Pirates of the Burning Sea is the first online massively multiplayer pirate game ever created. But you don't have to be a pirate - here you can choose to be a greedy merchant or a noble naval officer for one of the three nations in the game: Spain, Britain and France. Pirates of the Burning Sea is all about being sucessful, and getting there any way you see fit. Step over bodies to get to the money pouch, or step over bodies to save your country. You'll be doing a lot of stepping over bodies anyway, because Pirates of the Burning Sea is a merciless reconstruction of the 18th century Caribbean.
As a captain of your own ship you'll set your own course in an enourmous online world where every man makes his own luck. You'll be able to hook up with other players to form trade routes, pirate gangs and fight against a common enemy - the opposing nations. As a player you build up your own reputation within a political system, and if you decide to live the life of a pirate, you can expect to see alot of rum, sea salt and annoyed gouvernors.
We had the chance to talk to the lead designer, Taylor Daynes, who were able to answer a lot of different questions ranging from Valve's Steam system to advanced graphics technology, and from economy interested merchants to salty, ghostly pirates. Sounds interesting? Read on.
Gamer.no: First off, please introduce yourself to our readers. Tell us something about yourself, your role on the team, and your experience with online games in general.
TD: I'm Taylor Daynes, lead designer of Pirates of the Burning Sea here at Flying Lab Software. It's my job to do the core design work on the project, pushing the game to be what it deserves to be. I've spent a lot of time playing a variety of online games, including Asheron's Call and Star Wars: Galaxies. I want to make a different kind of game, and learn from the strengths and weaknesses of what earlier games accomplished.
Gamer.no: Pirates of the Burning Sea has not been too much present in the media so far. Please tell us something about the game, what players can expect, and the goals you have set for release.
TD: It's a MMOG set in 1720 in the Caribbean. Each player is the captain of a sailing ship, free to chart his or her own destiny in the midst of war and intrigue.
Gamer.no: Pirate games has been around for a while, with the most popular one being Sid Meier's pirate adventure. Online pirate games is something totally new. How are you going about developing a new type of game? What pitfalls are you trying to avoid, that previous online game developers stepped right into? And most importantly - what other pirate games are acting as inspiration to you?
TD: Sid's game is a big inspiration that we've all spent a lot of time playing. Early in the project we even set up an old Amiga here in the office just to play it again! But our realtime multiplayer play means we're designing something very different from that game (or its upcoming sequel).
One thing we've been dissatisfied with in other online games is what the early player experience is like. There's such a level treadmill, where you're highly vulnerable and spend your time beating up on chipmunks. Our gameplay style is very different. You start as the captain of your own ship, and a good captain in a starting vessel can still sail and fight very effectively.
We also don't do levels -- your character develops through skills, not levels, and we give you the freedom to explore different skills over time without locking you into bad decisions.
And combat in our game is very tactical. You don't select an enemy ship, press the attack button, and go make a sandwich. You're maneuvering, picking targets, changing ammunition loadouts, and delivering broadsides all in real time. It's not twitch gaming, and it's not fire-and-forget. It's white-knuckle decisions, planning ahead, and reacting to changes in the wind and in your enemy's tactics.
Gamer.no: Compared to another recent pirate game, Pirates of the Caribbean (or even the original, Sea Dogs), could you mention a few features present there, that will be carried out in Pirates of the Burning Sea? Could you make any sort of comparison to the gameplay offered in Pirates of the Caribbean?
TD: Most obviously, of course, we're a massively multiplayer online game, not a single-player adventure game. Our game's initial release is focused on ship-based gameplay -- there are no human avatars running around. Because of that focus, we can really amp up the intensity and the challenge of sailing and naval combat beyond what you've seen in PotC.
If you liked the beautiful graphics that Akella delivered in both PotC and Sea Dogs, you're going to be very happy. We hired Akella to create our ship models for us, and we turned them loose to build super-detailed ships. We're making this game for gamers with the latest systems, and this gave Akella the freedom to make the best-looking ships ever.
Gamer.no: Is it true that Pirates of the Burning Sea will be entirely downloadable from the Internet? How will this work in practice? And will you still be able to offer retail packages for those not wanting to download an entire game?
TD: Yes. We have teamed up with Valve Software to use their Steam system for downloading, patching, and login. You'll subscribe online, and Steam will stream the game to your hard drive. Patches and new features will be streamed down in the background, then activated whenever they're ready. There won't be a retail box -- we require players to have a broadband connection, so the initial download shouldn't be too painful.
Gamer.no: Obviously, players will be able to own and navigate their own ship. What does the role of a captain involve? And Will players be able to own entire fleets of ships?
TD: You'll hire and manage your team of NPC officers, outfit and modify your ship to suit your style of play, and build your reputation in the game world through your actions.
Players won't own multiple ships in the initial release. We expect players to team up and form fleets, trade convoys, and pirate bands.
