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Dev Journal #1: Growth

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Executive Producer Russell Williams Discusses "Growth"

Editor Note: Every month we will bring you a new developer journal from the folks making Pirates of the Burning Sea, the winner of our E3 Best Graphics Award and a highly anticipated pirate-themed MMORPG from Flying Labs Software.

Hi, I’m Russell Williams, Executive Producer on Flying Lab’s Pirates of the Burning Sea (www.burningsea.com). The theme of this developer journal is growth. When we started working on the game, we knew we wanted to make a game that was different than the current crop, and whenever you’re creating something new, you have to be willing to experiment. Unfortunately, experimentation produces quite a bit of bad along with the good, and throwing away that work is always painful. But it’s even more painful if you have a full art team that’s been cranking away in a dead-end direction for half a year.

That’s why we started with a very small core group, about six people, working on the broad design of the game. We built the core elements of the game, prototyping the basic gameplay and systems, until we were sure we had a great game. Without having invested a great deal of time and money in dead end directions, it let us be ruthless in making the right decisions for the project, rather than marching down a path that was going to hold us back in the future.

The good news is that we’re finally here. The game’s playing well, the architecture’s been proven, and we’re now moving into production rather than design. This means we’re now adding people at a furious rate, and that presents its own challenges.

The best managerial tip I can give you is to hire good people who don’t need management. If you start off with them, you’re 90% of the way towards having a good team. So while we’re adding people at a rapid rate, we’re still holding to our standards. When someone interviews at Flying Lab, they go through at least six different interviews probing in different areas. Developers are asked to write code on the board, artists are expected to show portfolios and do example work, testers test, and designers are asked to solve actual design challenges to see how they think analytically and creatively. It’s an exhausting process, but it results in hires who are long term. One downside is that it sometimes filters out great people who are having a bad day, but ultimately, we’d rather have that problem than the opposite.

After the first year, we added new staff on a steady schedule. Since the beginning of this year we’ve added 10 people, bringing our in-house total to 26. And we’re still adding more. MMPs require content, lots of it, which is why we’re focusing on content people right now. In fact, we have a new mission designer starting on Monday and are interviewing more right away. Our current space is quite crowded now, which means we’ll probably have to look for new office space soon. However, when I’m looking at the schedule for launch, I don’t want to throw in a couple of weeks for moving. So until we go, we’re just going to keep dragging in desks into halls and every corner we can find. Which means we have even more reason to race towards launch!

It’s not just people we’re expanding either. We just got in our first world server cluster last week, around 60,000 bucks worth of machines. Now that we’ve got the machines, and we’re homing in on beta, we just signed an agreement with Internap, a provider of extremely high quality bandwidth, to use their facility for our servers. We’re tentatively planning on moving them over in a few weeks, but we also have some servers we’re keeping in the office in order to do further load testing. When you’re looking at simulating 25,000 users hitting your server cluster, a single T1 line out of the office just doesn’t cut it.

That’s the management overview of what’s going on, but I’m sure you’re interested in what we’re doing with the game as well. The most obvious improvement is the art. We’ve ramped up the art team dramatically, and with our new art director, Bruce Sharp, we’ve made tremendous strides in the look of the game. We’ve been saying our water would look better than anything you’ve seen, and if you take a look at the screenshots, or the upcoming movies, I think you’ll agree. We’ve also got amazing new environments, stunning new avatars, and cool, new particle effects. But while all of that is important (and provokes a “whoah!” every once in a while in the office), that’s just the surface level.

The big news is the content. We’re working on the missions right now, and I’m very happy with how they’re coming along. I even took a few days out of my schedule to knock off a few story arcs myself. I’m a huge fan of evolving, re-occurring characters, and we’ve got some great plans in that area. One of the great parts of our setting is that we can use real world people and events, so after you finish a mission, you can actually research some of the characters and find out who they were and why they act like they do. It lets us get away from “a wizard needs cow hooves, kill 20 of them” and more into the machinations of the Jacobites, for example.

That’s it for now. For those of you in Washington state, we’ll be at Penny Arcade’s PAX show in August showing off the game, so stop by and say hello!

-Russell Williams, Executive Producer, Pirates of the Burning Sea

Many thanks to Russell and the Fly Labs team for making this possible. We encourage readers to give us their feedback this this thread and on the game's hype meter.


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