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GOG Preview: Pirates of the Burning Sea

Pirates of the Burning Sea Preview

Official Site - Screens - Comments

ScreenshotAs most of you know by now I was recently a guest visitor at Flying Lab Software, developer of Pirates Of The Burning Sea, located in Seattle, Washington. My three hour visit gave me plenty of insight into both the game and the company itself. This article will cover my sneak preview of what the company has been working on and content for the future of their outstanding Pirate era based MMO.

When one thinks of Pirate games there are certainly a few that have set up our expectations of a Pirate game, mainly Sid Meirer’s PIRATES! and Pirates of the Caribbean. Both quality games at their time, but you can take them both as genre primers when it comes to the big dog – Pirates Of The Burning Sea (POTBS). In a word, this ain’t your daddy’s Pirates. Before I get into the depth of the game I need to introduce three company members that graciously answered all of my questions about the game and took me through a wonderful afternoon at their company:

Russell "Rusty" Williams – Executive Producer
Troy Hewitt – Community Envoy
John Scott Tynes – Producer – Pirates Of The Burning Sea

Throughout this preview I will make reference to comments made by these three as I address some of the questions we had for them. Not only did they answer my questions and engage in great in depth conversations, but they also shared with me some “secret” stuff that I am sworn to keep to myself as they showed the ambitious nature of their design and production direction.

AvatarWhen you start up POTBS you are of course, as expected, creating an avatar of yourself. This is who you will be in the world as with all MMO type games. There were many questions relating to how much detail and difference you could put into this creation and I saw first hand that it is quite a lot. If I were to compare it to any game on the market today I think that City Of Heroes comes to mind as to the variety of control you have at this creation, only more so. COH raised the bar in avatar creation and POTBS takes it upon itself to raise it again, pretty much guaranteeing that you WON’T run into a twin in the game looking like you.

I asked Rusty about the real pirate items like hooks, peg legs, and shoulder mounted parrots with no toiletry manners. “We’ve decided to make those rewards for some difficult missions rather than just give them away in the beginning. The idea was to make them more like badges of respect – if you see a pirate with a peg leg you will know that he’s one bad ass that has completed a particularly difficult mission and is no one to mess with.” Indeed, that seems to be a sense of realism to me! While Troy whisked through the different possibilities and worked the colored pallets for each item down to the earrings and such, it was clear that there were perhaps a million or so combinations that would be hard to replicate, thus staring face to face with a replica twin of yourself within the game seems highly improbable – if not impossible. Enough with the Avatar, it’s time to set sail!

While Rusty and I continue our sidebar conversations Troy takes our avatar through a walk through the town. Splendidly modeled and quite what one would expect from towns of the era, we walk about and interact with a few NPCs. Out in town there’s some rum soakers doing their thing and some plain townsfolk about. We interact with a quest giving old salt who wants us to go “obtain” some teeth from other mobs somewhere else in the game, you know, a FEDEX type of run as they call them in MMO lingo. Here’s a good example of the humor FLS has put into the game, our quest line to get this old sot some teeth? “A Killer Smile”. Very well then, we’re scurrying down the pier to where we enter our ship.

ScreenshotFinally, we’re afloat! Here’s where I get the view of the ship which is a 3rd person view that is zoom-able and positional. You can see your avatar at the helm, if you will, and your crew manning the guns and other stations. They seem to be scurrying about when Troy does a few keystrokes and the whole crew starts to dance like The Village People. Luckily, I didn’t have to endure any ripped version of Y.M.C.A. or something during this impressive display. The ship itself is well modeled and being a Navy veteran I could appreciate the realistic rock and roll of the ship as it moved through the waters. Luckily you can elect to make the sails visible (which blocks a lot of your view of anything else) or not, so you can see what else is going about on deck and on the horizon.

Our current task takes us out to some destination to some island, and here is where I get to see the condensation of the world map. The different islands appear all visible on the horizon to help give you bearing to them, though they aren’t as close as they appear, you’ve got some traveling to do. We run across other ships moving about and then we see a smoky cloud over two ships, turns out they are engaged in battle with each other. The ships battling are instanced into their own little world of war so no one else can randomly come by and ruin the fun. Still, it adds to the sense of the world seeing several of these point skirmishes taking place. Plenty of targets of opportunity abound but it appears our particular ride isn’t able to overcome the headwinds and get us into position to start our own battle. It is at this point that Rusty and Troy decide to hook me up with one of the production crew, so we head back to Rusty’s office.

After some conversation amongst the company members it appears that I get the ultimate show, the POTBS Producer John Scott Tynes comes into Rusty’s office and gets ready to give me the big show. Oh yeah, baby. While the FLS discuss things like builds, servers, the BETA and such, they finally decide to go with something John has worked up. Immediately he’s whipped out the big dog in the game, something with like 150 guns or so and gets ready to engage into battle. We’re sailing to get into position for a battle and John is filling the room with interesting game information faster than I can make mental notes to capture it all. All of a sudden there’s a huge boom as John fires a full broadside, and we find out that Rusty was listening to something on his speakers loudly. A mistake, I doubt it. The full rich sound that came out was quiet impressive and apparently accurate for the weaponry. So much so, I was almost saddened that John turned it down a bit, that is, until he started talking again and I was glad to hear every word.

