Walkabout Mini Golf VR is one of the most successful VR games - we spoke with its creator
Lucas Martell, head of the developer studio Mighty Coconut and creator of VR hit Walkabout Mini Golf VR, talks about the future of his VR game.
Walkabout Mini Golf VR is one of the biggest surprise hits in virtual reality lately. It impresses with excellent gameplay, creative worlds, and a great multiplayer mode. Meanwhile, Walkabout Mini Golf is one of the most popular premium titles for the Meta Quest 2, with about half of all players spending more than two hours in the game, exhausting the battery of their headset.
Lucas Martell is the chief developer and mastermind behind Walkabout Mini Golf VR. With his studio Mighty Coconut, he is constantly releasing new content for VR mini-golfers and is always breaking new creative ground. Together with the Jim Henson Company, Mighty Coconut recently released DLC for the eighties' movie Labyrinth. Next up is a mini-golf world in the style of the Jules Verne novels.
In an interview with MIXED, Lucas Martell provides insight into the development of Walkabout Mini Golf VR, future plans, and the metaverse ambitions of a Mini Golf game.
Walkabout Mini Golf appeared when people needed distractions
MIXED: How did you come up with the idea to develop a mini golf game for VR headsets?
Lucas Martell: During the initial part of the pandemic lockdown, when everything stopped, I decided to use the time to try something I had always wanted to do: develop something for virtual reality. I had already made an augmented reality prototype of a mini golf game for the phone based on the "Walkabout" engine we developed for Mighty Coconut's previous phone game Laser Mazer, so I adapted that.
Mini Golf for VR made sense to me because it is an activity nearly everyone understands. You can do it with one controller and one button, and the physics of the ball, putter, and obstacles were something that can be used to create endless gameplay possibilities.
MIXED: Is simplicity the reason for your success?
Lucas Martell:Mini golf is something that just about everyone of any age has tried before. It is an activity that you can take seriously, working to study and master it, or you can just show up and goof around.
What's more, it is a highly social experience. A good deal of the fun of mini golf is chatting with your friends, teasing one another about their shots, checking out the crazy course designs, and just sort of escaping into a fantasy land together for a little while. As it turns out, virtual reality is particularly well suited for mini golf, and vice versa.
We came along at a time when people were looking for a relaxing, visually pleasing, and fun way to escape alone or connect with others, and we've been grateful players embraced the game the way they have all around the world.
MIXED: Is there another sport you'd like to bring to virtual reality?
Lucas Martell: Without commenting on future plans specifically, I will say that there are several studios doing some great sport-related games. I don't see a need to duplicate or compete in those areas. That said, we'd love to offer players something new and fun if we see an opportunity.
The strength of Walkabout Mini Golf is the multiplayer
MIXED: Was it difficult to get your team excited about the mini golf in VR project?
Lucas Martell: Since I was designing and developing this mostly alone, I didn't need to get buy-in or permission from anyone. Meta Quest showed early enthusiasm for the idea and encouraged me to implement multiplayer, which of course went on to become a killer feature of sorts. After launch, I expanded the team, and we're having a blast planning features and courses for years to come.
MIXED: How helpful was your experience as an animation studio in developing a VR game?
Lucas Martell: Very much so. We'd been an animation studio for several years before Walkabout Mini Golf came along, so building immersive worlds around storytelling came naturally, as did episodic production.
That television-like discipline and cadence turned out to be crucial as we have steadily put out course since launching, which adds ongoing value to players and keeps them engaged in what we're building.
With courses like Walkabout Mini Golf: Labyrinth, which we designed and developed in partnership with The Jim Henson Company based on the 1986 classic fantasy film, we started animating creatures which is something people really seemed to enjoy — both here in our studio and in our player community.
MIXED: Were there any particular hurdles during development?
Lucas Martell:Probably the biggest challenge for us has been adapting from an animation pipeline to a game pipeline. A lot of the individual skills are similar, and coming at game design from a different angle has helped us do things in a way that really helps the game stand out, but I've also been learning some basic things that could have made things simpler.
