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Julian's Ranting Corner

Most mmorpg devs out there would like us to believe that it is fine to pay monthly for half-baked babies because, you know, it's all so complicated. Well, if they were to listen and learn from past experiences, they would make products worth p(l)aying.

Author: jaubourg

Pirates of the Burning So-So

Posted by jaubourg Saturday March 13 2010 at 5:26AM
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Following the prequel to the blatantly lacking re-review of Pirates of the Burning Sea, I decided to give it a try seeing as I finally cancelled my CO sub (see my previous post), I am level-stagnating while toying with the Architect in CoX and I just can't get into Allods like I (and my guild-mates) would like to since it's really really more of the same (I stopped playing WoW for a reason).

Anyway, FLS has some minimal feedback thingy on SurveyMonkey and I decided to try & post some "constuctive" criticism. Here I copy/paste the text I sent FLS, verbatim.

Character creation is so-so. You can easily do something "in flavor" but choices are too limited (especially eye patches and patterns for the different clothes), setting the correct hue is something of a guess work because of existing colors on the textures and most female faces are horrible. Also, why oh why is the skin color attached to the face? At least, you could provide different skin variations even if you ensure chinese faces have yellowish colors... and only *1* female black face?

Still, I can make characters with style.

Naming is too short and there is a definite need for a nickname between the first and last name: for instance,
- "Mad" Marry Thompson could be called Cpt Thompson, Mary or "Mad" Marry by NPCs given the context
- Tom "One-Eye" Sharks could be called Cpt Sharkes, Cpt "One-Eye" Sharks, Tom or "One-Eye" by NPCs given the context.
Would also be nice to have nobility titles too as a possibility. Those names lack flavor.

Avatar animation is truly awful. I create this nice character and then I see it painfully clanking around, like some broken robot. Also, self-shadowing is broken, especially on the face and upper body. Oh, and centering the view around the head is bad. I like to turn around my character and admire him/her, get a feeling of what the character is and make up stories between endless questing. With the centering on the head, zooming in means I only see a small portion of my avatar and I can't look at the details of his/her boots for instance.

The stance system is interesting, but having it reset everytime I enter an instance (that is every minute or so) is a real real inconvenience (and it doesn't make sense anyway).

Also, targetting in combat is a pain in the ass. Auto-targetting should happen with every attack to the closest opponent, even if he's behind you, and your avatar should always face its target: that would turn a completely senseless and confusing scene into a real action sequence.

UI could need some loving. Lots of unnecessary clicks all around. For instance, do I really need to click twice to get another quest after I accepted one? All that for 2 lines of NPC dialogs I'm sure nobody will ever read.

Ports are claustrophobic at best. Is the 3D engine so demanding you had to occlude everything past 10 yards? Seems to me you have some low-grade engine and unless you're targetting very old configurations, you could expand the view quite a lot. All onland maps feel like a tiny little maze and it really doesn't help immersion. Also, instances for every buildings in town is a no-go. They serve no purpose at all: open those doors and bring some life to your ports.

Introduction tutorials are so-so. It's cool that they are different for each nation but they should also be different for each class. It's also quite obvious they are just a mean to an end. Wouldn't it be a perfect spot to introduce the solo storyline more extensively, step by step? I mean rather than just with the map being always handed to you by your dying captain in the end? Talking about the solo storyline, I was quite disapointed when I realized dialogs had no impact on what the NPC was replying. Whether I'm rude, polite, prudent or reckless, I always get the same reaction.

Music is awesome. Let me repeat: music is AWESOME. Same with sound effects. Fits the theme perfectly. POTBS is the first game where I set music to play constantly in a looooong time. Congrats on the guys and gals behind all this.

Learning curve is really steep. Why put the economic system, the avatar combat system and naval system in the face of the player all at once? I mean, I started with a pirate and I expected to take a boat and start raiding ships. But I get these quests about building factories and all that (which is nice, mind you, but a pirate paying people to chop wood? Really?). I thing the game should differentiate more between classes. Merchants should be merchants, militaries should accompany convoys and defend ports and pirates & corsairs would fight the "dirty" war, looking for preys or bounties. What's really missing is a swashbuckler class that would specialize in onland combat and/or boarding (but that would necessitate the possibility for a player to embark on another player's boat). I can see why you chose to allow everybody to be a captain, swashbuckle and building his/her own Indian Company at the same time, but it should be harder and a conscious choice for a pirate to get into construction and for a merchant to get into commanding ships. And whatever the decision, all economic growth of the pirates nation should come from piracy and/or questing. They should not be able to build a proper economic system.

It could be interesting to have more than one character for the same ship. That way, you could have a captain, a merchant and a swashbuckler and play the relevant one given the situation.

Though naval combat gets extensive tutorials, fencing doesn't and it's a shame. I can feel there is tactics in there but I'm not taught it like I am taught naval tactics. That's really really really missing.

Naval combat is nice, though I think it would gain to be a bit faster paced (a simple 1.5x time acceleration would do). Changing amunition is really not easy and I'm sure a drop-down menu (with no icon to help you spot ammunition type right away) is the worst UI system you could have come up with. I feel what's missing is some kind of orders stack. You could initiate orders, cancel them, re-prioritize them by drag and dropping in the list and determine the % of the crew that works on each of them. Also, I dunno if I'm a fan of manually turning the ship around. Would be nice to click on where you want to go or have "move" orders. If you have a "trained skipper" advantage, you get there faster because the skipper plays with the wind but you would still have to take the wind into account when issuing your orders anyway. Also, with an orders stack and movement orders, having less crew would also mean not getting movement changes handled as quickly if you're recharging cannons for instance even if your sails are intact: there is so much you can do when you have 10 men left out of a 30 men crew: speed and reactivity are two different things. Also, I would turn repairs into orders and have them take of the crew to realize (slowing everything else down), though I didn't control if it wasn't already implemented that way.

Side cannons shouldn't have auto-targetting. You should be required to get the angle right and fire at the right moment. Would make it more difficult to cripple a ship so quickly while making it easier to target multiple ships at once (like one on each side).

Anyway, the idea would be to make naval combat less of a keypress experience and more of a tactical/high-level battle. Still, what you have in that department is engaging.

I'm using the free trials and, though I can understand some limitations, not being able to talk into every channel is more crippling than limiting: how am I supposed to ask for help/advice in a highly instanced game when I can only speak in the local channel? I'm pretty sure I would understand and enjoy far more of the game if I could get some guidance. Without such help from the community, the free trial is a sure way to get rebuted by the overall complexity.

Couldn't test the economy properly or extensively yet. I've read it's good and it seems so from what I saw in-game. At least, it's complex and varied though I have a feeling it all boils down to building ships in the end.

My 2 cents though. It is my understanding the game gets less and less servers (which surely means less and less subscribers as a cause) and my impression is that the game is slowly dying. If you happen to make another pirate-oriented MMO, I'll be sure to check it. Get a decent 3D engine to limit instancing onland, enhance character creation and animations and strengthen naval combat & economy. There is potential here and you got it quite right when it comes to naval combat and sound from what I can see.


All in all, I'd give the game a 4 out of 10 though it is hard not to like it. That's weird really. It's like the game came that close to being a work of genius but crumbled under bad design decisions and poor technical execution (especially when it comes to graphics).

Oh, and I now have access to the closed beta of All Points Bulletin... but shush! I can't talk about it.