Gamer.no: Will every player be a captain of a ship, or are there any other professions available to play? If so, please tell us a bit about each of them and what their responsibilities will include. One of our readers were wondering about the possibility of players being crew members on other player's ships. Is this possible?
TD: Every player is the captain of a ship. You can ally yourself with the British, French, or Spanish nations. You can join the navy and work your way up through the ranks, work for a trading company as a merchant, be a free trader with your own ship and cargo routes, get a letter of marque in times of war to be a privateer, or renounce your citizenship to become a dastardly pirate. And your character can do all of these things in time -- you aren't locked into a character class. A pirate can earn his way back into legal citizenship, and a naval captain can turn pirate. Your character keeps growing and changing as long as you want.
We have talked quite a bit about having multiple players on one ship and have some ideas for how this will work, but there are some very obvious problems as well. We plan on working through these problems and introducing this gameplay after our initial release.
Gamer.no: It's been stated before that the game will include a functioning trade system. How much of a factor will this be, and how will the player economy work?
TD: Every port has a population of citizens that put pressure on supply and demand, causing prices to fluctuate in real time from port to port. Our economy is very real and very live. Players who put time into commerce will reap the rewards.
We know dynamic ecnomies have caused problems in other games. Our approach is to include a lot of NPC merchants, who are moving goods to and fro. They generate enough churn in the markets that a single player can't wildly skew prices at will. But large market shifts will be visible over time, and canny players will make the most of them.
Gamer.no: Character development is the key to any role-playing game. And maybe most importantly - what will wealth be able to get you in the Caribbean? Any important symbols of status, like houses or titles?
TD: Your biggest status symbol in the game is your ship. Much as in a driving game, you can perform extensive modifications to your ship to tune its performance in all kinds of ways. The better you make your ship, the more effective you are. And while we have twenty different ships available in the game, from small, swift sloops to massive 74-gun ships of the line, bigger doesn't mean better. The sloop can easily outrun a 74, for example. Experienced players will find the ship that suits them and then trick it out to get an edge.
The other measure of your accomplishments is your reputation. This is a set of measurements that other players and NPCs react to, and it includes your legal standing, your rank within a navy or company, your reliability in completing missions, your combat effectiveness, your business acumen, and so on. Some of these measurements vary by nation, as well. Your acts of piracy against the Spanish may mean that you cannot enter any Spanish ports, and that Spanish warships will attack you on sight -- but to your English allies, you're a hero.
Gamer.no: Will player versus. player combat be included? How will this work, and will players be able to attack and board other ships controlled by other players? Will this again change the focus from sea-based combat, to combat on deck? How will the combat system work overall?
TD: Yes. We expect combat to fall along lines of affiliation, as in Dark Age of Camelot, though we aren't nearly as strict. Nations will go to war depending on the state of the player-driven world, leading to conflicts between, say, English merchants who are now acting as privateers and their Spanish enemies. Pirates, of course, are always at war with everyone! But there are no limits on this. If you're an upstanding English naval officer, you can attack your admiral's flagship if you like. Your criminal status will change, of course, and you'll become the target for your former comrades. But the choice is yours, to build your reputation as you please.
Boarding actions are an important part of ship combat. You can capture other ships, loot them, sink them, or use them yourself.
Gamer.no: Tell us something about the social element in Pirates of the Burning Sea. Will players be able to create and get together in communities? Are you implementing player housing, and will there be any sort of political system in place?
TD: Players have a variety of basic alliances, including national affiliation and their current profession. French naval officers and British trade company merchants, for example, are two groups that players might belong to. Players can also form short-term groups for voyages and combat.
Politics is very important to our game. The three main nations have reputations of their own, and their relationships change over time. If player merchants gradually drive down the price of tobacco in Britain, Spain may respond to placing tariffs on British tobacco imports. The national relationships have a variety of stages, from firm allies to open warfare. And it's the aggregate of all player action in the game that shifts these relationships to and fro.
Housing isn't in the initial release. We have a lot of work to do before we get to that point.
Gamer.no: Tradeskills and crafting is a central element to any online game out there, and has been the defining factor for games such as Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies. Will there be any such system in Pirates of the Burning Sea? Are we looking upon the prospect of professional ship builders, perhaps?
TD: The initial release is focused on sailing, trading, combat, missions, organizations, and reputation. We'll be adding new features as the game goes on, distributing them through Steam. We do have big plans for crafting, but it's not something we're going to tackle yet.
Gamer.no: Will players be able to form guilds, clans or other types of associations? Will players be able to battle for land or sea areas, and perhaps take part in large scale sea battles involving several ships of opposing factions?
TD: There are short-term groups, as I mentioned earlier. Player-created organizations are an important part of MMOGs that we hope to have in the initial release; if not, they'll turn up not too long after launch.
Large battles are a certainty. There's no restriction on how many ships can be in a fight, so we expect to see massive fleet actions, pirate raids on trade convoys, and the like.