Mini Golf and the metaverse
MIXED: In terms of the current metaverse hype - could you see Walkabout Mini Golf VR becoming a similar platform to Horizon Worlds or Fortnite, hosting virtual events like VR concerts or an open-air virtual cinema?
Lucas Martell: What we're seeing is that players do use Walkabout Mini Golf as a place to meet with people they know or others who simply share interests. Some folks meet regularly for discussions, tournament play, to speak another language, or just to relate to people with whom they can relate.
There are professionals who use the game for business meetings and team outings, and we have used the game for an interview platform, which we call "Walkabout Talkabouts". I definitely anticipate expanding that in terms of how people use the platform, and we hope to be one of the ways people gather and kick off their 'metaverse' experiences.
MIXED: Will there ever be full-body avatars in Walkabout Mini Golf?
Lucas Martell: Maybe? But probably not. The reason is that even as body tracking improves, we don't want players to have to fuss with or think about their body in the game nor do we want torsos and legs being visually in the way as people try to play and watch others make their shots. We've just answered a common request to increase private game rooms to eight people. Can you imagine trying to make your shot with sixteen legs in the way?
MIXED: Will Walkabout Mini Golf be released on Playstation VR 2?
Lucas Martell:Our goal is to be available on as many headsets as feasible to develop and support. We want our players to be able to invite their friends regardless of their platform preferences.
MIXED: Would a 2D version of Walkabout Mini Golf for mobile devices or consoles also be interesting?
Lucas Martell: Since Walkabout Mini Golf started as an AR phone game, we've always wanted to get back to offering that as a supplemental experience for players. I am pleased to say that we're making steady advancements on that front and should have something to announce in the coming months.
Jules Verne DLC coming with new content
MIXED: Besides Walkabout Mini Golf, are there any other projects currently in the pipeline?
Lucas Martell: We've got a dozen courses in active development, a list of a hundred more we want to make, we're talking to various licensors about potential partnerships, and we've got plenty of other ideas behind mini golf. But we're focused on giving our Walkabout Mini Golf players the very best experience right now.
MIXED: How did the idea to develop a Jules Verne DLC for Walkabout Mini Golf come about?
Lucas Martell: I loved reading several Jules Verne novels as a kid, I even tried making a Journey to the Center of the Earth Adventure game when I was a teenager, so it's something that's always been in my mind. Plus, Jules Verne's novels have such a unique tone, and sense of place, which is exactly what we're looking for when we create courses.
MIXED: What was the big challenge in implementing a novel world versus implementing a movie world, like that of Labyrinth?
Lucas Martell: Every single course we design presents its own set of happy surprises and formidable challenges. With Jim Henson's Labyrinth, there's a beloved piece of film history and an avid fandom to please as well as our partners at The Jim Henson Company. We had to decide how to bring a linear story to life as a fully explorable place while still hitting those narrative beats in a satisfying way—and have the mini golf still be tons of fun.
For our Jules Verne trilogy, we're big fans of the novels and knew these epic adventures would make for fantastic worlds to explore, but since they are so big, the challenge is selecting the right elements and scenes to bring to life. Our low poly aesthetic is not only an artistic one but also one for performance across the various platforms where the game is available. That means also that when we take on something like "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea", we want the details to feel immersive and surprising, even with such a classic story. And the mini golf still needs to be tons of fun.
MIXED: What can we expect from the upcoming Jules Verne DLC?
Lucas Martell: In every Walkabout Mini Golf course, we hide eighteen themed, lost balls as well as a scavenger hunt ("fox hunt") to earn a special playable putter. And players can expect at least one new gameplay mechanic for sure with the Jules Verne trilogy of courses!
MIXED: Will there be animated NPCs like in Labyrinth?
Lucas Martell: We'll continue to build on things that have worked in other courses and players can absolutely expect some creatures to be on the move amidst these mini golf adventures.
MIXED: Will there be narrative elements like quests in the game?
Lucas Martell: In our game, the player is really the protagonist, so you get to bring that story to life. That said, we do stage the courses with a suggested narrative to give hints of what might have taken place there moments or eons before you arrive.