Behind Golf Story, the Switch's unlikeliest indie success story

9 months ago by William Dowell

Sidebar Games opens up on how a two-person studio created a memorable sports RPG.

The Nintendo Switch has been thriving with its first party exclusives. Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey have taken the world by storm, winning the hearts of critics and fans alike. Even re-releases such as Mario Kart 8: Deluxe have helped to create an interesting library for the Nintendo Switch.

What is more interesting is Nintendo’s push for independent games on the Switch. Sometimes called “Nindies,” these indie games help fill out the Switch’s library, making the hardware more appealing to prospective buyers. From popular titles such as Shovel Knight and Axiom Verge to games that show off the Switch’s technical capabilities like Snipperclips, indie games are thriving on the platform.

One of these “Nindies” that has found success on the Switch is not only a Switch exclusive, it’s also a hybrid golfing and roleplaying adventure. An unlikely hit, Golf Story has won the hearts and minds of Switch users everywhere. I was able to talk to one member of the two-person team that makes up Sidebar Games about the team’s development history, the challenges it faced with Golf Story, and plans for the future.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

ZAM: What was your inspiration for Golf Story?

Sidebar Games: I'd been playing a lot of old golf games around [early 2016] and I like real golf as well, so a golf RPG was the natural conclusion. The Mario Golf games on Gameboy were a big inspiration for the idea of being able to explore the golf courses and have a story, and everything grew from there. One of the first ideas [my partner and I] had was the ability to drop the ball and tee up anywhere and after that we knew we had to make it.

The current market is full of indie games from a variety of genres. How did you make Golf Story stand out from the crowd?

We weren't thinking much about trying to stand out, it was really just what came to mind when we thought of a golf RPG. I was a kind of worried about how many people would even be interested in a golf game, but a surprising amount of people have subjected themselves to the sport to play the story mode.

Golf Story focuses on combining an RPG-like narrative with classic golfing. How did you go about designing the two major elements of the game?

Originally, I just had a list of all of the scenarios and jokes I wanted to have in the game, then the story and chapters formed around that. That part came together pretty easily. The golfing part took more focused effort, thinking of the way the clubs and skills would work and trying to get the distances and lofts to make sense. We went through a lot of different variations with the golfing and it was being worked on from the beginning to right near the end.

Nintendo has been pushing the Switch as an indie hub. How was working with Nintendo to develop this game on the Switch? Were there any unexpected challenges based on the hardware?

Everything is well documented and it was quite easy to get everything working. One thing that's different about making a Switch game is that you have to support all of the different variations of controls you can have, so that's something we weren't expecting.

What are some of the lessons you learned from developing Golf Story?

I put off a lot of things until the end because we were rushing and it felt like a waste of time to do what seemed like less important things early. But then I just had to do them at the end after forgetting what I was planning on doing with them in the first place.

There was also a problem where you could get stuck if you quit the game in a certain room. We had a patch ready after just a few days, but getting it approved ended up taking a lot longer. If I'd known a bit more, we could have saved a lot of time. If you make a mistake with the patch, you end up spending a lot of time waiting. I think we will do a much better job if we have to do another one.

How do you feel about Golf Story's critical and commercial performance?

We were quite surprised. I wasn't sure how some parts would go over but we seem to have gotten away with most of it. I thought some reviews might be harsher but the worst of it was just a few complaints about the golfing.

What plans does Sidebar Games have for the future?

It's tempting to try and do more with Golf Story since it is already popular, but we have lots of ideas for different games so we want to move onto something new and completely different as soon as possible. It will be interesting to see if we can pull of our next game idea.

Golf Story is available now for the Switch via Nintendo's eShop.