Pirates of the Burning Sea: A Guided Tour
Community Manager, Laura Genender was in San Francisco recently, to attend Sony Online Entertainment's "Step Into Fall" event where she had the chance to take a guided tour of Pirates of the Burning Sea.
I first saw Pirates of the Burning Sea two years ago at E3 - in a genre so inundated with fantasy repeats, the historical piratey theme was intriguing. This past Thursday I got to meet with the POTBS team at SOE's 'Step into Fall' event. Expecting to release on January 22nd of 2008 (with preorders on October 23rd), the developers have been hard at work adding new game-play opportunities like avatar combat, user-created content, and more.
My guides for the tour were Flying Lab Software's Russell Williams (CEO) and Jess Lebow (Content Director). To start the tour out, they showed me avatar combat, where players fight on foot instead of in their ships.
Avatars can train in one of three combat styles: Florentine, a duel wielding style that is generally more defensive; Dirty Fighting, which specializes in immobilization; or Fencing, which is the fastest of the styles. Players are able to respec from one style to another - for a cost, of course.
In POTBS, there is no such thing as autoattack. Your character will automatically defend itself, but all attacks are made from the player choosing skills. As you fight, each avatar seeks to throw their opponent off-balance - the balance meter is represented by a ring around one's feet. As the ring fades from green to yellow, the opposing avatar can use more powerful attacks against the weakened opponent. Of course, each opponent also has a health bar, and when that runs out you're done!
In fantasy games, Lebow told me, the developers can use the same animation for several skills and change the particle effect. For a game like POTBS, though, every skill needs its own animation. Combat was interesting and even funny at some times, as I watched a Dirty Fighter throw sand or step on feet and a Fencer tap her foot as she skewered an opponent.
In preparation for Halloween, the POTBS team is working on finishing up a series of supernatural missions. Williams explained that these missions start out very "Scooby Doo" - you chase down a ghost just to discover its Old Man Jenkins in a costume, or something of that sort. As you delve deeper into the supernatural content, though, you start interacting with real ghosts and spirits.
In the missions they showed me, players do missions for a possessed figurehead from a shipwreck. Williams and Lebow showed me one mission where they wanted to achieve a stealth element without any "sneak" or "hide" skills. To do this, the developers got very creative. The figurehead gave me a mission to recover the skull of a spirit. I was transported to an island crawling with zombies - far more than any single person, or even a group, could hope to take out. Luckily there was only one zombie that saw me as I appeared, and I killed him to loot his innards.
By equipping the innards, my avatar was transformed into a zombie - but only in appearance! My avatar imitated a zombie walk (very slow) for movement - I COULD start to run, but it would break the illusion. Now safely disguised, I was able to walk along with the rest of the zombie parade to recover the skull.
Now that Williams and Lebow had shown me around avatar combat, it was time to stop being a land lubber and take to the sea. Our first foray into the ocean was on a mission, so that they could show me ship combat.
Originally, Pirates of the Burning Sea was scheduled to launch with 22 ships. During development, though, they decided to let the players build a boat: a yacht, a tiny little ship with no guns that would be used for scouting. The players did a wonderful job on the yacht, but Flying Labs didn't think they had what it took to make a real boat. Boy, were they wrong.
The first real boat submitted to POTBS was the Oliphant, made by a player with zero past experience in modeling. While it wasn't made by their own artists, William proudly showed me the boat, calling it the best looking ship in the game - and who could argue? With player submissions rolling in, the game is expected to launch with c. 50 ships, ranging from the tiny yacht to the 104 cannon Ship of the Line. Submitted ships must be of an appropriate time period to the game, and the user content forum can be found here.
Piloting your ship is very direction-based. The UI shows players which direction the wind is coming from, and another UI option will show players their fastest directions to sail (indicated with green, yellow, and red sections of a circle around the boat). Some ships go faster cutting in near the wind, while others speed up with the wind at their backs. They also differ in speed and turning speed - while the Ship of the Line can go fairly fast, it takes forever to turn.
Doing damage is also direction based. Ship cannons can be located on the prow, stern, starboard side, port side, or on 180% swivels. Even though your ship might have 104 cannons, that doesn't mean you can fire them all at once at the same target - to fire your starboard cannons, the ship has to be passing your starboard side. You have to be aware of where your enemy is and maneuver your ship to get maximum damage on them. This creates a wonderful element of strategy, where even a 104 cannon Ship of the Line can fall if caught alone by a little sloop; all the sloop has to do is zig-zag back and forth near their stern. "Moving up" in POTBS doesn't necessarily mean getting a bigger ship.
As if avatar and ship combat aren't enough, the game also contains a massive mercantile system where players can own land, craft resources, and create almost everything you find in the game. Each account is allowed 10 land plots to build structures, and these plots can be built anywhere the player wants. Building in different ports allows you to create different structures - for example, one port might be rich in iron while another might have good soil for plantations. Some structures take only one plot to build, while others take multiple plots. The Naval Shipyard, for example, takes 4 plots!
Once you decide where and what you want to build, you have to buy a lot of components. For the plantation, for example, you would have to buy player-made drafts (from a Draftsman's Office), then gather materials such as granite, logs, nails, etc. for construction. After your structure is complete, you start accruing "labor" as real life time passes. The "labor" can be spent on recipes to create products. With ports limited in what structures they can build, this creates a great opportunity for trade between ports. Taking 30 minutes to travel across the Caribbean with a load of goods can be rather profitable!