ScreenshotDuring the gun battle it was clear that there was a constant positioning attitude given the winds and the enemy movement, clearly the AI was attempting to take their smaller faster craft into a position versus John’s slower behemoth of a ship. Still, when the full broadside went out you could see the massive damage on the enemy ship. John explained the indicators of the game which are radials in each upper corner so that you know what damage you are doing as well as taking. The first enemy goes down and John swings that direction and collects the “loot” from the corpse that had been the opposition, now mere wreckage strewn about the sea. John and Rusty discuss some of the differences in the shot and how each ship comes with the standard shot and can be upgraded to different mixes that go for personnel or sails/rigging directly. One interesting fact was how the facing worked for defense as well, with each ship being much like modern war tank in that the sterns on all ships are their Achilles. The sides being heavily armored can take a greater pounding.

Rusty elaborates on concept “Most of the other games out there if you’re a level 15 versus a level 60 you’ve really not much of a chance, if any at all, to be victorious. We decided that scenario in our game could be different if the 15 was a very skilled sailor capable of using speed and movement to stay behind the 60 in a much larger and cumbersome ship thus doing damage to the vulnerable stern. While it’s not likely he would be victorious, there does exist the possibility in POTBS.” Meanwhile, John continues to kick butt and take names with his huge vessel, showing me all the nuances of programming and artwork that have melded into a pretty realistic depiction.

We’ve been working this new area we hope to incorporate, kind of a large instance where several hundreds of people could be in at once, only with a theme to it.” John says. He loads up this under construction area that you enter that has an Aztec/Inca kind of motif which is much different that what I’d seen so far, with enemy ships, shore based forts to block access and several passages to maneuver through. “While most battles are smaller instances with but a few ships, we’re designing these kinds of areas for larger amounts of players to interact, team up, and PVP as well.” John elaborates. I get the impression that John’s mind never sleeps even if his body does. His vision of what they want to accomplish is pretty impressive and he convinces me unknowingly that there is no doubt it will happen.

ScreenshotWhen discussing the avatar combat there definitely seems to be several schools of thought going on. Rusty describes the issue: “When someone thinks of the avatar battle in the original PIRATES! game it comes across as arcade like. We want ours to be more fluid, much like the old Errol Flynn movies and such. The animations have to be fluid and we want to take into consideration heavily the positioning of the players during these battles. Strikes from behind should be more damaging than those you can block, facing becomes like a dance of death, fast and furious but with skill.” There was some discussion that a variety of swords and pistols would be, should be available though that was in design at the time.

I’d come to find out about the game and the company and was extremely impressed with both. There’s no doubt that many of you readers out there should start asking now for birthday and Christmas gifts of good video cards, you’re going to need them. Like Rusty said “Even if you have a good video card with 250mb of ram, we’re going to take every bit your card has and put it to use!

Before my trip I had asked readers and staff for some specific questions, here are some of those answers both given and observed.

(GOG) What about server stability?

(Rusty) We will have a server setup that we have absolute control over so that we can maintain the bandwidth and quality assurance. We’ve seen the problems that and have had and we want to ensure we don’t have those same issues.

(GOG) What about the STEAM download versus storefront marketing?

(Rusty) Well, we love the idea of how the STEAM venue works well for games, the cost savings to the developers is tremendous in the right situation. I have a great relationship there, but we’ve decided to go the publisher route instead.

(GOG) So we’ll see POTBS on the shelves at the software store/marts?

(Rusty) Oh yeah, you’ll see POTBS all over the place, you can be sure of that.

(GOG) What’s your expected target player population?

(Rusty) You mean numbers of players?
(Rusty and Troy) We don’t expect the numbers that some of the other large companies have, though we’d love to! We’re being somewhat realistic at looking for about 100k-200k of a population.

(GOG) Seems like you have a lot on your website
(Rusty and Troy) Oh yeah, we have a large number in forum membership that seems quite interested in the game. That gives us plenty of optimism to reach those numbers.

(GOG) What about being true to the genre and period, any Aliens down line?

(Rusty) Hah, no. However, there are many other elements that went on during that period that could become part of future expansions. We’ve had a lot of call for certain “elements” of the game that we are looking into.
(Rusty swore me to secrecy and made sign a stack of disclosure papers but I can safely say that the future content will add to the game and fit in with the concept without distracting from it. Some very cool ideas actually…uh oh…shhh!)

(GOG) What about realistic classic tactics of the day, say ships of the line formations, etc...

(Rusty) Well yes and no since it depends. The line formation was okay I guess until you had to turn and such. Vessel facing will definitely matter and the vulnerabilities are pretty much realistic. Back then they would have large formations with smaller sloops and such to do buzz attacks during battles, so that kind of tactic will work very well in our environment.

(GOG) What does POTBS and FLS hope to do to set a new standard in the MMO genre?

(Rusty and Troy) Probably the way we use feedback, yeah feedback. We meet every Friday to go over the week’s comments from the BETA users and address pretty much all of them. Those that are valid contributions or needed fixes we adopt a plan to fix them.
(Rusty) I was talking with one of our Asian contacts about POTBS and he was excited because of the way we had handled his feedback in Rails Over America, our earlier game. FLS has established itself as being responsible to and for our customers. We think we handle this much more closely than most of the rest of the industry. We hope to be personable and friendly, not a sterile feedback loop.

(GOG) So what’s your next hot project?

(Rusty and Troy) We don’t really have one; we’ve put most of our assets into POTBS.

In closing, I would say that Russell Williams (Rusty) pretty much sums up the whole experience I had with the game showing: “We’re highly ambitious, almost to a fault.

For gamers, how can we lose with a mantra like that?

Official Site - Screens - Comments

Michael "=][= Maximus" Kerr - October 2006

-Grumpy Old Gamer