Ah, the late 80’s, early 90's. I'm old enough now to look nostalgically back at those days. The VGA board had come out for the PC, finally giving it the at-the-time almost unimaginable capability of displaying 256 colors. Intel had just about reached the limits of Moore’s Law by cranking 33mhz out of the 386 chip. Beer, computers, and computer games were finally affordable to me, I had plenty of free time, and a company named Access had developed the ultimate PC golf game, Links. I’m a little fuzzy concerning the actual release date of the first version of Links (remember: I could afford all the beer I could drink, and I wasn’t shy about exercising that ability), but I do clearly remember that it came on 5 ¼” floppy disks. That really brings back the memories: floppies were actually floppy back then.
Back then, Links was a DOS-based game. It knew how to do one thing: straight stroke play golf. That said, it did it very, very well, albeit slowly. Considering the limits of the hardware, it’s amazing how good it was. Me and some buddies would get together every week or two for what we called “Golf ‘til You Drop.” We started out with stroke play, but it soon became apparent that as guys would fall behind by enough strokes they’d lose interest and bog down the game. We switched to a Skins game format. Everyone chipped in (heh heh, get it?) $18 at the start, so the was a $4 skin for each hole. As I mentioned, back then Links didn’t know how to score a Skins game, so we had to track that for ourselves. There was no way to “pick up” after the hole had been decided, so everyone still had to play out the hole. These were minor issues, though. There was no other golf game (it was so good, I could also call it a simulator) that even came close in terms of realistic game play, graphic quality, and just plain fun-factor.
Then I got married, most of the other guys moved away, Links got bought by Microsoft, and “Golf ‘til You Drop” was history. Throughout the years I’ve come across downloadable demos of various new Links versions and give them a cursory look, but never got back into it in any meaningful way. I noticed that there were new game variations such as Skins, match play, Nassau, etc. The graphics improved from year to year, but at the end of the day, it was still the familiar and well-loved Links.
Late this year, Microsoft released Links 2004 for the Xbox. This is no mere port from the PC version, though. Microsoft claims that Links for the Xbox has been completely rebuilt from the “ground up.” The most significant aspect of this promises to be a robust online multiplayer capability. I think the reason I never purchased Links between the bachelor days and now is that I didn’t have any live opponents to play with. Golf is a very social game; it is exceedingly rare to see someone golfing alone. Face it, it ain’t no fun to ask yourself “Hey Alice! Does your husband golf too?” or point out to yourself that “it’s still your turn.” If nothing else, live opponents are required so you have someone else’s game to diss. Now that Microsoft has a vested financial interest in promoting online multiplayer with Xbox Live, it’s a sure thing that anything they release for the Xbox is going to have a strong multiplayer component, and that it should be as easy as slicing your favorite ball into the water to find live opponents. A secondary given is that the graphics will be top notch as Microsoft clearly benefits whenever they can demonstrate the awesome capabilities of their platform. So, when offered the chance to take a look at it, I leapt in with both feet. I thought it might be fun to see what has changed over the last 15 years.
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