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Now you can play ‘Angry Birds’ by swinging a real-life golf club

By tracking your golf swing, Topgolf’s Toptracer technology lets you knock down digital pigs as you play on a physical driving range.

Now you can play ‘Angry Birds’ by swinging a real-life golf club
Former Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White and rapper/actor Ludacris pose with a grudgingly sociable Angry Bird (center) to promote Topgolf’s new spin on the classic game. [Photo: Topgolf]
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If the state of the world has got you feeling like you want to cause a little mayhem, but you’re not quite in the mood for a rage room, the answer might be to pick up a golf club and try knocking down a building, Angry Birds style.

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For 11 years, Rovio’s Angry Birds has been one of modern culture’s most popular pastimes. First sprung on us in 2009 as a massively successful smartphone game that tasked players with flinging virtual screaming avians at structures made of digital blocks to try to knock them down, the franchise spread eventually to movies, TV shows, toys, and more. Now, in the latest iteration, Angry Birds fans can try to crash those virtual structures by aiming, and hitting, an actual, physical golf ball.

Thanks to a partnership between Rovio and the Topgolf chain of driving ranges, you can now play Angry Birds in real life. The idea is simple: As you line up your golf shot, you look up to a TV screen on which the target structure is hovering, and then you let fly. Whaaaaa-Hooo!

Topgolf game developers worked on the Angry Birds project over the last year, explains Lynda Firey-Oldroyd, the company’s chief customer officer. Their goal was to create a new experience that mimics what people know on their phones from having downloaded Angry Birds games 4.5 billion times.

“The ball becomes the bird and enables you to hit structures just like you would in a regular Angry Birds game,” says Firey-Oldroyd. “It also brings this augmented reality and whole [game narrative] to the screen so you’re focused on the ball becoming the bird and hitting the structures, but [your friends are] also focused on the screen, watching the structures get destroyed.”

Behind the scenes, Topgolf is able to make this work by utilizing what it calls its Toptracer technology, which uses sensors that track the trajectory of the golf ball once it’s been hit and then map that path onto a virtual game board. To date, Topgolf has installed Toptracer at 30 of its 60 U.S. locations, and has implemented it in a series of other games including recreations of famous golf courses like Pebble Beach and a Bejeweled-esque creation called Jewel Jam.

Like the Angry Birds mobile games, the Topgolf implementation seems to require a good deal of hit-and-miss before you can become anywhere near proficient. But that’s meant to be part of the fun: You line up your shot, you hit the ball, the “bird” takes flight, and then you wait and hope it connects. If so, you’re rewarded with a visual representation of the tall virtual structure tumbling down. If not, better luck next shot.

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Firey-Oldroyd says Topgolf game developers are always looking for something new, and that about a year ago, they’d come up with the Angry Birds concept. Rovio quickly got on board, she says, having never partnered with anyone on any kind of large-scale physical version of its global gold mine. But while Rovio was always kept abreast of Topgolf’s plans, it more or less was hands off when it came to the design of the golf version.

Now, as Topgolf rolls out its Angry Birds game, it’s not standing pat. Firey-Oldroyd says the company’s designers are thinking of new ways to expand the experience. Among the most likely: New birds and different “environments” in which to play.

Asked how Angry Birds can continue to have meaningful cultural relevance after so many years in the public eye, Firey-Oldroyd says that millions of people love it, and that the Topgolf version is “an entirely new way to play.”

She also notes the rollout during the pandemic, when people need ways to have fun with friends, while also being mindful of not endangering themselves or anyone else around them. Turning golf into Angry Birds “offers just a really unique way to get your frustrations out,” she says, “if you want to go out and hit something safely.”

About the author

Daniel Terdiman is a San Francisco-based technology journalist with nearly 20 years of experience. A veteran of CNET and VentureBeat, Daniel has also written for Wired, The New York Times, Time, and many other publications

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