Gamer.no: Tell us something about the game world. The game is obviously set in the Caribbean, but what kind of nations and political factions will there be present? How large is the game world going to be, and how large would a typical island be?
TD: Our game world includes the leeward and windward islands, stretching from Puerto Rico southeast to Grenada. It'll take you a few hours to sail from one end to the other.
There are four factions that players can join: the British, the French, the Spanish, and the pirates. Other nations are present, such as the Dutch, but by our game's setting of 1720 their power in the region is waning.
Islands vary in size quite substantially. Look at any map of the Caribbean and you'll see what I mean. We are modeling the islands and their positions at about 1 / 7.5 scale, which still results in very large terrains and ocean regions.
Gamer.no: Will players be able to traverse land as well as sea? If so, how will this part of the game be cut out? Afterall, this is a game focused on oceanic travel, so what's going to keep players interested in the islands and other land areas? Can we expect dungeons and other typical elements found in other online games?
TD: We aren't doing land-based play or human avatars in the initial release. We are focusing for now on ship-based gameplay, and are putting a lot of work into making that very cool. One look at our screenshots should show you how much detail is going into these ships.
We are adding avatars and on-land play in the future. But we decided to start by doing a handful of important things really well, and then adding more features as the game goes on. As a small, independent developer we can't do everything at once, so we'd rather do some things better than anyone.
Gamer.no: How historically accurate is Pirates of the Burning Sea? Will you include any historic events? Speaking of events, will there be any official events or maybe a story arc introduced as the months go by?
TD: Our game begins in 1720, and the world is pretty much as it was in history. But from that point forward, the players are driving the story. Wars will break out not when history says they did, but as a result of what all the players in the game are doing.
We will have GMs staging events and stories, but we're keeping those under wraps for now.
Gamer.no: Magic has been mentioned as a element you are going to include. Does this involve magic as in other fantasy-oriented games? Does the implementation of magic make Pirates of the Burning Sea less of a historically accurate game, and more like a fantasy pirate game? How will this magic system work, and what kind of magic can we expect to see?
TD: We've decided not to do magic in the initial release at all. Our intention for magic has always been to have it be on the level of what sailors believed in at the time: curses, ghosts, haunted ships, strange idols, and the like. But our experience over the last few months has shown that most players assume "magic" means "fireballs," and there's no way we're putting fireballs in our game. So to be clear: no magic. We'd like to introduce mysterious supernatural elements in the future, but it's not a priority.
Gamer.no: What happens if you die in Pirates of the Burning Sea? What penalties are applied to your character upon death? And can you lose your ship to other players, and what happens if such a horrid thing should actually occur?
TD: You can most definitely lose your ship, either to sinking or because another player captures it and takes it for his own. But you can always get a new ship, even if you're broke. It's likely to be a small vessel, according to your reputation and the circumstances in which you lost your last one, and you'll have to perform various missions to pay for it. But we never leave you stranded.
Your character does not die. When your ship sinks, you respawn at a friendly port. We do not penalize your skills or stats -- only your reputation suffers, along with whatever money and items you might have lost with your ship.
Gamer.no: Please astonish us with technical nerd-speak. Seriously though, please tell us something about the graphics engine you are utilizing, how easy it is expand on the game, what kind of impressive effects the engine can deliver, and anything else that's on your mind.
TD: We are using the Alchemy engine. In our tests, we've had more than a million lit and shaded polygons on screen at once with acceptable frame rates -- this is a very powerful engine.
Our game is very much targeted at the latest video cards. We are making use of DirectX 9.0 and PixelShader 2.0 to make our oceans look better than any you've ever seen in a game. At present, we expect our minimum specs to be a 1gHz CPU, 512MB of RAM, and a GeForce 3 video card -- but our game will take as much hardware as you can throw at it and give you better and better visuals as a result.
Gamer.no: Except for the obvious pirate setting, what do you think will make Pirates of the Burning Sea different from other online games on the market? And what is it about the game that is going to keep players glued to their screen month after month?
TD: Our approach to PvP combat is very fun and very different. Many players have expectations that all PvP means griefing gankfests, and that's not what we want. Realtime tactical ship-to-ship combat is not the same as combat you've seen in other games, and it makes PvP really exciting and a challenge for everyone involved.
History and sailing buffs are going to be thrilled. Our ship models are more detailed than anything you've ever seen, with some ships having as many as a quarter of a million polygons. The ships are beautiful and they sail great.
Most importantly, we believe our approach to characters is going to win converts. No classes and no levels means there's no need to start over with a new character every time you want to try something new. You can keep your character, shift your skill development, change professions, and keep building your reputation. You're going to build your own legend, one sun-soaked Caribbean day at a time.
And finishing off with those dreamy words, we say thanks to Taylor Daynes for the interview, and wish him and the rest of the team good luck on Pirates of the Burning Sea, and all future endavours.