Tiger Woods by way of Bioshock Infinite

Vertiginous Golf.” It doesn’t exactly roll of the tongue, does it? Yet it’s somehow a perfectly appropriate title for what has to be one of the most unusual mini-golf games to come along in, well, just about ever: A heavily-ornamented steampunk mini-putt that plays out in the sky, high above the thick, black rain clouds that have permanently encased the drab alt-history city below.

How? Through the power of the Vertiginousphere, an alternate-universe technology that has freed mankind from the yoke of gravity – but not without a cost. It’s an idea that actually took root more than a decade ago as Vertigolf, a more conventional (although the term hardly seems appropriate) anti-gravity golf game made by coder Paul Barnes and artist Christian Holland.

Vertiginous Golf

“We always loved the original game but felt the graphics at the time didn’t do it justice,” Barnes said. “So we thought now was a good time to create the spiritual successor, Vertiginous Golf.”

Taking the steampunk route allows the duo to do just about whatever they want with the game, from incorporating “moving floor” obstacles to giving the gyroscopic ball a limited amount of post-stroke directional control. That, in turn, means some serious challenges and appallingly high scores, even in the early, presumably easier holes. Barnes said that was largely the point of putting the original Vertigolf in the sky in the first place – “to create an extra challenge of not going off course and [giving] more scope for some unique design features.”

Some of those design elements in the new game have come by way of the Vertiginous Golf community, and the developers are doing all they can to maximize fan involvement. As you might expect, an editor features prominently in their plans. “For the first stage we’ll work on opening up the game to asset and level creation via Steam Workshop, possibly using Unity3D Free as a potential editor,” Holland said. “But it wouldn’t be limited to that. We do plan an in-game editor, too.”

A pre-release version is available now through Steam Early Access, which gives the team an “invested community” that lets them bounce ideas off of people who are fans and supporters of the concept. “We had first released [Vertiginous Golf] as a paid ‘open beta’ on our own site in an attempt to allow a community to form who we could discuss certain ideas and potential features with,” Holland continued. “After hooking up with [publisher] Surprise Attack and getting lots of great advice and support, Early Access seemed a good step to making that community bigger and allowing more people to know about our project and join in.”

“It helps us to know what the players want,” Barnes added. “The features they’d like to see, the stuff that needs some work and the bits we should get rid of.”

Vertiginous Golf is in very good shape already, but there’s still work to be done. Barnes is particularly looking forward to opening the course editor to the community, saying he “can’t wait to see what craziness they’ll create,” while Holland is excited for the remote challenge mode of the online multiplayer. As for a pie-in-the-sky dream feature, he’d also like to see support for the Oculus Rift VR headset included, “and perhaps a sick bag!”

It’s not hard to understand why. Vertiginous Golf lives up to its name, and you’ll be whacking your ball between numerous tiny, floating islands and sometimes gazing over some rather steep drops. I don’t know if Oculus Rift support is a realistic hope, but it would be absolutely fantastic if it happened.

Vertiginous Golf

Even without it, Vertiginous Golf looks very promising. There’s an attention to detail on display that really brings the steampunk sensibility to life, in everything from the music that plays through Victrola-style speakers to the techno-magic of the mechanical hummingbird that allows you to scout the course, the florid prose of the promotional posters that adorn the game world and even the element of mystery and danger in a grey, neo-Victorian dystopia. There will in fact be a plot – a “full-blown mystery,” according to the Steam page – but neither Barnes nor Holland were willing to even hint at what’s in store.

“There’s a story behind the creation of the Vertiginousphere. The future narrative is unfolding as the game develops and is influenced by how the community interacts with the game, so nothing is to be hinted at just yet,” Barnes said. Holland was somewhat blunter: “Everything will unfold during Early Access. I will say no more than that.”

Vertiginous Golf is available now in a prerelease – that is to say, incomplete – state through Steam Early Access, while the full launch is currently targeted for nearer the end of the year. In the meantime, you can learn more about the game at Surprise Attack Games.