conditions into account, and some tactical skill in choosing the path along which you want to play and what golf club to choose. So unlike a MMORPG you can actually win a duel against somebody 10 levels higher than you, because his better stats don't help him much if he can't hit the ball straight or always chooses the wrong golf club.
Less well done is the plaza where you hang out between golf games. There are various shops where you can spend your ng, but the mouse controls are badly done, and moving around is a pain. You'd think that with only 5 possible avatars and no sliders on creation to modify them everybody would look the same. But after playing a round against an identical twin of mine, the first thing I bought was a shirt of a different color. And so do most people, buying new haircuts, shirts, trousers, shoes, gloves, anything to make you look different. None of these affect your game in any way, but the temptation to spend money on changing your look is strong. That limited selection of avatars at the start is on purpose, not out of lazyness. Now I'll just need 300,000 ng for a kilt, both because of the Scottish origin of golf, and as a comment on the mini-skirted female avatars so typical of Asian games.
So if all this is free, how is the company making any money from that? Glad you asked. Imagine World of Warcraft was free to download and had no monthly fee. But there is an item shop website where you can buy buffs that double your xp or gold earned for some time, or where you can buy items that are better than what you can find in the game, or which would take days to grind for. Would you pay for that? Would you pay for it if effectively you leveled as fast as you do now only *with* the buff, while without it took twice as long? Shot Online works exactly like that. And after some consideration I considered it my journalist duty *cough* *cough* to try it out. Yeah, so sue me, I'm a sucker for alternative payment systems. So I spent 12 bucks for a membership plus for 1 month, with gives you 1,000,000 ng plus some bonus items and reduced green fees. And I spent 40 bucks on 6,000 "cyber cash", with which I'll buy a beginners set of clubs and 3 lucky boxes with random items. The beginners set cost 3,900 cyber cash, so the boxes are an experiment with the leftover cash. I will still have some left, but I'll wait and see what bonus items I'll need it for. Unfortunately the German website is a bit slow to process my order, and I'm still waiting to get my credit card processed.
There is a lot of tricks and know how behind playing Shot Online. I found a few sites that can help: Shot Online Central has forums with lots of advice. SONews has links to other Shot Online websites, plus classified ads and a blacklist for "quitters", people who rather leave a game than losing it, thereby diminishing your gains. And if you are really, really deep into the game, you might want to visit the Shot Online Calculator site, to find out exactly how far your shot will go with a 5 iron at a south westerly wind of 3 mph and a sunny sky.
There are lots of computer golf games on many different platforms, from handheld to console to PC. And these games span a wide range from realistic to gimmicky. Shot Online is somewhere in the middle ground, and the graphics aren't extraordinary. So why should you play it? Well, it being free is one argument. But the better argument is that it is massively multiplayer. Golf is not a very hectic game, if you play a full round of 18 holes with 4 players it can take 3 hours to complete. So being able to chat, to applause good shots of your opponents or use other emotes, to make friends, to join a guild, and all the other typical features of a MMO adds a lot to the game. Shot Online might not be the best golf game around, but for being free it is fun enough and quite well done. So I recommend giving it a try.